The Internet, from The Economist

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Difference engine: Say hello to the Ubernet

20 October 2014 - 10:40am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference engine Rubric:  Net neutrality is the least of the internet’s problems Location:  LOS ANGELES Main image:  20141018_stp506.jpg THE decade-long debate in America over “net neutrality”—the assumption that all internet traffic, no matter its origin or purpose, should be treated equally—is inching towards some form of compromise. Internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are adamant that the internet should remain free of regulations that would bar them from limiting or charging bandwidth-hogging users such as Netflix and YouTube. During the prime-time hours of 6pm to 10pm, these two popular websites for streaming video account for half of all internet traffic in America. On the other side of the acrimonious debate, open-internet activists have bombarded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with demands that the ISPs be prevented from doing anything that would erode the practice of treating ...

Schumpeter: Pointers to the future

16 October 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The war on Ebola Fly Title:  Schumpeter Rubric:  Forecasting the internet’s impact on business is proving hard Main image:  20141018_WBD000_0.jpg PROGNOSTICATORS have a bad record when it comes to new technologies. Safety razors were supposed to produce a clean-shaven future. Cars were expected to take off and fly. Automation was meant to deliver a life of leisure. Yet beards flourish, cars remain earthbound and work yaps at our heels. The internet is no exception. Anyone looking for mis-prognostications about it will find an embarrassment of riches. The internet was supposed to destroy big companies; now big companies rule the internet. It was supposed to give everyone a cloak of anonymity: “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” Now Google and its like are surveillance machines that know not only that you’re a dog but whether you have fleas and which brand of meaty chunks you prefer. We can now add two more entries to the list of unreliable ...

Foreign entrepreneurs in China: Small is not beautiful

16 October 2014 - 10:59am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The war on Ebola Fly Title:  Foreign entrepreneurs in China Rubric:  It is hard for small businesses to break into the Chinese market Location:  SHANGHAI Main image:  20141018_WBD001_0.jpg ENTREPRENEURS do more with less, proclaimed Fiona Woolf this week on a visit to Shanghai. Lady Woolf, the current Lord Mayor of the City of London, was speaking at an academic conference devoted to helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs) flourish in China. These businesses face all of the same obstacles as big firms trying to enter China but have far fewer resources. Intellectual-property rights are hard and costly to defend. The tangle of red tape involved in tax, compliance, customs clearance, business registration and so on can overwhelm small firms. Alexandra Voss of the German Chamber of Commerce points out that local firms often work overtime and on weekends during negotiations—and that foreign ...

Hotel Wi-Fi: Knock your block off

10 October 2014 - 11:13am
MARRIOTT has admitted to jamming customers' Wi-Fi hotspots in "at least one" of its hotels, forcing business travellers to pay for the chain's own Wi-Fi service, according to America's Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Marriott normally charges customers $14.95 per day for its Wi-Fi service, but in this case the costs were much higher—the jamming happened during a conference at which Marriott was charging exhibitors and journalists "as much as $1,000 per device" for access, according to the FCC. "It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network," Travis LeBlanc, the FCC's top enforcement official, said in a press release.Marriott, which was fined $600,000, doesn't seem sorry. The chain released a statement arguing that it was trying to protect customers from "rogue wireless hotspots" and demanded the FCC make a formal rule on the issue.Gulliver thinks that is balderdash. Marriott shouldn't need an FCC rule to know what it was doing was wrong—and that if it was discovered, the negative PR would damage the company's bottom line far more than a couple of hundred Wi-Fi signups would help. Moreover, the FCC operates an entire website that details the laws about Wi-Fi jammers. At the top of the site is this big warning box: ***ALERT*** ...

The Economist explains: How protesters evade digital censorship

9 October 2014 - 3:36pm
AS GOVERNMENTS attempt to block access to social media or to the internet entirely, protesters try to stay one step ahead.  So how do they get around blockades?  Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2014-10-24

Minority languages: Cookies, caches and cows

25 September 2014 - 11:03am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Mission relaunched Fly Title:  Minority languages Rubric:  Translating technological terms throws up some peculiar challenges Location:  BAMAKO, MALI Main image:  Speaking the customer’s language Speaking the customer’s language OUSMANE sweats under a tin roof as he thumbs through a Chinese smartphone that he is selling at the technology market in Bamako, Mali. Words in French, Mali’s official language, scroll down the screen. “A ka nyi?” (Is it good?) a customer asks him in Bambara, Mali’s most widely used tongue. Mozilla, the foundation behind Firefox, an open-source web browser, wants Ousmane’s customers to have the option of a device that speaks their language. Smartphones with its operating system (OS) are already on sale in 24 countries, including Bangladesh, India and Mexico, for as little as $33. Other countries will be added as it makes more deals with handset manufacturers. And ...

Internet IPOs: How Alibaba measures up

19 September 2014 - 10:49am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Internet IPOs Rubric:  China's big e-commerce site dominates its American peers ALIBABA'S shares were priced at $68 on September 18th, giving China's e-commerce behemoth a market capitalisation of $168 billion as it started trading on New York's Stock Exchange. The flotation will raise $21.8 billion, narrowly missing the record for the world’s biggest stock offering, held by Agricultural Bank of China with its $22.1 billion listing in 2010. But if some of the remaining options are exercised by their owners, Alibaba’s could yet be the largest. Outside of the stockmarket, Alibaba's dominance is less ambiguous. Transactions last year over its websites totalled nearly $250 billion, compared with $116 billion for Amazon, the American "e-taling" giant. Data from this year suggest that with every second that passes, Alibaba handles almost 500 orders, altogether worth more than $9,000 on average. Amazon’s equivalent transaction value in 2013 would be less than $3,700 per second. An average buyer on Alibaba's websites spends over $1,000 a year, whereas the figure is less than half ...

Nigeria’s online retailers: E-bola

18 September 2014 - 11:01am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Xi who must be obeyed Fly Title:  Nigeria’s online retailers Rubric:  Fear of the virus boosts e-commerce in Africa’s most-populous nation WHAT if Ebola spread beyond the smaller west African states, where the outbreak is concentrated, and took hold in Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous country? International epidemiologists tremble at the thought. Ordinary Nigerians worry, too—so much so that the country has seen a boom in online shopping, as some people avoid going out into crowded markets and shopping malls. Access to the internet and e-services is growing fast in Nigeria, a country of 173m people, more than 10m in Lagos alone. Online retailers must contend with poor roads, especially in rural areas, and suspicion of online payments (they accept cash on delivery). Ebola is giving an unexpected push to nascent e-commerce, after the country suffered its first case in July, when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian civil servant, died in Lagos. At least six others have perished since. Jumia, the biggest e-commerce site, says orders have ...

Digital advertising: Tracking the trackers: Every click you make

11 September 2014 - 5:32pm
THE data we generate online has spawned a complex new ecosystem of firms tracking, interpreting and selling our data to advertisers. This raises privacy concerns for consumers  Comment Expiry Date:  Fri, 2014-09-26

Online video: Cracking the screen

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Little Brother Fly Title:  Online video Rubric:  Online video is flourishing, but it is not about to kill television ONLINE VIDEO IS following in the path of broadcast television and cable, radically changing how and what people watch. Around 195m Americans, or 77% of American internet users, already watch videos online. In China, where people are suspicious of government-censored television, the figure is nearly 500m, or 70% of those who use the web. This year digital-video advertising in America is forecast to grow by 43%, against a mere 3% for TV advertising. Yet they start from such different bases that television will still rise by $2.2 billion, against $1.8 billion for online video. The battle lines are somewhat blurred. Probably more than half of all premium online-video advertising minutes are screened on the websites of big television companies, such as CBS and ABC. Increasingly it will make more sense to talk about “video” as a single category rather than “television” and “online video” separately. Online-video ads ...

Netflix expands in Europe: An American in Paris

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  UK RIP? Fly Title:  Netflix expands in Europe Rubric:  The video-streaming firm enters some crowded new markets Location:  PARIS Main image:  A transatlantic tryst with a happy ending A transatlantic tryst with a happy ending AMERICAN internet giants such as Google and Amazon are the target of much criticism in Europe these days, accused of avoiding taxes, invading privacy and competing unfairly with local firms. The latest transatlantic tech firm to ruffle feathers is Netflix, a fast-growing company that offers streaming video on demand (SVOD) over the internet and which has already got conventional broadcasters and pay-TV companies worried back home in America. Netflix has been signing up viewers in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries; and next week it starts invading the continental heartland, beginning with France. Television companies, telecoms firms and other ...

Social media in Saudi Arabia: A virtual revolution

11 September 2014 - 10:54am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  UK RIP? Fly Title:  Social media in Saudi Arabia Rubric:  Why social media have a greater impact in the kingdom than elsewhere Location:  JEDDAH AND RIYADH Main image:  People of the Facebook People of the Facebook TUNE into one of Saudi Arabia’s television channels and you are likely to find a stuffy report praising the government or a sheikh spinning a dreary sermon. Little wonder that so many Saudis turn to YouTube and other online broadcasters for light relief. That has led to the emergence of new media companies, mainly in the more liberal coastal city of Jeddah, dedicated to amusing the kingdom’s growing population. In the glassy offices of UTURN Entertainment, one such firm, men and abaya-clad women play table-football and squeeze putty between commissioning and recording videos for their YouTube channel. It airs a variety of shows, from cookery and religious programmes to talk shows ...

The future of Apple: Watched

10 September 2014 - 9:23am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  The future of Apple Rubric:  Apple is becoming a very different company, and not just because of its newly unveiled products Byline:  A.S. Location:  CUPERTINO Main image:  20140913_WBP504_473.jpg AS A technology firm, Apple spends much of its time reimagining the future, but it also likes to pay tribute to its past. Back in 1984 Steve Jobs, with a luminous mane of black hair, double-breasted suit and green bowtie, commanded the stage at Flint Performing Arts Centre near Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino to show off the new Macintosh computer. On September 9th Mr Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, balding and in blue jeans, held his own performance in the same location. It was the most significant showcase of Apple’s determination to wow the world since 1984. To thunderous applause, Mr Cook showed off two new iPhones, a clever payments system and a wearable device, which it calls the ...

Net neutrality: Faux go-slow

10 September 2014 - 7:12am
DEAR reader, what kept you? Perhaps you were visiting film-streaming service Netflix, discussion forum Reddit, blogging site WordPress or any of dozens of other popular websites where users are halted at an endlessly spinning "loading" icon. If your first thought was to send an angry missive about your internet provision, the stunt has worked.September 10th marks Internet Slowdown Day, an effort by activists and web-based firms to suggest how the web might look if rules proposed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are adopted. At issue is net neutrality, the idea that all data on the internet should be treated equitably, regardless of content or provenance. One of the options mooted by the FCC earlier this year would permit broadband providers—in America, primarily cable companies—to charge certain internet firms for guaranteed levels of service. The cable companies have their eyes on Netflix in particular, whose streamed entertainment sometimes accounts for over a third of all wired download traffic in America, often in competition with their own on-demand offerings.In Silicon Valley, where a level playing field is seen as a founding principle of the internet and start-ups consider connectivity an inexhaustible resource, this did not go down well. An open market of internet fast and slow lanes would chill innovation, opponents (and The Economist) have ...

Alibaba’s IPO: The journey of 102 years begins

6 September 2014 - 6:33am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Alibaba’s IPO Rubric:  At long last, Alibaba reveals details of its massive public flotation Byline:  V.V.V. Location:  SHANGHAI Main image:  20140913_WBP501_473.jpg “DEAR investors,” begins the letter from Jack Ma, a remarkable Chinese entrepreneur who has risen from an obscure life as a teacher to become one of the world’s richest businessmen. “If you invest with us, you will be embarking on a journey with Alibaba.” The missive from Mr Ma (pictured), the founder and chairman of China’s largest internet firm, is part of an amendment to the firm’s prospectus filed on September 5th with America’s Securities and Exchange Commission. This long-awaited update reveals the most anticipated bit of financial news in a long while: how much Alibaba’s shares will cost during its forthcoming initial public offering (IPO) in New York. The answer surprised many. Alibaba is pricing its offering at ...

Daily chart: The Great IPO of China

5 September 2014 - 8:26am
Alibaba’s growth from acquisitions THE potentially biggest public share offering in history may happen as soon as next week, when Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce site, lists on the New York Stock Exchange. It is expected to fetch as much as $20 billion, valuing the firm at $150 billion or more. That would make it one of the largest companies in China by market capitalisation, ahead of massive banks and oil firms and three times the value of proud China Telecom. Alibaba’s growth has been impressive. But it has been partly fuelled by hasty acquisitions—more than a dozen big ones this year alone, to the tune of around $5 billion. They are meant to plug gaps where rivals lurk, such as mapping, social media and logistics. Yet several of the larger ones are only minority stakes. Still, for investors wanting a piece of the country’s e-commerce market, this is the great platform of China. Comment Expiry Date:  Thu, 2014-09-18

Alibaba: After the float

4 September 2014 - 11:08am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The long game Fly Title:  Alibaba Rubric:  The Chinese e-commerce firm faces growing competition Location:  SHANGHAI THE initial public offering of shares in Alibaba, due shortly on the New York Stock Exchange, may raise more than $20 billion, making it one of the biggest IPOs on record, and value the Chinese e-commerce firm at $150 billion or more. But is it worth it? There are certainly reasons to believe so. The firm dominates online shopping in China, which has passed America to become the world’s biggest e-commerce market. In terms of gross sales, Alibaba is bigger than eBay and Amazon combined. And unlike Amazon, Alibaba makes significant profits. Bolstering the case for optimism is the firm’s recent performance. Revenues shot up 46% in the second quarter, year-on-year, to top $2.5 billion; and profits almost trebled to $2 billion. There were worries, as there had been about Facebook, that Alibaba might stumble in the transition from desktop ...

Technology: Will the internet eat your brain?

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Technology Rubric:  A neuroscientist warns Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains. By Susan Greenfield. Rider; 368 pages; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk A PICTURE doing the rounds on social media a few months ago showed two Hong Kong lovers hugging on a train. Resting their heads on each other’s shoulders gave the girl and her boyfriend an ideal vantage point to gaze lovingly at the smartphone that each was fiddling with behind the other’s back. It was meant to be funny. But for Susan Greenfield, a British neuroscientist, this is no joke. For several years Lady Greenfield has been warning of what she sees as the dangers of computers and the internet, as they move out of the office and into people’s living rooms, pockets and personal lives. She has written newspaper articles and given lectures about the dangers of the digital world. She frets, worrying that smartphones and social networks are sucking users into an unsatisfying digital ...

Online gaming: Streaming down the Amazon

28 August 2014 - 10:55am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  That sinking feeling (again) Fly Title:  Online gaming Rubric:  Why Amazon is buying a video-game streaming site ON OCTOBER 4th 2013, tens of thousands of gamers packed the Staples Centre in Los Angeles to watch SK Telecom T1 triumph over Royal Club in the annual finals of “League of Legends”, a team-based video game; 32m people watched the games live at some point, about 50% more than watch “Sunday Night Football”. But they did not watch on television. They used Twitch.tv, a website founded in 2011 that streams live video directly to users’ computers. On August 25th Amazon announced that it would buy Twitch for $970m, an indication of the growing importance of video-streaming websites. Amazon was not the only one interested: a few months ago Google had been rumoured to be on the verge of offering $1 billion for the firm as well. Video-streaming websites are not new. Twitch.tv was spun out of Justin.tv, a site set up in 2007 to allow Justin Kan, one of its founders, to broadcast his life to anyone who was interested. ...

Computer security: Hacking the banks

28 August 2014 - 5:41am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Computer security Rubric:  Who lies behind the latest cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase? Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20140830_FNP503_473.jpg ROBBING a bank used to require a gun and a getaway car. Now hackers can attack financial institutions with a few clicks of a computer mouse. According to reports on August 27th from Bloomberg, America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is now investigating a series of cyber-intrusions at several American banks, including JPMorgan Chase, one of the biggest. The attackers are said to have siphoned off large amounts of data, including customers' bank-account details. Quite what their motive is remains a mystery. One theory is that the attacks are the work of Russian hackers retaliating against international sanctions imposed as a result of Russia’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Another suggests that they are the work of criminals trying to profit from the data they pilfer. The ...