The big kerfuffle in the tech space over the past week has been the reaction to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s article in Wired, titled “This Is How We Will Ensure Net Neutrality.”
The FCC has been wrestling with the issue since January of last year, when an appeals court dismissed its 2010 Open Internet order as exceeding its authority. The original response, crafted by Wheeler—a former cable and cellphone industry lobbyist—featured a revision that would have allowed ISPs to charge content companies for an online fast lane, provided that such arrangements didn’t hurt consumers or competition.
That plan sparked a significant backlash after John Oliver lampooned it in a hilarious June 2014 segment of his Last Week Tonight show, when he compared Wheeler’s plan to “the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo.” The clip got 8 million hits on YouTube. The FCC, which had solicited input, was inundated after Oliver invited viewers to write the agency and broadcast its address. In all, some 4 million people posted public comments, the majority of them negative on the change and in favor of Net Neutrality.
Now, Wheeler has apparently done an about-face. In his statement, he called for “enforceable, bright-line rules [that] will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.”
That also just happens to be pretty much what President Obama called for back in November, when he advocated reclassifying the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The Internet is an essential service, Obama maintained, and there should be no blocking of websites or services, no throttling, no slow lanes, and greater transparency.
Republicans are infuriated. Presidential contender Rand Paul said the plan “gives the FCC the power to decide what Internet service providers can charge and how they operate. This is not only a direct attack on the free market, but it will also result in an increase in Internet access fees for millions of consumers in America. It’s a massive tax on the middle class, plain and simple.” Others, obviously, disagree.
The full FCC won’t vote on the new rules—the actual final wording of which we haven’t yet seen—until February 26. Until then, you can expect a torrent of political posturing. Even afterward, the issue won’t likely be settled. Congress could intervene because it originally granted the FCC the power to regulate the Net. And powerhouse corporations like AT&T and Verizon, which feel slighted, are gearing up for a court fight. Count on the battle dragging on for a long time to come.
Nation’s Second-Largest Health Insurer Hacked
Few things are in the news as frequently as the world cyberwar and how to protect yourself from online threats. This past week proved no exception as Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, revealed that it had been subject to a hack attack that compromised the personal information of up to 80 million of its employees and customers.
It’s a disturbing incident, to be sure, but what is perhaps equally troubling is that cybercrooks seem to be increasingly targeting the medical sector. People’s health information that can be sold on the black market is tempting booty indeed.
“What we’ve seen in the last few years is that attackers have realized the economics of health-care data are very, very attractive,” says Lee Weiner, senior vice president at cybersecurity firm Rapid7. So much so that the FBI last year felt it needed to warn healthcare providers that their cybersecurity systems are lax compared to other sectors.
Dell SecureWorks, an information security services company, has recently identified several underground marketplaces where hackers are selling information packages known as “Kitz.” These contain verified health insurance info, SSNs, bank account info/logins (account and routing numbers, account type), driver’s licenses, full names, addresses, and phone numbers. In addition, the buyer can get counterfeit physical documents and hardware related to the identity data in the package (e.g., credit cards, driver’s license, insurance cards, etc.) The price is in the $1,200-$1,300 range per Kitz, which is far more lucrative than selling just a stolen credit card number.
With health insurance information, the criminal impersonates hacking victims to obtain medical care or to purchase expensive medical equipment, such as motorized wheelchairs, that can then be resold. Since it often takes healthcare providers longer to detect this type of fraud than credit card companies or banks, the abuser will generally have more time to wreak havoc.
Bits & Bytes
That same Samsung TV may also start showing you ads in very unexpected places, like during screenings of your own home movies. Methinks Samsung is going to have to rethink its whole software design system pretty soon.
Microsoft has also been in the news a lot recently, but in a good way. The company recently announced that it turned last year’s $200 million Acompli acquisition into Outlook for iOS and Android, as it has suddenly become a red-hot mobile app developer. Microsoft now has more than 100 iOS and Android apps (to think I was once admonished for releasing its first one… no sour grapes, though. Some pioneer has to take the arrows—right Gary?).
Meanwhile, Satya Nadella just celebrated his one-year anniversary as Microsoft CEO, and it sounds like the company’s employees are as excited about the work he’s doing as the outside world is.
Microsoft also made waves raising over $10 billion in debt, the biggest bond raise of the year, more even than Apple’s recent monster offering. The company plans to use the Scrooge McDuck-worthy pile of money to buy back stock, which it expects to make a better return on than the cost of borrowing, just a measly 2.7%.
As on-demand mobile services continue to transform the service economy, will there eventually be an Uber for everything? And will Uber itself ever accomplish its goal of becoming cheaper and more convenient than owning your own car? Economics says it should be able to, as most of our cars sit idle for all but a fraction of the day and there’s lots of slack in the labor pool.
Google says that 5% of all Google searches are health related. That’s 2,000 such searches every second. To appease this huge market of individuals with medical conditions, hypochondriacs, and folks who are just plain curious, the company is introducing high-quality medical data to its search engine in the next few days that will be displayed to users as part of the Knowledge Graph. According to Google, “We’ll show you typical symptoms and treatments, as well as details on how common the condition is—whether it’s critical, if it’s contagious, what ages it affects, and more.”
In a somewhat bizarre story from Quartz this week, apparently millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the Internet. Surveys conducted in Asia and Africa found that the number of people who had responded saying they used Facebook was much higher than those who said they used the Internet… though it also could just be a poorly designed survey.
Today, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Check out this fascinating piece on how YouTube changed the world. Amazing what happens when you lower the barriers of entry to a market.
Is Twitter in danger of becoming the Bing of social media? A lot of people love Twitter. “But a lot of people just don’t get it,” and the company “has never quite communicated a clear enough reason for them to try.” And that’s translating into sluggish user growth, which was a paltry 1.4% in the most recent quarter. But the company is still able to grow revenue at a rapid clip—it posted year-over-year topline growth of 97.4% in the fourth quarter, which has helped propel the stock to its highest level since late October.
Intel has a new plan to get women interested in wearables… by making the technology, well, wearable. Ayse Ildeniz, the VP of Intel’s New Devices Group “says collaborations between fashionistas and engineers are the key to developing wearable tech that women actually want to wear.” I’m still surprised this bad-ass little jacket never caught on.
Yelp just bought the food-delivery business Eat24 for $134 million to expand its food operations business. Yelp is well known for providing reviews and listings for restaurants, but it also allows users to book tables at those restaurants and offers deals at those establishments, competing with both OpenTable and the many Groupon clones of the world. Moving into this new vertical is a natural fit, according to the company. “As more food ordering transactions move online, further integrating Eat24 will enhance our user experience,” said Yelp CEO and cofounder Jeremy Stoppleman. Maybe it will be enough to help it recover some of the 50% or so the stock has lost from highs of about a year ago.
Qualcomm was fined nearly $1 billion by Chinese antitrust regulators for charging license fees that were too high, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission. Chinese regulators have set new terms for licensing rates. It’s a hefty fine for Qualcomm, but it does mark the end of a long investigation that hurt the company’s ability to collect licensing revenue in China at all. Still, that the government will change private party contracts is proof that China’s economic policy still has a ways to go.
#OpISIS. Hacker group Anonymous is apparently targeting ISIS under the campaign name #OpISIS. Along with RedCult, the hacktivist group has already taken down hundreds of social media accounts belonging to ISIS, and the campaign is far from over. This is a fascinating change for an organization largely known for its anti-government, borderline anarchist views.
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