Hello, and welcome to a brand new State of the Cloud, Cloudwards.net’s monthly column where we give you our take on the tech news of the past 28 days. This edition includes a look at corporate intrigue, blatant privacy violations, as well as Cloudwards.net blowing the lid off a little conspiracy all by its lonesome.
Before we get to that, though, we’d like to continue a thread we started in our February edition, namely that of Reuters’s investigation into Project Raven, a UAE snooping project staffed in part by former U.S. National Security Agency employees.
In an official reply, an Emirati diplomat denied spying on Americans, so there’s nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, you don’t believe an official from a deeply corrupt regime (read our best VPN for UAE piece for more on that) or, you know, you aren’t an American. We reckon the last has not been said about Project Raven and we’ll keep you posted.
With that out of the way, let’s get started. First up, a summary of an investigation Cloudwards.net itself conducted in February.
Ties That Bind
We have long heard rumors of links between BestVPN.com and Buffered VPN, a VPN review website and a VPN provider, respectively. We never got proof, though, so we decided to dig around a bit and quickly found the proverbial smoking gun: documents that showed BestVPN.com and Buffered VPN were owned by the same person.
The relationship led BestVPN.com reviewers to rate Buffered VPN much higher than you’d expect and misleading consumers into buying a service that leaks personal data like a sieve. Check out our Buffered VPN review for the details on that.
Needless to say, we have not received a response from any of the parties involved, which we hope is a sign the publication is rethinking its review strategy. We’ll keep you updated on any developments.
None Shall Pass
The industries we cover at Cloudwards.net move slowly, with VPNs being the exception thanks to the VPN wars, which we detailed in our January State of the Cloud. That said, there were two interesting developments in other fields that went a little under the radar in February.
The scariest one is that an independent security researcher found that some of the best password managers store users’ master passwords in such a way that they could be an easy target for hackers in certain circumstances, negating the security the software provides.
The password managers in question — 1Password, Dashlane, KeePass and LastPass — fired back quickly, saying that the conclusions reached were “very theoretical” or affected a minuscule number of users and even then only in very specific scenarios.
Though we see their side of the story, we hope a fix is introduced sooner rather than later because cybercriminals are only getting savvier. Then again, if the new Android is any indication, maybe we won’t need passwords in the near future.
Carbonite Uproots Webroot
The other bit of industry news is that one of our best online backup services, Carbonite, is buying Webroot, a cybersecurity firm that offers antivirus and VPN services, as well as training and threat assessments (read our Webroot SecureAnywhere review to see what we think of it).
According to the press release, Carbonite is paying just north of $600 million — a large sum in this industry — for Webroot with the aim of “becoming the leading data protection company.” That’s a noble goal, but we hope it doesn’t further erode Carbonite’s backup functions, which, if you read our Carbonite review and the comments below it, are slipping.
We’ll be updating our related reviews as soon as the deal goes through, which is expected to happen some time this quarter. Watch this space.
Fun with Fines
Regular readers will know that at Cloudwards.net we’re no fans of the shenanigans Big Tech pulls with people’s data. Though we understand that companies need to make money, lying to consumers and abusing their trust is not the right way to go about it, and it seems most governments are doing something about it, at least east of the Atlantic.
For example, since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation went into effect in May 2018, almost 60,000 breaches have been reported to the relevant authorities and 91 fines have been handed out, prompting one company to start offering GDPR insurance. The biggest of those amends went to Google, which has to fork over 50 million euros to France.
In fact, Google has been hit with so many penalties lately, it pays more in fines than taxes in the EU. Though we’ll leave it open to debate whether that means it needs to pay more to the taxman and loosen up on the data hoovering, it’s still a frightening fact. No wonder Google is teaming with the right wing to prevent similar legislation from passing in the U.S.
A Slap in the Facebook
Our other perennial bugbear, Facebook, is also a target in Europe, with Germany slamming the banhammer on the worst of the social media firm’s data gathering and a UK government report dubbing its executives “digital gangsters,” a description so apt we wish we had come up with it.
That said, The Zuck is faring better across the ocean as he is in a position to negotiate his fine for the stunts he’s been pulling since April. Though it will likely still be in the billions of dollars, it’ll be lower than what it ought to be, which raises the question of how much influence corporations have in the Land of the Free™.
On the upside, though, disgraced Equifax CEO Mark Begor found himself on the receiving end of a verbal beatdown in Congress, so at least there’s some justice left in America.
Privacy Is Not Genetic
Speaking of justice, apparently the genealogy firm FamilyTreeDNA has been dealing in its own form of vigilantism. The company, which has you send it a sample of your DNA to see if it matches with those of others who’ve done the same, has been sharing its database with the FBI. Its CEO, Bennett Greenspan, even thinks of himself as a crime fighter.
That means if you share some kinship with a wanted bank robber, you’ll show up on the Feds’ radar, never a good thing. It’s a ridiculous overstepping of bounds by FamilyTreeDNA and reminds us of the unwarranted enthusiasm to work with law enforcement exhibited by two VPN services. Read about them in our PureVPN review and HideMyAss review.
That said, the silver lining here is that it has shined a light on a little regulated U.S. industry that gets away with a lot of data sharing. Several companies have, for example, shared data with pharmaceutical companies, and Ancestry.com went so far as to collaborate with Calico, an Alphabet subsidiary.
Though all the companies involved may be defending themselves by yelling about “the greater good,” there is a slippery slope here that could lead to the kind of thing that goes on in China, where authorities keep track of people using their DNA. That’s not a future we want, and we recommend people stay away from DNA testing companies.
As we reported in our November edition, Russian hackers are expected to mess with the upcoming EU elections in June, much like they did in the U.S. midterms last year and the presidential polls in 2016. It seems those predictions are coming true, as Microsoft has reported cyberattacks on EU institutions. The Cold War is back as a cyberwar, apparently.
Apple’s news service, hailed as a “Netflix for news,” is under fire from the publishers of the content that would be featured. Here at Cloudwards.net, we can’t blame them. Apparently, Cupertino is demanding half the revenue, which is a high tax for an industry with margins as thin as water.
Thanks to Valve, we can move up the barriers on what we think of as humanly possible. Studies of SteamVR, its virtual reality system, show that players move their bodies in ways that are almost as unlikely as the movements contortionists do, with the wrists, especially, doing turns nobody thought possible, and in great volume.
We’ll finish this week with great news for people who don’t like writers, journalists or related professions. It seems like artificial intelligence is set to take our jobs, too. An AI developed by OpenAI is showing promise as it struggles its way through writing prose, and with its many repetitions looks like a cinch to become The Donald’s new speech writer.
On that note, we’ll bid you a fond adieu and go back into the dark hole where we work on the State of the Cloud. We hope you enjoyed this one and that it helped you make sense of the world of tech.
Did we miss any big stories from February? Do you have thoughts on the ones we included? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.