Friday roundup: A week in tech, 6 August | News

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The Innovation and Technology Network

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Friday roundup: A week in tech, 6 August

Expensive electric telephone manufacturer Apple has revealed plans to scan its millions of expensive electric telephones in the US for images of child sexual abuse.

A tool the firm has built called neuralMatch will scan images users upload to iCloud looking for evidence of abuse. If the system detects anything suspicious, a human person will have a look and make a decision – which could lead to the user’s account being shut down and a notification send to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

All very admirable, with child protection groups applauding the move, but others are more concerned about things like security, civil liberties, and dodgy regimes and their tendency to spy on everything.

And Matthew Green, who does a bit of the old cryptography down at the John Hopkins University, reckons Apple’s well-meaning scheme could be used to set up innocent people, by others sending them apparently harmless images that nevertheless alert neuralMatch.

Worryingly, Mr Green says that “researchers have been able to do this pretty easily”.

But it gets worse. Mr Green added: “What happens when the Chinese government says ‘Here is a list of files that we want you to scan for’. Does Apple say no? I hope they say no, but their technology won’t say no.”

Poor old Apple has been under the cosh from the US government and no doubt similarly highly-strung citizens who believe it should allow the authorities carte blanche access to encrypted data, the reasoning being that its tech facilitates criminality and so on (guns do, too, but it would be silly to tackle them, wouldn’t it).

Anyhow, a thing called the Electronic Frontier Foundation has also castigated the firm for pulling “a shocking about-face for users who have relied on the company’s leadership in privacy and security”.

Having said all that, the bloke who invented PhotoDNA, the tech that the police use to sweep for online child abuse images, isn’t unduly alarmed.

Hany Farid believes that though Apple’s system could potentially be used for evil, the battle against child abuse is far more important. He said: “Is it possible? Of course. But is it something that I’m concerned about? No.”

So, is this a good idea or not? I dunno. Civil liberties and slippery government behaviour on one side, protecting children on the other. Luckily, the full extent of my responsibilities is making sure the bins go out on Wednesdays, which I frequently fail to do.

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The clumsy old UK government is spending £billions keeping olden day computer systems running – and a report has warned the situation could get a lot more expensive over the next few years.

Government IT systems eat up £4.7bn a year, nearly half of which (£2.3bn) goes on patching up outdated stuff, some of which is over 30 years old.

Now, a Cabinet Office report has cautioned that the yearly costs to maintain obsolete systems could rise to £22bn in the next five years.

The Home Office is the biggest spender on government IT, and the report says the department is still using 12 out of date systems that it’s tried unsuccessfully to get rid of on numerous occasions.

Unsurprisingly, the government isn’t making any effort to scrutinize the tech it uses, the report says.

Following the report, Labour have had a pop, with Fleur Anderson, shadow Cabinet Office minister, claiming it’s “unacceptable that taxpayers' money is being pumped into failing and outdated infrastructure. Keeping old and broken systems going is what this Conservative government does best. They desperately need an upgrade."

But there’s good news! A spokesman from the Cabinet Office claims the government has accepted everything the report has thrown at it, so everything is sure to be all right.

Here’s the BBC story where I got all this from, and which is a great deal more informative than what I’ve presented you with.

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Roundup roundup!

The UK’s humans spent nearly a third of their non-sleeping time (when they were awake) watching old fashioned TV or new TV like Netflix in 2020. In a report that may well be titled Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious, Ofcom conclude that the pandemic was probably the main reason people watched lots of tele last year. Read about the astonishing revelations here.

America’s new, calmer, less bonkers president, Joe Biden, wants 50% of the US’s new cars to be electric by 2030. Nothing ‘witty’ to say about that. It’s a good thing. Read about the good thing here.

Would you like to go to space, via Sir Richard Branson? That’ll be $450,000, please. To read more, and to book, look here, (rich) space fans.

Google Maps has started warning drivers if they’re about to enter a low emissions zone and thus earn themselves a fine if they haven’t pre-paid. I would’ve thought this had been a thing for ages, which neatly illustrates how little I get out. Here’s the story.