Hello, and welcome to yet another state of the cloud, in which the Cloudwards.net editorial team takes a look at the news over the past 30 days and tries to make sense of it before ranting about it with some degree of accuracy. In our September edition, we see that our prediction in the August edition that it would be a crazy month wasn’t wrong.
The biggest story in our niche was social media platforms getting taken to task more for the way they present and vet political ads. That would, of course, be an issue anywhere, but with the midterm elections looming in the U.S., it has come to a head. Both Houses of Congress as well as The Donald have weighed in, albeit with varying degrees of evidence.
Bad enough as is, but it doesn’t end there. The people influencing elections — Russians, overwhelmingly — are also throwing their weight around elsewhere, meaning that a bunch of hackers in a basement in Magnitogorsk or another town rammed out of the Siberian steppe are influencing world events directly (not to mention the efforts made by Iran).
It’d be impressive, if it wasn’t so terrifying. Either way, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s start with the madness that is U.S. elections and go from there.
Elections and Social Media
Any election is a huge affair in the U.S., but the one coming in November is especially special because, not only will it be a tangible poll on how America’s most divisive president is doing, it will also be the first one in which we know and can prove that a foreign government is attempting to influence its results, Trump’s protests notwithstanding.
U.S. legislators are doing their best to counteract this, but they seem more focused on the role of Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al. than that of, say, Russia and Iran. While the investigation into the president’s links with Russia continues, many lawmakers seem to want to ensure the future of their party in the elections by accusing social media of a bias against conservatives.
That bit of disinformation has forced Facebook and Google into the defensive, with both going out of their way to prove they treat everyone fairly, with mixed results. The real aim seems to be to further push conservative-leaning Americans into the loving arms of entertainment channels such as Fox News.
While this is going on, every day more Facebook networks are rolled up, their accounts deleted and their walls papered over. The eggs broken while making this omelet include Telesur, a Latin American news outlet, which saw its freedom of speech infringed for unclear reasons, though its accounts were restored after much backpedaling.
Facebook also went so far as to ban several members of Myanmar’s military from using the platform, though how exactly that will help the Rohingya is unclear. It also removed schematics for 3D guns, which will likely be grist to the mill of Second Amendment pundits.
Not that the U.S. is the only country seeking to have Facebook curate content. India is going strong in its own battle against fake news after mobs have been stirred up, leading to casualties all around the country. WhatsApp and Facebook groups are the main offenders.
For countries suffering from Russian influence, there is a way out. Several Asian nations have signed a cybersecurity pact with the bear after being attacked. More cynical minds than ours might compare that to Mafia tactics (“nice place you got here, shame if something happened to it”), but we’re sure this is nothing more than the big, friendly bear looking out for them.
Google’s Chinese Whispers
If democracies worldwide being influenced by scary strongmen wasn’t a big enough story for you, we also have one in which the world’s most influential corporation is working with one of the world’s most repressive regimes. According to a story broken by The Intercept, it seems Google has dusted off its long-shelved plan to enter the Chinese market.
It’s been a while since Mountain View tried anything similar, so we’ll forgive you for hearing nothing but a faint echo reading that last paragraph. Back in the early 2000s, Google entered the Chinese market, found it would be forced to censor content, then pulled out, stating that the company wouldn’t be evil.
It’s more involved than that, of course, which is why, if you want to know more, we recommend you check out this fantastic New York Times longread or read our article on the Great Firewall.
That said, Google’s “don’t be evil” days are long over (read our July edition of the state of the cloud for more examples) and the company will be entering the Chinese market with a censored search engine, protests from human rights groups be damned.
It seems that the moolah on offer from the world’s most populous nation is too simply much to pass up, but the company will face stiff competition in the form of Baidu, China’s current go-to search engine. The push into the People’s Republic will probably be in stages, if we’re to go by by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, setting up a Waymo office before pouring the concrete for a Google chapterhouse.
What’s worrying about this case is that tech firms doing business in China have always been forced to cooperate with the regime’s idea of what is right for its people. Apple is the latest example and the news that Google is saving your location data, even if you switched it off, is particularly worrying in this light. Time to start using one of our best VPNs for China.
In news that’s sure to warm the cockles of many a fanboi’s heart, Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar company. That is not just a financial milestone, it also shows the power of marketing because people will kill to buy the latest and greatest white plastic box. We mean “to kill for” literally, too, as the people making those boxes are killing themselves, still.
Apparently unhappy that password managers work, Microsoft is moving away from passwords and toward web-based authentication. That will, of course, go off without a hitch as Redmond handles it with its usual aplomb and finesse. Watch this space.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is auctioning off sections of the 5G spectrum, meaning that, within the foreseeable future, we might be able to get super-fast internet via the ether. Chip-maker Qualcomm’s news that it’s developing 5G-enabled chips followed soon after the announcement.
Spectre and Meltdown came back into the picture this month when it was revealed that Samsung phones are, in fact, vulnerable to the hardware flaws. Hot on the heels of that news came the discovery that similar, even more dangerous, flaws have been found in Intel chips, so expect a flurry of updates and slowdowns in the weeks to come.
Kaspersky apparently doesn’t pay out bounties when a white-hat hacker discovers a flaw. The hacker in question found the company’s VPN was leaking DNS addresses, a major VPN security issue, and it got fixed, but the Russian firm demurred when asked for payment. That’s not great PR for one of our best antivirus providers.
Another terrifying note, and the one we’ll close on this month, is that Australia is considering a bill that would force keepers of encrypted data to hand it over if the government has a warrant. Time for our antipodean readers to consider using one of our picks for the best VPN for Australia or best cloud storage for Australia. You can never be too safe.
That concludes our monthly recap of government and corporate shenanigans. Though the dark clouds this August had few silver linings, we are hopeful September will have more positive notes, but expect the U.S. elections to play a prominent role in October’s state of the cloud, as well.
We hope you enjoyed reading our take on things and that you’ll join us again next month. If you think we got it wrong or missed a story, let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading and have a great September.