Archive for December, 2018

Dixons Carphone posts £440m loss in first half

Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse store Dixons Carphone posts £440m loss in first half Dixons Carphone posts £440m loss in first half 35830af62aImage copyrightDixons Carphone
Image caption Dixons Carphone employs more than 42,000 people in eight countries

Shares in Dixons Carphone have tumbled by 14% after the retailer wrote down the value of its mobile business, Carphone Warehouse.

The retailer, which also owns Currys PC World, posted a loss of £440m for the six months to 27 October – down from profit of £54m a year ago.

But it said underlying sales improved.

The company has been struggling with slowing sales of mobile phones and in May announced the closure of 92 stores.

It has also issued a string of profit warnings which have prompted the share price to tumble by a quarter this year.

Boss Alex Baldock told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We continue to grow and we continue to gain share from our competition, but part of the transformation that we have to make is the turnaround of Carphone Warehouse, our mobile business.

“There is a lot to do there and that’s reflected in the scale of the write-offs we’ve announced today.”

The company has faced a number of challenges, including falling demand for long-term mobile contracts and people not renewing their handsets as frequently.

It had also seen weaker demand for computers.

In May the company announced that 92 out of 700 stores would close, but today Mr Baldock said there were no plans to shut any more.

He also said the firm planned to increase investment in the business as part of its turnaround.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor, said it was possible the firm could find new routes to growth but added: “Unfortunately, this statement has laid bare the fact that Dixons Carphone has many plates to spin at a time when competition in the sector is intensifying.

“The strategy to consolidate its competitiveness, which starts from a position of strength given its scale, will take some time to come through, even if successful.”

The company, which employs more than 42,000 people in eight countries, said most of its issues centre on its UK business while international sales remain strong.

In July, the firm admitted a big data breach involving millions of credit cards and data records.

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Fears over sensitive US military data in commercial cloud

Aerial view of the United States military headquarters, the Pentagon Fears over sensitive US military data in commercial cloud Fears over sensitive US military data in commercial cloud 767b7b50e2Image copyrightReuters
Image caption The Pentagon – the world’s largest office building – is the United States’ military headquarters

A technology company bidding for a Pentagon contract to store sensitive data has close partnerships with a firm linked to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, the BBC has learned.

The Jedi project, a huge cyber-cloud which could ultimately store nuclear codes, has already sparked security fears.

Viktor Vekselberg, who is close to the Kremlin, has links to the C5 Group, a cyber-investment firm which has worked closely with the leading bidder, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Both C5 and AWS say C5 is not involved in the Jedi bid in any way.

All bids for the cloud are sealed. The Pentagon refused to comment, stating that information about companies involved could not be disclosed.

Image copyrightALEKSEY NIKOLSKYI/AFP/Getty
Image caption Viktor Vekselberg (L) has met Russian President Vladimir Putin on numerous occasions

What is the Jedi contract?

In a bid to compete with Russia and China, the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (Jedi) is one of the most ambitious ventures the Pentagon has launched.

Instead of military data being stored on smaller servers across different departments within the Pentagon, the information will be held in a cloud.

The cloud is a term used to describe a number of remote servers, connected to the internet, which can store vast arrays of information and can be accessed from anywhere in the world.

Top military secrets will be transferred to the Jedi cloud, including classified details about weapons systems, military personnel, intelligence and operations.

It will provide soldiers on the front line with instant access to all of the latest intelligence, making them more effective on the battlefield.

US Major General David Krumm, who helped to devise the contract, explained at its launch that having such information at the military’s fingertips would help the US win wars.

He said: “The information has to be available to an army platoon that a friendly unit is just around the block and will not open fire.

“It’s got to be available to a platoon of marines who are about to breach a door that an IED has been found.”

There have been warnings that if the Pentagon’s IT system is not updated urgently, then the US will “lose the future war”.

Huge global technology companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and IBM have submitted bids, with a decision due in April 2019.

Leading voices in the sector – including the other companies vying for the contract – say that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the clear frontrunner.

Why is the project so controversial?

John Weiler, the director of the IT procurement group IT-AAC based in Washington, told the BBC: “I would not store my most personal data, nor would my fellow colleagues, in a commercial cloud, period, the end.”

He says there are huge risks to storing such classified information on a public, commercially-held cloud run by just one company.

“We have our nuclear codes, where our troops are going to be from one day to the next. If the cloud’s security is breached, then our enemies could use our information against us. They could be waiting for us.”

The Pentagon had to explain to Congress why it was only offering the contract to a single company, with calls for a cloud of this size to be run by multiple service providers to spread the risk of security breaches.

It said having just one cloud provider would better serve troops on the ground and would speed up access to vital information.

AWS also defended the US government’s position, stating: “A single cloud would be more secure than a multi-cloud environment.”

There have also been accusations that the bid has been written with just one company in mind, AWS, something the Pentagon denies, saying that the process has been transparent and impartial.

Questions have also been raised about AWS’ links to the C5 Group.

Who are Amazon Web Services and C5 Capital?

Amazon Web Services has grown to be the biggest cloud service provider in the world. A subsidiary of the online shopping company, it controls a third of the cloud computing market.

The C5 Group is a relative newcomer but within a few years it has raised £100m ($125m) to invest in cyber-security.

Despite AWS and C5 working together on a number of cloud computing projects all over the world, both companies have denied having a close relationship.

One of the many cyber-companies in the C5 group, C5 Accelerate claims on its website that it is “developing a Cloud Accelerator Cluster in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the United States, alongside Amazon Web Services”.

C5 maintains it has never made a joint contract bid with AWS of any kind in any country and has worked with other cloud service providers like IBM and Microsoft.

However, the vice-president of AWS, Teresa Carlson, and the man behind the C5 Group, Andre Pienaar, have toured the world promoting their companies’ relationship.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption AWS already has the necessary security clearances due to their involvement with the CIA’s computing cloud

They have also joined forces on a project in the Middle East. AWS secured a contract to develop cloud-computing platforms for the Kingdom of Bahrain, and C5 came in to migrate government websites to the cloud.

Who is Andre Pienaar and how is he linked to Russia?

Mr Pienaar, the man behind the C5 group, is a well-connected South African with business ties to a wealth of illustrious names.

The board of one of his flagship companies, C5 Capital, features a roll call of some of the most influential and trusted figures in military and security circles on both sides of the Atlantic.

He also has links to Viktor Vekselberg, who is on the US sanctions list for his close ties to Vladimir Putin.

When the BBC asked Viktor Vekselberg if he knew Mr Pienaar, he said that for two-and-a-half years, Mr Pienaar was a paid portfolio manager for his businesses in South Africa. That role only came to an end earlier this year.

According to this version of events, he must have been working for Mr Vekselberg whilst running C5 and working on projects with Amazon Web Services.

When the BBC put that to Mr Pienaar, he denied having ever worked for Mr Vekselberg’s company, and said he had only advised them on a mining issue.

Shortly afterwards, Viktor Vekselberg’s spokesman came back to amend their earlier statement to match Mr Pienaar’s – which would suggest that they are still in contact.

How is his business, the C5 Group, linked to Russia?

Looking through the labyrinthine structure of companies around C5, the BBC has found an injection of Russian money.

One of C5’s subsidiaries, C5 Razor Bidco, brought in an investment of £16.1m in 2015, just as Vladmir Kuznetsov became a director and major shareholder of the company.

AWS stressed that it does not work with C5 Razor Bidco. However, C5 Razor Bidco is part of the C5 Group and is owned by Andre Pienaar.

Vladimir Kuznetsov is widely reported as being the trusted lieutenant of the sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

He worked for the Russian oligarch from 1999 until earlier this year, when the sanctions against Mr Vekselberg led to mass resignations across the board of his business group, Renova.

Mr Kuznetsov told the BBC he had resigned from the majority of Mr Vekselberg’s companies in 2014, apart from remaining on the board of Renova Management until April 2018.

He denied being his “right-hand man”.

The BBC has also seen a document, published by an organisation called the Family Office Circle Foundation in 2016, which states that Mr Kuznetsov, who was speaking at one of their events, was from “Viktor Vekselberg’s family offices” and was “director of Renova Group”.

Mr Kuznetsov said his investment in C5 Razor Bidco was not influenced by either Mr Vekselberg or the Kremlin and the money came from his own bank account.

C5 said that the oligarch had not directly or indirectly invested in any of the group’s companies.

Mr Vekselberg said Mr Kuznetsov had never run “his family offices” and he had not made any investment in C5’s portfolio through Mr Kuznetsov or by any other means.

Who is Viktor Vekselberg?

His reputation in the US as a “nice oligarch” who spent his money on Fabergé eggs was tainted in April this year when the US government sanctioned him for his close ties to the Kremlin.

Mr Vekselberg has said he will appeal against the sanctions, which have proved costly to some of his multi-million pound businesses.

Former Pentagon official Michael Carpenter, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defence overseeing Russia, told the BBC that he believes Mr Vekselberg “poses a risk to the US”.

“Any oligarch in Russia, when called upon by the Kremlin, to do their bidding will do so, and that is the condition that they keep their wealth.”

Shortly after his name appeared on the US Treasury’s sanctions list, the billionaire was stopped as he tried to board a plane in New York.

Federal agents working for the Robert Mueller inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election questioned him and seized his electronic devices.

He denies any wrongdoing or involvement in President Donald Trump’s campaign.

It emerged earlier this year that Columbus Nova, a company affiliated to his Renova Group empire, paid £500,000 to Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s lawyer at the time.

The money went to his company, Essential Consultants LLC, the firm he used as part of a “hush agreement” with Stormy Daniels to prevent her publicising her alleged affair with Mr Trump.

Andrey Shtorkh, a spokesman for Mr Vekselberg, told NBC News that neither Mr Vekselberg nor Renova “has ever had any contractual relationship with Mr Cohen or Essential Consultants”.

Image copyrightKeystone SDA
Image caption Vladimir Kuznetsov was the chief strategy officer for one of Viktor Vekselberg’s key companies, the Renova Group

What is Skolkovo?

When the Skolkovo Innovation Centre was established by the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev back in 2009, when he was Russia’s president, it was seen as the country’s answer to Silicon Valley.

Viktor Vekselberg was brought in to run it and has remained at the helm ever since.

It was described as an incubator of the latest technologies which would create thousands of jobs and help reduce Russia’s dependence on oil and gas, and allow it to compete with the West.

However, a few years after its inception, warnings of potential espionage came from both the US military and the FBI, accusations that Skolkovo and Viktor Vekselberg strongly deny.

Both the FBI and the US military have warned that the innovation centre, designed to rival California’s Silicon Valley, could be a front for “industrial espionage”.

Image copyrightGoogle
Image caption Skolkovo is described as a “technology incubator”.

Mr Vekselberg said it was with “great regret” that Skolkovo had been the subject of such criticism and that the centre worked closely with the US and many global technology companies as part of an “ecosystem” where “innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive”.

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Meng Wanzhou: Trump could intervene in case of Huawei executive

Court sketch of Meng Wanzhou during her bail hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 7 December 2018 Meng Wanzhou: Trump could intervene in case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou: Trump could intervene in case of Huawei executive b42b513ccaImage copyrightReuters
Image caption Meng Wanzhou has said she will contest allegations of fraud

Donald Trump says he could intervene in the case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou if it helps to avoid a further decline in US relations with China.

“Whatever’s good for this country, I would do,” the US president said.

Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecoms giant, was granted bail on Tuesday by a Canadian court.

She was arrested on 1 December and could be extradited to the US to face fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of sanctions on Iran.

Ms Meng, 46, denies any wrongdoing and has said she will contest the allegations.

She is the daughter of Huawei’s founder and her detention, which comes amid an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, has angered China and soured its relations with both Canada and the US.

In an interview with Reuters news agency on Tuesday, Mr Trump said he would intervene in the US Justice Department’s case against Ms Meng if it would serve national security interests or help achieve a trade deal with China.

“If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security, I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” he said.

What happened in the courtroom?

Justice William Ehrcke in Vancouver set bail for Ms Meng at C$10m (£6m; $7.4m).

Of that, C$7m must be provided in cash with C$3m in collateral.

The judge said that she would be under surveillance 24 hours a day and must wear an electronic ankle tag. She will be unable to go out between 2300 and 0600 and must surrender all passports and travel documents.

In the three-day bail hearing in Vancouver, Ms Meng’s lawyers sought to provide guarantees that she would not pose a flight risk if released. The application was opposed by Canadian prosecutors.

Image copyrightAFP
Image caption Supporters of Ms Meng gathered outside the court in Vancouver

US prosecutors say Ms Meng used a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom to evade sanctions on Iran between 2009 and 2014. They allege she had publicly misrepresented Skycom as being a separate company from Huawei. It is also alleged she deceived banks about the true relationship between the two companies.

Applause broke out in the courtroom when Justice Ehrcke granted bail. Ms Meng cried and hugged her lawyers.

The judge ordered her to reappear in court on 6 February.

After the ruling, Huawei issued a statement, saying: “We have every confidence that the Canadian and US legal systems will reach a just conclusion.”

How has China reacted to Ms Meng’s arrest?

China, which insists that Ms Meng has not violated any laws, had threatened severe consequences unless Canada released the Huawei executive.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng earlier summoned both the US and Canadian ambassadors and lodged a “strong protest” urging her release.

The ministry described Ms Meng’s arrest as “extremely nasty”.

Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Ms Meng is chief financial officer of Huawei, the world’s second-biggest smartphone maker

Separately on Tuesday, it emerged that a Canadian former diplomat had been detained in China.

Michael Kovrig’s current employer, the International Crisis Group, said it was working for his prompt release. There has been no official word from China about his whereabouts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was in direct contact with Chinese authorities concerning the case.

Mr Kovrig previously worked as a diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong and at the UN in New York.

Canadian officials said there was no “explicit indication” of any link between Mr Kovrig’s reported detention and the arrest of Ms Meng.

Who is Meng Wanzhou?

Meng Wanzhou joined Huawei as early as 1993, when she began a career at her father’s company as a receptionist.

After she graduated with a master’s degree in accountancy from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 1999, she joined the finance department of Huawei.

She became the company’s chief finance officer in 2011 and was promoted to vice-chair a few months before her arrest.

Ms Meng’s links to her father, Ren Zhengfei, were not public knowledge until a few years ago.

In a practice highly unusual in Chinese tradition, she adopted her family name not from her father but her mother, Meng Jun, who was Mr Ren’s first wife.

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Instagram tightens eating disorder filters after BBC investigation

Hand taking top view photo of marble countertop. Cooking pot with poached quinces, poached quince with cream, fresh quinces and a cup of coffee on the countertop. Instagram tightens eating disorder filters after BBC investigation Instagram tightens eating disorder filters after BBC investigation f641e8dc21Image copyrightGetty Images

Instagram has placed more hashtags which could promote eating disorders on an “unsearchable” list after a BBC investigation found that users were finding ways around the platform’s filters.

The photo-sharing network has also added health warnings to several alternative spellings or terms which reference eating disorders, some of which are popular hashtags on the platform.

Starting in 2012, the photo-sharing site started to make some terms unsearchable, to avoid users being able to navigate directly to often shocking images, and posts that promote the idea that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice rather than a mental illness.

If someone enters the unsearchable terms into the platform’s search box, no results will come up.

Other hashtags, when searched, will active a pop-up asking the user if they need help, with options to “learn more”, cancel the search, or view content anyway.

BBC Trending found that certain terms promoting bulimia were still searchable – and that the Instagram search bar was suggesting alternative spellings and phrasings for known terms which some see as glamorising or encouraging eating disorders

In one case, the search box offered 38 alternative spellings of a popular term.

More on this story

In response to our findings, Instagram made several alternative spellings unsearchable and added several others to the list of terms which trigger the health warning. Trending is not listing the specific hashtags on the list, but Instagram said it would continue to try to restrict content which appears to encourage eating disorders and self-harm.

“We do not tolerate content that encourages eating disorders and we use powerful tools and technologies – including in-app reporting and machine learning – to help identify and remove it,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement.

“However, we recognize this is a complex issue and we want people struggling with their mental health to be able to access support on Instagram when and where they need it.

“We, therefore, go beyond simply removing content and hashtags and take a holistic approach by offering people looking at or posting certain content the option to access tips and support, talk to a friend, or reach out directly” to support groups, the statement said.

Image copyrightGetty Images

Bypassing filters

After Instagram and other social networks started to censor content that might encourage eating disorders, internet users attempted to navigate around the filters by deliberately misspelling commonly used eating disorder terms. The new hashtags could then be searched for on the platform.

While researching this story, we saw photos of skeletal bodies and posts that encourage extreme fasting.

Instagram, like most popular social networks, does not use moderators to proactively search for content that is against its rules. Instead it relies on other users to report violations.

You may also be interested in:

‘Emaciated bodies’

Rose-Anne had anorexia when she was 17. She saw photos on Instagram of people who have self-harmed and describes them as “distressing”.

She says: “There’s quite a lot of people who have self-harmed and full-length images of really emaciated bodies.”

“It can be quite distressing to see those images, but it can also trigger the eating disorder.”

Image copyrightRose-Anne
Image caption Rose-Anne says she found content encouraging eating disorders online

Rose-Anne, who has now recovered from anorexia, also found that the platform recommended weight-loss hashtags in her news feed, despite the fact that she only followed eating disorder recovery accounts.

“I was getting suggested content that included weight loss tips… And that was without me searching it,” she says.

Rose-Anne’s experience demonstrates the difficulty that algorithms have in personalising the user experience and in detecting the difference between potentially positive and potentially harmful content.

Social networks can exacerbate eating disorders, but experts say they may also play a role in helping those suffering from mental illness. Positive communities have formed on Instagram and other platforms, and users sometimes post eating disorder related content as a public cry for help.

Eating disorder charities are calling for social media networks to take more responsibility when it comes to policing content.

“The ideal situation is the content is not searchable and the content is removed but that if people are still searching for bad content, that health warning should come up every single time,” says Tom Quinn of the eating disorder charity Beat.

Removing posts?

There’s an argument that removing posts could drive discussion of eating disorders underground – where it’s harder to moderate.

“It is unfortunate and it is true that there will be some people that if they can’t find it on a readily accessible platform like Instagram will search for it in other ways,” says Tom Quinn. “So while we recognize that some people will still find us content elsewhere that’s no excuse for it still to be as readily accessible as it is currently.”

Instagram rules prohibit content that “promotes or glorifies eating disorders” and the company says it will continue to develop its safety policies.

“Experts we work with tell us that communication is key in order to create awareness, and that coming together for support and facilitating recovery is important,” a company spokesperson said.

If you need support with eating disorders, help and support is available: BBC Action Line.

Blog by Anisa Subedar

Reporting by Jo Whalley

Do you have a story for us? Email BBC Trending.

More from Trending: BBC exposes huge scale of online cheating ads

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‘Meghan Markle’ most googled person in UK in 2018

Meghan Markle, Roxanne Pallett, Demi Lovato, Ant McPartlin 'Meghan Markle' most googled person in UK in 2018 'Meghan Markle' most googled person in UK in 2018 ea584684b0

“Meghan Markle” was the most searched-for person’s name for the second year running on Google’s UK search service.

But the Duchess of Sussex came second to the overall winner of the most queried term – “World Cup” – in the company’s search trends review for 2018.

“Royal wedding” and “royal baby” were the top two news event trends.

The duchess announced her first pregnancy in October while on tour with Prince Harry in Australia.

Of course, there were two royal weddings this year: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May; and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank in October, which may have added to the overall figures.

“Roxanne Pallett” the former Emmerdale actor who courted controversy on Celebrity Big Brother after accusing housemate Ryan Thomas of punching her, came second in most-searched-for celebrities.

Pallett ended up quitting her radio show on York-based Minster FM over the fallout from the incident, calling herself “the most hated girl in Britain”.

Celebrities who struggled with substance abuse took the third and fourth spots: “Demi Lovato”, who had an apparent overdose, and “Ant McPartlin”, who had well-documented struggles with rehab and recovery.

McPartlin took time off from his TV presenting roles including ITV’s I’m a Celebrity – which was the top trending TV Show – after crashing his car while under the influence of alcohol.

Despite being the most watched television drama last year, “Bodyguard” was pipped to the post by “Killing Eve” – numbers three and two respectively in the television category.

Marvel’s superhero film Black Panther was the fourth top trending overall query as well as being the most searched for movie title.

It was the studio’s first film to focus on Africa and feature a predominantly black cast.

Black Panther was also one of the highest grossing movies of the year, taking more than $1bn (£800m) worldwide.

Among the more prosaic searches in the “How To…?” list were “How to bleed radiators?” at number eight and “How to put lights on a Christmas tree?” at number nine.

Perhaps reflecting wider privacy concerns on social media, “How to delete Instagram?” and “How to delete Facebook?” were fifth and sixth on the list.

Jeremy Clarkson’s return to prime-time TV with a classic moment on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” made it into the most searched trends.

The show introduced an “Ask the Host” lifeline to its Phone a Friend, 50/50 and Ask The Audience options.

Clarkson gave a confident answer to “What is an Ibex?” leading to a flurry of searches for the wild goat.

Unfortunately he said it was a deer and lost his contestant £15,000.

Finishing ahead of this gaffe “What is Bitcoin?” topped the list of quizzical searches.

Considering the wild price fluctuations and opaque nature of how the crypto-currency works, it does not come as a surprise.

Heads were also scratched over “What is GDPR” the new European Union legislation on data protection which made second spot on the What is? list.

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Streets with UK’s slowest and fastest broadband named

Snail computer Streets with UK's slowest and fastest broadband named Streets with UK's slowest and fastest broadband named db1450f906Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption One in eight homes had download speeds below 5Mbps, according to uSwitch

A village street in Bamfurlong, Gloucestershire, has been named as the slowest for broadband internet, according to an annual survey.

The study said homes on Greenmeadows Park averaged just 0.14 megabits per second (Mbps).

The fastest spot, by contrast, is said to offer speeds that are nearly 1,900 times faster.

It was named as Abdon Avenue in Birmingham, where the average speed was recorded as being 265.89Mbps.

For the sake of comparison, those figures suggest it would take users five minutes 42 seconds to download all five episodes of Sir David Attenborough’s Dynasties series in high definition in Abdon Avenue, but more than seven days in Greenmeadows Park.

Of note, the Gloucestershire street is only about one mile (1.6km) away from GCHQ, the communications-focussed intelligence agency, which has some of the fastest internet access of all.

The research was carried out by the price comparison service uSwitch, which said it was based on more than 279,000 real-world speed tests by members of the public.

However, the team behind a rival service has criticised the company’s methodology.

‘Postcode lottery’

USwitch said its results suggested the average speed in the UK was now 46.2Mbps, but added that about 13% of homes had speeds below 5Mbps.

Five of the country’s fastest streets were found to be in the South West – in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Wiltshire.

Meanwhile, nine of the slowest streets were said to be in areas north of the River Mersey – including North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Scotland.

In some cases the firm said it was a “postcode lottery” as to whether users had abnormally fast or slow access, but in others it said there were ways to get a better service, such as moving to a “full-fibre” connection.

“Over a third of the slowest streets have access to superfast speeds, so people living there have no need to be crawling along on completely unusable internet services,” said spokeswoman Dani Warner.

But it appears Greenmeadows Park residents are limited in their choice.

A property on sale in the street is currently advertised as offering speeds of “up to 2Mbps”, while BT’s own speed-checker claims they stretch “up to 3.5 Mbps”.

In any case, downloads to the road’s properties are significantly slower than the 10Mbps that the government has promised homes and businesses will have a legal right to from 2020.

‘Misleading results’

Thinkbroadband uses crowdsourced data to create its own map of the country.

It has reviewed some of uSwitch’s findings and suggests they contain anomalies as well as being misleading.

It says some streets’ speeds have been recorded as being faster than any local service could provide, while others appear to be very slow despite speedy fibre-to-the-premises connections being on offer.

“They need to distinguish between slow streets and streets that are slow because no-one has upgraded,” commented Thinkbroadbrand’s editor Andrew Ferguson.

“Essentially the study is great PR for uSwitch’s website but is poorly researched,” he said.

Even so, he acknowledged the publication served as a reminder to customers to check if faster broadband had become available since they had signed up to their current deal.

And he added that households with slow connections should also check if they would be better served by switching to a 4G-based connection now that several of the networks were offering “unlimited data” deals.

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Amazon sackings ‘follow sales data leaks’

Amazon warehouse Amazon sackings 'follow sales data leaks' Amazon sackings 'follow sales data leaks' 7f88a7f094Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Merchants bribed Amazon workers who looked at internal logs of what sold well, the WSJ reports

Amazon has sacked workers it believes had been misusing internal data on high-selling products, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.

Amazon reportedly believed the staff, in India, China and the US, had abused their access to an internal database.

And some USB ports on desktop computers had since been disabled so no further data could be copied, the paper said.

Amazon said staff that broke its “high ethical standards” could be sacked or face legal action.

Bad actors

The WSJ said the sackings were part of a broad effort at Amazon to combat merchants trying to trick its systems into making their products more prominent.

About three million merchants are believed to sell their goods via Amazon.

Some tricks involve posting fake reviews, both good and bad, or filing lots of searches for products to spoof interest in them so Amazon’s algorithms flag them as being in demand.

The WSJ reports that Amazon had been investigating alleged attempts to bribe its staff.

Amazon has now reduced access to internal sales data and limited how many searches can be done on the database.

Amazon told BBC News it had “sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access” to its internal sales data.

“We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties.”

It said it also took action against “bad actors” and would delete accounts, withhold funds and remove reviews if it found they were abusing its system.

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Google chief denies political bias claims

Google chief denies political bias claims Google chief denies political bias claims 67b75c802f
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Media captionWATCH: ‘If you Google the word idiot, a picture of Donald Trump comes up?’

Google chief Sundar Pichai has faced accusations of political bias from US politicians.

Mr Pichai was being quizzed by members of the House Judiciary Committee about the way his tech firm runs it business.

Google was accused of having “programmed” bias against conservative views into its algorithms.

Mr Pichai denied the accusation saying he had “issues” with studies that claimed to show the firm’s search results excluded right-wing views.

He was asked by Republican committee member Zoe Lofgren why, when she googled the word “idiot” under images, a picture of President Donald Trump came up.

In response, Mr Pichai explained that keywords were matched against billions of page results and ranked for relevance, popularity and how other people are using the word.

Privacy protection

Republican committee member Lamar Smith said conservative voices were being “muted” via Google’s search results.

“Such actions pose a grave threat to our democratic form of government,” he said.

“This does not happen by accident, it is baked in to the algorithms.”

Mr Pichai said independent studies had not uncovered any bias and added that his business was “transparent” about the way its search results were generated.

“We evaluate our studies and our research results,” said Mr Pichai.

“We have a wide variety of sources, from both left and right.”

He added that it was “impossible” for any individual or group of individuals to manipulate its algorithms.

In response to a further question about perceived bias, he said: “I’m confident we don’t approach our work with any political bias.”

He added: “It’s important that we look at outcomes and assess that there’s no evidence of bias.”

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Google has faced protests about the search engine it is working on for China

Future search

Mr Pichai was also asked about the work Google was doing in China on the controversial “dragonfly” project.

This is believed to be a search engine drawn up under the oversight of the Chinese government that would censor topics at the behest of the regime.

Mr Pichai said “the number of engineers on the project have varied over time, but at one point we had over 100 people working on it”, in response to questioning from Republican committee member Keith Rothfus.

Democratic committee member Sheila Jackson Lee suggested the work could “censor a Chinese person’s lifeline to democracy”.

She asked: “How can you do that?”

In response, Mr Pichai said: “Right now we have no plans to launch in China. We don’t have a search product there.

He said all efforts were “internal” and did not currently involve discussions with the Chinese government.

“Our core mission is to provide users with access to information and getting access to information is an important human right,” said Mr Pichai. “We are always compelled across the world to try hard to provide that information.”

In response to further questions, Mr Pichai said the company would be “fully transparent” with politicians if the company released a search service in China.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Politicians asked about the amount of data that Android phones gather

Mr Pichai was questioned extensively about the amount of information that Google collected and what it did with the “mountains” of data it gathered.

The Google boss said many times that it gave people “choices” about the types of data it collected and that it regularly reminded people about their privacy settings.

He said 20 million people a day adjusted their privacy settings to change the types of information they let Google amass.

Mr Pichai had been under growing pressure to testify after he snubbed an earlier hearing called by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Executives from Facebook and Twitter attended the September event where they faced tough questions.

In a document released before his testimony, Mr Pichai paid tribute to staff at Google and said it had worked to “empower people around the world, especially in the US”.

The Congressional session comes the day after the search giant announced that it was shutting down its Google+ social network.

The decision came after it found a vulnerability that could have exposed data on 52.2 million users.

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Brexit: More than £100K spent on Facebook and other ads for May’s deal

Theresa May Brexit: More than £100K spent on Facebook and other ads for May's deal Brexit: More than £100K spent on Facebook and other ads for May's deal d47b2ca4ddImage copyrightReuters

The government spent almost £100,000 on Facebook adverts promoting Theresa May’s Brexit deal before calling off a Commons vote on it, figures released by the US social media giant reveal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded it a “waste of public money” in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The overall spend on social media adverts by the government is likely to be far higher, however.

Ads were also bought on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google, but neither the companies nor the government would tell the BBC how much money was spent.

What was spent on Facebook?

Prime Minister Theresa May called off Tuesday’s crucial vote on her Brexit deal so she can go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it, admitting the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin” if MPs voted on it. It is due to be put to the vote again before 21 January.

Facebook’s ad library shows the UK government page spent £96,684 to promote 11 videos about the Brexit deal between December 2 and 8.

“There were days when both the prime minister and I served as local councillors. Had we spent public money in that way we would have been surcharged for a waste of public money without proper approval,” Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday.

A government spokesperson said “communicating government policy effectively to the public is a core function of the Civil Service”.

Image copyrightFacebook
Image caption The government has been spending money on Facebook adverts promoting its Brexit deal

Facebook’s figures show between £1,000 and £5,000 was spent on two separate Facebook videos called “What The Brexit Deal means for you.”

A similar amount was spent on videos targeted at people in Wales and Northern Ireland saying the Brexit deal “delivers” for those places.

Slightly more was spent on two adverts directed at people in Scotland.

Image copyrightFacebook
Image caption The government has been specifically targeting the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland

Even more cash – between £10,000 and £50,000 – was spent on three separate adverts focusing on what the government says the deal means for trade, immigration and the economy.

Image copyrightFacebook
Image caption The government spent over £10,000 on these three adverts

According to figures in Facebook’s ad library each of these three posts got more than a million “impressions”.

The company defines ‘impressions’ as “the number of times that an ad was seen on a screen” and “may include multiple views by the same people”.

Image copyrightFacebook
Image caption Three ads got more than a million “impressions” on Facebook

Although there were no ads specifically targeted at England or regions of England, the audience breakdown of these three posts shows the vast majority of the audience were in England.

The figures also show the audience for these three widely-viewed ads was predominantly male.

Image copyrightFACEBOOK
Image caption More men than women saw the ads

Last week the BBC revealed the government was in a bidding war with a campaigner against Mrs May’s deal to push sponsored posts to the top of Google search rankings.

When people in the UK searched “what does the Brexit deal mean,” they were likely to see one of two very similar looking paid-for posts by either the UK government or a group called ‘Britain’s Future’ which opposes the deal from a pro-Brexit position.

Britain’s Future is run by a journalist and campaigner called Tim Dawson who told the BBC the ads were paid for by “small donations from friends and fellow Brexiteers”.

A government spokesperson told the BBC: “we have a duty to ensure official HMG information relating to Brexit is highly visible and easily accessible to the public and paying to appear at the top of search results is an effective way to do this.”

Image copyrightFACEBOOK
Image caption The government also paid for promoted results on Google search

Dawson’s website looked visually similar to the government’s ‘Brexit Deal Explained’ page.

However the text on the page was very different, saying May’s deal is a “surrender” to the EU.

Image copyrightGov.UK, Britain’s Future
Image caption An anti-deal campaign group promoted a website looking very similar to the government’s own one

The government has also been spending money advertising its Brexit deal on LinkedIn and Twitter.

The BBC asked Twitter, LinkedIn and Google how much the government had paid them to advertise on their sites – but none would give a figure.

LinkedIn bans political adverts – such as supporting a particular party or candidate in an election – but these government posts are not classified as such by the company.

Image copyrightFacebook
Image caption The government is also spending money advertising on Twitter

Google recently introduced new transparency measures in the USA and is doing similar for the upcoming EU parliamentary elections – but no such system is currently in place in the UK.

Twitter also has plans for a political ads transparency feature but this is also not in place yet.

Therefore it will be a while until we know how much the government spent advertising May’s Brexit deal on social media in the run up to the vote that never took place.

The Cabinet Office is the government department that spends money on these online adverts and does routinely publish expenditure on its website.

Image copyrightGOV.UK
Image caption The Cabinet Office makes expenditure transparent – but subject to a delay

However this data only covers expenditure over £25,000 and is subject to a big time delay – the last release was on 25 October.

From the last set of figures we know the government spent about £44,219 on Facebook in September as well as a similar amount on LinkedIn.

We do not know exactly what adverts this money bought – the LinkedIn adverts were bought by the Cabinet Office’s “exec recruit management team” suggesting the they were job ads rather than promotion of government policy.

Image copyrightGOV.UK
Image caption Government figures show how much was spent on Facebook in September

So, we know the government spent almost £100,000 on Facebook ads in the run up to the aborted vote on Mrs May’s deal.

But we do not know how much in total was spent in total promoting the deal on social media and may not for a while – if at all.

A government spokesperson said the next set of transparency figures are likely to be released in January – and these figures will only cover expenditure above £25,000.

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Broadband customers to get automatic compensation

Compensation Broadband customers to get automatic compensation Broadband customers to get automatic compensation 38d424eb14Image copyrightGetty Images

Many customers who experience fixed broadband or landline loss will soon automatically receive compensation.

The £8-per-day deal follows a new agreement between Openreach and five of the UK’s internet service providers.

It will apply only when the fault takes longer than two days to fix.

If an engineer does not arrive on schedule, or cancels within 24 hours, the compensation will be £25. There will also be £5-per-day offered for new services not starting on time.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet have all agreed to the plan, which is not compulsory for the industry.

Plusnet and EE have also previously suggested that they will sign up.

The deal follows industry watchdog Ofcom releasing details of its voluntary automatic compensation code of practice in November 2017, which set the payout rate.

It said at the time it would allow a 15-month implementation period for the new system meaning it should be ready in early 2019.

Openreach said it would pay compensation even when others prevented it from accessing its network – if, for example, a vehicle is parked in front of a cabinet or it is unable to access a pole on private land. But it said it would not pay in the event of “measures beyond reasonable control”, such as flooding.

However, the internet service providers who have signed up may still be obliged to pay in those cases, said journalist and IT consultant Mark Jackson, writing on the website ISPreview.

“Openreach’s steadfast position not to pay out during ‘force majeure-type events’ has caused some irritation, particularly while Ofcom continues to insist that retail ISPs will have to cover the cost of that themselves,” he wrote.

Mr Jackson also noted that most faults are fixed within two days, meaning that compensation will not apply.

Both home and small and medium business customers will be eligible.

Openreach said in a statement that it has offered compensation for broadband failures since 2008.

“We have fully supported Ofcom’s voluntary code of practice since its inception, and are pleased to have reached an agreement with those communication providers intending to offer automatic compensation,” it said.

A spokesman for the regulator said: “We’re pleased this agreement has been reached, following our intervention to secure automatic compensation for customers facing problems such as delays and missed appointments.”

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