Top 10 IT news stories of the week: Privacy at the forefront - Apple's iCloud, Microsoft's emails and 42,000 patient forms lost by NHS Trust

By Sooraj Shah
05 Sep 2014 View Comments

Privacy has been a key feature of Computing's coverage over the last year or so, particularly post-NSA/Snowden revelations, and this week's top 10 news stories feature several more juicy stories that zoom-in on privacy issues.

Whether it be your data being passed on to another country's government, your confidential details being lost or even worse, your private snaps being posted online for everyone to see, it seems the world is doing its best to intrude upon the privacy that one once had before computers, the internet, Facebook, and er.. word of mouth, came along.

Further reading

10) Microsoft fights back against US warrant demanding overseas emails be handed over

One company that is not standing for this new take on ‘privacy' is Microsoft. In fact it's fighting a US federal court order that has demanded it to hand over email data held in its Dublin data centre to US federal authorities.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company "will not be turning over the email and plans to appeal". If it did end up turning over the email - and the US government usually gets what it wants - then it would set an unwanted precedent for other US tech firms, which would ultimately mean that non-US customers would lose trust, with enterprises less likely to adopt cloud computing provided by a US firm.

9) Samsung unveils first ever smartwatch that can make and receive calls

When South Korean firm Samsung claimed that it had launched the ‘first ever' smartwatch that can make and receive calls - many might think, cynically, that it's first for a reason. But the company is seemingly trying to get as many features packed into its Gear S as possible before arch nemesis Apple reveals (or doesn't reveal) its much-anticipated iWatch. If the smartwatch really does catch on - be it Apple, Samsung, LG or Sony - it may not be the consumer that really wins, but rather the patent lawyers, many of whom are probably already hard at work ensuring that their respective client thought of [insert something daft here] first.

8. Box still watching and waiting for intended IPO, says COO Levin

When Box filed to go public in April just about everyone was expecting the firm to IPO soon after. But after a disastrous few months in which shares of cloud computing firms plummeted, the firm put its IPO plans on hold. And it seems as if the firm isn't yet close to an IPO with its COO Dan Levin telling Computing that Box is "watching and waiting" for an IPO that it absolutely intends to go ahead with. Levin said that the firm was waiting for market conditions and business conditions to "make sense".

7. Insurers to demand more data via telematics to fine-tune insurance prices, says AXA CIO

Since the NSA/Snowden leaks showed collusion between tech companies and the spooks, many people have come to see organisations' use of data as another way for the state to watch them. This has profound implications for telematics, which insurers are increasingly using to gather data on a drivers' habits so that they can then offer people personalised insurance policies. But despite surveillance concerns AXA's CIO Kevin Murray said people are now moving away from thinking of this as Big Brother watching them.

More worryingly, perhaps, for those who take their privacy seriously, is that AXA is looking at various other methods to tailor insurance rates. These co-opt items such as smart thermostats (like Google's Nest product) to know how often you're at home, and how much energy you use, and the use of heat sensors and graphical imagery from satellites to determine the condition of a roof and how much energy leakage there is. You could effectively be paying for surveillance yourself. 

6. iCloud hack: Photo theft due to stolen log-in details, not iCloud security issue, claims Apple

So some guys stole naked photos of celebrities and put them online and after much criticism of Apple's iCloud, the Cupertino firm hit back. It claimed that the ‘hackers' bypassed the users' iPhone log-in credentials, rather than gaining access to them through a security weakness in the iCloud online storage service.

And as if the celebs involved needed to feel any worse, one could read in between the lines of Apple suggesting that they had been hacked in the simplest way possible.

"To protect against this type of attack, we advise all users to always use a strong password and enable two-step verification," the firm concluded. Talk about kicking someone when they're down...

5. Bristol City Council to migrate IT infrastructure to the cloud in £1.5m deal

The council used the G-Cloud framework to procure the services of Eduserv, and according to Steve Pendleton, service manager of commissioning and supplier relationship management at the council, the move to a cloud infrastructure will allow Bristol to reduce costs while continuing to deliver a good level of service to citizens.

4. East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust loses data cartridge with 42,000 patient forms

Citizens may value the confidentiality of their health data more than any other type. So when 42,000 copies of patient forms go missing, it is understandably seen as a bit of a crisis. The Trust's chief executive Sue Noyes insisted that the service takes the confidentiality of information it records and stores "very seriously".

However, the data cartridge is yet to be found, and worse still, because of its size, the Trust believes that there is a possibility that it may still be on the organisation's premises. Clutching at straws, perhaps?

3. Dropbox and Google storage models 'a loser's game' while Microsoft lags 'eight years behind' Box says VP of engineering

In what has been described as a $30bn-a-year-market, Box's VP of engineering Sam Schillace said that there is plenty of room for innovation, something that he suggested the likes of Dropbox and Google were failing to do. The outspoken Schillace told Computing that Dropbox and Google were merely asking ‘How cheaply can I give you hard disks?', and added "That's a loser's game, right? That's going to go to negative margin, if it isn't already".

But his comments about Microsoft were even more pointed, stating that Microsoft's outlook on cloud-hosting its document creation and collaboration services was "eight years behind what [he] was doing at Google" - which in itself was over two years ago. Ouch.

2. Weekend protest at GCHQ over mass surveillance

Microsoft is not the only one sitting up and campaigning for its rights (or others' rights) on privacy. Last weekend, a protest against online surveillance kicked off at the headquarters of spy agency GCHQ in Cheltenham. The protest had been organised by the We Are Anonymous Group, and hundreds of people were expected to show their support of civil livery groups that have questioned whether GCHQ's powers of internet surveillance and its assumed right to capture, store and share citizen's data are legal.

1. iCloud celebrity photo hack: Are we too quick to trust storage?

Before Apple had hit back at claims that its technology was to blame for the theft of hundreds of private photos belonging to celebrities (see story 6), and before its CEO Tim Cook promised to improve the security of its iCloud services, the main question being asked in the industry was whether people are too quick to trust cloud storage.

The truth is that many users don't realise how cloud storage systems like Apple's iCloud work, nor, as many industry experts told us, are they aware of how much control they are letting go of when they send data to a third party service.

From an enterprise point of view, it's highly likely that employees are using Cloud or other consumer cloud services to store data, and many will be urgently looking at their training and education policies to ensure that it is not they that will be standing naked before the authorities.

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