Hello and welcome to a new State of the Cloud, Cloudwards.net’s monthly column where we go over the tech news of the 31 days that have been and try and make sense of it all. In this edition we’ll be talking about Google, Huawei and, and you’ll never believe this, Facebook.
Though we realize that the beating of our Facebook drum might be getting tiresome, we remain amazed at the inventiveness of the company’s executives. They are always dreaming up new ways in which to manipulate people to give up their data and then doing horrible things with it. It’d be awe-inspiring if it wasn’t so evil.
New China Hand
First, though, let’s talk about some big news that doesn’t just dominate the headlines of the tech section on news sites, but is more and more becoming the main story of each and every day: Huawei and the U.S.-China trade war.
Now, these are two linked, but separate issues, though it may sometimes feel like they are one and the same. However, the trade war is mostly about the imbalance between American imports and exports, as well as the practice of technology transfer, where firms that want to do business in China needing to give away some of their intellectual property rights.
The Huawei affair, however, is more about spying. The firm, which isn’t technically state-owned but more or less is in practice, stands accused of several things, most notable being that it may be spying on people through its firmware.
This is a bigger problem than you may think. Huawei makes a huge amount of the parts found in modern telecommunications equipment, especially planned 5G networks. This means it’s more or less going to be everywhere, and if the company is using its equipment to spy it would be a huge problem. So far it’s been all allegations, but there is a very real security risk there.
Monopoly? Huawei to Say?
Huawei is in this ridiculously good position because, well, very few other companies are producing this equipment, or at least at Huawe’s level. This is where the trade war allegations come in: the company was able to stay competitive because of help from the Chinese state, which is always looking for new ways to keep tabs on its population.
Western competitors didn’t have this kind of state backing, claim politicians (*cough* tax breaks *cough*), thus making Huawei a shoe in as the top dog. However, the upshot is that without Huawei it’ll be tough to build any advanced networks, thus prompting many EU countries from handwaving any security concerns and thus ignoring dire warnings from the U.S. intelligence community.
Though Trump’s strong-arming of allies isn’t very pretty, and might even be construed as a way to divert some of that sweet 5G cash to American companies, the suspicion remains that by letting Huawei work on vital infrastructure in the west might be the digital equivalent of the Trojans dragging a great big wooden horse into the gates of their city. Only time will tell.
Getting Blue in the Facebook
With that out of the way, let’s go back to our usual nemesis, Facebook. The merry go round that started in April last year is showing no signs of slowing down, with the Federal Trade Commission recommending that Congress put in place privacy protections to protect the American people against the depredations of the Zuck, not unlike the EU’s GDPR.
We’ll take the fact that people need to be protected against Facebook as moot, not a month goes by without a new scandal breaking. May 2019’s was brought to you by The Intercept, which revealed that Facebook is actively working with mobile phone carriers to track and spy on people. If it was a real rabbit hole, we would have come out on the other side by now; this is more of a bottomless pit.
However, we’re saving the best for last: Facebook is planning to launch a cryptocurrency of its own. It’s to be called GlobalCoin and will be pegged to the U.S. dollar, though in what ratio is unknown as of yet. How badly The Zuck wants to launch this thing can be seen by his willingness to negotiate with some bitter enemies of his and the fact he’s willing to sit down with the Feds to work out the details.
If you want our two cents, or whatever the equivalent will be in Facebook pennies, we recommend everybody stay well away from GlobalCoin. The volatility of bitcoin mixed with the willingness of Facebook to sell data is going to be an intoxicating mix that will leave you with the hangover, with the execs walking away whistling.
Another favorite target of ours is back from a short holiday. The last time we talked up Google’s shenanigans was back in February 2019, and, aside from some small stories, not much was happening with the search engine giant. However, in May Google decided to take its cue from the spring flowers and come out blooming in majesty.
The first is a bit of pleasant news, as you can now set your location history and some other data to auto-delete, though it’s a bit unclear if it also deletes from Google’s servers. Another good bit of news is that people who bought the Titan Security Key only to discover it had a nasty bug left in it will be getting a free replacement (we assume it’ll be bug-free).
That’s about it for the good news, though. For one, it turns out Dragonfly, the censored search engine for China which was declared buried in January, is back on the table, with Google’s former CEO Ericx Schmidt even claiming it would help China “be more open.” Though we realize freedom of speech isn’t some zero-sum game, we think the dollar signs in Eric’s eyes have blinded him to the horrors of the communist regime.
That said, there are some upsides to communism, like full employment, which apparently very few of the workers at Google know anything about as a great many of them it turns out are temps. This means that they have no idea when they’ll work, how much they’ll work, and Google doesn’t need to pay them any benefits. Doesn’t seem fair when a company as rich as that doesn’t spread the wealth a bit.
However, Google does provide plenty of work, so that offsets it a bit. For example, currently humans are replacing AI at Google Duplex because apparently the smart machines can’t cut it. Yes, you read that right: apparently that AI revolution is a bit further off than we were warned.
Julian Assange has left the Ecuadorian embassy and is now in a long legal battle that will most likely end up with him being deported to the United States. Though the battle isn’t fought yet, the fact that his legal docs were shared with American authorities is the writing on the wall. Though he isn’t the most pleasant fellow, his possible fate stateside will likely not fit the crime.
An Israeli company was found spoofing WhatsApp calls and so getting access to phones, the Financial Times revealed. These services were then both by dodgy regimes the world over and were mostly used to go after human rights activists and other “subversives.” WhatsApp claims to have plugged the leak, thankfully,
Apple is facing antitrust action in the EU after Spotify protested over the way Cupertino handled licensing. The outlook is not good for Apple as the entire world is gearing up against Big Tech. We’ll keep you posted.
When you talk to Alexa, or she overhears you, it apparently keeps a record of everything it hears, even if you delete the audio. This is obviously a gross violation of privacy, but then again, what did people expect when they brought an internet-connected microphone into their house?
We’re afraid we’re not ending this month’s column on a high note, May was a rough month for the state of the cloud. June is looking up a bit already, with Apple promising better privacy for users, and we have a feeling we’ll be seeing some stuff coming out of Washington regarding better privacy protections.
What do you think of all this? Did we miss any important stories in May? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.