Start up: Grexit to bitcoin?, Google’s antitrust deadline, Merkel’s suspect PC, Samsung security hole and more


Stockpiled – a bit like HTC’s unsold phones. Photo by .dh on Flickr.

A selection of 7 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Bitcoin surges as Grexit worries mount, posts best run in 18 months » Reuters

Jemima Kelly:

Joshua Scigala, co-founder of Vaultoro.com, a firm that holds bitcoin for its customers and allows them to exchange it for gold and vice versa, said that Greeks were buying the currency as their trust in the authorities waned. It is also unclear what currency would be used if a Grexit does occur — another potential factor driving Greek demand for bitcoin.

“Some people aren’t waiting for the government to figure out an exit plan and are doing it for themselves,” said Scigala.

“You have people worrying about their families’ wealth or their life savings, and worrying that their money might be locked up in banks … They’d rather hold money in a private asset like gold or bitcoin.”

Scigala said over the past two months, with Greece locked in talks with its creditors, the company had seen a 124% pick-up in inflows from Greek IP addresses – numerical labels that identify computers and other internet-enabled devices.

124% = doubling. Which doesn’t amount to much, really, unless Greece was already a lot of business. Here’s the problem with this story. To buy bitcoin, you have to sell the euros to someone. If Greeks are withdrawing their euros from banks, why not hold on to those euros instead of buying bitcoin with them? Do they really think a post-Grexit euro will be worth less, rather than more? I’d bet on the latter.

There may be some Greek euros moving into bitcoin, which is moving bitcoin – but that only indicates that bitcoin has low liquidity, and so small amounts of money can move the value easily. Or else it’s something else altogether causing it.


Critics due to get EU’s Google antitrust charge sheet this week: sources » Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

Microsoft, German publisher Axel Springer and 17 other critics of Google are expected to get a copy of the EU’s antitrust charge sheet against the search engine giant this week in order to allow them to provide feedback, four people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The 19 companies, which include U.S. online travel site Expedia, U.S. consumer reviews website Yelp, online mapping service Hot-map and British price comparison site Foundem, helped triggered the European Commission’s case against Google nearly five years ago…

…Google has until July 7 to respond to the accusations. This can be extended on request. It can also seek a closed-door hearing to argue its case before a broad audience of antitrust officials and the critics.

The complainants were told on Monday to sign confidentiality waivers not to disclose the so-called statement of objections to journalists or public affairs consultants before they could get a copy of the redacted document, according to a Commission letter seen by Reuters.

The critics were told to restrict the charge sheet to their lawyers and economists.

Leaks in 3,2,1… And there’s Andrew Orlowski’s writeup of the Foundem examination into Google’s “search for harm” blogpost.


One tiny number can reveal big problems at a global smartphone maker » Bloomberg Business

Tim Culpan:

Tucked away in a corporate earnings report—past the data on profit margins and revenue growth, hidden deep inside a balance sheet—is a number that can tell you a lot about a mobile phone maker’s health. In the global smartphone war, brands are routinely measured by market share, revenue, profit, and the coolness of their ads. But one line item called finished goods inventory, which refers to the percentage of materials that were manufactured into phones but went unsold, can give insight into whether a company’s fortunes are changing.

The latest company to let phones pile up in warehouses and on store shelves is HTC. The Taiwanese company’s stock just fell to its lowest point in a decade after lowering its sales forecast on June 5 and announcing a NT$2.9 billion ($93 million) writedown, though it’s recovered some of that loss amid speculation the decline could make it a buyout target. HTC’s finished goods inventory had climbed to a record high 2.35% of total assets at the end of last quarter. During the company’s heyday, that figure rarely nudged above 1%.

Culpan has done a neat job, building on what I pointed out last week about HTC’s broader inventory numbers. Relating inventory to total assets is an effective way to look at it; here’s the graph.

HTC inventory as percent of assets
So now it’s higher than ever before. Finished goods inventory is going to be one of the first numbers people look at when the Q2 figures are published (in late July, probably).


Merkel’s PC was the first one infected in the Bundestag hack »Security Affairs

I have written many posts regarding a recent attack against the German Bundestag with caused a major data breach.

We discussed the possibility that the cyber attack against the German Parliament was coordinated by Russian state-sponsored hackers that spread a highly sophisticated malware inside the network of the Bundestag.

The consequence of the data breach could be serious for the German Government, German media states that Bundestag may need to replace 20,000 computers after the intrusion, an operation that could cost millions of euros.

New revelations in the investigation confirms that the cyber attack on the German Bundestag began with the compromise of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal computer.

Her phone by the NSA, her computer by Russia…


Flaw lingers in Samsung phones, illustrating hacking risk » WSJ

Danny Yadron:

Last fall, researchers at cybersecurity firm NowSecure found a bug in most Samsung smartphones that could allow hackers to spy on users.

In March, Samsung told NowSecure it had sent a fix to wireless carriers that they could distribute to users. It asked NowSecure to wait three months before going public.

Last week, the researchers bought two new Samsung Galaxy S6’s from Verizon Wireless and Sprint. They found both were still vulnerable to the security hole, which involves how the phone accepts data when updating keyboard software.

NowSecure CEO Andrew Hoog shared his version of events with The Wall Street Journal as his company prepared to release its research Tuesday. The story helps illuminate why hacking is so hard to stamp out.

That’s particularly true in smartphones, with its diffuse system of device makers, software programmers and network operators. Things likely are only to get worse as Americans connect their thermostats, door locks and cars to the Internet and face the need to update their software…

…Welton found he could hijack the process of updating one of the virtual keyboards Samsung installs on many Android smartphones. From there, he could eavesdrop on phone conversations, rummage through text messages and contacts, or turn on the microphone to capture audio.

That was possible, Hoog said, because Samsung didn’t encrypt the update process.

It’s the IOT vulnerability that’s the real worry here, much more than which make of phone is involved. Except that Samsung asked NowSecure for a year to fix the bug – a month after it was told about it. And what does this mean for Google’s “we find a bug and we publicise it in 90 days” stance?


Nokia faces lengthy arbitration over LG patent royalty payments » Reuters

Jussi Rosendahl:

Nokia said the arbitration with LG is expected to conclude within two years. Shares in Nokia rose 1.4 percent by 1204 GMT (8.04 a.m ET).

“This is becoming a more and more common model. The companies won’t go to the court but instead let an independent party decide,” said Nordea analyst Sami Sarkamies.

He estimated that the Samsung deal, expected to conclude later this year, could eventually mean Nokia receives 100-200 million euros of additional royalty payments annually, on top of retroactive payments.

Seems to be related to 4G patents; Nokia signed a similar deal with Samsung a while back. For LG, means that profitability in the smartphone side becomes that little bit more elusive – especially after the back payment.


Apple News curation will have human editors and that will raise important questions » 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:

Techmeme‘s founder Gabe Rivera gave us the hard truth on why being an algorithm-based service like Google News doesn’t make sense for the Apple News app saying, “All news aggregators intended for the mass market need editors, so this makes sense for Apple.” But the flip side of Apple’s human-based curation is that without a separation of editorial and the business, there will undoubtedly be conflicts of interest. Rivera points out that “…as the world’s most valuable corporation, they can’t and shouldn’t be trusted to present well-rounded coverage on many important topics.” Rivera continues, “But most readers won’t care about that.”

Apple doesn’t want this to be an algorithm thing, because (a) algorithms might not pull outré-yet-fascinating stuff to the surface (b) if some story that were grisly/violent/sexual – pick the topic you think Americans in particular would react in horror to – popped up, Apple would of course get the blame. Apple hates that.

So it wants humans on hand to stop the Bad Stuff that will Offend People finding its way into the app. But that immediately raises the question: what will it define as Bad Stuff? Are Mark Gurman’s well-sourced leaks of Apple plans Bad Stuff? Is vicious criticism of Apple?

I suspect people are overplaying this; Apple is really wary of consumer backlashes over pr0n. Look at how Facebook struggles with the same topic, and the issue of content posted by millions of people which some find offensive and others really don’t.

No simple answer, but Apple may not have realised it was putting itself in the position of a publisher.


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