Your WIRED.co.uk daily briefing. Today, Facebook's latest transparency report reveals that 60 per cent of US government data requests come with a gagging order, Amazon has reported record profits in the first quarter of 2016, Japanese space agency JAXA has confirmed that software error was behind the break-up of its Hitomi X-ray satellite and more.
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1. Facebook: 60 per cent of US government data requests come with a gagging order
Facebook's latest transparency report indicates that governments from around the world filed an increasing number of requests for user data in the second half of 2015, totalling 46,763 – up 13 per cent (VentureBeat). The company has also for the first time revealed the percentage of requests that come with non-disclosure orders that prevent it from informing the user: 60 per cent of US government requests for user data came with such a gagging clause. Meanwhile, in the UK, the same period saw 4,190 requests for data on 5,478 users, 82.15 per cent of which were granted.
Amazon has published its first quarter 2016 financial figures, reporting record revenues of $29.1 billion (£19.9 billion) – up 28 per cent from the same period last year (CNET). That includes the company's highest-ever quarterly profits of $513 million (£350 million), with its AWS cloud services division playing a significant role in both revenues and expenditure. Amazon's stock price increased 12 per cent during after-hours trading in response to the news.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has declared its ¥31 billion (£197 million) Hitomi astronomical satellite lost (Nature). Launched on 17 February, the satellite spun out of control during tests five weeks later and broke up into at least ten pieces. The fault has been traced to the satellite's control system, which lost orientation and made the spacecraft begin to spin before erroneously firing a thruster intended to stop the movement, which caused it to spin faster, leading to its breakup. The X-ray satellite carried equipment that would have made it the finest orbital instrument for gathering detailed information on exploded stars, galaxy clusters and the matter that lies between galaxies.
Google has confirmed that it's creating a new division to bring together its hardware projects, headed up by former Motorola president, Rick Osterloh (Re/Code). Osterloh will be reporting directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and the division will place new emphasis on getting Google's products into the living room. Projects that will now fall under Osterloh's aegis include the Nexus range, Chromecast, the OnHub router, Google Glass successor Project Aura, the company's consumer hardware division and the experimental ATAP hardware development lab.
The Supreme Court of the USA has approved a change to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that will allow criminal investigators to get a warrant allowing them to hack into a computer even if they don't know its physical location (The Register). Currently, judges can only issue warrants for their own districts, making it impossible to get one for devices that can't be pinpointed geographically. The new rules will also allow investigators to access the computers of cybercrime victims under measures proposed to track down botnet operators. However, civil liberties groups argue that the move is an attempt to bring in sweeping new powers by the back door. Richard Salgado, Google's legal director of law enforcement and information security gave testimony saying that the change "carries with it the specter of government hacking without any Congressional debate or democratic policymaking process."
6. Sony returns to profitability on the back of PS4 sales
Sales of the PlayStation 4 have driven Sony firmly back into the black over the past financial year, the company's year-end report indicates (Ars Technica). The company had been struggling in recent years, but the sales of 17.7 million consoles helped Sony bring in earnings of ¥147.8 billion (£936 million), compared to last year's loss of ¥126 billion (£798 million). Other parts of the business are still struggling, including the Xperia smartphone range and some components, but general consumer electronics sales remain stable and Sony's entertainment division has profited from the popularity of on-demand movies and TV.
Scientists at Oxford University have reported the successful results of a clinical trial into gene therapy as a treatment for choroideremia, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to blindness (BBC). The disease affects young men, and causes the photoreceptor cells at the backs of their eyes to slowly die off – until now, there has been no treatment for the condition. It's caused by a defect in a single gene, and trials on 14 patients in the UK and 18 in other countries over the past four and a half years have seen long-term success in improving patients' vision, halting the disease, preventing cell die-off and even reviving some dying cells. Prof Robert MacLaren says that "we seem to have achieved this concept of one single treatment that does not need to be repeated which is unlike traditional medicines." The next phase will see larger trials in anticipation of the licencing the treatment general medical use, and the team has begun to develop gene therapies for other forms of genetic blindness.
8. SpaceX gets its first launch contract with US national security services
SpaceX will for the first time be launching military security hardware, following the award of an $82.7 million (£56.4 million) launch contract by the US Air Force (TechCrunch). The company will be launching the Air Force's GPS-3 satellite, in SpaceX's first National Security Space contract. In order to get the opportunity to bid, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the Air Force in 2014, complaining that rival ULA had been given a monopoly on national security launches. An agreement was reached in 2015, when SpaceX dropped the suit and was certified to bid for military launch contracts.
Atari founder Nolan Bushnell has joined Dutch publisher Spil Games to release a series of mobile games that are set to challenge the status quo of current design using his experience of developing early arcade games. Speaking to The Guardian, he said: "When you look at mobile and arcade gaming, they’re identical. Mobile has some of the same game constraints for the player, and that 'easy to learn, and difficult to master' metric." However, Bushnell feels that "a tremendous number of mobile games are poorly designed" and "miss what I’d call 'hardcore fundamental game design.'" His first game with Spil is due for release in early 2017.
Working with Ford, UK inventor and YouTube star Colin Furze has designed, built and flown a functional hoverbike (Gizmodo). Working in a garden shed and sponsored by Ford's Unlearn campaign, the self-taught engineer and his team's flying bike went through multiple iterations before it got off the ground successfully – it even proves to be steerable, although landing is clearly a bit more of a challenge.
It wasn't a drone that hit that plane landing at Heathrow
The 'drone' that collided with a plane landing at Heathrow probably wasn't a drone, government officials have said. The item the plane hit may have even been a plastic bag. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin told fellow MPs that it was not "a drone incident". Investigators at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch have also ended their enquiries after finding "insufficient" evidence for them to work out what had happened.
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