Today's tech giants won't be as naive as I was in DoJ dealings, says former Microsoft chief Bill Gates

'I didn’t realise that our success would lead to government attention'


Microsoft co-founder and long-serving ex-CEO Bill Gates has admitted naivety in his dealings with Washington around the software giant’s fabled antitrust case with the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

But, as Google set out to defend itself against DoJ claims levelled against it this week, the latter-day philanthropist of Redmond fame told CNBC the tech giants are unlikely to make similar errors to him.

In a not-so-veiled reference to Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon, Gates said: “Whenever you get to be [a] super valuable company [having] political discourse mediated through your system and a higher percentage of commerce go through your system, you're going to expect a lot of government attention. I was naive at Microsoft and didn’t realise that our success would lead to government attention and so I made some mistakes in saying, ‘Hey, I never go to Washington DC’.”

But times have changed, he said.

“Now, I don't think that naivety is there. These companies have lots of sophisticated advisors and they've tried to engage [with lawmakers] in various ways but the rules will change,” he said.

The suffering heaped on hundreds of millions of Americans struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions could be reflected in the political optics of the case, at a time when tech industry figureheads have seen astronomical increases in their wealth.

“It is kind of poignant that the tech companies have done so well at a time when things are very tough and so that's an element of the increased attention,” Gates claimed.

On Tuesday, US Department of Justice launched its antitrust case against Google, saying the dominant search company was unlawfully protecting its search monopoly through “anti-competitive and exclusionary practices”.

With echoes of Microsoft’s DoJ case, which began in 1998 and hinged on whether the Redmond giant was using its dominance in desktop operating systems to gain unfair advantage in the browser market, the federal legal team said Google was the “monopoly gatekeeper to the internet for billions of users and countless advertisers worldwide.”

“For years, Google has accounted for almost 90 per cent of all search queries in the United States and has used anti-competitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in search and search advertising,” the DoJ said.

Although it does not explicitly say it is seeking to break up Google, the DoJ did ask for "structural relief as needed to cure any anticompetitive harm."

The DoJ is also pursuing the line that saw Microsoft lose in its initial DoJ ruling. The department is arguing that Google makes its search engine the default on billions of devices, preventing the pre-installation of services from competitors.

Gates backed some government success in clipping the wings of the tech giants, although the details would have to wait, he said.

GOOGLE

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“We're in unchartered territory here. For a lot of industries like the railroad industry or the movie industry, [the government] created special policies that they thought were effective for competition. This is a new industry with different issues and so to get it right, will take a lot of a lot of good thinking. But, I'd say the chances of them doing something is pretty high,” he said.

Not everyone is convinced the chips are currently stacked in the DoJ's favour, however, due to the speed at which the case was strung together.

How Gates can see the tech industry’s monopoly problems as somehow new is anyone’s guess.

Android marshmallow has put on weight.... altered original

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After initially ruling for the breakup of Microsoft, the DoJ later reached a settlement that saw Microsoft share APIs with third parties - this was little more than a slap on the wrist.

Whether the DoJ can meet out sterner punishment to Google could depend on political unity.

In partisan times, the signs are not good. The Justice Dept's lawsuit against Google is joined by 11 state attorneys general – all Republican. Last month, only Democrats supported a Congressional report that accused tech giants of abuse of their market power, even though both sides were largely in agreement. Meanwhile, a second group of state attorneys general, a mix of Dems and Republicans, are preparing a separate antitrust case against Google. ®


Linus Torvalds issues early Linux Kernel update to fix swapfile SNAFU

‘Subtle and very nasty bug’ meant 5.12 rc1 could trash entire filesystems

Linux overlord Linus Torvalds has rushed out a new release candidate of Linux 5.12 after the first in the new series was found to include a ‘subtle and very nasty bug’ that was so serious he marked rc1 as unsuitable for use.

“We had a very innocuous code cleanup and simplification that raised no red flags at all, but had a subtle and very nasty bug in it: swap files stopped working right. And they stopped working in a particularly bad way: the offset of the start of the swap file was lost,” Torvalds wrote in a March 3rd post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

“Swapping still happened, but it happened to the wrong part of the filesystem, with the obvious catastrophic end results.”

So catastrophic that, as Torvalds explained, “you can end up with a filesystem that is essentially overwritten by random swap data.”

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Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a beer: Beware the downloaded patch applied in haste

Let us tell you a tale of the Mailman's Apprentice

Who, Me? The weekend is over and Monday is here. Celebrate your IT prowess with another there-but-for-the-grace confession from the Who, Me? archives.

Our tale, from a reader the Regomiser has elected to dub "Simon", takes us back to the early part of this century and to an anonymous antipodean institution of learning.

Simon was working at the local Student Union (or "guild" as the locals called it), which was having problems with uppity education staff censoring the emissions of students. Simon was therefore commissioned to set up a fully independent newsletter.

"We had scored access to the Oracle user database," he said, "but only via the awful Filemaker Mac database. So I built a bridge to export it out to MySQL.

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Remember that day in March 2020 when you were asked to get the business working from home – tomorrow, if possible? Here's how that worked out

IT pros from orgs large and small tell The Reg the tech delivered, mostly, but couriers and home Wi-Fi suddenly became your problem

Covid Logfile Brianna Haley was given one day to be ready to roll out Zoom for 13,000 users at over 1,000 sites.

Haley* is a project analyst for a large healthcare provider that, as COVID-19 marched across the world in March 2020, realised imminent lockdowns meant it would soon be unable to consult with patients.

And no consultations meant no revenue.

"I got called into a meeting at 7:30 or 8:30 on Monday morning and was told we had to get Zoom done by tomorrow," Haley recalls.

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The torture garden of Microsoft Exchange: Grant us the serenity to accept what they cannot EOL

Time to fix those legacy evils, though.... right?

Column It is the monster which corrupts all it touches. It is an energy-sucking vampire that thrives on the pain it promotes. It cannot be killed, but grows afresh as each manifestation outdoes the last in awfulness and horror. It is Microsoft Exchange and its drooling minion, Outlook.

Let us start with the most numerous of its victims, the end users. Chances are, you are one. You may be numbed by lifelong exposure, your pain receptors and critical faculties burned out though years of corrosion. You might be like me, an habitual avoider whose work requirements periodically force its tentacles back in through the orifices.

I have recently started to use it through its web interface, where it doesn’t update the unread flags, hides attachments, multiplies browser instances, leaves temp files all over my download directory, tangles threads, botches searchers and so on.

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Delayed, overbudget and broken. Of course Microsoft's finest would be found in NASA's Orion

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream (as Windows crashes again)

BORK!BORK!BORK! Getting astronauts to the Moon or Mars is the least of NASA's problems. Persuading Microsoft Windows not to fall over along the way is apparently a far greater challenge.

Spotted by Register reader Scott during a visit to the otherwise excellent Space Center Houston, there is something all too real lurking within the mock-up of the Orion capsule in which NASA hopes to send its astronauts for jaunts beyond low Earth orbit.

Clutched in the hand of a mannequin posed in the capsule's hatch is a reminder of both how old space tech tends to be and a warning for space-farers intending to take Microsoft's finest out for a spin.

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Name True, iCloud access false: Exceptional problem locks online storage account, stumps Apple customer service

You're naming yourself wrong?

An iCloud customer says she spent more than six hours on the phone to Apple after being locked out of the service because her name is apparently incompatible with the application code.

"Actor, author, artist" Rachel True posted on Twitter about an error with the iCloud application, an unhandled exception with "Type error: cannot set value `true` to property `lastName`."

It seems that her name was interpreted as a Boolean value instead of a string, a common programming problem especially in dynamic languages which are more flexible about variable types.

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Intel CPU interconnects can be exploited by malware to leak encryption keys and other info, academic study finds

Side-channel ring race 'hard to mitigate with existing defenses'

Chip-busting boffins in America have devised yet another way to filch sensitive data by exploiting Intel's processor design choices.

Doctoral student Riccardo Paccagnella, master's student Licheng Luo, and assistant professor Christopher Fletcher, all from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, delved into the way CPU ring interconnects work, and found they can be abused for side-channel attacks. The upshot is that one application can infer another application's private memory and snoop on the user's key presses.

"It is the first attack to exploit contention on the cross-core interconnect of Intel CPUs," Paccagnella told The Register. "The attack does not rely on sharing memory, cache sets, core-private resources or any specific uncore structures. As a consequence, it is hard to mitigate with existing side channel defenses."

Side-channel attacks, like the 2018 Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, exploit characteristics of modern chip microarchitecture to expose or infer secrets through interaction with a shared computing component or resource.

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NASA shows Mars that humans can drive a remote control space tank at .01 km/h

Perseverance takes first drive around landing spot named in honor of seminal sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler

NASA’s Perseverance rover trekked across Mars for the first time last Thursday, March 4, 2021.

The vehicle went four whole meters forward, turned 150 degrees to the left, then moved another two-and-a-half meters. The entire drive covered a whopping 6.5 m (21.3 feet) across Martian terrain. The journey took about 33 minutes.

The Register ran that through a calculator and deduces the nuclear powered laser-equipped space tank, aka Perseverance, sped along at the astounding velocity of .01km/h, quite a comedown from the 19,310 km/h at which it entered the red planet’s atmosphere.

In a press release, NASA said:

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Google's ex-boss tells the US it's time to take the gloves off on autonomous weapons

Plus: AI Index 2021 report takeaways, Chocolate Factory banished from top ethics conference, and more

In brief US government should avoid hastily banning AI-powered autonomous weapons and instead step up its efforts in developing such systems to keep up with foreign enemies, according to the National Security Commission on AI.

The independent group headed by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and funded by the Department of Defense has published its final report advising the White House on how best to advance AI and machine learning to stay ahead of its competitors.

Stretching over 750 pages, the report covers a lot of areas, including retaining talent, the future of warfare, protecting IP, and US semiconductor supply chains.

The most controversial point raised by Schmidt and the other advisors was that America should not turn its back on autonomous AI weapons. The US government should actually be building its own systems to deter other countries from wreaking havoc, it argued. But the development should be carefully monitored to make sure it abides by ethical policies.

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Keeping up the PECR: ICO fines two marketing text pests £330k for sending 2.6 million messages

Leads Work Ltd and Valca Vehicle and Life Cover Agency tried to exploit household finance fears in lockdown, says data watchdog

Two businesses that dispatched more than 2.6 million nuisance text messages seeking to exploit lower household incomes during Britain’s first lockdown are nursing a combined financial penalty of £330,000 from the UK’s data watchdog.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it had received 10,000 official moans against West Sussex-based Leads Work Ltd [PDF], which sent more than 2.6 million lead generation texts between 16 May and 26 June 2020.

The texts were sent under the brand of Avon - yes, the direct sales biz that flogs cosmetics and perfumes. Any leads generated would then passed to independent Avon sales reps.

One of the messages, for example, stated: “In lockdown and want to earn extra cash? Avon is now FULLY ONLINE, FREE to do and paid weekly. Reply with your name for info. 18+ only. Text STOP to opt out.”

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