The big US internet companies — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft,— have a mixed record on security and protecting users’ data, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal probably giving Facebook the lowest marks, while Apple’s strong emphasis on securing users’ data and whereabouts might earn it the top spot among the five.
But Mehul Srivastava and Tim Bradshaw’s scoop suggests they are all equally at risk from the Pegasus smartphone malware developed by Israel’s NSO Group. Spy agencies and governments have used it for years to harvest data from targeted individuals’ smartphones, but sources say it has now evolved to capture data stored in the cloud, such as a full history of a target’s location data, archived messages or photos. NSO denies promoting cloud hacking tools.
The new technique is said to copy the authentication keys of services such as Google Drive, Facebook Messenger and iCloud, among others, from an infected phone, allowing a separate server to then impersonate the phone, including its location.
NSO pitches its malware to governments and our chief feature writer Henry Mance writes for FT Weekend on the worrying “Big Brother” aspects of data gathering and video surveillance. Then there is the performance artist Lauren McCarthy, who has been acting as a human Alexa in smart homes to explore the invasiveness of voice assistants.
Finally, we need good tech to fight and protect us against bad tech. Shares in CrowdStrike, the cyber security company that uncovered Russian hackers inside the servers of the US Democratic National Committee, jumped 11 per cent on Thursday after it topped analyst estimates in its maiden results as a public company. Revenues more than doubled as customers sought out its expertise to combat hostile cyber activity.
The Internet of (Four) Things
1. Look at clouds from both sides now
Microsoft, the world’s most valuable company pointed to “large, multiyear cloud agreements” as one of the main reasons for unexpectedly strong revenue and earnings growth in the second quarter, with sales almost $1bn ahead of market expectations. Lex says what Microsoft lacks in fashionable services it makes up for with scale and it has swerved the backlash against tech companies. Richard Waters looks at that techlash in his Inside Business column, saying: “The presidential election season in the US is still in its early days and the partisan gulf is widening, but hating on Big Tech is `something everyone can agree on.” In related news, President Trump has said he may review a $10bn Department of Defense cloud computing contract for which Amazon and Microsoft are finalists, saying “Great companies are complaining about it.”
2. Netflix stumbles as streaming rivals loom
Anna Nicolaou in New York has been parsing Netflix’s quarterly report, where subscription additions disappointed and subs actually fell in the US. Analysts say this puts into question estimates of a 50 per cent rise in US subs to 90m by 2025. It will soon be fighting Disney for users and we’ve a look at Disney+, the streaming service due to launch this winter “on the back of the company’s continental mass of IP, a multibillion-dollar grab bag ready to be subdivided into untold sequels, prequels and serials”. Here in the UK, ITV and the BBC have laid out their launch plans for their joint streaming subscription service, saying BritBox will launch in the fourth quarter and cost £5.99 a month.
3. Huawei plans to stick with Android
Huawei reportedly wants to keep using Google’s Android operating system in its phones instead of jumping to its self-developed Hongmeng system. Company senior vice president Catherine Chen told reporters in Brussels that the Hongmeng OS isn’t even designed for phones, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. (Cnet)
4. Michael Collins narrates Google Doodle
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on Saturday, an extended video Google Doodle features a charming narration by Apollo 11’s Michael Collins. There’s also a video on how the Doodle came about.
Tech tools — Smart diapers (US) nappies (UK)
Google’s life sciences sister company Verily has created a baby monitoring system based around “smart nappies”, working with Procter & Gamble’s Pampers to use sensors, software and video to surveil when infants sleep, wee and poo, report Hannah Kuchler and Alistair Gray from New York.
Parents will be able to raise “quantified babies”, attaching an activity sensor to the child’s nappy, which feeds data on when a nappy is wet and on a baby’s sleep time to an app that charts daily and weekly routines to show its development. P & G’s Lumi system, set to launch in the US this autumn, also includes a video monitor made by consumer electronics company Logitech, so that parents can watch their baby through the app anywhere in the world.