Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Google Music finally comes to UK, parts of Europe

Starting November 13th, Google Music will finally launch in the UK, complete with a 'Scan and Match' feature that matches tracks in a user's library with Google's database and allowing the song to be streamed to Android phones or tablets.

Service roll out

The service which rolls out across the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, will allow Google users to buy tracks directly from their Android devices or their PC. In addition they may store up to 20,000 tracks for free, or even transfer their iTunes collection at the touch of a button, something that will be seen as another sledgehammer blow to Apple. The scan and match feature is similar to Apples iTunes Match which will also turn stomachs at Google's biggest rival in the smartphone and tablet wars.

No fee

Apple charges some £22 per year for the privilege of storing music, while Amazon's music storage service which recently launched in the UK charges a similar yearly fee.

Until now Google Music has only been available in the US, though some users outside its borders have managed to circumvent regional blocks by the use of a VPN [Virtual Private Network]. The launch in Europe will be unsettling for Apple as it could potentially take millions of users away from its coveted iTunes service.


Google Music is completely integrated with other Google services. Purchases are made using Google Wallet, formerly Google Checkout. Meanwhile songs may be shared through Google+ as a recommendation, though the track may only be played once before being required to buy it in order to continue listening.

Pros & Cons

There are some drawbacks as with any cloud service. Uploading one's music library can seemingly take forever, though the scan and match should speed up the process. It is also advisable to catalogue one's music library properly before initiating an upload. If Google cannot search the artist, song or album then finding music on the web-based interface will prove very problematic. If album art has been added this will also be upload too making the scanning through online files much easier.

Of course the biggest drawback of a cloud service is that an Internet connection is required. Even a modest broadband connection will suffice, but any break up will create problems. Android devices can store some music locally for offline playing, or to avoid data charges when not connected to WiFi

But despite such drawbacks, the service has the advantage of an any time, anywhere music library. Playlists can be created manually or even an auto playlist may be created from a single suggested track where Google scans through the uploaded library and creates its own mix.

With Google trying to make deals with studios so that users can buy films rather than just renting [CNET] the Android platform will become all the more attractive, and put iTunes to shame.

Google which had already inked agreements with Sony, Universal, and EMI, has finally signed a deal with Warner putting it on an even keel with iTunes [NYT]. Now the fight begins.

[CNET / Gizmodo / Gizmodo / Mobot / Google]

See also: tvnewswatch: Google music deserves beta label - June 2011 / tvnewswatch: Google music still US only despite revamp - Nov 2011

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Newly unveiled Google Nexus products may hurt Apple further

Google has unveiled a new series of Nexus branded products that should have many Android fans salivating and leaving Apple further concerned about its place in the tech marketplace.

While Google cancelled its highly anticipated event in New York because of Hurricane Sandy [Sky News], it didn't stop the company from announcing their new Nexus devices in a more formal matter.

Unveiled by way of a tweet, a webpage and an announcement on its blog, Google has revealed details of a new Nexus phone, an upgraded version of its popular Nexus 7 tablet and a new 10" tablet dubbed the Nexus 10

Nexus 4 made by LG

The new Nexus 4 mobile phone made by LG is set to hit shops, including the Google Play store around 13th November. Sporting the latest version of Android Jelly Bean the device features an 8 mega-pixel camera and a vibrant 1280 by 768 4.7" screen. As well as NFC the device can also be charged wirelessly though there is no word on when a charger pad will be released.

The device is available in 8Gb and 16Gb version costing £239 [$299] or £279 [$349] respectively and sports 2GB of RAM which Google claims makes it the fastest version of Android ever.

Ten inch tablet

Also unveiled is a new 10" tablet which comes preloaded with the animated film Ice Age. Sporting a high-resolution 2560 x 1600 display the device is WiFi only and comes in 16Gb or 32Gb at £319 [$399] or £389 [$499] respectively.

Upgraded Nexus 7

The real killer for Apple is the announcement of a 32Gb version of the Nexus 7 as well as one with mobile data connectivity. The 8Mb version which was released in June is now unavailable and replaced by the 16Gb device priced at £159 [$199] via the Google Play store. The WiFi version of the 32Gb device is priced at only £199 [$250] while the same device with mobile connectivity costs a mere £239 [$299] though a release date has yet to be announced.


Last week Apple unveiled the 7.9" iPad Mini widely seen as a response to Google's Nexus 7 offering. Costing between $329 and $659 it faces stiff competition in what is becoming an increasingly crowded tablet market.

While initially gaining a positive response from reviewers and Apple fanboys, there was little to rave about as regards the technical specifications. While slightly larger the iPad mini's display falls lower than offered by the Asus made Nexus 7. The iPad mini has a display of 1,024x768 pixels [163 ppi] while the Nexus 7 boasts 1,280x800 pixels [216 ppi]. In other respects both devices are almost identical, though the iPad mini does have a rear facing camera, but omits the NFC capability now seen in most modern Android devices [CNET].

Price war

With the 32Gb version of the Nexus 7 costing £150 [$240] less than the iPad mini which sells at £349 [$240], for those entering the tablet market there is no contest. Of course, Apple fans will no doubt balk at entering the world of Android, but the tablet wars have clearly begun. There was more bad news for Apple after the executive responsible for the much criticised Apple Maps was reported to have quit the company [CNN / Telegraph].

There were some bizarre anomalies for some UK users trying to access the Google Play store with some pages displayed in French, German or Spanish. Prices were still displayed in GBP however, and there was no immediate explanation as to why the pages had been incorrectly rendered.

more reports: BBC / CNN / Telegraph / Independent / CNET

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PPI claim back firms prey on poor & vulnerable

Every day one can hardly fail to spot the constant flow of advertisements that offer to help claim back the millions of pounds put aside by banks for mis-selling PPI  [Payment Protection Insurance]. The 'no win, no fee' scenario can be persuasive for many since the procedure of claiming back PPI can sound complicated and cumbersome. Putting such a claim in the hands of a specialist company is thus quite appealing. Hand over the details, sit back, and await the post for a large cheque.

However, there is a downside. Many such companies charge more than a third of the total amount retrieved from the banks, and some individuals have even found themselves out of pocket with fees being charged beyond the amount paid out.


A Daily Mirror investigation earlier this year showed that many people were ignorant of the fact they could claim back PPI themselves or wrongly thought the procedure was long and complicated. The investigation also uncovered disturbing evidence that the services offered by many claim back firms was mis-sold to customers, an irony given that the PPI they were trying to claim-back was itself mis-sold by the banks and other financial institutions.

High fees

The cheapest PPI claim firm identified by the newspaper charged a 12% success fee while the most expensive ones charged around 36%. Companies rarely reveal such details in their advertising, and try to soften such figures upon application by suggesting that a DIY approach, while possible, is "very stressful". One firm even told the Mirror journalist, who was posing as a customer, that attempting to make a claim oneself less rewarding. "It's a long process and you probably wouldn't get as much money," the adviser said.

A rather hollow statement given some customers are left in even more debt. One furious customer told the Mirror that despite being awarded £2,365 compensation the company in question kept the entire amount and demanded a further £890 to cover the 30% ­commission fee!

Do it yourself

"I never recommend going to any company that tries to get Payment Protection Insurance compensation for you," says Paul Lewis,presenter of BBC Radio 4's Moneybox programme. "First of all there's no point when you can do it yourself." And there are several organisations which have put up special pages to help people through what might on the face of it appear like a financial minefield.

There some claims that are more straightforward than others. If the loan was with a bank or other financial institution that still exists, and the loan is still current, making a claim can be relatively simple.

Even if original documents have been lost or misplaced one need not panic. Financial institutions will have their own records, and may not need any details other than the policy account number. Even where documents are needed the fee to obtain them will be small.

To start any claim one needs to establish whether one was actually mis-sold PPI. If self-employed at the time, the answer was almost certainly mis-sold a policy that was of little use or benefit and a claim will likely succeed. Other situations are less clear cut.


Moneysavingexpert.com and Which? both provide comprehensive details about what to check for and how to make a claim. Both sites, as well as the Citizens Advice Bureau, offer template letters which need only a small amount of additional detail or changes before being dispatched.

After signing and dating the letter it needs to be sent to the appropriate department at the lending institution. Most banks have special pages already set up offering details of how to claim and publish details of how to contact their complaints department.

Then comes the wait. Some banks or institutions may reply within two weeks acknowledging receipt of the said complaint, though one may not hear back for up to 8 weeks. Should one be successful, it could prove very lucrative. One customer, who was mis-sold PPI, told tvnewswatch they received some £15,000 back on a £24,000 loan. Not bad for a little time spent writing a letter and the price of a stamp. And no cut was taken by anyone.


PPI claim-back firms are effectively preying on people's ignorance and targeting people who can ill afford to lose even more money. Claiming back the money oneself is simple, and not as time-consuming as many might think.

While the Ministry of Justice cancelled the authorisation of 734 claims management firms in 2011, accounting for one in five members of the industry and double the number from the previous year, some are seeking tighter regulation.


Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com is calling for "hardcore regulation of this billion pound industry to stop their false claims, and gives redress when things go wrong". Meanwhile Richard Lloyd of Which? urged the Ministry of Justice to "up its game and speed up its plans to tighten up regulation".

As well as regulation, government could help solve problems by its own advertising campaign, informing people of how they might make claims themselves. Few see this as likely however. The government makes money through VAT it gets from the claim-back firms estimated to be in the millions of pounds.

Despite huge interest rates charged by pay-day loan companies, and much criticism in the press, government has failed to act. Until regulations come into being, the vulnerable and poor will continue to be preyed upon by unscrupulous companies, labeled by some as legal loan sharks. This week Lord Parry Mitchell of Labour's BIS team in the House of Lords introduced an amendment to the Financial Services Bill to give the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) the power to set guidelines on the impact of lenders' behaviour on consumers, which will, he writes, potentially include the capping of interest rate charges [New Statesman / Labour Lords].


While a certain amount of blame can be laid at the door of the consumer, those who get sucked into the claims by claim-back firms or pay-day loan companies, it can also be argued that such firms are acting immorally and deliberately targeting vulnerable individuals. The government may benefit from taxes drawn from these firms, but society as a whole does not. Legislation which brings an end to such irresponsible lending could have other beneficial effects. This week it was revealed that three suspects charged with planning a deadly suicide attack in Britain had tried to get funding from a pay-day loan company. While they failed in their attempt to borrow some £20,000 fro Yes Loans it raises the very real question over whether such companies could even prove to be a threat to national security [Guardian / Daily Mail / BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

EU blasts Google over privacy, but users less concerned

Google hold a massive amount of data about its users, but there are some that are more than a little concerned over how the search giant uses that data and with whom it is shared. On Tuesday the EU warned the company that its privacy policy needed to change and accused Google  of providing "incomplete and approximate" details which raised "deep concerns about data protection and the respect of the European law".

Users unconcerned

However, while it is true that Google collects vast amounts of data few actual users seem perturbed about it, nor feel the company is going too far. Soon after BBC Click posted the story on its Google+ page a number of users posted their opinions on the matter.

"Let us choose, not EU burrow-crats" wrote Nobilangelo Ceramalus, while another Google+ user Sneaky Johnson suggested those unhappy with the policy need not use Google services. "You dont like it?.... dont use it!" Johnson posted. This was a view expressed by many, and some were happier that Google's privacy policy covered all its products. "I actually prefer to manage my Google services from a single point. Google gave plenty of notice for the change, and surely those that don't like it are able to move to another "free" service?," Harmohn Laehri wrote.


Google was transparent and open about the change of its privacy policy. And while some have accused the company of being more invasive, the policy concerning its products has changed very little.

Before the change which was implemented in March 2012, there were 60 different privacy policies across Google each relating to different products or services. By replacing them with one that was shorter and easier to read Google believed it would simplify things for its users.

"The new policy and terms cover multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google," the company said, while encouraging users to check out the new terms and conditions.

"This stuff matters, so please take a few minutes to read our updated Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service," the company urged. In fact far from hiding the policy in a dark corner of the Internet, every time a user navigated to a Google page there was a bold message informing Internet users of the changes.

Collecting data

So what information are Google collecting? In respect to users with a Google account there is a great deal of information that is collected. And while some might question aspects of privacy related to the data collected, much is necessary to provide the services users want. Furthermore much of the data collected is little different from information collected and stored by other organisations, be they Internet companies or otherwise.

It might seem creepy that Google would want to record device information, such as the hardware model, operating system version, and other unique device identifiers and mobile network information, including a phone number. However there are valid reasons for doing so. On Android devices, some software may work on one model but not another. There are regional restrictions related to certain apps available via Google's Play Store, which through identifying the number, through the SIM such restrictions may be applied. Some expats have found these restrictions by chance whilst visiting other countries and using local SIMs. For example paid apps are unavailable in China and as such there are a number of apps which cannot be downloaded if a phone has a Chinese SIM installed. Of course the system can be tricked by swapping the SIM for a UK or US SIM. Such restrictions are not ones that Google has applied. Sometimes it is because they have not established agreements for local markets, or with the app provider concerned.

One clear example of this are applications or services such as Google Music, Play Books or Movies which are unavailable in certain countries. In such cases restrictions can be applied through the monitoring of the IP [Internet Protocol] address. Again the collection of this information is little different from other Internet provided services. The BBC identifies users in other countries and blocks services such as its iPlayer outside of the British Isles. Hulu, a US based video service, also blocks access to users outside the United States by logging IP addresses.

Other information such as device event information, such as crashes, system activity, hardware settings, browser type, browser language, the date and time of a request or referral URL is often needed in order to resolve problems. Furthermore just as many websites use cookies to track usage so too does Google in order to identify a particular browser and associate it to a specific user account.

Tracking users

Google might also track a user's location, through an IP address, cellular information or GPS data. This might seem particularly creepy and verging on a Big Brother scenario. However, without giving these permission the company would be unable to offer location based services that many take for granted.

"When you use a location-enabled Google service, we may collect and process information about your actual location, such as GPS signals sent by a mobile device," the company states in its policy. "We may also use various technologies to determine location, such as sensor data from your device that may, for example, provide information on nearby Wi-Fi access points and mobile towers."

Users are usually prompted to agree to such permissions when turning on applications which need this information. For example those using Google Now, Latitude, Maps and weather applications need to agree in order to obtain relevant information. Without expressly agreeing to this a weather app would not be able to offer weather in the area a user might find oneself. Google Now, an intelligent personal assistant which works as an application for Google's Android mobile phone operating system would be devoid of function should permissions to access location not be granted.

Real names & pseudonyms

While the joining of several services together is simpler, Google recognised that not all users would be entirely happy. One concern many users had was the change in the way Google allowed pseudonyms in some of its products and the joining of some services together created a issue for some.

"We may use the name that you provide for your Google Profile across all of the services we offer that require a Google Account," the company said. "In addition, we may replace past names associated with your Google Account, so that you are represented consistently across all our services. If other users already have your email or other information that identifies you, we may show them your publicly visible Google Profile information, such as your name and photo."

For some, this is of no particular consequence. But for bloggers and those posting in Google forums the posting of a real name could prove dangerous. Fortunately, Google does not insist upon those using its Blogger service to post using their real name and join accounts together. However, those using Google+ are obliged to use a real name, though some users do manage to evade Google's controls and set up accounts with fake names or pseudonyms.

Targeting ads

The company says it understands that people have different privacy concerns. "Our goal is to be clear about what information we collect, so that you can make meaningful choices about how it is used," they say. As such they provide a simplified 'Dashboard' where users can review and control what parts of their account are tied together.

One reason why Google collects and collates data from users Internet habits is to target them with advertising. Of course many people hate ads on the net, even Google's unobtrusive commercial messages that often appear just as text. Nonetheless, they are a fact of life and help pay for Google's 'free' web services.

Whether or not one logged in to a Google account, Google searches, YouTube pages and other websites are likely to display ads. But through targeting these ads may be far more useful. That can be good for the user as well as Google who display ads on behalf of companies through their Adwords product.

"With personalized ads, we can improve your ad experience by showing you ads related to websites you visit, recent searches and clicks, or information from your Gmail inbox," the company explains.

Simply put, a user who is signed in to their Google account and that searches for particular items such as printer products or baby clothing may find that on subsequent visits to a website displaying Adword advertisements will see commercials showing related items. For a long time Google has 'read' users' Gmail in order to target ads alongside messages.

But while some might find it creepy that Google 'reads' their email or sifts through their Internet searches, the trawling of such data is purely automatic. Furthermore the data is not directly shared with advertisers.

There are some that fear governments accessing their data. And of course it is possible that with an appropriate warrant a user's data might be handed to law enforcement. Such cases are rare however, though it does happen [tvnewswatch: Google forced to reveal blogger...], and Google are in no different a position than companies like Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft or other Internet company that stores information on its users. In fact new legislation is already being proposed to tighten the way people use social networks [Telegraph].

Wordy agreements

In fact the anger and criticism fired at Google could easily be laid at the door of many others, some of which have been far less transparent concerning how it uses the data supplied by users.

While Google's Privacy policy clocks in at around 2,200 words, Facebook's much criticized privacy agreement is now longer than the US Constitution, clocking in at 5,830 words [NYT].

Twitter's Privacy policy is around 2,100 words. Furthermore despite  the common belief that the service provides anonymity to its users, Twitter state that it too logs data which "may include information such as your IP address, browser type, operating system, the referring web page, pages visited, location, your mobile carrier, device and application IDs, search terms, and cookie information."

Microsoft's hidden agenda

Microsoft, which like Google provides many cloud and search services also updated its privacy policy this year. Much of the detail contained within the policy is little different than that issued by Google. However far less publicity or criticism surrounded Microsoft's updated contract with its users which was hidden away on a little read blogpost. While a few blogs such as MarketingLand picked up on the changes, Microsoft's policy created few ripples in the media let alone the European Parliament.

Google has attempted to be open and transparent with its users, many of whom would likely not read the terms and conditions that applied to each individual service they had been using for years. Instead of calming people's fear, the attempt to simplify, unify and clarify the way Google used people's data has instead heightened fears, despite the fact little had really changed. "Our first priority is the privacy and security of your data, and we go to great lengths to protect it," Google said in a recent blogpost where they show off their vast data centres.

No true anonymity

At the end of the day, there is no true anonymity on the web. When using web services it is a matter of who one trusts with private or personal data. To retreat to the past and not use email, cloud services and social networks is perhaps a bit impractical. Using VPNs, to hide IP addresses, could help. But in reality privacy ended when the Internet came into being.

related: tvnewswatch: Google concerns over privacy / tvnewswatch: Viacom battle with Google threatens privacy / tvnewswatch: Google reacts to criticism over privacy / Guardian / Telegraph / WSJ / IBT  

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mixed response to Huawei & ZTE 'security threat'

Coming days after the 2012 Budapest Conference on Cyberspace wrapped up with little consensus [see: tvnewswatch: Cyberspace conference ends with little consensus], a US congressional report was released suggesting that American firms should avoid doing business with two Chinese telecoms companies citing national security grounds. While there are few details laid out in the report citing actual evidence, the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee have said they fear that China could use equipment made by the two companies to spy on certain communications and threaten vital systems through computerised links.

Military links

Both Huawei and ZTE are said to have close links with the Chinese government and its military and the congressional panel say have not been satisfied by statements from the companies concerned [Sky / BBC].

The report [PDF] highlights the interconnectivity of US critical infrastructure systems and warns of the heightened threat of cyber-espionage and predatory disruption or destruction of US networks if telecommunications networks are built by companies with known ties to the Chinese state, a country known to aggressively steal valuable trade secrets and other sensitive data from American companies [USHR]. But while the United States are taking a stance against companies they believe pose a national security threat, other countries have been far less proactive.

UK presence

In the UK, Huawei has established a significant and influential presence. The company, which began operating in Britain in 2001, said it has invested over £150 million and created 650 jobs resulting in deals with almost every major company in the UK's telecoms industry.

Huawei's technology has been used in broadband distribution equipment used by BT. TalkTalk, another major client, uses Huawei technology to run HomeSafe, a system to monitor Internet use by its customers in order to offer content filtering and the blocking of adult and other "unsuitable" content.

Huawei also produces set-top boxes for YouView, the new digital service backed by several UK Internet service providers and broadcasters, including the BBC. And much of EE's commercial 4G network will be powered by Huawei technology [BBC].

WiFi bid rejected

In June this year Virgin Media won the contract to roll out WiFi infrastructure across London's Underground network [Guardian]. According to reports the British government is said to have rejected Huawei's bid to provide £50 million worth of technology as a gift between Olympic nations because of national security concerns. Huawei had been been tipped as one of the hot contenders for the bid as far back as February 2011 [FT] despite the fact that US concerns over the firm had already been raised [FT]. 

Long time concerns

In fact such concerns date back to 2008 which saw Huawei having to abandon a planned purchase of a 16.5% in 3Com, a US computer networking company, after the transaction encountered opposition in Washington on national security grounds [FT].
see also: tvnewswatch: 2011 cyber talks fail to reach concensus

In 2000, China's Huawei Technologies Co., a company tied closely to the PLA, was accused by Washington of helping Iraq upgrade its military communications system despite Chinese denials. The company also signed an agreement with the Taleban to install 12,000 fixed-line telephones in Kandahar. Meanwhile, another southern Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, agreed to install 5,000 telephone lines in Kabul. The deal stalled until Pakistan could provide guarantees for the project [Ref. Dragon on Terrorism: Assessing China's Tactical Gains and Strategic Losses - Mohan Malik PDF / Amazon]. see also: tvnewswatch: Chinas divided loyalties

UK unconcerned

But despite US concerns, and even some concerns in British Intelligence circles, the British government and many companies in the UK seem undaunted about dealing with Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese tech companies.

Derek Smith, a cybersecurity spokesman for the Cabinet Office, told the BBC that "The picture here in the UK is different." Huawei's UK clients too have been quick to justify their business deals with the Chinese companies. "Huawei has been a partner of ours for a number of years, as it has been for most of the British telecommunications industry, and we will continue working with it," a spokesman for TalkTalk told the BBC. "Any British company working with Huawei has been given clearance to do so by the necessary authorities."

Others reevaluate position

But beyond Britain's shores other countries are beginning to question their relationship with the Chinese tech firms. A few days after the congressional report was published the infrastructure giant Cisco ended its business deals with ZTE after its own internal investigation concluded that the Chinese company had sold Cisco products to Iran, in breach of trade sanctions.

In Canada, the government has invoked a "national security exception" for hiring firms to build a secure communications network, allowing it to block those seen as a security risk. However it did not single out Huawei or ZTE, but many have speculated the move was motivated by the US stance. Meanwhile Australia, which is in the process of developing a US $37.4 billion national broadband network, has already banned Huawei from winning the lucrative contract.

Europe's position remains unclear, though a trade spokesman told the BBC that the EU had "taken note" of the US report, but insisted, "This is an issue between the US authorities and the companies involved."

China defends its corner

For their part the two Chinese companies have come out fighting, vehemently denying accusation of complicity in cyber-espionage or posing any security threat. ZTE in particular has suggested the outcome of the report was predetermined and insists its equipment is "safe and poses no risk". The press statement from the company also suggests that if the US are seriously concerned about the threat posed by Huawei and ZTE, the recommendations put forward by the report should "be extended to include every company making equipment  in China." [Slashgear]

In a statement  released by Huawei the company says they cooperated in an "open and transparent manner" and said the committee "ignored our proven track record of network security in the United States."

China's state media was scathing of the report. Xinhua said the report was "based on a groundless excuse, rendering its argument far from convincing and compromising Washington's reputation and credibility."

"China bashing"

Meanwhile Bill Plummer, Huawei's top spokesman in the United States, told Xinhua he thought the report was, "Little more than an exercise in China-bashing and misguided protectionism." Another Huawei spokesman told Xinhua the "final report was full of rumours and speculations" and accused the US of attempting to restrain Chinese ICT enterprises from expanding their market in the US.

Meanwhile Wang Jiangyu, Deputy Director of Center for Asian Legal Studies, told Xinhua that such "demonizing" of Chinese enterprises could be contagious and have damaging consequences. "Although the report is not a judicial decision or a legislation, which is legally-binding, it may still cast a shadow on the overseas development of Chinese enterprises," Wang is quoted as saying.

"What's even worse is that the judgement may spread to the other countries all over the world, where people, companies and governments may no longer do business with these Chinese companies."


There is already evidence of such concerns manifesting themselves. In India there have been a flurry of reports suggesting Huawei may pose a risk to the country's defences [Independent]

Meanwhile Britain is now said to be asking questions with an inquiry by an influential group of MPs said to be looking into a how a £2.5 billion contract was struck between Huawei and BT [Daily Mail].

Whether the fears over Huawei and other Chinese tech firms are well founded in truth, the effects of any embargo against them could have far reaching consequences. Huawei, in particular, have established a significant hold in the market place, in some cases only second to key players like Ericsson [Economist]. With revenues in excess of $32 billion in 2011, a rise of 12% from 2010, the financial stakes are certainly high. So too are the security risk if there is any substance in Washington's concerns.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Cyberspace conference ends with little consensus

The 2012 Budapest Conference on Cyberspace has wrapped up but there was little agreement between nations who have differing views on how the Internet should be controlled. While western democracies spoke of maintaining and preserving openness and freedom on the Internet, this was a subject less discussed from nations such as China which focused instead on building "an open and secure cyberspace".

Chinese suspicions

China has, since its opening up, seen the Internet with suspicion. While it has accepted the need for the Internet in the modern age, China has always been worried about the influence of the World Wide Web. Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor, famously said, "If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in." But as far as China is concerned there are far too many flies.

Huang Huikang, legal advisor and Director-General of the Department of Treaty and Law to China's foreign ministry, speaking at the Cyberspace conference said that although cyberspace was virtual, it needs rules and norms to follow. Furthermore China believes the United Nations is "the best forum for elaboration of international norms and rules in cyberspace".

Rejection of international treaty

Such notions have mostly been rejected by western democracies, as well as civil rights campaigners who believe that dictates set out by the UN could erode Internet freedom. Speaking in Budapest the British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that a Treaty between governments would be "cumbersome to agree, hard to enforce and too narrow in its focus".

William Hague has continually dismissed any suggestion of censorship and suppression of the Internet. "We believe that efforts to suppress the Internet are wrong and are bound to fail over time," he said in his address before delegates at the Budapest conference. "Governments who attempt this are erecting barricades against an unstoppable tide, and acting against their own long term economic interests and their security. This debate needs to be part of international efforts to protect the future of cyberspace."

Censorship criticised

While he did not name any specific country, his comments were likely aimed at countries such as China and Iran which take a strong line in terms of online censorship. "We see growing evidence of some countries drawing the opposite conclusion," Hague said. "Some appear to be going down the path of state control of the Internet: pulling the plug at times of political unrest, invading the privacy of net users, and criminalising and legislating against legitimate expression online."

"We are all aware of the countries where YouTube is permanently blocked as are webpages mentioning 'democracy' or 'human rights'. In some countries the websites of human rights organisations have come under cyber attack themselves. Some countries are considering going down the route of build their own national, ghettoised Internets for a variety of reasons. And following the Arab Spring, we see growing numbers of people ending up in jail for blogging and tweeting about issues we would consider to be legitimate political debate and freedom of expression." [FCO]

But in an opinion led article in the People's Daily Huang Huikang insisted that the domestic management of the Internet was up to each individual country. "Every country is entitled to formulate its policies and laws in light of its history, traditions, culture, language and customs, and manage the internet accordingly," he said.

As regards the free flow of information, he referred to it as a "double edged sword," saying that it was no excuse for the "illegal and irresponsible information rampant on the Internet," which threatened national security, social orders and the lawful rights of people.


The main focus of the conference was cybersecurity and there was some general agreement that such issues should be tackled. William Hague spoke of working together collectively to tackle the threat from criminals and state sponsored cyber attackers.

Again William Hague failed to point any fingers, but he called on all countries to cooperate in curtailing such attacks. However, while joint efforts to stamp out criminal activity might foster support, bringing an end to state sponsored cyber attacks may prove far more difficult [BBC / Guardian].

"It has never been easier to become a cyber criminal. Today, such attacks are criss-crossing the globe from north to south and east to west - in all directions, recognising no borders, with all countries in the firing line," the Foreign Secretary said. He set out plans which would see the UK invest £2 million to set up a "centre of excellence" that will hand out advice to other countries needing to increase their cyber security research and practices [ZDNet]. However the funds could be seen as rather small compared to the £650 million put aside after last years conference to help tackle cyber attacks [eGovMonitor].

Related: tvnewswatch: 2011 Cyber talks fail to reach concensus

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Radical cleric Abu Hamza heads to US court

After years of legal wrangling the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has arrived in the United States to face charges of terror related offences.

Appeals rejected

Abu Hamza is one of five men deported on Friday, within hours of High Court judges rejecting their final appeals. On Saturday the US Attorney General confirmed the arrival of a flight carrying two of the other terror suspects Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan. They are due before a court in Connecticut in connection with the alleged running of a pro-jihad website.

On Friday, UK judges ruled the five men, Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, had not shown "new and compelling" reasons to stay in the UK. Following the rejection of final appeals, Home Secretary Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision.

Home Secretary pleased

"I am pleased the decision of the court today meant that these men, who used every available opportunity to frustrate and delay the extradition process over many years, could finally be removed," May said. "This government has co-operated fully with the courts and pressed at every stage to ensure this happened."

Speaking only after the US-bound flights had taken off, May said: "I can confirm that tonight two planes have left RAF Mildenhall to transport Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Adel Abdul Bary, Syed Ahsan and Khalid al-Fawwaz to the US to face trial.

Terror offences

Abu Hamza faces 11 charges in the US relating to hostage taking, conspiracy to establish a militant training camp and calling for holy war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Khalid al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary are accused of being aides to Osama Bin Laden in London.

The case surrounding Abu Hamza has captivated the British press who have printed sensationalist stories on the radical preacher who once worked out of Finsbury Park mosque. He has been the focus of press attention since shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 as he praised the terrorists and called them heroes. While many tabloids celebrated Hamza's final departure for the US, many criticised the long and expensive legal battle that has cost the British taxpayer in excess of £25 million [The Sun / The Mirror / Daily Star / Daily Express / Daily Mail]. The broadsheets also expressed satisfaction that the radical cleric was heading to the US to face trial, though the tone was more serious [Telegraph / Guardian / Independent / FT / Times (subscription)]. 

He was also connected to the now banned radical Islamic organisation al-Muhajiroun which was condemned by critics for condoning or glorifying terrorism. [BBC / Sky / CNN / Al-JazeeraPress TV]

Related stories from tvnewswatch: Extradition ruling due on terror suspect / Abu Hamza to be extradited to US / Radical cleric sentenced to 7 years / UK radical cleric trial underway / Terror threat real and growing / Terrorist awarded 2,500 pounds / War on Terror - More abuse pictures / Kember due to arrive in UK Saturday

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