Microsoft winks as Facebook hangs head in security shame

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Selling out?

It is, we said, like watching your dad try to dance at the prom. Yes, we're talking about the much hyped stories that Microsoft is thinking about taking a stake in Facebook. Rumours are that Redmond might take five per cent of Facebook for "roughly $300m to $500m". Standback as everyone tries to work out the value of each Facebooker.

And while we're wheeling and dealing, this week also saw Echostar buy Sling. For those unfamiliar with the players, that is a satellite TV firm buying a IPTV gadget maker. The deal's worth $380m, to be paid in a mix of cash and EchoStar stock.

EMC, apparently tired of sitting on its IPO cash, reportedly dropped $76m for web-based automated backup outfit Mozy. The service is one of dozens of start-ups offering online storage to consumers and businesses. And why not? When you have to have it, you have to have it.

Patents under review

The UK Intellectual Property Office has launched a public consultation on proposals to introduce a fast-track system for patent and trade mark applications, as suggested in the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property.

Stateside, a pilot programme that allows people to alert the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) when they have found material proving an invention is not new is underway. The project manager says the scheme should be compulsory, or it will not work.

Meanwhile, VoIP provider Vonage has lost another patent battle, this time with Sprint Nextel, which owns six infringed patents and stands to gain almost $70m in a court-ordered payout. Vonage has argued that the patent should never have been approved, and anyway its technology was nothing like it. The jury remained unconvinced.

Is Big Brother watching you?

If you happen to be in Chicago, the answer will soon be a resounding yes. The city is rolling out a futuristic video surveillance system with the help of IBM and several other tech companies. They're calling it "Operation Virtual shield".

Here in the UK, meanwhile, the Daily Mail discovered that the government is using technology to keep tabs on citizens.

And Scotland announces a review of the procedures for retaining the forensic data of those accused of sexual or violent offenses.

Keeping the lawyers busy

In court this week, the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC) has filed the first US infringement case to defend the General Public License (GPL) version 2. The case has been brought against Monsoon Multimedia. No sooner had the legal sabre rattled, the start-up capitulated agreeing to abide by the terms of the license.

A former Unix system admin at Medco Health Solutions, a big US drugs prescription management firm, has admitted to planting malicious code that would have destroyed massive amounts of critical patient information. He faces up to 10 years behind bars, and a fine of $250,000, if the judge is feeling particularly pissy.

Meanwhile, Pirate Bay has filed a criminal complaint against entertainment firms over alleged attacks against the controversial file sharing tracker site. Should be one to watch, this.

And the reality of poorly chosen creative commons licenses hits home for filmmaker Damon Chang. He uploaded a family photograph of his young niece Alison to Flickr, only to discover weeks later that it was being used by Virgin Mobile in an expensive advertising campaign. What can he do? Not much, is the consensus.

The Microsoft dominance debate rumbles on

First up, a nifty piece of analysis, considering why it is that Microsft's bundling of software is not a good thing, and why we don't need to keep a watchful eye on the beast of Redmond. Pay attention, young 'uns. This is for you.

Meanwhile, Euro think tank the Globalisation Institute set out its anti-MS stall, calling on the EU to require all PCs to be sold without operating systems. It says this will not make consumers' lives more difficult, as they would simply be asked to insert an OS DVD when they first power the system.

Perhaps they have a point: a French court just awarded a man €811 damages for the inconvenience of having bought a €599 laptop pre-loaded with MS wares.

How many words can you make that include the letters OIP?

VoIP provider Truphone can spell at least two: VoIP and iPhone. The firm announced a VoIP client running as a native application on the iPhone. Just a question of demand, now, it says.

Staying with the iPhone, Apple's handset has triggered another burst of features upgrading from other makers. Nokia Beta Labs has launched Conversation, a free application for S60 third edition handsets that arranges one's messages by person, rather than date and time. This is a feature Treo and iPhone users have had for a while.

Googling for a backdoor

If you use Google to send email, organise photos, or help administer your website, take note. This Monday, doomwatchers catalogued three new ways to steal your data and compromise the security of your users. By Tuesday, another weakness had been uncovered.

Won't somebody think of the Facebook generation?

Facebook officials have been subpoenaed by New York's top law enforcement official after a preliminary review revealed "significant defects in the site's safety controls" designed to shield underage users from sexual predators.

Meanwhile, eBay's "trust and safety" board went into emergency shutdown when naughty hackers brazenly used the forum, which is designed to prevent fraud, to post sensitive information including home addresses and phone numbers of 1,200 eBay users.

Setting a thief?

China has jailed four men convicted of involvement in a malware-fuelled scam that led to the infection of hundreds of thousands of Windows PCs across the country.

But one lucky convict's prospects are looking rather rosier than you might expect. Li Jun, 25, played a central role in a malware-fueled scam. But now he's been offered a well-paying job by one of his victims. Perhaps this is a techno-variant of Stockholm Syndrome?

Panic stations...oh, wait...

Symantec ran a full scale internet fire drill this week, when it inadvertently warned enterprise customers of a full-scale internet meltdown. The firm mistakenly sent out an alert from its DeepSight facility, falsely warning that a devastating attack was underway. Oops.

Close door, open window

Virgin has closed Virgin Digital, its Windows Media-based alternative to Apple's iTunes. It stopped selling one-off downloads on Friday, though subscribers will still have access to their collections until their next monthly payment is due.

Not to worry, Amazon has just opened its DRM-free music store for business. Songs are available for $0.89 per song, or $6 to $10 for an album. Files are fingerprinted, not locked, so exchanges can be backtracked, not prevented.

Upgrading Great Britain

BT has again hinted that it could be persuaded to upgrade the UK's aged copper and aluminium wires into homes and businesses to fibre-optic lines.

Just as well, since Ofcom has just launched a consultation to work out who should fund such a move as part of the general modernising of our creaking infrastructure.

Spinning out or carving up

Pipex gifted us all with the news that the remainder of the group intends to demerge its WiMAX business, then flog itself. In the sales sense, not corporal punishment. The sale of the 570,000-strong broadband and voice base to Tiscali for £210m cleared regulatory hurdles earlier this month.

And finally...

The internet proves its worth as Burma's uprising takes place in full view of the world. The world is watching this time. Let's hope it matters.

And no weekly news round up would be complete without something utterly silly. So, we bring you news that boffins in Japan have bred mutant albino frogs with transparent skin. The idea is that it will no longer be necessary to cut the slime-filled creatures up in order to examine their internal workings, making for less mess in school biology lessons. And less slicing and dicing for the frogs, of course. ®

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