EU to Google: ‘Hands off our ads’

Battles between governments and search engines, secret phone-control messages in your radio programme and rampaging robots. It may be the summer season, but that’s no reason for the tech world to take a holiday.

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The European Commission, no doubt grumpy after losing more than a tenth of its population in the U.K. Brexit, has slapped yet another antitrust charge on Google, this time going after its AdSense advertising business. It’s concerned the firm made it harder for third-party websites to display advertisements from competitors.

This is the third antitrust charge, following another in April concerning Android licensing, and an initial one in 2010 asserting that Google favoured its own comparison shopping service. The EC also provided more evidence relating to that first charge this week. Google could lose a significant chunk of revenue in fines if the charges land right. Over in Mountain View, someone is frantically Googling ‘good lawyers.’

Digital cartoon character takes over entire planet

Other than a major standoff between a multinational Internet company and an entire trading bloc, the most important tech story this week was clearly Pokemon Go. The augmented reality game, played on smartphones, shows you virtual Pokemons lurking in real-life locations, and encourages you to catch them by shooting them with digital balls.

It doesn’t sound hugely interesting, but the world has gone bonkers for Pokemon Go. Stats suggest that daily active users may surpass Twitter’s (on Android at least). One guy played it in a delivery room (oh dear), and teens have been playing it while driving.

Nintendo’s shares rose 50 per cent after the aging cartoon character was resurrected in digital form. Well played, guys, well played.

Secret radio messages could pwn your phone

Could Pokemon Go be part of a secret plot to take over the world? Probably not. But how about this? Researchers have discovered that garbled messages played over the radio could be used to activate voice recognition in phones. They could be made to share location data, make calls and access infected websites, they said. The trick works by heavily distorting voice commands to make them unintelligible to human users. Kind of like a Donald Trump campaign speech that your phone can still understand.

Tinfoil hat wearers claiming to receive secret messages via radio may have been right all along. It would be awesome, if it wasn’t so dastardly.

Bitcoin reward halves

The amount that you can earn for mining bitcoin just halved. The mining algorithm awards the digital currency every 10 minutes to those whose computers are first to crack a complex mathematical problem. Every four years, the reward is slashed in two. On July 9, it went from 25 to 12.5 bitcoins. Apparently, though, the Chinese have been mining an awful lot of it. Three of the biggest mining pools are Chinese, and account for more than half of the total bitcoin mining happening today.

Dingbat of the week

This week’s dingbat award goes unreservedly to the K5, a robotic security guard being used at the Stanford Shopping Center in Silicon Valley. The robot, which patrols the mall looking for unusual activity, violated Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics, which states that a robot may not injure or harm a human being, or allow one to come to harm through inaction.

K5, blissfully unaware of said law, hit 16-month-old Harwin Cheng on the head, knocking him down, and then trundled over his foot.

Knightscope, which makes the friendly neighbourhood security bots, issued a statement explaining that the kid ran backwards into the robot. That was nonsense, according to his parents, who said he couldn’t run backwards. In any case, it doesn’t explain why he suffered from a swollen foot as the robot ran over him, or why the robot then callously continued on its way. They’ve offered the Chengs a trip to company headquarters to K5’s evil lair so that management can apologize in person. The Chengs have not responded, apparently.

Photo courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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