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Airline in hot seat after IT systems grounded

Delta’s IT makes a crash landing, phones and cars are all apparently broken and journalists are misusing hookup apps. But it’s all going to be OK, because Obama now has a Facebook chatbot. Read all about it in this week’s tech roundup.


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You’d hate to be Delta’s CIO right now. The airline cancelled and delayed thousands of flights this week after a power outage took its systems down. The outage, which lasted a few hours, sent shock waves rippling through its business. A video apology by CEO Ed Bastian followed, along with refunds and $200 travel vouchers for customers. It begs the question: what would happen if someone deliberately attacked computer systems across multiple airlines at once?

We give up, everything is broken

Android users were nervous after security researchers published the details of QuadRooter, a series of four interconnected flaws in Qualcomm processors. When used together, an attacker could gain root access to a phone and take complete control of the device, experts at security firm CheckPoint said. The vulnerability could affect up to 900 million Android phones, including brand-new ones such as Samson’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. A patch is available, but each Android phone vendor has to implement it before users can benefit.

Android phones are not the only things to be hacked. Researchers this week revealed a vulnerability in the keyless entry system for practically every vehicle that Volkswagen has sold since 1995, along with cars from many others ranging from Alpha Romeo to Ford and Peugeot. Up to 100 million Volkswagen cars alone could be affected, reports said. Poor encryption and shared cryptographic keys are to blame for the bug.

Obama using software bot

President Obama now has a Facebook messenger bot. Citizens can send it a message, which it may or may not relay to the leader of the free world. However, early experiments show that the bot only listens and responds according to a set of strict rules, and disregards any messages that don’t fit in with its particular agenda. Skeptics might suggest this makes it a perfect contender for its own Senate seat.

Data science shows Trump is angry and negative

At least the White House Facebook messenger bot is polite and positive. An analysis of tweets written directly by Republican nominee Donald Trump shows that the tweets he sends from his own phone (rather than the tweets sent by his staff) are “angrier and more negative.”

A data scientist ran the numbers after noticing that some tweets from Trump’s account were posted via an iPhone, whereas others were posted from an Android phone. Perhaps the Donald should hand control of his account over to a bot altogether. We hear Microsoft Tay, who apparently supports Trump, is looking for a job.

Ad battle heats up for Facebook

The battle over ad blocking continues. Facebook announced a plan to bypass the browser-based technology, which stops websites delivering advertisements within webpages. It will let users manage their ad settings in a more granular way, though, by selecting the kinds of ads they don’t want to be shown.

In response, ad blocking firm Adblock Plus has already made an end run around Facebook’s technology, enabling users to once again choke off the social media site’s profits and view their cat videos unencumbered by commercials. Facebook is already working on thwarting the firm’s anti-anti-ad technology, it said.

Dingbat of the week

The dingbat of the week award goes to ‘journalist’ Nico Hines, a writer for the Daily Beast, who used gay hookup app Grindr to entice Olympic athletes at the Rio games. The straight married journalist had no intention of following through, but simply wanted to identify gay Olympiads so that he could talk about it in his article.

In doing so, he published the home country, physical description and language of an athlete representing a particularly repressive and homophobic state. We love it when investigative journalists use technology to research and tell their stories, but this isn’t exactly in the public interest.

Illustration courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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