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Microsoft received 75,378 government requests in 2012 to disclose user information, a report reveals. The company joins the likes of Google, which handed over troves of user data to governments last year, raising concerns over privacy violations.
The software giant claims the requests come from the FBI and as such the disclosure of the information can be justified.
Microsoft revealed in its transparency report it had disclosed data pertaining to 137,424 user accounts at the behest of world governments. Microsoft maintains that actual “customer content” was released in only 2.1 per cent of cases.
However, names, email addresses, user names and locations, which the company classifies as ‘non-content’, were released in 79.8 per cent of cases.
Most of the requests to reveal user information over the past year originated in the US, UK, Turkey, Germany and France.
“However, we only disclose data in 46 countries where we have the ability to validate the lawfulness of the request,” said a company spokesperson.
"In recent months, there has been broadening public interest in how often law enforcement agencies request customer data from technology companies and how our industry responds to these requests," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said.
Stressing the company’s commitment to transparency, he added that Microsoft was following suit with companies like Google and Twitter, which had “made important and helpful contributions to this discussion by publishing some of their data.”
Google was first off the mark and has published a transparency report three years running, detailing the quantity of information handed over to government agencies. It also claimed to have received request letters from the FBI as part of terrorism investigations.
Last week a judge in the US ruled that the use of such letters went against the American constitution because it bypasses the rights of the individual involved. However, the judge allowed the measures to remain in place pending appeal.
Microsoft has come in the firing line before for its surveillance practices regarding popular telephony tool Skype, which the company acquired in 2011. Earlier this year a group of 44 privacy and free expression groups wrote an open letter to Microsoft, urging them to publish a transparency report on how exactly the company uses private information in government surveillance.
“We believe that this data is vital to help us help Skype’s most vulnerable users, who rely on your software for the privacy of their communications and, in some cases, their lives,” read the letter.
Eva Galperin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Forbes she was “a little suspicious of the language” used in the transparency report regarding Skype and is concerned that Skype may have provided the government with a backdoor to eavesdrop on conversations without consulting Microsoft.
“This doesn’t exclude the possibility that Microsoft used cryptographic means to undermine a users’ security and allow law enforcement to perform their own wiretap,” Galperin told Forbes magazine.
Customers check the latest technology in an Apple retail store in central Sydney. (AFP Photo / Greg Wood)
Apple, Microsoft and Adobe have been summonsed to appear before the Australian parliament at a hearing into why the tech firms sell their goods to local consumers at higher prices than in the US.
The parliamentary committee for infrastructure and communications announced that a public hearing will be held on March 22nd in Canberra.
"The Committee is looking at the impacts of prices charged to Australian consumers for IT products – Australian consumers often pay much higher prices for hardware and software than people in other countries," the committee said. "The Committee has been examining claims made by organizations such as CHOICE, and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network."
"In what's probably the first time anywhere in the world, these IT firms are now being summoned by the Australian parliament to explain why they price their products so much higher in Australia compared to the United States," said ruling Labor government MP Ed Husic, who helped set up the committee.
Australian “people’s watchdog”, CHOICE found that Australians pay on average 34% more for software, 52% more for iTunes music, 88% more for Wii games and 41% for computer hardware than US consumers, their official website states. The research indicated that the majority of these price discrepancies were likely due to price discrimination from large international firms.
And conveniently forgets to mention it's own privacy track record
RIA Novosti / Mikhail Fomichev
Russia’s Yandex search engine has pushed Microsoft’s Bing aside in global search statistics, climbing to fourth place after Google, Baidu and Yahoo!
The world-wide search statistics are compiled by comScore’s qsearch.
The trend started November, Yandex representative Tatyana Komarova told Vedomosti daily. Then Yandex processed 4.62 billion search requests compared to Microsoft’s 4.48 billion requests that meant each had roughly a 2.6 percent share. In December the trend continued, as Yandex handled 4.84 billion requests (2.8 percent share) and Microsoft 4.48 billion (2.5 percent share). In the number of unique searchers the companies change places – in December with Microsoft having 268.6 million, and Yandex just 74.4 million.
The growth in searches through Yandex happened because of increase of Russian internet use, according to Komarova. The Russian segment grew 17% in 2012 up to 42.2 million users.
Even through it improved its performance worldwide Moscow-based Yandex NV (YNDX) is a long way behind Google, which retains its position of the world’s search leader. Google handled 114.73 billion requests in December for a 65.2 percent market share. China’s Baidu came next with 14.5 billion (8.2 percent), followed by Yahoo with 8.63 billion (4.9 percent).
However, while Google dominates American and European markets – over 65 percent of American searches and over 90 percent of European searches are made with the Google; in Russia it gives ground to Yandex. In Russia, Yahoo accounts for twice as many searches as Google, having 60.5 percent of Russia’s web-search market compared to 26.4 percent for Google. Like Google Yandex’s core business is in search and also has innovative projects from data and mobile to mapping.
Yandex has become the first Russian company to get access to the vast database of the CERN nuclear research establishment in Switzerland. Last fall Yandex rolled out its own web browser and Android app store in Russia, hoping to expand them worldwide. Yandex also developed a voice-activated visual search engine for Facebook called Wonder, which lets people find local businesses friends had visited or taken photos at, what music they’d been listening to, and what news they had been reading. However, Facebook had to cut its data access (along with Twitter’s Vine app, among others) due to its data policy.
Taking advantage of Russia’s rapidly growing internet market, Yandex has opened up in Turkey. The company says it hopes to raise its market share to 35 percent in five years from 1.4 percent today. Google has 93.7 percent market share in Turkey according to ComScore. “The target looks ambitious,” Aleksandr Vengranovich, an analyst at Otkritie Capital in Moscow, told Bloomberg. He noted that it took Google about five years to reach 26 percent in Russia, with most of its gains coming from Yandex.
Yandex says it chose Turkey because of its population of 75 million, and an increasing online audience, Bloomberg reports. The country is now the No. 6 web search market. In November, Yandex became the default search on handsets running the Windows Phone operating system in Turkey, even though Microsoft’s Bing search engine is available. In Turkey, Yandex also developed technology for street-view maps that blurs the face of Kemal Ataturk statues and street portraits to comply with a ban on photographing images of the country’s founder.
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- One count of "conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse."
- Eight counts of "accessing (or attempting to access) a protected computer without authorization to obtain information for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain."
- Fourteen counts of "transmitting a program, information, code, or command with the intent to cause damage to protected computers."
- Six counts of "aggravated identify theft."
- One count of "economic espionage."
- One count of "trade secret theft."
How would you feel if you went to the store to buy something, and someone rushed ahead of you and purchased it first and then sold it to you at a higher price? Well, in the financial world this happens millions upon millions of times. In fact, this practice has become so popular that it [...]
If you ever wonder what’s fueling America’s staggering inequality, ponder Facebook’s acquisition of the mobile messaging company WhatsApp .
According to news reports today, Facebook has agreed to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion.
That’s the highest price paid for a startup in history. It’s $3 billion more than Facebook raised when it was first listed, and more than twice what Microsoft paid for Skype.
(To be precise, $12 billion of the $19 billion will be in the form of shares in Facebook, $4 billion will be in cash, and $3 billion in restricted stock to WhatsApp staff, which will vest in four years.)
Given that gargantuan amount, you might think Whatsapp is a big company. You’d be wrong. It has 55 employees, including its two young founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton.
Whatsapp’s value doesn’t come from making anything. It doesn’t need a large organization to distribute its services or implement its strategy.
It value comes instead from two other things that require only a handful of people. First is its technology — a simple but powerful app that allows users to send and receive text, image, audio and video messages through the Internet.
The second is its network effect: The more people use it, the more other people want and need to use it in order to be connected. To that extent, it’s like Facebook — driven by connectivity.
Whatsapp’s worldwide usage has more than doubled in the past nine months, to 450 million people — and it’s growing by around a million users every day. On December 31, 2013, it handled 54 billion messages (making its service more popular than Twitter, now valued at about $30 billion.)
How does it make money? The first year of usage is free. After that, customers pay a small fee. At the scale it’s already achieved, even a small fee generates big bucks. And if it gets into advertising it could reach more eyeballs than any other medium in history. It already has a database that could be mined in ways that reveal huge amounts of information about a significant percentage of the world’s population.
The winners here are truly big winners. WhatsApp’s fifty-five employees are now enormously rich. Its two founders are now billionaires. And the partners of the venture capital firm that financed it have also reaped a fortune.
And the rest of us? We’re winners in the sense that we have an even more efficient way to connect with each other.
But we’re not getting more jobs.
In the emerging economy, there’s no longer any correlation between the size of a customer base and the number of employees necessary to serve them. In fact, the combination of digital technologies with huge network effects is pushing the ratio of employees to customers to new lows (WhatsApp’s 55 employees are all its 450 million customers need).
Meanwhile, the ranks of postal workers, call-center operators, telephone installers, the people who lay and service miles of cable, and the millions of other communication workers, are dwindling — just as retail workers are succumbing to Amazon, office clerks and secretaries to Microsoft, and librarians and encyclopedia editors to Google.
Productivity keeps growing, as do corporate profits. But jobs and wages are not growing. Unless we figure out how to bring all of them back into line – or spread the gains more widely – our economy cannot generate enough demand to sustain itself, and our society cannot maintain enough cohesion to keep us together.