Tech Ticker: Russia blocks LinkedIn; 4 out of 5 IT jobs to be replaced by 'AI-type systems'?

This week's headlines: Putin's war on American tech companies escalates. Also, Yahoo admits in an SEC filing that it knew about a major breach as early as 2014, a big-time VC predicts 80 percent of IT jobs will be replaced by automation, and Samsung responds to the nightmarish Galaxy Note 7 recall.

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Short takes and quick hits for the week of November 6 - 13, 2016.


Online cold war heats up as Russia blocks LinkedIn

Posted November 11, 2016 6:30 PST

Earlier this month, NBC reported that Russia was in the process of eliminating all foreign software from government offices, a move that will have a major impact on Microsoft.

Today, the New York Times reports that Putin's government won a case in Moscow city courts allowing it to block LinkedIn.

LinkedIn, the social networking site for professionals that will soon be bought by Microsoft, is to be blocked in Russia after a local court ruled on Thursday that it had breached the country's data protection rules, a sign of growing tensions for American tech companies operating in the country.

[...]

The country's push to gain greater control over its internet users is one of a number of attempts by governments worldwide to dictate how people use digital services.From China's blocking of whole swaths of the internet to Europe's efforts to regulate what can and cannot be viewed online, different regions and countries are in a battle with companies and other governments to decide how the internet will expand.

Russia imposed its ban -- a rare occasion of LinkedIn being blocked in a country -- after lawmakers passed new rules last year that required any personal digital data on Russian citizens collected by companies to be stored within the country.

The Times notes that LinkedIn only has 5 million users in Russia, out of a total of 467 million worldwide. Facebook and Twitter both have much higher user bases and also appear to be in violation of the Russian rules.

- EB

Yahoo admits some employees knew of massive hack in 2014

Posted November 10, 2016 6:00 PST

In an SEC filing, Yahoo has acknowledged that it knew of a massive breach two years before it made a public announcement this summer.

On Wednesday, Yahoo admitted that not long after a hack in 2014 some of its employees were aware a state-sponsored hacker had breached its network.

The revelation is sure to cast a larger shadow over Verizon's $4.8 billion deal to acquire the company.

Yahoo said in September that an investigation in August had uncovered the theft of personal information associated with at least a half billion Yahoo accounts, the biggest data breach in history. The company said at the time that it discovered the massive intrusion after a hacker claimed in August to have snatched 200 million Yahoo usernames and passwords in an earlier hack.

The big question now is whether the new details can be considered a "material event" that would allow Verizon to back out of its proposed merger with Yahoo. Yahoo acknowledged that possibility in its filing, noting that Verizon "may seek to terminate the Stock Purchase Agreement or renegotiate the terms of the Sale transaction on that basis."

- EB

Heavyweight VC says 80 percent of IT jobs can be automated

Posted November 8, 2016 2:00 PST

Before you sign up for your next certification, perhaps you should talk with Vinod Khosla. The billionaire Sun Microsystems co-founder who now runs Khosla Ventures is bullish on artificial intelligence and extremely bearish on human IT professionals.

On stage at this week's Structure Conference in San Francisco, Khosla says that one of the biggest costs for any company is how much they spend on their IT departments -- but that 80% of their staff can be "highly leveraged, maybe replaced," by "AI-type systems."

"I think that's exciting," Khosla says.

But maybe you don't need to panic just yet. The remarks appear to have been a way to plug Khosla's involvement in a couple of AI-based IT startups. And when the crowd began anxiously grumbling, Matt Weinberger reports, Khosla was quick to reassure conference attendees: "But we're all in the other 20 percent, not the 80 percent that's automated."

- EB

Twitter: People in the U.S. sent 1 billion election-related tweets

Posted November 8, 2016 6:40 PST

As the U.S. Presidential election finally draws to a close, Twitter says Americans have tweeted 1 billion times about the election since August 2015.

The most retweeted tweet of all was this one, from Hillary Clinton.

And this was Donald Trump's most-shared tweet:

When the history of the 2016 Presidential election is written, Twitter will be one of the superstars, in no small part because of Trump's penchant for colorful predawn 140-character blasts from his Android device. (As many observers noted, official campaign tweets came from an iPhone.)

As of Election Day, Trump hasn't deleted his account, but the New York Times reports that his aides "finally wrested away" access to the account during the last week of the campaign.

- EB

Ballmer proposes "10-K for the [U.S.] government"

Posted November 7, 2016 8:30 PST

Another interesting Bloomberg interview with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who is concerned that facts are being devalued by political rhetoric.

When not jumping around on the sidelines of Los Angeles Clippers games, the former Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer has been spending his retirement on the inside of an Excel spreadsheet. Ballmer and a team of about 25 data geeks have been poring over more than three decades of government documents to create a comprehensive accounting of U.S. spending. The goal is to treat the nation like a company and create what Ballmer describes as a "10-K for the government," like the one publicly traded businesses are required to file with regulators each year.

Ballmer's project, called USAFacts, exists in the form of hundreds of Excel files and 385 PowerPoint slides, many of which require a magnifying glass to read. While the complete report won't be ready in time for Election Day, he's using the research as the basis for a class he teaches at Stanford University. His group of 19 sophomores are getting a peek at what Ballmer plans to publish early next year in the form of a 10-K filing, investor presentations, charts, graphics and a dedicated website.

The saddest part is that this isn't happening already.

I did find this part amusing:

One challenge they faced early on was figuring out how to divide the government into business units. After several failed approaches, a staffer suggested a look through the Constitution. "The Constitution!" Ballmer recalled, suddenly speaking many decibels louder as he got up to diagram the segments on a massive Microsoft Surface Hub touchscreen computer. "It's the perfect way!

As anyone who has ever covered Microsoft knows, this implies that the country should reorganize every two or three years.

- EB

Samsung: "If we don't change, we don't survive."

Posted November 6, 2016 6:00 PST

A good read from Steve Kocach at Business Insider, who spoke to sources watching Samsung's reaction to the disastrous launch and dual recalls of the Galaxy Note 7.

"If we don't change, we don't survive," another person close to Samsung told me. And, for the first time, insiders are getting the sense that things actually are changing.

Part of that change, it seems, is to make sure products are fully baked before releasing them to the public. Moving quickly is admirable, especially in the tech world, but not at the expense of making a product that's safe to use. Samsung learned a hard lesson. Now it's getting ready for a change.

This type of cultural change and reinvention is very hard to pull off, especially in a company that until this year was considered a shining global success story.

- EB

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