Internet News (October 2017)

Microsoft hosts Edge Web summit

On 13th September, Microsoft held its Edge Web Summit in Seattle, Washington – a tech summit not entirely dissimilar in nature to that of Google’s IO annual event. At this event they trotted out the statistic of “330 million active devices”, qualifying that the statistic counts users that actively used the Edge browser over the course of a month.

Of course, these figures may initially sound impressive, until you actually look at comparisons across the market share. Statcounter states that the browser’s desktop market share is a measly 3.95%, still significantly lower in fact than even the original legacy browser it is trying supplant, Internet Explorer, which still holds a perplexing 8.6% market share. Meanwhile, Chrome still has a meteoric lead over its competition, and with both Chrome and Firefox combined taking a total of some roughly 77% of the total browser market share on desktops, it’s hardly surprising that people don’t want to switch to a new browser with less features and none of the sideways functionality and app connectivity that either of the other two browsers provide.

Microsoft announced their new web browser, originally under the codename of Project Spartan, back in April 2015, accompanying the build up to the launch of the company’s new Windows 10 operating system. Many at the time took note more of what features the browser had omitted more than what it had included, including the lack of support for any kind of third party plugins, including such obvious examples as Java and Silverlight, the only exception to this rule being Adobe Flash, which will be phased out by Adobe in 2020.

This immediately meant existing users of both Chrome and Firefox already had no possible reason to switch, as most users already have a  setup plugin friendly environment on their current browser of choice. Indeed, it even had less functionality than Internet Explorer 11, the last major revision of the Internet Explorer series of browsers released back in 2013, much to the indifference and maybe more than a few groans from web developers the world over at the thought of trying to figure out what Microsoft were trying to actually achieve.

Edge’s main goal as a browser for the company was to provide the all important clean break from Internet Explorer, to start afresh and build a new framework from the ground up, while also building it to the modern standards of the web that are already implemented, with its own little idiosyncrasies to distinguish it from both Chrome and Firefox. The rendering engine, termed EdgeHTML was originally branched off from Internet Explorer’s Trident engine, stripping out large chunks of legacy code in the process. While still behind Chrome in web standards support, it comes in pretty close, roughly equalling Firefox and still staying ahead of Apple’s Safari browser.

Microsoft certainly has no shame about trying to push Edge on users of Windows 10 either, with its controversial move to make Cortana, Windows 10’s built in ‘assistant’, only work with the Edge browser, even going so far as to block other browsers and search providers from being used with it at all, as well as the usual tricks of making it the default browser on fresh Windows 10 installs.

That being said, let’s not act as if other companies don’t pull the exact same trick. If you use Google’s search engine while on the Edge browser, you will be notified about their own Chrome browser. Given that Google’s search engine is the market leader by a country mile, gives it quite the advantage when it comes to how much and how far it can self-promote.

Microsoft has been putting a lot of work in to try and compete, and at this time there are now plugins available for the browser, although it seems to have nowhere near the volume of support of the other two major competitors, though maybe this is to be expected considering its relatively young age, and the fact that its support background for plugins runs through the Windows 10 Store which in itself opens a whole new can of worms.

Angry Birds developer heading for the Stock Market

Rovio, the developers of the (in)famous game series Angry Birds, had said it expects to be worth $1 billion when it lists on the stock market, and that seems to have come to pass, with its Initial Public Offering (IPO) weighing in at €896 million Euros or $1.06 billion.

Rovio, whose games have been downloaded some 3.7+ billion times and counting, announced its IPO earlier this month. The reason behind the move, as the company’s CEO Kati Levoranta explains, is to help it grow even further, citing Rovio as “more than just a gaming company”, if you now include the movie and merchandising branches that have branched out from the Angry Birds series’ success.

“The mobile gaming market is expected to grow fast and Rovio has grown faster than the market in recent years, but Rovio is much more than just a gaming company. Angry Birds branded consumer products are already sold in some 120 countries and the first Angry Birds Movie, released in 2016, was an international box-office success. The listing is an important step in developing Rovio into an even stronger games-first entertainment company.”

Grim predictions of more hacking to come

There seems to be no signs of let up for cyber attacks in the near future, as a director of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warns, predicting a ‘Category One’ attack, which is an attack of the highest level, in the next few years.

The NCSC, a new branch of GCHQ formed in 2016, is tasked with the UK’s information security. In the year since it was founded, the NCSC has, according to Technical Director Ian Levy, covered over 500 incidents comprising of some 470 ‘Category Three’ and roughly 30 ‘Category Two’ attacks, one of recent note being that of the WannaCry ransomware attacks that the NHS weathered mere months ago.

Levy, speaking at a Symantec cyber security event which was to explore and look ahead the next decade of information security, stated, “Sometime in the next few years we’re going to have our first Category One cyber-incident”. His advice on preventing this coming to pass? Change the way in which governments and businesses alike contemplate cyber security. He argues that currently governments spend far more time worrying about buying the right security software, than they do about risk management and damage control, and asked them to focus on the data that they have and what value it has, both to themselves and to others, if stolen or lost.

Levy’s speech comes not long after US based data broker Equifax suffered a major breach of security that saw roughly 130 million people’s data being stolen, and then taking an dubiously long amount of time to finally declare the breach to the public. The kind of data that Equifax collects is very sensitive indeed, from names and addresses to dates of birth, social security numbers and more – all the kinds of information required to enable others to steal someone’s identities online. As it turns out, the company had also collected data on roughly 400,000 British and a number of Canadian citizens as well, although the data stolen in these cases was slightly less personal in nature, consisting of names, email addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth.

Levy goes on to explain that it may in fact take such a Category One attack in order to force the current way of thinking about the situation to change, because an attack at such a high level would necessitate independent investigation or government inquiry at the absolute minimum. “Then what will really come out is that it was entirely preventable. It will turn out that the organisation that has been breached didn’t really understand what data they had, what value it had or the impact it could have outside that organisation.”

Therein lies the biggest problem with cyber security in this modern age: apathy. Until these kinds of attacks happen to these companies, or attacks happen on a scale to which the whole country, maybe even the whole world has to take note, the status quo will most likely continue, with advice falling on deaf ears to the many. Levy’s advice is all about prevention and damage control by preparation, calling on everyone to rely less on ‘off-the-shelf’ security solutions, and working with their own employees to reveal and mitigate what is actually vulnerable.

Levy concludes: “Cyber security professionals have spent the last 25 years saying people are the weakest link. That’s stupid! They cannot possibly be the weakest link, they are the people that create the value at these organisations.”

“What that tells me is that the systems we’ve built, as technical systems, are not built for people. Techies build systems for techies, they don’t build technical systems for normal people.”

Uberwhelming support

During the last week of September, it was announced that Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew Uber’s operating licence leaving thousands of drivers out of work, and if their appeal at the ruling is unsuccessful, London citizens will be forced to use the more expensive Black Cabs or other forms of transport for their journey above ground within the city.

Uber’s licence was due to expire on 30th September. Without that license, Uber will no longer be able to operate legally within the city of London.

Uber are already experiencing difficult times, with ongoing reported allegations of sexual assaults by drivers, Uber have already seen convictions against some of them already. It also has not helped Uber’s business reputation, following comments from the former CEO Travis Kalanick claiming that “he fostered a negative workplace culture.”

Uber have fought back, following the publicity of the announcement with a petition on the “Change.org” website asking loyal customers for support from the public. The petition has proved successful to date, with over 740,000 signatures requesting that the TfL reverse their decision to refuse Uber’s license renewal.

Uber have also approached TfL and made statements within the Sunday Times, stating that the company were prepared to ensure that changes were made, and that preparations had been put in place for these changes. Uber want the details of these to be made public in order to enable them to move forward, allowing them to continue running their business within the city.

It has been reported that it may not be that simple just to implement these changes. TfL have continuing concerns regarding the company’s policies and procedures. Serious crimes, background checks and safety concerns have been some of the reasons why TfL will not grant a new licence.

Uber insists that the reporting of any crimes has been done within the procedures that TfL have put in place. TfL believe that this is not the case and feel that Uber have put public safety at risk. Uber continue to argue that TfL are not making their concerns clear.

Uber’s Twitter feed has been inundated with tweets and messages. Some messages have been controversial, whilst at the same time reminding the social media public that over 3.5 million Londoners can track their Uber taxi with their phone apps enabling them to know the exact location of vehicles.

Chairman of TfL and London Major Sadiq Khan appreciates that Uber has a maasive PR machine and an army of lawyers at its disposal, yet feels that Uber are trying to force TfL’s hand to withdraw their decision. TfL officials have been working extremely hard behind the scenes, while Uber seem to be applying more pressure. It has also been reported that Uber have also made aggressive threats about taking TfL to court.

If that is the case, Uber will have enlisted the help of its barrister, Thomas de la Mare. Uber have used de la Mare previously in a previous grievance against TfL when acting as defence for Uber in which it was successful.  It is almost certain that de la Mare will be drafted in to overturn the decision to not renew Uber’s licence.

During 2017, Uber have seen three restrictions put in place for their business to continue trading. Drivers were required to ensure that their insurance states private hire at all times, and this included times when their vehicles are not transporting customers. A complaints line has also had to be put in place, as well as ensuring that each of Uber’s drivers have had to take part in a UK driving test during their application processes.

Thomas de la Mare successfully achieved an overturn on the first two restrictions that had previously been put in place. Whilst defending Uber in court, he proved that the restrictions that had been set against Uber were unlawful.

Dot commerce

The growth of the internet has seen domain name registrations exceed 331.9 million during the second quarter of 2017, with an estimated 1.3 million new registrations added throughout this period, according to reports published during September.

VeriSign, one of the world leaders in Internet security and domain names, reported that 1.3 million domain name registrations across the world, indicating a 0.4% growth rate during the first quarter of 2017.

Figures also showed that domain name registrations have increased, with a growth rate of 6.7 million (2.1%) year after year.

In the recent report, VeriSign confirmed that there had been a combined total of approximately 144.3 million domain name registrations, using either the “.com” or “.net” suffixes.

These figures signify an 0.8% increase on an annual basis. Reports showed that as of June 2017, totals of 129.2 million “.com” domain name registrations had been created, whilst “.net” domains totalled 15.1 million.

2017 has shown new “.com” and “.net” new domain name registrations, which amount to 9.2 million during the second quarter. This compares to 8.6 million in the last quarter of 2016.

High signals

A balloon, 12 miles up in the sky may be all the help you need in 2019 to check your emails.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company has announced ‘Project Loon’ – involving the use of solar-powered balloons floating at high altitudes, with a view of replacing the cell towers that are land based, to provide the telephone wireless connection to your email network.

The original idea began as a shot in the dark project from the company’s “X Moonshot” group, it’s brainstoming department.  Since then, Google have put the project to test in Peru with successful results, and now realise the future of its success, with a view to launching it as a tangible business project.

Head of Loon, Alastair Westgarth believes that within the next couple of years, we will see these balloons flying on a commercial scale, receiving profits from their use, rather than relying on funding that is provided by Google’s advertising online. Westgarth has visions of Loon becoming a very large and profitable business.

During the testing in Peru, the Loon team worked alongside Telefonica, who provided the access to the internet. An area, the size of Switzerland was used during the project, with 20 to 30 balloons in Peru. The project proved successful during the Peru flooding, improving net access to users who were directly affected by the floods.

With the potential of improving internet access across a vast range of terrain, specifically areas that are normally out of reach, Loon could prove itself a world-wide success.

Most users of the balloon won’t realise they would be using it though. With plans of Loon working in partnership with internet carriers, Loon will be assisting each carrier to improve their internet coverage, without encroaching on their business practices. Google have been actively speaking to many mobile network operators about the project.

Although the Loon balloons will be floating above our heads, they won’t disappear off into the distance. The balloons are designed to stay in one place, changing altitude using wind direction to steer and orient themselves.

Google are not the only tech giants to think about changing the scale of internet access across the globe. Facebook have been working on their project named “Aquila”, with a view of using unmanned aeroplanes that will provide data connections (see Internet News (September 2017)).

Amazon join the 1000 club

Considering Amazon started as a bookseller that took a huge step into the unknown when introducing services on the World Wide Web, they’ve done alright for themselves.

Amazon have successfully joined Wall Street, with their shares now valued at over $1000.

Twenty years ago, Jeff Bezo’s company Amazon went public as an online business. The company has proved itself to be extremely powerful as a brand, and has now crossed the $1000 threshold when shares traded in September. At one point last month, Amazon’s shares grew larger than tech giants Alphabet, when its Class A shares opened at $996.21.

With Amazon’s shares reaching this milestone, it has again raised their profile, putting them into an exclusive club within Wall Street. Amazon’s timeline shows that it took them 18 years as a publicly traded company to reach the same level of business as Walmart. However, it only took a further 2 years to build on that success and progressively grow that business into something that is now twice the size of Walmart.

With a reported $724 million profit during the first quarter of 2017, keen investors, and the propulsion of their stock, has moved Amazon towards the $1000 per share landmark. The total value of outstanding shares for Amazon are seen in excess of $475 billion, compared to Walmart’s $237.5 billion.

Throughout the years, Amazon has changed the way consumers shop. Amazon have always made of point of avoiding outdated practices which other companies that trade publicly still use.

Amazon have always been able to remain intact, and have not been forced in a position to split their stock for 18 years. Most companies find that they need to split their stock from time to time, allowing shares to become more affordable, whilst at the same time rewarding their long-term investors. Amazon have not had to do this.

Although previously, in the early days of going public, Amazon did split stocks back in 1998. Amazon issued a 2-for-1 split, and in January 1999, a 3-for-1 split was offered. 1999 also saw shareholders given a further offer of another 2-for-1 split.

During 2014, the company were seen to be spending aggressively, and what seemed to be a red flag flying before investors. A loss of 95% per share at the time was reported, whilst other reports show losses of 74% per share.

Since then, Amazon have fought back, consistently posting continuous profits over 8 quarters, thus showing to the investors that remained that their times of trouble are behind them, and the company is moving in the right direction for further success.

Internet News – September 2017

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