State-of-the-Cloud

Hello and welcome to the latest State of the Cloud, Cloudwards.net’s monthly column where we look at, well, the state of the cloud. As just looking at the industries we cover would make for an article as dry as dust, we’ll also be looking at the more general tech stories of August, of which there were plenty.

Last month we talked mainly about Libra, Facebook’s twisted digital currency and the streaming wars Disney is gearing up for. We also talked about some sundry news, including John McAfee’s new scheme to raise Cuba’s economy through the power of cryptocurrency and the FaceApp debacle. 

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We’ll be talking a little more about some of those, but also taking a close look at the ways Big Tech and governments are at times working together, then switching sides and working against each other. Facebook will also, regretfully, be making an appearance. However, before any of that, let’s take a look at three pieces of news from the industries we cover.

Nursing a Viper

The first bit of news is that VyprVPN, one of the best VPN services, has updated its interface and gotten rid of its three-day trial, one of the very few VPNs to do so, and replaced it with a more standard 30-day refund policy. We’ll be updating our current VyprVPN review in the first week of September to reflect these changes, so make sure to check in and see what we think.

In slightly less pleasant news, one of the services that came out high in our best web hosting overview, Hostinger, suffered a very serious data breach. The service scrambled its resources quickly, though, and was able to contain the damage, but we will be taking this incident into account in our next update of our Hostinger review.

Speaking of web hosting, we’re giving out a warning for potential clients of any service owned by Endurance International Group. We put on our deerstalker hat and dove into the depths of this conglomerate’s doing and found more privacy violations you can shake a stick it. For the details, please check out our investigation of EIG.

Streaming Wars: Disney Undercuts Netflix

Disney will be launching its Netflix buster Disney+ in November, and the streaming wars are heating up even months before. Disney will be pricing its new streaming channel in direct competition with Old Bingeful at $13 per month. That’s already pretty scary for Netflix, but it gets worse.

Consumers will also have the option to get a bundle that includes Disney+ as well as Disney-owned properties ESPN and Hulu, which will cost just $18. As this means you get both the massive streaming library of Disney+ and Hulu, plus all the sports ESPN offers, we’re pretty sure Netflix execs are sleeping badly lately. No wonder then that Disney is preparing for possible server overloads.

Governing Disorder

August was the month in which governments got involved with tech, and not always in a good way. The interplay between Big Tech and authorities worldwide — sometimes working against each other, sometimes working together — is something we’ve noted before, but let’s look at the most recent examples.

As you likely know, there have been ongoing protests in Hong Kong over the way the People’s Republic of China is taking over the Special Administrative Region, agreements to the contrary or no. At times, huge crowds have taken over the street and there have been pitched battles between police and criminal gangs on the one side and relatively peaceful protestors on the other.

However, the battle isn’t only being fought in the streets of Kowloon. Online, too, the battle rages, and international conglomerates have been able to weigh in, generally on the side of the Hong Kongers. 

Amazon, for instance, ignored calls from mainland Chinese netizens to remove t-shirts with pro-democracy slogans from its store, while Twitter and Facebook shut down accounts spewing mainlander propaganda. YouTube, for its part, also closed channels spreading disinformation, which often claimed it was protestors initiating the violence.

YouTube also ignored calls from the Russian government to take down “unfair” reporting on pro-democracy protests there, often footage of the police beating the living daylights out of unarmed demonstrators.

A good showing by Big Tech, all in all, and we wish the Hong Kong and Russian protestors the best. However, these companies are selective where they apply their pressure. Most of them have some kind of bone to pick with China, after all, after many of them have retreated from that market over government pressure. 

It’s Not All Good News

In Egypt, on the contrary, it’s a different matter entirely. Google is stepping up its cooperation with the Sisi regime. Its reopening its Cairo office, and sources suspect that the price for this is lending authorities a helping hand with surveilling dissidents and other forms of digital control. 

Another example of this type of collusion was uncovered by the Wall Street Journal, which reported on how Huawei, not exactly a company with clean hands, worked with the Ugandan government to crack down on dissidents. 

Taken altogether, the glass is neither half full or half empty. Rather, its companies with no accountability except to its shareholder deciding for themselves where to bring their power to bear. It’s not particularly democratic, nor does it bode well for the future. Another bad sign is the head of the FTC demurring from any scrap of rumor his agency might break up tech companies.

Oh, to See You Facebook Again

In a long-standing tradition here at Cloudwards.net, we’ll now move from our occasional bugbears Google, Amazon and dodgy government practices to our permanent bugbear Facebook. You can’t blame us, though: not a single month has passed in the last 18 where The Zuck’s world-swallowing monster hasn’t done something heinous.

This past month practically started with a story on how Facebook is working on an AI that might be able to read human minds. The idea of the legions of marketing darkness being granted to our brains is one of true terror, if you ask us, so let’s hope that department gets hit by a virus or something, and hard.

On top of the theoretical damage that could do, there’s the real damage as it turns out Facebook told very different stories in the U.S. and UK parliaments regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal. British MPs have already asked for clarification, but it seems there won’t be that much movement on this as yet as the country is still dealing with the Brexit mess.

Of course, Libra is still moving ahead, despite plenty of agencies and authorities casting doubt on whether the digital currency will be as strong as claimed, as well as the privacy of its users. 

In this case we feel like chiming in and saying that the Zuck Buck is only being brought into being to satisfy Facebook and its shareholders, and we can guarantee that anything that happens with it will only be to their benefit. At no point has Facebook ever done something to benefit anybody besides itself, and we doubt that will ever change.

Smaller Stories

Researchers at Stanford have discovered that even when you’re warned your password might have been hacked, almost none of you actually change it. A new plugin shows you a warning when your password was found in a hacked database, but only about a quarter of users actually changed their password after receiving one. 

The simmering conflict in the Persian Gulf isn’t just tankers and battleships glowering at each other: the U.S. cyberattacked Iran’s ability to deploy ships against western tankers. Apparently war does change, at least a little.

A  group of hackers calling themselves “Silence” have been going hard after financial institutions the past few years, and have really been ramping up the last few months. They’ve attacked several banks, costs millions — maybe even billions — in damage and stolen a lot of moolah as well. You’d nearly call them Robin Hoods, but as far as anybody can tell, they keep all the dosh.

Speaking of hackers, it turns out a lot of them don’t like each other very much. One group had its member database stolen and put online by another in a petty, yet funny, act of sabotage. Tsk, tsk, what’s the world coming too if even hackers can’t trust each other?

Final Thoughts

On that note, we’ll end this State of the Cloud and get ready for September. We expect there to be plenty more Facebook developments, as always, but also plenty of maneuvering in the streaming wars, too. Also, expect some more pushback from governments as legislative sessions open throughout the world.

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What do you think of the above stories? Did we miss anything of note over the past month? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.

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