U.S., U.K. Victims of Swiss Spy Data Breach

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The United States and Britian have been warned by Swiss authorities that top-secret counter-terrorism data they shared with foreign governments has been stolen.

A senior IT technician for the NDB, Switzerland’s intelligence service, is suspected last summer of downloading terabytes of counter-terrorism information shared between the NDB, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and MI6, Reuters reported Dec. 4.

It is believed the material downloaded from the Swiss intelligence service’s servers could comprise millions of printed pages of classified material. It is also believed the information was downloaded onto portable hard drives and then carried out of the government building in a backpack. Authorities believe the technician planned to sell the data to “foreign officials and commercial buyers.”

Although the authorities believe they arrested the suspect and seized the information before it was sold, they are not certain. The suspect has since been released pending a criminal investigation by the office of Switzerland’s Federal Attorney General, sources told Reuters.

Investigators suspect the technician was miffed because he believed his advice on operating the data systems was not being taken seriously, sources said.

The suspect was described as a “very talented” technician with “administrator rights,” which means he had unlimited access to most or all of the NDB’s networks, a source close to the investigation told Reuters.

The source also revealed that the authorities believe the suspect displayed classic warning signs that should have been recognized by his bosses or security officials. In fact, according to Reuters’ report, the man became so fed up earlier this year, he neglected to come to work.

Swiss news reports, however, indicated the NDB did not notice anything was wrong until a Swiss bank reported a questionable attempt to set up a numbered bank account, which then was traced to the NDB technician.

Reuters indicated a Swiss parliamentary committee is now conducting its own investigation into the occurrence. A report is expected next spring.

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U.S., U.K. Victims of Swiss Spy Data Breach

Yahoo Acquires OnTheAir to Boost Mobile Platform

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is making good on her promise to beef up the company’s mobile strategy to bring the floundering search engine into the future.

OnTheAir, a small startup specializing in broadcasting video chats and interviews to online audiences, announced Dec. 4 it is “joining forces with Yahoo.”

Founded by a five-person team of former Meebo, Google, Apple, and Cookiris employees in March of this year, OnTheAir was acquired for an unknown sum. But, given the company has publicly received less than $1 million in seed funding and Mayer’s assertion that Yahoo was looking to make small acquisitions, it is unlikely the purchase price was staggering.

Yahoo confirmed in an e-mail the five-person OnTheAir team — Abel Allison, Daniel Hopkins, Erik Goldman, Josh Schwarzapel, and Mike Kerzhner — would focus on Yahoo’s mobile offerings.

“When we started OnTheAir, we had dreams of building a company that made a difference in the daily lives of millions,” the OnTheAir website reads. “Our pursuit was challenging: We put in late nights together. We debated intensely. We worked like crazy to build a product we were proud to put our name on. While we haven’t yet attained our dream of building a widespread daily use product, we are just as committed to it. And this is why we’re so excited to be joining Yahoo,” the post continues.”

“When we first met with the team at Yahoo, it was clear that everybody there is committed to making mobile products the backbone for the world’s daily habits. All in all, it’s a fascinating time to be joining Yahoo. There’s a tremendous amount of energy in the company. There are big things to be done and great products to be built, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

Yahoo senior vice-president of emerging products and technology Adam Cahan described the addition of the OnTheAir team as a boon to Yahoo.

“Hiring the most talented mobile product thinkers and engineers is a big priority for us moving forward,” Cahan said in a statement.

He said Yahoo “can’t wait to work with them to create the best possible mobile experience for our users.”

This acquisition is the second small, mobile-oriented deal since Mayer filled the top spot at Yahoo this spring. Yahoo in October purchased Stamped, a New York-based mobile startup that enables users to share information about favorite restaurants and music on their Smartphones.


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Yahoo Acquires OnTheAir to Boost Mobile Platform

Austrian Student Group in Court Over Facebook Privacy Issues

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Campaign group europe-v-facebook is heading to court in Ireland with the goal of forcing Facebook to both offer more transparency and enhanced privacy protection for its users.

The organization, made up of Austrian students, said Dec. 4 it plans to appeal decisions by the data protection regulator in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters.

The group has for more than a year been campaigning for better data protection by the social media site. So far, it has won a petition to compel Facebook to turn off its facial recognition feature in Europe. Facebook has also been forced to divulge more information on the amount of data it has for each user.

The group, however, has said more change is needed and expressed disappointment in the results of the Ireland Data Protection Commissioner’s investigation, launched after europe-v-facebook filed a variety of complaints.

“The Irish authority is miles away from other European data protection authorities in its understanding of the law, and failed to investigate many things. Facebook also gave the authority the runaround,” the group said in a statement. “We are hoping for a legally compliant solution from the Irish data protection authority. Unfortunately, that is highly doubtful at the moment. Therefore we are also preparing ourselves for a lawsuit in Ireland.”

A Facebook spokesperson said the Irish Data Protection Commissioner has painstakingly reviewed the site’s handling of European users data over the past year.

“The latest Data Protection report demonstrates not only how Facebook adheres to European data protection law but also how we go beyond it, in achieving best practice,” the spokesperson said in an e-mail to several media outlets. “Nonetheless we have some vocal critics who will never be happy whatever we do and whatever the DPC concludes.”

Europe-v-facebook founder Max Schrems has filed 22 complaints with the Irish regulator. Categories include: pokes, synchronizing, deleted tags, excessive processing of data, picture privacy settings and the site’s new policy to name a few.

“Even though we hope for a positive outcome on all complaints, our experience tells us that we have to expect that the authority might not decide in the interest of users, on all complaints,” Schrems said in a statement.

He said a decision against Facebook would be a “landmark decision.”

“Such a case would be a landmark for the whole IT industry, equally to the anti-trust cases against Microsoft,” he said. “If this would be only about Facebook, such a procedure would rather not make sense.”

Europe-v-facebook has filed an extensive report to the Irish audit detailing all alleged breaches of European law. The report can be downloaded here.

Facebook is also facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States, for allegedly violating privacy rights by publicizing users’ “likes” without offering a way for them to opt out.

A U.S. judge granted preliminary approval late Dec. 3 to a second endeavor to settle the case by paying users up to $10 each out of a $20 million fund.


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Austrian Student Group in Court Over Facebook Privacy Issues

Facebook Makes Messenger Available to All

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Non-Facebook users will now be able to sign up for its Messenger app using just their name and phone number.

The roll out began on Android in select countries —India, Australia, Indonesia, Venezuela, and South Africa — Dec. 4 and will go international in the coming weeks. Messenger for iOS also is coming soon, Facebook announced.

The move is a bid to broaden the social network’s appeal for those who are not Facebook users, Peter Deng, Facebook’s director of communications product management, told CNet.

“It could lead to other parts of the Facebook product — post a status message or share an album,” Deng said.

It also makes Messenger more competitive with SMS, which just turned 20 this week, and other third-party messaging services such as WhatsApp, which only requires a phone number to sign up.

Deng told CNet Facebook hopes young people, who favor texting over e-mail, will opt for a more elaborate service from Facebook rather than the ordinary SMS.

“The SMS protocol has been around for 20 years. It’s designed for old phones, and it doesn’t take advantage of location or rich features like picture taking,” Deng said. “We want to let people connect to each other.”

With a new focus on mobile, Facebook has numerous compatibility issues to deal with, Deng said.

“Every single day, Facebook is accessed by 7,000 different types of devices,” he said.

Facebook describes Messenger as a free stand-alone mobile app that enables users to text friends for free using their existing data plan and reach friends on their phones and the Web.

The app also allows users to start group conversations, share photos and include friends of friends in conversations. It also informs users who has received their message and who hasn’t.

Messenger enables users to access their messages and chats as seamless conversations, receive free push notifications on their phones and switch between multiple conversations with in-app notifications.

Messenger is available on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry devices and can be downloaded here.


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Facebook Makes Messenger Available to All

Technology News Briefs — Dec. 5, 2012

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Intel Launches $6B Debt Sale

Intel launched a $6-billion debt sale Dec. 4 to fund common stock buybacks as well as for general corporate purposes.

According to IFR, Intel was offering the bonds in a range of maturities from five years to 30 years.

“The offering and the final terms of the notes, including principal amount, interest rate and maturity will depend on market and other conditions at the time of pricing,” the company said in a statement.

Intel’s stock has dipped 18 percent over the past year due to investor uncertainty regarding sluggish PC sales and the firm’s lack of mobile strategy.

Intel’s shares rose 2.3 percent to $20 Dec. 4.

SoPost Turns Social Media Into Address

A U.K. startup is on a mission to ensure its users never again miss a delivery.

SoPost, a free service, allows users to use their social media accounts, e-mail address and phone number as a postal address.

“At SoPost, we’re reinventing the postal address,” the website explains. “We don’t think that an address should be a house number and zip code: it should be where you are, or where you want your mail to be sent.”

After signing up, users can add home, work, school or other addresses to their SoPost accounts and then make up a daily schedule so the service can ensure deliveries arrive at the address where the user will be. The user simply chooses one of the social media accounts or e-mail to send to and SoPost takes care of re-routing parcels based on the user’s schedule.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could send stuff to yourself, your friends and your family without having to think about it, without ever having to enter a house number and postcode, if the act of sending something just happened and was as natural and painless as taking a breath of air?” the website asks. “That is our aim. To simplify mail. To create an address fit for the present.”

Twitter opens Office in France

Twitter is set to open new offices in Paris, one of the social network’s fastest growing markets.

Other than the U.S., Twitter also has offices in Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Brazil.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity [there],” Katie Stanton, vice-president of international market development, told The Next Web.

“It has been one of our fastest growing markets around the world. Which has been tremendous, we’ve seen something like 150 percent user growth year over year and that’s 350 percent growth in tweets on a daily basis.”

Stanton told The Next Web a priority for the French team is to continue to foster rapid user growth by working with Twitter’s partners, as well as local television stations, publishers and the buying public.

Stanton also said Twitter would employ intense focus on France’s cities for ongoing trends, beginning with Toulouse and Bordeaux. The objective is to enable Twitter users to land anywhere on the site and automatically see what is happening, via the tweets being posted, for any location.


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Technology News Briefs — Dec. 5, 2012

Yahoo Acquires OnTheAir, Betting Big on Mobile

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Ever since former Googler Marissa Mayer took the reins at Yahoo, observers have been speculating about the venerable but beleaguered search engine’s new direction. A look at the company’s first two purchases since the new CEO came aboard seems to indicate a big bet on mobile apps.

Let’s take a quick step back in time to late October of this year. That’s when Mayer made her first acquisition since arriving at Yahoo. The purchased company, named Stamped, produced a recommendations app by the same name. James Niccolai, reporting on the story for CFO World, noted that the app was developed by former Google employees and had even received financial support from Google Ventures. Mayer visited Stamped shortly after the purchase and tweeted that she was “happy to be reunited with Robby and his team.”

Stamped was an iPhone app that I like to think of as an “external memory.” It let users keep track of restaurants, books, movies, and other things they like, and let their friends know about them. I say “was” because at the time of the purchase, Stamped reported that it would be discontinuing the product at the end of the  year. Users can download a PDF copy of their data. Niccolai noted in his article that they were planning to build a “big, mobile, and new” app for Yahoo, but didn’t supply details.

Yesterday, Yahoo made its second acquisition since Mayer became CEO: a video chat start-up named OnTheAir. John Ribeiro, reporting the story for the IDG News service, noted that “Yahoo sources said the acquisition was for talent, and that the OnTheAir product will not be continued.” Four of OnTheAir’s five-member team hold degrees from Stanford, the same college from which Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (and Marissa Mayer, for that matter) graduated. The remaining member of the team, according to his bio, held an interesting job before joining OnTheAir: he worked at Google on infrastructure that supports Gmail and Google+.

Perhaps it’s too soon to call it a pattern, but the similarities between these two purchases can’t be ignored. Mayer acquired two companies that included former Google employees; both firms worked on creating useful mobile applications; and both acquisitions focused on gaining the talent as opposed to the company’s actual products. Clearly, Mayer thinks Yahoo’s future involves making mobile apps.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who was paying attention when Mayer participated in her first earnings conference call since accepting the position of Yahoo CEO. Juan Carlos Perez, reporting on the call for Computerworld, highlighted her interest in the mobile field, and her desire for Yahoo to do more, and better, in this area. “We’ve made progress, but Yahoo hasn’t capitalized on the mobile opportunity,” she said; Perez noted that she felt “it has ‘underinvested’ in its mobile front-end development.”

Furthermore, according to Perez, Mayer believed that Yahoo’s “mobile product lineup is too fragmented, with more than 76 different iOS and Android applications. ‘Our top priority is a focused, coherent mobile strategy,’ Mayer said. This will involve a significant beefing up of the company’s mobile staff.” Clearly, Yahoo took two steps in that direction by purchasing Stamped and OnTheAir.

So what are the next steps? It’s possible that Mayer will acquire one more company that fits the pattern before the end of this year, but I don’t rank that as a high probability. Rather, I expect this month to be devoted to the new guys settling in and brainstorming, with Mayer dropping some hints (to them, not us, alas) as to where she’d like to see Yahoo’s mobile apps going.

Where, exactly, is that? Count on it not being games, at least not right away (if ever). My guess is that she wants to see these mobile apps fit together in a coherent package, but continue to be useful as standalone applications. I wouldn’t be surprised if Yahoo comes up with something reminiscent of the iPad’s or Windows 8′s approach – done much better.

On the other hand, I don’t see Yahoo getting into its own hardware. I could see them creating custom mobile app packages for specific devices, and working with the manufacturers to install them on smartphones and tablets. It’s also entirely possible that this time next year, we’ll see at least three versions of some impressive Yahoo mobile apps: one for Android, one for Apple’s App Store, and one for Microsoft’s app store. It’s worth noting, at this point, that Yahoo has almost all the pieces it needs among its various products and purchases to build its own full-service computer software package; about the only thing missing is its own web browser. Or it could easily bring all these services together to build a better social site than Facebook (though the less said about Yahoo Groups, the better). We’ll just have to wait and see what Mayer and company cooks up at Yahoo, now that there are some more veteran chefs in the kitchen.

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Trendy Tech Gifts for 2012

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In the sea of tech toys and gadgets that hit the shelves every holiday season, a few stand out as the year’s sure-to-sell-out favorites. With the first new console gaming system in six years and a mini-tablet war, this year is no exception.

Here are the hottest trending tech goodies of the 2012 holiday season:

Video Game Consoles

Nintendos Wii U – $299.99 for an 8GB basic, $349.99 for a 32GB deluxe – is the first new console gaming system released since the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 first debuted in 2006. In addition to the standard game controls, the GamePad incorporates a 6.2-inch LCD touch screen (which they’ve dubbed a “Personal Second Screen”) with motion control. Additional game content is beamed to the controller screen so you can see maps, complete challenges with the stylus or your finger, or use it to move your character or vehicle on the big screen. It can be used for handheld gaming, even when the TV is unavailable.

It’s the must-have item this season and it’s sure to sell out fast. If you want one, don’t wait for a sale. The best you can hope for is a bundle-deal in which retailers may package in an extra game. If you wait, you’ll risk losing out to resellers that snatch them up in bulk to mark up $100 or more and sell to the desperate on EBay.


Despite the much heralded release of Apple’s new iPad Mini, my pick for the best seven-inch mini tablet is Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, starting at $199.

An entry-level iPad Mini will set you back $329, making the Fire’s price a big draw. Unless you are already married to Apple’s iTunes store, rest assured, the Kindle gives you access to just about all of the most popular apps, as well as the huge library of books, videos, TV shows and music housed in Amazon’s massive library. With an HD display, dual antenna for stronger Wi-Fi reception and both a USB and Micro-HDMI port (for connecting it to your home theater), anyone on your list looking for an ultra-portable mini-tablet is sure to be pleased with the Kindle Fire HD.

If seven inches seems too small to accommodate your handheld Web surfing, video watching and game playing needs, Amazon is releasing an 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HD in time for the holidays starting at $299.99. Pre-order now – they expect to sell out.

Video Games

Call of Duty – $60 for XBox 360, Playstation 3, Nintento Wii U and PC – is going to be the hottest video game of the season. This first-person shooter game has developed a huge fan base since the series first launched in 2003, making it the biggest-selling title on Microsoft’s Xbox gaming system. Holiday sales of the annual game releases have outpaced all other games for the last four years and this season will be no exception.

Players battle it out online over a variety of “maps” and game styles. New “map packs” are released regularly to keep game play fresh. Just keep in mind that content is mature so it’s best saved for the older gamers on your holiday shopping list.


Trendy music lovers are clamoring for the pricey but oh-so-fashionable Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. The colorful can-style headphones are about style even more than sound, though many swear by the quality and durability. With many versions available, the entry level Beats Solo HD will set you back about $200, though many retailers are offering them on sale for the holiday shopping season.

With eight colors to choose from, they sport an in-line control and microphone to easily switch from your tunes to an incoming call. Reviews are mixed with users seeming to love or hate them, but they’re unquestionably popular.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns, Computer Nerds On Call a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona and MORE Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle and gadgets.

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Trendy Tech Gifts for 2012