The Internet, from The Economist

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Publishing: Spotify for books

22 January 2015 - 11:23am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  America’s new aristocracy Fly Title:  Publishing Rubric:  Authors and publishers may constrain the rise of e-book subscriptions Location:  NEW YORK Main image:  A world of books at your fingertips A world of books at your fingertips “BEWARE of the person of one book,” said Thomas Aquinas, a medieval friar and author. The risk of encountering such unscholarly types is rarer in modern times. Digital devices can hold dozens of e-books, so people can carry around a whole shelf of reading material with them. Now a new crop of e-book subscription companies is offering bibliophiles the chance to consume as many books as they like, from a huge range of titles, for a flat fee of around $10 a month. It is a bit like having a whole lending library in your pocket—but with no need to return the books. In America the main providers of e-book subscriptions include Amazon, Oyster and Scribd. Similar ...

The state of the union: Live-tweeting the speech

20 January 2015 - 3:34pm
PRESIDENT Barack Obama will be delivering his 6th state of the union speech tonight. Though the address comes just as many new Republican Senators and Congressman decorate their offices on Capitol Hill, having taken control of the Senate and held on to the House in the recent midterm elections, the president appears reluctant to play the lame duck. He has used his executive powers to shield millions of migrants from deportation, has started to dismantle the (remarkably ineffective) embargo against Cuba, and has made a deal with China to reduce carbon emissions. The country’s economy is improving, and the president’s approval ratings are rising. Tonight Mr Obama will sketch out policies he hopes will help define his legacy, such as making college more affordable, and a new tax on the very rich to pay for tax breaks for the middle class. Given the Republicans’ control of Congress, few if any of these proposals are likely to become law. But this speech is Mr Obama’s last real opportunity to set a bold agenda before the drama of the 2016 elections shoves him off the stage.The state of the union will be broadcast at 9pm EST. Our live-tweets of the speech, and the Republican response (delivered by Joni Ernst, Iowa's new junior Senator), can be found here.  Comment Expiry Date:  ...

Difference engine: The right to be left alone

19 January 2015 - 1:38pm
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference engine Rubric:  Why people cherish privacy, yet cheerfully surrender it Location:  LOS ANGELES Main image:  20150117_stp502.jpg LIKE others, your correspondent is not unduly paranoid about his privacy. He takes cybercrooks seriously, and practices all proper online precautions. But on retail websites, he cheerfully parts with credit-card and contact details, and accepts that his texts and e-mail messages may well be read by prying busybodies (whatever good that may do them). He resents the way mass-marketers build pictures of his buying habits, but finds their recommendations for further purchases mildly amusing, sometimes even useful. He quit using social networks, not through fear of identity theft, but when the return on investment (of time) became too low and the threshold of gibberish too high.There are occasions, though, when he wants nothing more than to shut the entire world out, to focus on friends and family, and to enjoy the ...

Supermarkets in Europe: Halting the discounters' march

18 January 2015 - 11:45am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Supermarkets in Europe Rubric:  French supermarkets are fighting back against Aldi and Lidl—at great cost Byline:  C.R. and M.S. Location:  LONDON AND PARIS Main image:  20150117_wbp504.jpg OVER the past year, Aldi and Lidl, two discount supermarkets from Germany, have continued their march around Europe. From Britain and Ireland to Italy and Spain, they have continued to gobble up market share from incumbent supermarket chains. In Britain, they have given the big four local chains—Asda, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury's—a particularly rough time. All four have now reported falling like-for-like sales over the Christmas period. Tesco is in such as mess that its debt was downgraded to junk earlier this month by Moody’s, a ratings agency. And on January 13th, the chief executive of Morrisons, Dalton Philips, was fired for failing to turn the business around after five years ...

Cyber-security: Sharing is caring

15 January 2015 - 10:51am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Seize the day Fly Title:  Cyber-security Rubric:  Barack Obama wants Congress to bolster cyber-security Location:  SAN FRANCISCO ON JANUARY 12th hackers calling themselves the “CyberCaliphate” briefly took over the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees America’s military operations in the Middle East and south Asia. The intruders posted a series of messages in support of Islamic State before they were booted off the social-media feeds. The episode was an embarrassment rather than a grave threat to America’s security. But it was yet another reminder, after the humiliating attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, that hacking has become a huge headache (see chart). This week Barack Obama unveiled proposals to counter the threat. Among them is a national data-breach law, requiring companies that have been hacked to reveal it within 30 days if personal data may have gone. Fans hope this will pre-empt the patchwork quilt of ...

Cyber-crime and business: Think of a number and double it

15 January 2015 - 10:51am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Seize the day Fly Title:  Cyber-crime and business Rubric:  Businesses would benefit from reliable information on cyber-crime’s costs CHICK-FIL-A, a fast-food chain, and Morgan Stanley, a bank, have in recent days joined a long list of big American companies to admit that their systems have been hacked into, putting customers’ financial information at risk. But how many businesses suffer from cyber-crime, and how much it ultimately costs them, are huge unknowns. In part this is because much hacking goes undetected, and partly it is because businesses sometimes try to cover up breaches of data security, to avoid embarrassment. On January 12th President Obama launched a new drive to improve data security and privacy (see article), to include a new Personal Data Notification and Protection Act. This would require companies to tell customers within 30 days of discovering that their information has been hacked into. At the moment, Mr Obama noted, there is a patchwork of state-level laws that offer consumers scant protection. In the ...

Babbage: January 13th 2015: Online games

13 January 2015 - 3:18pm
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage: January 13th 2015 Rubric:  This week our correspondents discuss a mudslinging match between Microsoft and Google, and making a computer unbeatable at poker Byline:  The Economist Main image:  20150113_babbage_90.jpg Published:  20150113 Source:  Online extra Enabled

Hotel Wi-Fi blocking: Marriott is bad, and should feel bad

6 January 2015 - 12:00pm
MARRIOTT can't take a hint. In October, the hotel giant was roundly shamed (including by this blog) after paying America's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) $600,000 to settle a complaint that it had blocked customers' personal wireless modems and hotspots at "at least one" of its hotels. But months after that public relations disaster, the company is still fighting the same battle—and this time, it has picked up some powerful foes.The saga started back in August, when Marriott and the American Hospitality & Lodging Association, a hotel lobby group, asked the FCC to issue rules allowing establishments to block customers' wireless modems and hotspots. Then, in December, tech and telecom giants, including Microsoft and Google, filed comments with the FCC opposing the Wi-Fi-blocking plan—triggering a new round of outrage at the very idea. In response, Marriott released yet another statement on its position:We understand there have been concerns regarding our position on the FCC petition filing, perhaps due to a lack of clarity about the issue. To set the record straight it has never been nor will it ever be Marriott's policy to limit our guests' ability to access the Internet by all available means, including through the use of personal Mi-Fi and/or Wi-Fi devices. As a matter of fact, we invite and encourage our guests to use these Internet ...

Portable Wi-Fi routers: Bypass operation

2 January 2015 - 11:27am
HOTEL Wi-Fi is, as a rule, terrible. It's often slow, and it's usually either expensive, limited to just a few devices per room, or both. Some companies have gone to extraordinary lengths to force customers to pay for hotel wireless access—in October, Marriott paid $600,000 to resolve complaints that it had intentionally blocked customers' wireless modems in at "at least one" of its hotels.Hotels' wired internet, where it exists, often offers faster speeds with much less hassle. There's just one problem: you have to stay plugged in—and some of the time, you have to bring your own ethernet cord. Thankfully, there's a solution: with just a little tech know-how, you can use a hotel's wired internet and your own wireless router to set up a personal hotspot. The Globe & Mail's December business-travel gadget guide highlights a device, the TP-Link Nano Router, that can do this. It's light, portable, and—according to the manufacturer—"the smallest wireless router in the world."The TP-Link Nano is an elegant solution to a common problem, but it may not be appropriate for all business travellers—especially those of us on the technophobic side of the spectrum. Unlike a wireless 3G/4G modem, it doesn't use cellphone networks to connect to the internet, so you'll need actually to plug it in to a live ethernet outlet (or a computer that's already connected to the web). Hotels' ...

Hacking corporate networks: Losing the plot

30 December 2014 - 10:58am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Workers on tap Fly Title:  Hacking corporate networks Rubric:  States should police corporate cyber-security more toughly—but react to breaches cautiously Main image:  20150103_LDD001_0.jpg THE cyber-attacks that have emerged in recent weeks have begun to sound like a screenplay. One unknown adversary destroys a German blast furnace by interfering with the computers that control it. An attack by the “Guardians of Peace” on Sony Pictures wipes its computers, loots its intellectual property and humiliates its bosses by publishing their private e-mails (see article). Another group called Lizard Squad ruins Christmas for millions by swamping video-game networks. But these attacks were all too real, and reality is messier than fiction. Businesses and governments now face troubling questions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation quickly blamed North Korea for the attack on Sony, which had made a comedy featuring the assassination of that country’s leader. Barack ...

Cybercrime: Thieves in the night

17 December 2014 - 10:11am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Past and future tense Fly Title:  Cybercrime Rubric:  The growth in general wickedness online is testing the police Main image:  20141220_BRP001_0.jpg CRIME has been falling in Britain since the mid-1990s, as it has in much of the rich world. Car-related theft has plummeted by 79% since 1995 and burglary by 67%. The decline is partly due to technology; car immobilisers and house alarms make such crimes harder. The increased use of CCTV and DNA databases means criminals are more likely to be caught, and the rewards for burglary have decreased anyway because electronic gadgets are so cheap. The falling crime rate has come alongside big recent cuts in police budgets. By 2015, the coalition government will have trimmed 20%. Meanwhile, crime has moved online. Britain is particularly at risk when it comes to cybercrime, argues Charlie McMurdie, a cyber-security expert at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a consultancy. It is rich, its infrastructure for moving money ...

Mobile phones: Crackberries

17 December 2014 - 6:22am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Mobile phones Rubric:  European consumers are starting to regard mobile internet as a necessity Byline:  C.R. Main image:  euro_crackberries.png WHEN the first mobile phone call was made in 1973, few members of the public were interested in the new technology. Telecoms companies had to invent reasons to use them—for instance, that they could be used to call a friend to pass the time when stuck in a car during a traffic jam—in order to get sceptical consumers to adopt them. But now, most people in rich countries could not imagine life without one: there are now more active mobile-phone connections in America and Europe than people. The rising importance of mobiles—not simply to make calls but to access the internet as well—partly explains why BT, a fixed-line telecoms firm, decided to make a £12.5 billion ($19.6 billion) bid for EE, Britain's biggest mobile operator, on December 15th. BT also hopes that the merger will allow the firm to ...

Babbage: December 16th 2014: Mysterious Martian methane

16 December 2014 - 3:54pm
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage: December 16th 2014 Rubric:  This week our correspondents discuss a new twist in the mystery of Mars's methane and the shutdown of Google News in Spain Byline:  The Economist Main image:  This week our correspondents discuss a new twist in the mystery of Mars's methane and the shutdown of Google News in Spain Published:  20141216 Source:  Online extra Video links paragraph:  This week our correspondents discuss a new twist in the mystery of Mars's methane and the shutdown of Google News in Spain Enabled

Telecoms in America: On the airwaves

11 December 2014 - 10:15am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  America’s police on trial Fly Title:  Telecoms in America Rubric:  An auction of wireless spectrum has led to a feeding frenzy Location:  SAN FRANCISCO TIMES are getting tougher for America’s mobile operators as they battle one another for business. On December 8th Verizon, which dominates the market together with AT&T, gave warning that its profits were being squeezed as it rolls out discounts to entice customers away from rivals. Telecoms firms are scrapping over something else too: the wireless spectrum needed to carry voice and data services. Every so often, America’s Federal Communications Commission puts up airwaves for auction. The latest sale began on November 13th. Before it started, analysts took stabs at guessing how high the bidding might go, with bullish estimates coming in at $22 billion. But that amount was blown past in just a few days and bids now total a whopping $43 billion (see chart). What explains this appetite for airwaves? Part ...

The Economist explains: How “Gangnam Style” broke YouTube’s counter

10 December 2014 - 7:50pm
THE popularity of the “Gangnam Style” video by Psy, a South Korean pop star, is beyond all reckoning. Or at least it was, until a change was made in YouTube's programming. The singer’s video was poised to exceed 2,147,483,647 plays, at which point YouTube would have been unable to count any higher. But the boffins made some tweaks, and now Psy is safe until his rousing anthem passes over nine quintillion views: 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to be precise. Why couldn’t YouTube count high enough?The answer involves zooming in to the very building blocks of computing. All numbers in digital computers, whether stored in silicon memory chips or on rapidly rotating magnetically charged hard-disk platters, are represented in binary digits, or bits. In base ten, numbers are represented using ten digits (zero to nine); in binary, or base two, they are represented using two digits (zero and one). For example, in base ten, the digits of a three-digit number correspond to hundreds, tens and units, and the largest number that can be represented is 999; in binary, the digits of a three-digit number correspond to fours, twos and ones, and the largest number that can be represented is 111 (in other words, seven). An eight-digit binary number, which can represent values from 0 to 255, is called a byte; larger numbers are represented using multiple bytes. Two bytes (or 16 bits) can ...

Babbage: December 9th 2014: To Mars?

9 December 2014 - 2:00pm
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage: December 9th 2014 Rubric:  This week our correspondents discuss NASA’s new spacecraft and how to check that internet users are human Byline:  The Economist Main image:  Babbage: To Mars? Published:  20141209 Source:  Online extra Enabled

Money talks: December 8th 2014: China's bull market

8 December 2014 - 7:05pm
CHINA'S soaring stockmarket, the growing peer-to-peer lending market and the surge in corporate dollar borrowing in emerging markets Comment Expiry Date:  Tue, 2014-12-23

Artificial intelligence: Turing, the changes

5 December 2014 - 11:26am
UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence Rubric:  Google revamps how it tests whether a website visitor is human Location:  SEATTLE Main image:  20141206_stp505.jpg IN THE end, the robots won. On December 3rd, Google announced that it was radically changing its ReCAPTCHA system, the sort of prove-you're-a-human-and-not-automated-software test that has become all but ubiquitous online. In April, Google researchers published a paper showing that their computer-vision software could decipher their own squashed and twisted images 99.8% of the time.  For many, it comes as little surprise that algorithms can now nearly always beat a CAPTCHA. This is a tortured acronym that stands for "completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart", and refers to a notional test devised by Alan Turing, a British code-breaker and computer-science pioneer, in which humans test a machine to see if it can think. CAPTCHAs are the reverse, administered by ...

Streaming media: Video in demand

4 December 2014 - 9:34am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Power to the people Fly Title:  Streaming media Rubric:  As online video continues to boom, publishers are exploring new ways to deliver their content reliably Main image:  20141206_tqd002.jpg THE growth of video online is staggering. Almost 100 hours of it are uploaded to YouTube alone every minute. As more users watch video on an increasing number of mobile devices and internet-enabled televisions, the volume will grow ever larger. Cisco, a networking company, reckons nearly 1m minutes of video will cross the internet every second by 2018. Unfortunately, it can be a frustrating experience as many users find their playback keeps stopping and starting. These delays, known as “buffering”, happen when data are loading. This is normal at the start of a film, but if it continues it may be due to other problems such as a home internet connection not being fast enough—especially when multiple users are online. But fitful playback can also be caused by the ...

Celebrity economists: The sages of the pampas

27 November 2014 - 9:05am
UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Should digital monopolies be broken up? Fly Title:  Celebrity economists Rubric:  Like the tango, the fame of Argentine economists is tinged with sadness Location:  Buenos Aires Main image:  A tabloid celebrity with an actress A tabloid celebrity with an actress ECONOMICS is not a profession for the publicity-hungry—except in Argentina. Consider Tomás Bulat, who holds three degrees in the subject, hosts a weekly television show about it and has written two best-selling books on it. He boasts over 179,000 followers on Twitter. In comparison, Ricardo Darín, arguably Argentina’s most famous actor, has only 41,000; Andrés Calamaro, a well-known rock star, has 34,000. At a recent lunch in the seaside city of Mar del Plata, your correspondent was intrigued to see waiters and diners fawn over Mr Bulat. A neighbouring table invited him to share their calamari and a particularly bold waitress hugged ...