This week’s technology news – 8th August 2014

Microsoft’s fight against the Feds ramps up another notch

The US Government is seeking to have email data from Microsoft’s Dublin server handed over, but the technology giant has been firmly resisting any such interference in a unique legal case that has been escalating since December 2013.  One of Microsoft’s main attractions for data sensitive companies is to allow its users to choose where their data is stored, helping them maintain strict governance and compliance controls and they argue that this case is about protecting data customers’ rights to privacy in the US and around the world.  As part of an ongoing drug-trafficking trial, a New York federal judge dismissed Microsoft’s latest appeal against a government warrant demanding access to emails stored on servers in Ireland.  Microsoft immediately announced plans to challenge the decision.    Tech companies worldwide have rallied around in support of their competitor on the issue.

The UK Government acted swiftly last month with emergency legislation to close a loophole, following a change in European law, which would have left a gap in the Government’s ability to provide unbroken access for the security services to people’s phone and internet records. as part of wider Government counter-terrorism measures.    Whilst not implying that the sort of data held by businesses is on a par with terrorism threats being tracked, it is the principle of privacy at stake – and the impact of this case will have important ramifications for business users regarding their data storage in the UK and Europe.

Bitcoin bandwagon

First it was the banks seeking to regulate Bitcoin, now the UK Government wants to enter the fray and explore commercial opportunity for virtual/cryptocurrency.   The tenet of its value (currently 1 Bitcoin is worth £347), is held by people’s belief that the virtual tokens have value – and there is a finite number of them being traded.   With retailers increased adoption of Bitcoin (60,000 worldwide), this growth in popularity and rising trade endorsement, has prompted Chancellor George Osborne to undertake a review of the merits and risks of including virtual currency as part of his flagship aim to promote the UK as the “global centre of financial innovation”.

Bitcoin has proved popular with the public, but it still holds risks as it remains unregulated. This is part of the public attraction, being alternative, but also part of the explanation of its allure to criminals as there is no registry identification, only a randomised Bitcoin address (27 – 34 letters and numbers creating a virtual postbox and traded in a Bitcoin “wallet”.  The European Banking Authority is concerned at the lack of consumer protection and the Bitcoin market IS volatile.  Market value is swayed by the volume of online enquiries, chatter and “mining” from the downloads (part of a reinforcement cycle identified in recent research by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich).

With the Government aspiring to identify alternative sources of finance for lending to business, Bitcoin might leave too strong a taste of risk on the tongue of industry for the timebeing, and would have to demonstrate greater stability – the exact antithesis of what Bitcoin wants.  This might prove one hurdle too far at present for a Chancellor seeking to be innovative and “on trend” with the City.

The end of an era – Apple and Samsung agree to drop patent lawsuits

Many will recall that following the success of the iPhone, Apple started filing lawsuits for copyright infringement because they believed Samsung’s phones looked a bit too similar to theirs (both on the outside and what was on screen – including the individual designs of App Icons).  This has been ongoing for many years until now.    We are happy to report that an agreement has been made (ex US) covering Australia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France and the UK – where all claims have been abandoned.

This potentially signals the closure of the saga (which will include the US) and this incredibly expensive, drawn out and occasional rather nasty patent fight, which has resulted in products being withheld from sale.

Despite the assumption that the outcome would be some new form of cross licencing deal, the two companies have put out statements stating they are NOT pursuing any new licencing deals or other pacts.  Samsung’s shareprice fell after the news.  However, whether this will change the ultimate judgement or outlook for the US case has yet to be seen.  Such a strategic alliance would certainly shake up the mobile industry, putting the squeeze on anyone who is not Apple or Samsung.

BlackBerry has finished the job cuts, but what does its future look like?

After a brutal three years for BlackBerry it seems the worst (the job cuts),  is finally over. Current CEO John Chen hopes to bring the company back into the black in 2016.  So how should the former smart phone juggernaut rebuild themselves in an Apple, Google and Microsoft world?  Being realistic, even in a best case scenario BlackBerry will not be eating Apple’s or Google’s marketshare in the short term, so what’s their best option?

Future Smart Phones should be designed with their primary audience in mind; corporations and governments, these customers demand ultra-secure comms and this should be the main area of focus for their devices. BlackBerry should also not shy away from their roots, while an all-touch option is good, their flagship device should have that old-school Blackberry physical keyboard. Despite popular opinion, they still have their strengths which make them stand out from the slab crowd.  Finally, services are where the real money will be made – and a chance to win over other phone users without getting them to change their phone.

Blackberry has already delivered their BBM app to iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and they also support their competitors’ devices on their latest servers.  If they made a bigger push in this direction they could substantially build a new user base and really get businesses excited about using BlackBerry once again.

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