/A golden age of cyber snooping (via Qpute.com)
A golden age of cyber snooping

A golden age of cyber snooping (via Qpute.com)

The British government set out ten priorities this week to “shape a new golden age for tech in the UK”.

They included rolling out 5G and gigabit broadband, maintaining leadership in AI and quantum computing, and promoting climate tech to “drive forward a Green Industrial Revolution”.

There was also a commitment to keeping the UK safe and secure online: “Our digital economy is world-leading because people have trust in the technology that underpins it”.

That trust may have been shaken by Wired’s revelation yesterday that two internet service providers, the Home Office and the National Crime Agency have been testing surveillance technology over the past two years that could log and store the web browsing of everyone in the country.

The trial is being run under the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act and could lead to the rollout of data collection systems, “creating one of the most powerful and controversial surveillance tools used by any democratic nation,” said Wired. The authorities have confirmed the secretive trial, which collects information about which websites a customer visited, when they did so and how much data they downloaded.

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When it comes to state-sponsored snooping on other nations, the Biden administration has been planning its counterstrike, after Russia was held responsible for last year’s SolarWinds network breach that compromised the commerce and treasury departments.

But cyber experts are cautioning that retaliation may not be justified, reports Helen Warrell. The SolarWinds hack is thought to have been pure espionage, rather than a cyber attack on critical infrastructure. SolarWinds and the hack of Microsoft Exchange servers, for which China is being blamed, were not incidences of conflict in any sort of conventional sense, says Trey Herr, director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “It’s incumbent on the US to be probing for weaknesses and trying to take advantage of those, and it’s incumbent on the Russians and on the Chinese to do the same,” he says.

The FT’s editorial board points out that both the Russian and Chinese hacks were apparently launched via US-based servers, making the case for reviewing the law preventing US intelligence agencies from probing domestic systems, despite the privacy and civil liberties issues there.

Rather than retaliation, it says the most urgent, and potentially most effective, response must be to harden the west’s digital defences. When even government systems rely on commercial software and cloud computing, all are only as secure as their weakest link.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Jack Ma’s jet trails
The billionaire founder of Alibaba and Ant has made only one public appearance since upsetting the Chinese government last October. But the Financial Times has obtained the flight details of Ma’s private jet, which suggest that while the 56-year-old is down, he is far from out.

Maps showing flight logs show a dramatic slowdown in Jack Ma’s busy schedule.  Between August 15 and October 29  he flew once every 3 days Between November 1 and February 26 hew flew once every 7 days

2. Ant’s chief resigns
Simon Hu, chief executive of Ant Group, has resigned “due to personal reasons”, just as the fintech group is about to embark on a major restructuring at the behest of China’s regulators. Hu’s resignation follows the departure of Yin Ming, the head of its insurance business, in January. Both senior resignations come months after China’s regulators halted Ant’s $37bn public listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

3. Battery boost for US
LG Energy Solution, the world’s largest producer of electric vehicle batteries, said on Friday it would invest more than $4.5bn in the US by 2025, with two plants being constructed to meet growing consumer demand for non-carbon emitting cars. Lex has been looking at lithium, where only 2 per cent of supplies went into electric car batteries a decade ago. Citigroup believes this will rise to 75 per cent by 2025.

4. Dutch court orders Uber transparency
An Amsterdam court has ordered Uber and Ola to be more transparent about the data they use as the basis for decisions on suspensions, wage penalties and work allocation, in a ruling that breaks new ground on the rights of workers subject to algorithmic management. Elsewhere, workers seeking to form the first Amazon union in the US received a boost from an unlikely source on Friday, after Republican senator Marco Rubio endorsed their efforts to organise.

5. The post-Covid city
Simon Kuper has been distilling the best ideas for the post-Covid city, focusing on rich-country megapolises such as London, New York and Paris and looking at the office, shops, homes and mobility — where electric bikes are being “completely underestimated”.

Line chart of Sales of e-bikes and electric cars in Europe, 2015-19 (m units) showing E-bikes outsold electric vehicles more than fivefold in Europe in 2019

Tech tools — Oppo Find X3 Pro

Oppo’s Find X3 Pro flagship smartphone, unveiled this week, looks set to take on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra as perhaps the best Android handset, says Tom’s Guide. It is said to be the world’s first billion colour 5G smartphone, “boasting a Full-path 10-bit Colour Management System, a true billion colour display and two separate billion colour flagship cameras”. Android Police likes the “cool new ‘microlens’ that goes beyond the mere macro experience with a built-in ring light, and the ultra-wide and normal wide-angle cameras both use the same high-end Sony IMX766 sensor”. It will cost £1,099 when it goes on sale in the UK in mid-April.

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