The Old Reader to close public site in two weeks, users who joined before Google Reader axing news can stay

When Google first announced Google Reader would be shut down, the news kick-started a very competitive race to create the best alternative. At least one service, however, did not welcome the change, and is now planning to close up shop next month: The Old Reader.

In fact, if you navigate to the service’s homepage now, you’ll be greeted by this sad message: Unfortunately we had to disable user registration at The Old Reader. In two weeks, the public site will be shut down and a private one, available to a select few (accounts will be migrated automatically), will take its place — via

Drastic govt measures needed: IT price hike report pulls no punches

The Federal Parliament committee examining IT price hikes in Australia has published an extensive report recommending a raft of drastic measures to deal with current practices in the area, which, the report says, are seeing Australians unfairly slugged with price increases of up to 50 percent on key technology goods and services.

In mid-2012, spurred by the campaigning efforts of then-Labor backbencher Ed Husic, who has since been promoted to the dual roles of Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband and Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications kicked off hearings into the Australian cost of popular technology goods and services, as well as some forms of content, with reference to the issue of unfair price increases by international vendors.

Late last week, the committee handed down its report on the issue to Parliament, and this morning it was made available in full on the committee’s website.

In the foreword to the report, Committee chair Nick Champion noted that the importance of IT products to every sector of Australian society can hardly be overstated. IT products are woven into the fabric of our economy and society, and have driven rapid change in the way Australians communicate, the way we work, and the way we live, the Labor MP noted.

However, Champion added, the committee hearings held over the past year had found that Australian consumers and businesses must often pay between 50 and 100 percent more than those residing in other countries for the same products — via

Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter abuse case leads to arrest

A man has been arrested after a feminist campaigner was deluged on Twitter with abuse and threats of rape, Scotland Yard has confirmed.

The 21-year-old was detained earlier in the Manchester area on suspicion of harassment offences.

Caroline Criado-Perez faced abuse after successfully campaigning for a woman’s face to appear on UK banknotes.

Labour has complained to Twitter about what it says was an inadequate response to the abuse.

Ms Criado-Perez, who had appeared in the media to campaign for women to feature on banknotes, said the abusive tweets began the day it was announced that author Jane Austen would appear on the newly designed £10 note.

She reported them to the police after receiving about 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours and said she had stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women — via

Court Says Broadcasters Can’t Use Copyright To Block Commercial Skipping

This morning there was a huge victory for common sense in the Ninth Circuit appeals court ruling in the Fox v Dish case over Dish’s AutoHopper technology. As you may recall, pretty much all the major broadcasters sued Dish a year ago, claiming that its AutoHopper technology with the PrimeTime Anytime feature — which would record the entire primetime lineup, and allow Dish customers to watch everything (starting the next day) while automatically skipping the commercials — was infringement (and breach of contract). As we noted at the time, the broadcasters’ arguments made very little sense. The basis of the argument was that skipping commercials is a form of copyright infringement. We couldn’t see how skipping commercials violated the copyright in any way at all, and while Fox pretended it won the initial ruling at the district court level, the reality was that Dish won big.

Fox immediately appealed, and Dish has won big yet again with this latest ruling, which is a huge victory for common sense. The court makes a number of important findings, nearly all of them good and sensible. To be specific, the nature of this ruling was over whether or not the broadcasters could get an injunction to block Dish from offering this technology while the case was ongoing, but the court rejected it, saying that the broadcasters did not demonstrate a likelihood of success. This means the full trial can still go forward, but the technology can still be offered during that trial. However, the fact that both the district court and the appeals court have clearly stated that they don’t see a likelihood of the broadcasters succeeding shows that the broadcasters are likely to be wasting a lot of time and money only to lose.

The key point in this case: skipping commercials is not copyright infringement. For years, Hollywood has tried to claim that skipping commercials is a form of copyright infringement. All the way back in 2002, a TV exec claimed that skipping commercials was a theft (even merely going to the bathroom during a commercial). A couple years later they even tried to get Congress to pass a law explicitly banning commercial skipping (sponsored by Orrin Hatch, of course). Without that, they’ve just been pretending that commercial skipping must be illegal. In court, the TV networks have argued that anything that hurts their business model must be illegal — via

UK internet filtering plan re-energises Australian censorship crusade

It was only a matter of time after news came out that UK internet service providers (ISPs) would begin filtering internet services of adult content by default before the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) would again ask for Australia’s internet to be filtered.

The political lobby group [consisting of three obnoxious, bigoted and racist white men], which claims to represent the Christians in Australia [they don’t] and says it has approximately 10,000 supporters [names culled from the obituary columns don’t count], has often called for freedom of speech in regards to religious groups being able to speak out against homosexuality. However, it has long backed broad censoring of the internet since 2007, when the Rudd and Gillard governments had planned on introducing a mandatory ISP-level internet filter into Australia.

In 2008, then-ACL managing director Jim Wallace described the filter as vital to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Obviously, the internet industry is going to continue to fight this important initiative, but the interests of children must be placed first, he said.

Claims the government will impose China-style curbing of free speech are ridiculous, given Australia’s robust parliamentary democracy, something China does not have, Wallace said in another release.

The ACL didn’t want consumers to be able to make a choice on whether the filter should be on or off, as is the case with the UK scheme. In 2010, on the question of whether a software-based filter would be better, the organisation said that ISP-level filtering would be more effective for protecting the community as a whole — via

Google Reader replacement Old Reader crashes

The Darwinian derby to determine which RSS-reading service would replace Google Reader as the world’s dominant feed-wrangler may just have produced its first extinction event, after choked on its recently-enlarged database and crashed.

The Old Reader’s schtick is that it looks and behaves pretty much exactly like Google Reader, which made it a nice alternative for refugees.

As the graphs below (taken from the service’s blog) show, user numbers have surged from around 10,000 in March to over 375,000 today.

Google Reader replacement Old Reader crashes

That 5 July post also says the outfit uses … this amazingly cheap but somewhat unreliable hosting provider that has led to some issues with our database servers and outages.

Old Reader seems to have decided to do something about that, but the something has failed — via

Belarus internet infested with spammers

Almost 30% of all net addresses in Belarus are blocked by anti-spam firms because of the amount of junk mail passing through them, says a report.

East European nations top the list of countries with the largest percentage of blacklisted net addresses, said security firm Cloudmark.

It said Belarus had become popular among spammers as other nations cracked down on junk-mail senders.

The US was still the single biggest source of spam, it said,

Belarus (27.4%), Romania (22.3%) and Russia (3%) filled the top three slots of a list of nations that have IP addresses known to be sources of spam, said Cloudmark researcher Andrew Conway.

Now, he said, data traffic from just over three million Belarusian IP addresses was being blocked in an attempt to stem the flood of junk mail passing through them — via

Calls widen for GCSB law probe

The Privacy Commission has joined calls for further investigation into proposed new spying powers.

Commissioner Marie Shroff says the Law Commission should be asked to examine legislation and oversight of intelligence agencies.

The Government is proposing the Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Bill to make it legal for the agency to spy on New Zealanders on behalf of other law enforcement bodies.

It says it is necessary to clarify the law after the GCSB was found to be illegally intercepting communications.

But the bill has met opposition, including from the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission — via

New Zealand Government About To Legalise Spying On NZ Citizens

After admitting they have illegally spied on NZ citizens or residents 88 times (PDF) since 2003, the government, in a stunning example of arse covering, is about to grant the GCSB the right to intercept the communications of New Zealanders in its role as the national cyber security agency, rather than examine the role the GCSB should play and then look at the laws. There has been strong criticism from many avenues. The bill is being opposed by Labour and the Greens, but it looks like National now have the numbers to get this passed. Of course, the front page story is all about the royal baby, with this huge erosion of privacy relegated to a small article near the bottom of the front page. Three cheers, the monarchy is secure, never mind the rights of the people. More bread and circuses anyone? — via Slashdot

Why David Cameron’s war on internet porn doesn’t make sense

The prime minister is looking at porn. For research purposes, of course. He’s not sitting in cabinet meetings peeking under the table at a looped three-second clip of a woman’s bra falling off that Michael Gove e-mailed to him by mistake. He is looking for a way he can pretend to be fighting it. He wants to declare himself the first prime minister to win the war on online porn. And, according to a letter leaked to the BBC last week, he reckons he has found one: default-on.

Default-on is a system whereby internet service providers block access to pornographic images as standard, unless the customer opts out of the filters. In the eyes of certain newspapers, it is the silver bullet solution to the problem of kids watching pornography. But, for various reasons, most of the major ISPs are not up for asking their customers: Do you want porn with that? They have negotiated with the government and agreed on a system called Active Choice + in which customers opt in for filters, rather than out for falling bras. The system gives new users a choice at installing filters, and existing customers the option of switching to safer browser modes. The default setting remains filter-free.

The leaked letter, sent to leading ISPs from the Department for Education, makes it clear that Cameron’s war or porn is propaganda masquerading as policy. It suggests: Without changing what you will be offering (ie active-choice +), the prime minister would like to be able to refer to your solutions [as] ‘default-on’. It is a sleight-of-hand worthy of the Ministry of Truth, a move from the “Let’s not and say we did!” school of regulation.

It raises the question: where else does Cameron use this line? Do his aides write to Starbucks, Google and Amazon to ask that, without changing what they are doing (avoiding paying billions in tax), they find a way for him to refer to this as “paying billions in tax”? Do they ask tobacco firms if, without ditching branded packaging, they could find a way for Dave to pretend they have? Has he ever asked George Osborne if he can refer to him as not George Osborne? — via

MIT Uses Machine Learning Algorithm To Make TCP Twice As Fast

MIT is claiming they can make the Internet faster if we let computers redesign TCP/IP instead of coding it by hand. They used machine learning to design a version of TCP that’s twice the speed and causes half the delay, even with modern bufferbloated networks. They also claim it’s more fair. The researchers have put up a lengthy FAQ and source code where they admit they don’t know why the system works, only that it goes faster than normal TCP — via Slashdot

Australian student re-invents police motorcycle helmet, adds RoboCop features

A real-life RoboCop is one step closer to reality thanks to 23-year-old UNSW design student Alfred Boyadgis.

Boyadgis has designed a high-tech helmet for motorcycle officers that displays information in the visor and combines a number of vital technologies that are currently only available at arm’s length.

The helmet is designed to improve response times in emergencies and save lives. It has already attracted interest from the Chief of Police in Coral Gables in the US state of Florida, who wants to test it in the field and sees potential for tactic response deployment as well.

Mr Boyadgis says he is also in talks with the NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Command.

The way that helmets are designed at the moment is quite archaic, Mr Boyadgis said. “There’s no direct electronics in there and, if you think about it, everyone has a smartphone, and all the luxuries of smart technology aren’t with riders. They’re still using strap-on GPSs and they have no ability to communicate with each other in a safe manner with something that’s integrated.”

Named Forcite, his helmet includes a heads-up display that shows critical information in front of the wearer’s eyes, delivers turn-by-turn GPS by voice, and links to the automatic number-plate recognition system used by police, which identifies vehicle registration details and checks if there are any infringements — via

Look, it’s the TARDIS!

Look, it's the TARDIS!

In a very unique marketing gesture and implementation of the micro-datacentre concept, telecommunications provider aql, of Leeds, UK is repurposing 1930’s era telephone boxes as WiFi hotspots containing a micro-datacentre.

The antique phone boxes, which will be painted blue, rather than their traditional red, will be sealed to the public but will host a local hotspot and have a touchscreen that will allow users to make phone calls, including calls to the police emergency number. The boxes will be solar powered and wirelessly connected so that they can be installed anywhere without the need to dig up the streets to provide power and connectivity — via

Google Fonts

A web with web fonts is more beautiful, readable, accessible and open. Google Fonts makes it quick and easy for everyone to use web fonts, including professional designers and developers. We believe that everyone should be able to bring quality typography to their web pages and applications. Our goal is to create a directory of web fonts for the world to use. Our API service makes it easy to add Google Fonts to a website in seconds. The service runs on Google’s servers which are fast, reliable and tested. Google provides this service free of charge

HBO Asks Google to Take Down Infringing VLC Media Player

Day in and day out copyright holders send hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown notices to Google, hoping to make pirated movies and music harder to find.

During the past month alone copyright holders asked Google to remove 14,855,269 URLs from its search results. Unfortunately, not all of these requests are legitimate.

In some cases the notices are flagged as false because the content has already been removed from the original site. But the automated systems used by copyright holders also include perfectly legitimate content. While Google keeps a close eye on this type of abuse the search engine can’t spot them all.

One good example of such a mistake is contained in a recent demand by HBO. The network is faced with a high demand for pirated copies of Game of Thrones and over the past months they asked Google to remove tens of thousands of links to the popular TV-show.

Usually these notices ask Google to get rid of links to pirate sites, but for some reason the cable network also wants Google to remove a link to the highly popular open source video player VLC — via

German Chancellor Merkel urges better data protection rules

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to push for tougher European laws to protect personal information on the internet.

In a TV interview with the public broadcaster ARD, she said Germany wanted internet companies to tell us in Europe who they are giving data to.

Her comments follow revelations about a US spying operation that collects users’ data from internet companies.

Mrs Merkel also said she expected the US to abide by German law.

Tensions have been running high between the two countries following reports that the US has been eavesdropping on EU and German officials.

I expect a clear commitment from the US government that in future they will stick to German law, she said — via

Exposed: Telstra’s secret FBI spy deal

Telstra signed a secret agreement a decade ago with US Government agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Justice that provided American law enforcement and national security organisations with an extremely broad level of access to all of the telco’s telecommunications passing in and out of the US, it was revealed late last week.

On Friday independent media outlet Crikey published what what appeared to be the text of the agreement. It notes that it was signed in November 2001 between Telstra and its Hong Kong partner telco PCCW, and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.

The document cites principles such as the US Government’s need to preserve the national security of the US and to ensure that US communications were secure in order to protect the privacy of US persons. It notes that the stimulus for the agreement to be signed was the application of Telstra/PCCW submarine cable joint venture Reach — which operates major underwater fibre links between a number of Asian countries, as well as Australia and the US — to provide telecommunications services from the US back in 2001, shortly after it was formed by Telstra and PCCW.

The agreement states that all telcos operating in the US must maintain facilities that were compliant with US law enforcement regulations in that country, such as the ability to hand over details, including calling data but not the content of communications, of all communications received or which originated in the US.

Data to be stored by Reach for two years included identifying information relating to telephone calls, such as telephone numbers, Internet addressed used, the time, date, size and duration of a communication, any information relating specifically to the identity and physical address of those communicating, and a host of other information, especially billing records, which typically show details of all telephone calls made by telephone service subscribers — via

5D optical memory in nanostructured quartz glass could lead to unlimited lifetime data storage

Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.

Coined as the Superman memory crystal, as the glass memory has been compared to the memory crystals used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures — via

Octopus inspires silent propulsion system for boats and subs

Along with their writhing tentacles, octopi and squid sport another interesting feature — they swim not by swishing a tail, but by expelling a jet of water. This allows them to move very quickly and quietly. Scientists from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation have now copied this system, in a propulsion system that could ultimately find use in boats, recreational watercraft, or submarines.

Known as the Octopus Siphon Actuator, the miniature prototype system consists of four joined 20 x 6cm elastomer balls, each with a hydraulic piston inside. Initially, water is sucked in through an opening in each ball – just as a squid or octopus draws water into its mantle. Cables integrated into the balls then cause them to contract, rapidly expelling the water.

In the same way that the animals steer themselves by moving the funnel that the water comes out of, the Fraunhofer system can also be steered, using a motor to selectively point the balls in the desired direction(s).

The whole apparatus can be fabricated in one step, using a 3D printer. Production could reportedly be scaled up to the point of producing balls measuring two metres across. According to Fraunhofer, not only would a commercial version of the technology allow for fast and near-silent travel, but there would also be no danger of sea creatures being cut by propellers — via

Samsung buys set top box maker Boxee

Samsung is buying Boxee — an Israeli firm that makes media streaming devices.

The South Korean electronics giant said it had acquired key talent and assets from the company.

This will help us continue to improve the overall user experience across our connected devices, it added.

Boxee’s latest product lets subscribers record TV shows onto its servers and then stream them to TVs, computers and smart devices from the cloud — via

Politics, Rights, Technology

The NSA Comes Recruiting

The NSA came to recruit at a language program at the University of Wisconsin where I am spending my summer learning a language. Two recruiters, a redhead who looked more like a middle-aged 2013 NSA flyer copymother and a portly, balding man, began to go through slides explaining the NSA and its work.

I had intended to go simply to hear how the NSA is recruiting at a moment when it’s facing severe challenges, what with the Edward Snowden and all. Dismayingly, however, a local high school teacher had thought it was good to bring 5 of his students to the session. They were smartly dressed, some of them even wearing ties as if there might be a job interview, young faces in a classroom of graduate students. They sat across from me at the roundtable. It was really their presence that goaded me–and I think a couple of other students–into an interaction with the recruiters.

Roughly half an hour into the session, the exchange below began. I began by asking them how they understood the term adversary since the surveillance seems to be far beyond those the American state classifies as enemies, and their understanding of that ties into the recruiters’ earlier statement that the globe is our playground. I ended up asking them whether being a liar was a qualification for the NSA because:

The NSA’s instrumental understanding of language as well as its claustrophobic social world was readily apparent. One of the recruiters discussed how they tend to socialize after work, dressing up in costumes and getting drunk (referenced below). I can imagine that also exerts a lot of social pressure and works as a kind of social closure from which it would be difficult to escape. The last thing I want to point out — once again — their defence seems to be that it’s legal. What is legal is not just.

Someone else happened to record it on an iPhone, hence the audio quality. It’s been edited mainly to cut garbled audio or audio that wouldn’t have made sense and edit out questions and comments from people who didn’t explicitly say it was okay to post their audio. You’ll hear the sound drop out for a second to mark the cuts — via

World’s first telescopic contact lens gives you Superman-like vision

An international team of researchers have created the first telescopic contact lens; a contact lens that, when it’s equipped, gives you the power to zoom your vision almost three times. Yes, this is the first ever example of a bionic eye that effectively gives you Superman-like eagle-eye vision.

…the telescopic contact lens has two very distinct regions. The centre of the lens allows light to pass straight through, providing normal vision. The outside edge, however, acts as a telescope capable of magnifying your sight by 2.8x. This is about the same as looking through a 100mm lens on a DSLR. For comparison, a pair of bird-watching binoculars might have a magnification of 15x. The examples shown in the image below give you a good idea of what a 2.8x optical zoom would look like in real life.

The telescopic contact lens, in action

The main breakthrough is that this telescopic contact lens is just 1.17mm thick, allowing it to be comfortably worn. Other attempts at granting telescopic vision have included: a 4.4mm-thick contact lens (too thick for real-world use), telescopic spectacles (cumbersome and ugly), and most recently a telescopic lens implanted into the eye itself. The latter is currently the best option currently available, but it requires surgery and the image quality isn’t excellent — via

Anti-Islam group seeks to expand

In Australia now, the anti-Islamic Australian Defence League is trying to expand its support base, particularly through social media.

A group against Islam and Islamic immigration. We are against those who worship a so-called Prophet (who) in his own words, raped, murdered, enslaved people and worse. He was a coward and a paedophile.

That is how the Australian Defence League describes itself on its Facebook page.

The League goes on to say it is motivated by what it calls a love of country, promoting democracy and the rule of law, which it says it does by opposing sharia law.

And it says a central part of its mission is to ensure the public gets a balanced picture of Islam, claiming the political and media establishment offers a sanitised and inaccurate view.

Almost by default, because its name stems from the better-known English Defence League that has led anti-Islam rallies in Britain, the Australian Defence League is the face of Australian ultranationalism.

But is the Australian Defence League merely a Facebook presence?

Or is it a body that, like the English Defence League, could mount a presence on the streets?

Professor Greg Barton, from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre, suggests the answer lies somewhere in between — via

French and German fury over claims US bugged EU offices

France and Germany are urging the United States to come clean over claims that its intelligence services have been spying on key EU offices.

A report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said European Union offices in the US and Europe had been bugged.

Other targets included the French, Italian and Greek embassies in the US, according to leaked documents later mentioned by the Guardian newspaper.

Fugitive ex-CIA analyst Edward Snowden is said to be the source of the leaks.

Mr Snowden — who was also a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) — has since requested asylum in Ecuador. He is currently believed to be staying at Moscow’s airport — via

Turnbull virtually invented the internet in Australia: Abbott

In a speech to his Liberal and National parliamentary colleagues, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has claimed that Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull virtually invented the internet in Australia.

Abbott today outlined the plans that the Coalition would have for government, should it win the federal election. His speech came just before new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s first press conference since returning as prime minister yesterday morning.

Abbott said the Coalition’s broadband policy, which would see the National Broadband Network (NBN) scaled back to a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) network in most areas currently slated to get fibre to the premises (FttP), is strong because of Turnbull.

We have a strong and credible broadband policy because the man who has devised it, the man who will implement it, virtually invented the internet in this country. Thank you so much, Malcolm Turnbull, he said.

Turnbull’s notable position in the telecommunications industry prior to becoming the shadow minister for communications was his role as the founding chairman of OzEmail from 1994 to 1999. Contrary to Abbott’s claims, OzEmail was the 33rd internet service provider (ISP) in Australia, but by 2002, the company had become the second-biggest ISP in Australia behind Telstra. Turnbull and the other founders of OzEmail sold the company to WorldCom in 1999 for AU$520 million — via

Cortex 3D-printed cast for fractured bones by Jake Evill

Cortex 3D-printed cast for fractured bones by Jake Evill

3D-printed casts for fractured bones could replace the usual bulky, itchy and smelly plaster or fibreglass ones in this conceptual project by Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill.

The prototype Cortex cast is lightweight, ventilated, washable and thin enough to fit under a shirt sleeve.

A patient would have the bones x-rayed and the outside of the limb 3D-scanned. Computer software would then determine the optimum bespoke shape, with denser support focussed around the fracture itself.

The polyamide pieces would be printed on-site and clip into place with fastenings that can’t be undone until the healing process is complete, when they would be taken off with tools at the hospital as normal. Unlike current casts, the materials could then be recycled.

At the moment, 3D printing of the cast takes around three hours whereas a plaster cast is three to nine minutes, but requires 24-72 hours to be fully set, says the designer. With the improvement of 3D printing, we could see a big reduction in the time it takes to print in the future — via

Yahoo to shutter ancient search engine AltaVista

Yahoo has announced that it will be shutting down a few products, including the ancient search engine AltaVista. The company has deemed 12 products unfit for service and will be ceasing support for them as early as today. Specifically, AltaVista is being shut down on 8 July.

AltaVista, which the search engine company purchased in 2003 by Overture for $140 million in cash and stock, may surprise some people as still being around. After all, it was founded in 1995 and competed alongside the likes of AskJeeves, Lycos, and, of course Yahoo — via

Thank you for using Google Reader

As one of the dozens of talented people who made Google Reader a reality over the years, I would like to extend my gratitude to you, the millions of users who made it part of your routine and your lives.

Looking on the bright side, closing down a site with an active user base gives us all the opportunity to celebrate the product’s 7.5 year run in a much richer way than the far more common last one here please turn off the lights kind of demise. In the last three months there has been a renaissance of activity in the RSS/newsreader world. Products that had long been idling renewed development, products that relied on Google Reader for their back-end have successfully shifted to their own infrastructure, and major Web players rushed to create their own readers to fill the imminent gap.

Am I melancholy? Of course. Do I wish that Google wasn’t shutting down Reader? Duh. Yet in the midst of my mourning I’m excited by how many flowers are blooming in Reader’s wake. It’s really unprecedented. A testament both to the ever-lowering barrier to entry for website and mobile app creators, and the global demand for managing constantly growing streams of information (hardly just news sites), this is a cottage industry that is being reborn with vigour right before our eyes. I’m certain that in the coming years we’ll see a new breed of product, borne on the backs of ‘news’ and social that both owes its invention to those aggregators that came before, and makes them look primitive in retrospect — via

It’s official: SEO spam is out of control

Check out this email an SEO provider sent to someone at Google. Um, Google’s probably happy with its search ranking, buddy.

Oh boy. We couldn’t help but laugh at reading about this spammy-looking email sent by someone offering help with SEO.

Sound familiar? Apparently they’d been browsing a site and – what luck! – they think they can make a few changes that will “get it placed higher in the organic search results”!

Only thing is, the site they think they can improve is

Yep, apparently this supplier of SEO services sent one of these spammy emails we’re so familiar with to someone at Google itself. If they can improve Google’s search ranking, they’re must be pretty good at what they do.

Check out this email an SEO provider sent to someone at Google. Um, Google’s probably happy with its search ranking, buddy.

Oh boy. We couldn’t help but laugh at reading about this spammy-looking email sent by someone offering help with SEO.

Sound familiar? Apparently they’d been browsing a site and — what luck! — they think they can make a few changes that will get it placed higher in the organic search results!

Only thing is, the site they think they can improve is

Yep, apparently this supplier of SEO services sent one of these spammy emails we’re so familiar with to someone at Google itself. If they can improve Google’s search ranking, they’re must be pretty good at what they do — via

Shelved? No. Data retention will be back

Yesterday it was widely reported that the Federal Government had shelved its data retention plans, walking away from the controversial proposal to monitor all Australians’ communications. But the reality is the complete opposite: Data retention is still being actively considered as a policy and will shortly return to plague Australia once again.

If you believe most of Australia’s media outlets, yesterday the great multi-headed monster that is data retention was slayed by a cadre of victorious knights. Government shelves controversial data retention scheme, proclaimed The Age. Australian Government shelves data retention plans, wrote ZDNet. Govt shelves telco data retention scheme, added iTNews. Yup, there were plenty of footsoldiers waving flags in the air, their feet squarely planted on what they thought was the corpse of this long-reviled comprehensive surveillance project.

The only problem is, when you go back to the source material behind yesterday’s glorious proclamation and put it into context in terms of data retention’s wider history in Australia, it becomes clear that the project as a whole has only suffered a temporary setback in its progression at best, and that at worst, this week’s events have actually played right into its proponents’ hands. Things, if you’re a bureaucrat at the Attorney-General’s Department, are pretty much right on track.

The source of yesterday’s jubilation was two-fold. Firstly, the parliamentary committee which had been examining the data retention proposal as part of a much wider package of surveillance reforms, in a process known as the National Security Inquiry, had finally — at the last possible moment, in the last sitting week of the current Parliament — delivered a report into the proposed reforms, severely criticising the Attorney-General’s Department for its lack of transparency in developing the data retention policy, and recommending a wide range of transparency and accountability measures, as well as hard limits on its power, on the data retention idea — via

New Technology May Double the Height of Skyscrapers

Finnish elevator manufacturer KONE has unveiled a new hoisting technology that will enable elevators to travel heights of one kilometre — twice the distance than currently possible.  The new development implies that the Burj Khalifa, whose longest elevator travels a distance of 504 meters, will not remain the world’s tallest building for very long.

Currently, the fastest elevator in the world, made by Toshiba, takes passengers from ground to roof in thirty seconds, rising 33.7 mph through the Taipei 101. This surpasses the speed of the Burj Khalifa’s Otis Elevator, which travels at a mere 22 mph. At 828 meters tall, the Burj Khalifa would still be nearly 300 meters shy (equivalent to the height of The Shard) of the elevator journey that this new technology proposes. This advanced vertical transportation will allow building ever-taller skyscrapers to become even more feasible.

UltraRope, the new hoisting technology developed by KONE, will replace the conventional steel rope used for lifting with one that is developed with a carbon fibre core and a high-friction coating.  This rope is extremely light, reducing energy consumption in high-rise buildings as well as reducing the weight of its moving components, such as the hoisting ropes, compensating ropes, counterweight, elevator car, and passenger load. This means, at 800 meters, the weight of the moving masses using KONE UltraRope is a fraction of the weight accumulated with the conventional steel rope — via

Australian government shelves metadata collection plan

The government has shelved a controversial plan to force Australian telecommunications companies, internet service providers and sites such as Facebook to collect metadata from Australian users and store it for two years.

The government had run out of time to push the plan through before the election, but, after a powerful parliamentary committee raised concerns about it, the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, confirmed more work was needed.

The government will not pursue a mandatory data retention regime at this time and will await further advice from the departments and relevant agencies and comprehensive consultation, he said in a statement.

As international debate rages about revelations in the Guardian regarding access by US and UK security agencies to the metadata of internet users, the joint intelligence and security committee report has urged any Australian government to exercise caution about plans to force metadata retention for potential use by security agencies — via

Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage By US Government

This isn’t a huge surprise, but the Washington Post is reporting that US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden charging him with espionage under the Espionage Act, along with theft and conversion of government property — and have asked Hong Kong authorities to detain him. Just this morning, we were discussing the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, prosecuting six different whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, twice the number of all other presidential administrations combined. Now we’re up to number seven apparently. Update: The complaint has been unsealed.

Did Snowden break the law? Possibly — but charging him with espionage is ridiculous, just as it has been ridiculous in many of these cases. Snowden wasn’t doing this to “aid the enemy” but to alert the American public to the things that the administration itself had been publicly misleading to downright untruthful about. His actions have kicked off an important discussion and debate over surveillance society and how far it has gone today. That’s not espionage. If he was doing espionage, he would have sold those secrets off to a foreign power and lived a nice life somewhere else. To charge him with espionage is insane — via

NSA can retain encrypted communications of Americans possibly indefinitely

The US National Security Agency (NSA) can retain communications of US citizens or residents potentially indefinitely if those communications are encrypted, according to a newly leaked secret government document.

The document describes the procedures used by the NSA to minimize data collection from US persons and is one of two documents published Thursday by UK-based newspaper The Guardian. The documents date from July 2009, were signed by US Attorney General Eric Holder and were approved by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the newspaper reported.

The documents state that the NSA is not allowed to intentionally target persons known to be located in the US, but describe several provisions under which the agency is allowed to retain, or share with other US agencies, communications of US persons that were acquired inadvertently. These include cases when the data is likely to contain foreign intelligence, information on criminal activity or is encrypted.

According to the document describing data collection minimisation procedures, foreign communications between a US person and a party located outside of the US that was collected during data acquisitions authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) can be retained for cryptanalytic, traffic analysis, or signal exploitation purposes.

The retention of such communications is permitted for a period sufficient to allow a thorough exploitation and to permit access to data reasonably believed to be or become relevant to current or future foreign intelligence requirements — via

GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communications

Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.

The existence of the programme has been disclosed in documents shown to the Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his attempt to expose what he has called the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history.

It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight, Snowden told the Guardian. They [GCHQ] are worse than the US — via

Qantas toolbar to monitor your web activity

Qantas wants frequent flyers to install a toolbar on their web browser that records their internet searches and web browsing activity for marketing targeted and relevant products, services and offers.

The airline joins Flybuys, which launched a similar toolbar in November.

Flybuys’ policy states it does not collect search data about its users. But the policy of its partner, FreeCause, says it does collect the data — via

Stratasys to Acquire MakerBot for About $403 Million

Stratasys Ltd unveiled plans to buy privately held MakerBot in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at $403 million, a deal that expands Stratasys’ position in the three-dimensional printer market.

Stratasys said the merger is poised to drive faster adoption of 3D printing for multiple applications and industries.

After the deal closes, which is expected to occur in the third quarter, MakerBot will operate as a separate subsidiary of Stratasys. MakerBot Chief Executive and co-founder Bre Pettis will continue to lead the business, Stratasys said — via

Twitter buys Spindle to thread in location discovery tools

Twitter has bought Spindle, a search technology company that informs users about what’s happening with local businesses and organisations around them.

The deal, the terms of which were not disclosed, could help Twitter beef up its efforts to keep users in the loop. The company has been rumoured to be working on its own location discovery feature to surface certain tweets posted by people nearby.

Spindle’s technology was based on delivering social updates from businesses and other sources to users. For example, Spindle users could use interactive maps to see where things were happening nearby and also set alerts to receive notifications from specific places — via

Welcome our giant titanium insect overlords

Giant Titanium Bugs / CSIRO

What started out as an art project using the Australian think-tank the CSIRO’s additive titanium 3D printer has turned out to have much more serious application: scaled-up versions of microscopic bugs that make it easier to study their biology.

Originally, the minute insects from the Australian National Insect Collection were scanned, scaled up and printed for a national art exhibition. As CSIRO Science Art fellow Eleanor Gates-Stuart explained: “We combined science and art to engage the public and through the process we’ve discovered that 3D printing could be the way of the future for studying these creatures.”

The process is actually pretty straightforward: the bugs were scanned to produce the CAD files that the printer worked with.

A print run takes about 10 hours, producing a dozen bugs at a time — via

Google Opposes Russia’s SOPA as Blocking Legislation Passes First Hurdle

Russia has long struggled with its reputation as being soft on piracy.

Unauthorised websites offering all types of media are perceived as operating with impunity which has led to the country being chastised by foreign rights holders, particularly those from the United States.

In response, Russia has delivered a draft bill detailing the most draconian anti-piracy legislation seen since the demise of the Stop Online Piracy Act. The proposed law is so tough it’s no surprise that critics are labelling it Russia’s SOPA.

One of the main concerns is how the law places site owners in a vulnerable position should copyright-infringing material be found on their services.

The draft envisions copyright holders filing lawsuits against sites carrying infringing content. Site owners are then expected to remove unauthorised content or links to the same within 72 hours. Failure to do so would result in the entire site being blocked by Internet service providers pending the outcome of a court hearing — via

Australia gets deluge of data from PRISM, claims Fairfax

For those of you wondering just how much access the Australian Government has access to from the US Government’s controversial PRISM spying program (you know, the one which allows the National Security Agency access into the servers of US-based technology giants such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and so on)? Wonder no more. According to The Age, it’s bucketloads — enough that the Government has had to build a new data centre to contain it. The newspaper reports:

Australian intelligence agencies are receiving huge volumes of immensely valuable information from the United States including through the controversial PRISM program, Fairfax Media can reveal. The data deluge has required the Australian government to build a state-of-the-art secret data storage facility just outside Canberra.

The news has prompted Greens Communications Spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, to accuse the Australian Government of being actively complicit in the US surveillance of Australian citizens through their own email and social network accounts. Ludlam tells us in a media release issued late last night:

The Australian Government has denied any knowledge of the NSA’s widespread online surveillance of people around the world since it was revealed by Edward Snowden. It is now clear that the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ routine is a sham, Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said. The Australian Government was aware of the spying, and collaborating to circumvent due process through receipt of vast amounts of surveillance material from the United States.

Next week I will move an Order for the production of documents in the Senate to finally get some disclosure from our Government. This will be a test for the opposition as well; it is essential they support this motion. On 7 June I put a series of questions to the Attorney General on Australian involvement in PRISM.

While the National Security Inquiry looks at the Government’s proposed data retention scheme, the Government is already up to its neck in spying on the communications of law-abiding Australian citizens. Next week I am introducing a Bill into the Senate to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning normal warrant procedures to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private communications data.

But while the Greens fight hard to defend people’s privacy and civil liberties from increasingly audacious Australian Government agencies, the Government leaves the nation wide open to spying by the United States. The Government must reveal the extent of its complicity in this unprecedented intrusion

— via

Attorney-General rejects metadata warrants

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has made the extraordinary declaration that Australian law enforcement in Australia would grind to a halt if police officers and other law enforcement agents were forced to apply for a warrant every time they wanted to access Australians’ telecommunications data.

Last week Budget Estimates hearing sessions conducted in Canberra heard that the Australian Federal Police had made 43,362 internal requests for so-called metadata (data pertaining to the numbers, email addresses time, length and date involved in phone calls or emails, but not the content) over the past financial year. No warrant is required for these requests.

The revelations, combined with historical data tracking law enforcement and other Federal Government agency use of metadata without warrants and the revelations over the past week thatthe US-based National Security Agency has gained backdoor access into the data servers of major technology companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft, has spurred calls by Australian political groups for a ban on warrant-less interception of Australian telecommunications data.

For example, the Australian Greens this week noted that it would next week introduce legislation to strengthen regulation of data collection on Australians, returning “normal warrant procedures” to law enforcement agencies accessing peoples’ private data.

This is the first step to winding back the kind of surveillance overreach revealed by the PRISM whistleblower, Greens communications spokesperson and Senator Scott Ludlam said in a statement. Law enforcement agencies – not including ASIO — made 293,501 requests for telecommunications data in 2011-12, without a warrant or any judicial oversight. Under the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act, that’s entirely legal.

Vast amounts of private data are being accessed — including the precise location of everyone who carries a smartphone — without any recourse to the courts.  A law enforcement agency simply fills out a very basic form. My bill will return to the system where they will need a warrant — via

UK ISPs Secretly Start Blocking Torrent Site Proxies

Following High Court orders, six UK ISPs are required to block subscriber access to several of the world’s largest torrent sites.

The blocking orders are intended to deter online piracy and were requested by the music industry group BPI on behalf of a variety of major labels. Thus far they’ve managed to block access to The Pirate Bay,, H33T and Fenopy, and preparations are being made to add many others.

The effectiveness of these initial measures has been called into doubt, as they are relatively easy to bypass. For example, in response to the blockades hundreds of proxy sites popped up, allowing subscribers to reach the prohibited sites via a detour.

However, as of this week these proxies are also covered by the same blocklist they aim to circumvent, without a new court ruling — via

Revealed: internet surveillance rates

Federal police are obtaining Australians’ phone and internet records without warrants nearly 1000 times a week, it has emerged as controversy rages over a vast US surveillance program.

Revelations in a recent Senate estimates hearing include efforts by the Australian Federal Police to access Facebook and Google data of the kind gathered under the US National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

The revelations draw Australia into the furious global debate about secret surveillance, which has erupted since US whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked sensitive details of the NSA’s spying program — via

Former US Prosecutor Sues Obama and NSA over PRISM Scandal

Over the past days the PRISM scandal has dominated the news. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald pushed out leak after leak, revealing how millions of people around the world are being monitored by US intelligence agencies.

The revelations turned online privacy into a worldwide mainstream discussion. Privacy activists shouted we told you so, Orwell quotes were rife, and Kim Dotcom warmed up the public for his PRISM-proof email service.

Following the leaks the NSA and the US Government have been heavily criticized for their disregard of people’s privacy, and perhaps not totally unexpectedly this weekend the first legal action was filed.

TorrentFreak just obtained a copy of a complaint submitted at a federal court in Columbia, targeting President Obama, the NSA, Eric Holder and Verizon who all played a role in the mass surveillance scheme.

The class action lawsuit was filed by Larry Klayman, a former US prosecutor under the Reagan administration, together with the parents of the killed Navy SEAL Team VI member Michael Strange.

The plaintiffs accuse the PRISM participants of violating their constitutional rights, reasonable expectation of privacy, free speech and association, right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, among other illegal and criminal acts. Both Klayman and the Navy Seal parents demand compensation for the damage they suffered — via

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong, he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations — the NSA — via

Boundless Informant: the NSA’s secret tool to track global surveillance data

The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analysing where its intelligence comes from, raising questions about its repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

The Guardian has acquired top-secret documents about the NSA data mining tool, called Boundless Informant, that details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.

The focus of the internal NSA tool is on counting and categorising the records of communications, known as metadata, rather than the content of an email or instant message.

The Boundless Informant documents show the agency collecting almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013. One document says it is designed to give NSA officials answers to questions like, What type of coverage do we have on country X in near real-time by asking the SIGINT [signals intelligence] infrastructure — via

Rogue beer fridge caught by Telstra robot

A beer fridge in north-east Victoria is the latest victim of an increasingly-sophisticated software robot employed by Telstra to identify things that interfere with its mobile network.

The Herald Sun reported late Sunday night that the rogue beer fridge had been traced to a Wangaratta man’s garage after an investigation by Telstra’s operations personnel.

The fridge is believed to have been interrupting mobile signals in several neighbourhoods of the town of 17,000, which lies about 230km from Melbourne.

Though it is at the more unusual end of the spectrum of equipment that might interfere with mobile networks, Telstra’s area team manager for mobile coverage delivery in the Victorian metropolitan, Richard Henderson, told iTnews it is one example of hundreds and hundreds of investigative interference jobs that are done each year across the country — via