Tech 2019: Our biggest technology stories

As 2019 splutters to a close, it’s time for our annual lookback at our most-read tech stories, and to ask: “What happened next?”.

Facebook and its family of apps dominates this year’s list with four entries – it probably won’t be a surprise that none of them were particularly brand-enhancing.

The Chinese viral video app TikTok makes the cut for the first time. And many of the other “big tech” names are there too in one form or another.

But there are a few notable exceptions. Neither Elon Musk nor Tesla made it, despite the window-smashing launch of the Cybertruck and plans to hack our brains. Google’s co-founders were originally on the list after deciding to give up day-to-day control of their empire, but were squeezed out just before publication.

Video gaming also missed out, even though Prince Harry attracted lots of attention for suggesting Fortnite should be banned.

And both Huawei and Samsung are absent, even though the former’s loss of Google’s apps and the latter’s folding phone fiasco were two of the year’s standout developments.

In any case, here’s what attracted most eyeballs in each month of the year:

January: When three becomes one

A leak forced Facebook to reveal plans to merge the behind-the-scenes tech of messaging on WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram. The effort was reported to be a pet project of chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

He later justified the move saying it would draw the three products closer together, making it easier for users to send posts between them. Furthermore, he said it would also help the firm expand its end-to-end encryption features, which help keep the messages secure.

Many observers noted, however, the action would also make it more difficult to split the company apart. And as the year went on that became a growing threat, with first Senator Elizabeth Warren and then other Democratic presidential candidates suggesting Facebook has too much power and influence.

But it may not take a change of administration for Mr Zuckerberg’s ambitions to be thwarted. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Federal Trade Commission may intervene to prevent the apps being integrated.

February: Don’t be scared

Social media, the mainstream news and even the police all got in a tizzy over Momo for no good reason in February. It was claimed that youngsters’ social media accounts were being “hacked” to show the bulging-eyed monster alongside “challenges” that would put their lives at risk.

Online articles followed, linking more than 100 teenagers’ deaths in Russia to the sensation. Except, of course, there was no evidence to back up any of this.

This was not even the first time an image of the Japanese bird-woman sculpture had gone viral. There had been a similar smaller-scale scare in 2018 when the “game” had been linked to deaths in South America and India – again without any documented proof.

Pundits described it as a “panic [that] won’t go away”. Except it did.

These days a search for Momo on Twitter turns up ads for masks of the ghoul, but little else.

And on TikTok the hashtag #momochallenge surfaces videos of people cooking and eating small dumplings that go by the same name in parts of Asia.

March: Turn it off and on again

Facebook’s family of apps experienced 14 hours of disruption, in what was billed as their “most severe outage” to date.

In many cases, users were unable to access the services at all over the period. And it took the firm about another 10 hours to give itself the all-clear, at which point it tweeted that a “server configuration change” had been to blame.

That allowed it to deny suggestions that it had been hacked, while remaining suitably vague about the actual cause.

April: How did they get in?

Cyber-security experts despaired after a study indicated that the most popular online password was “123456”.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s finding came with a warning that the string of digits is not only easy to guess, but would be one of the first codes tested by automated hacking tools.

The public is advised to instead register a different complex login for each service they join, and use a password manager. But the hassle involved in having to copy and paste them in each time, has encouraged the adoption of biometric tests that automate the process if users pass a face, eyes or fingerprint ID check.

Another alternative is to log in via another platform and let it do the heavy lifting. And in September, Apple joined the party when it allowed users to access third-party apps via a new Sign In With Apple button, mirroring earlier efforts by Google, Facebook and Twitter.

May: WhatsApp cracked

When WhatsApp confirmed that a vulnerability in its app had been exploited to install surveillance software on victims’ phones, one of the immediate questions was how widespread the attack had been.

It took until October to get some clarification, at which point Facebook said it believed about 1,400 of its users had been directly compromised. It added that they included “at least 100 human rights defenders, journalists and other members of civil society” across at least 20 countries.

The tech firm alleges NSO Group, an Israeli private security firm, is responsible and is currently suing it in the US courts. NSO disputes the claim and has said it will “vigorously fight” the case.

Whatever the outcome, the affair highlighted that if an attacker can load spyware onto a target’s phone or other device, end-to-end encryption and other security measures may be in vain.

June: The death of Etika

Brooklyn-based Desmond “Etika” Amofah had a large online following, thanks to his quick wit and Nintendo video-game reaction videos on YouTube and Twitch. But in mid-June he caused concern when he posted a clip in which he discussed suicide. Days later the New York City Police Department confirmed he had killed himself.

Several of his friends and colleagues have since taken steps to memorialise him. An online store sells goods branded with his logo, and donates its profits to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. YouTuber PewDiePie also teamed up with actor Jack Black to raise further funds for the charity in Etika’s name.

Others have marked the tragedy by getting themed tattoos. A still active Twitter account – @Etika – was created to keep his memory alive. And last month, a large mural was unveiled in Brooklyn featuring the gamer’s face alongside a pair of Nintendo Switch controllers.

Most recently, YouTube faced complaints for not referencing the late creator in its Rewind recap of the year. “No one should be surprised that YouTube still doesn’t understand its platform,” posted one frustrated user.

In any case, Etika’s claim in his final video that “this world’s gonna forget me” shows no sign of coming true any time soon.

If you’ve been affected by a mental health issue, help and support is available. Visit BBC Action Line for more information about support services.

July: Photo glitches

Further technical problems at Facebook HQ prevented users being able to upload new photos and videos to its apps, and in some cases prevented existing ones being viewable. The disruption lasted for about nine hours.

Facebook never really explained the cause, beyond saying it had been triggered by a maintenance operation.

Other smaller glitches persisted throughout the year, including intermittent outages in the US on Thanksgiving.

But given that it now serves more than 2.4 billion users who log into at least one of its services once a month, it is a considerable feat of engineering to keep everything ticking along.

August: iPhone booby traps

Studies indicate that Apple’s mobile devices face fewer serious cyber-security threats than Android-powered equivalents. So when Google revealed that hackers were using booby-trapped websites to exploit previously unidentified flaws in iOS, potentially affecting “thousands of visitors per week”, it was big news.

Google added that compromised handsets made it possible for the perpetrators to steal private messages, photos and location data in real-time.

For days there was speculation about who might have been exposed. Apple eventually released a statement saying it believed that fewer than a dozen websites focused on “content related to the Uighur community” had been affected. Many took this to suggest that the Chinese state was involved. However, Apple did not explicitly draw this conclusion itself, which was unsurprising given its ties to the country.

This was not Apple’s only Uighur-related controversy this year. The campaign group Sum of Us has repeatedly claimed that the firm’s willingness to comply with a Chinese ban on virtual private network (VPN) apps has made it harder for civil rights defenders to safely discuss claims of abuses against the ethnic minority. The organisation now plans to raise the matter at Apple’s next annual shareholders’ meeting.

September: More cameras

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The iPhone 11 range got more cameras, longer-lasting batteries and a new “pro” moniker for the top-of-the-range models. But there was no 5G – despite Samsung, Huawei and other rivals having already launched compatible smartphones. And whispers that Apple chief executive Tim Cook might be ready to unveil an augmented reality headset accessory, proved to be unfounded.

Market watchers have since reported the iPhones sold better than they expected – particularly in the US and Western Europe.

And there is now talk of 2020 being the year of an “iPhone supercycle” thanks to an expected revamped design along with the introduction of 5G.

October: Jedi wars

Amazon – and many outsiders – thought it had the strongest bid for a high-profile contract to provide the Pentagon with cloud computing and artificial intelligence services. So there were shockwaves when Satya Nadella’s Microsoft clinched the so-called Jedi deal instead. It could be worth as much as $ 10bn (£7.7bn) over time.

Not only was this a big sum to miss out on, but Microsoft’s marketing team should also find it easier to pitch the firm’s Azure services to other government departments and private companies as a consequence. This could put Amazon Web Services’ current status as the market leader under strain.

Amazon is challenging the award, claiming that President Trump pressured the Department of Defense into rejecting its bid because of a personal vendetta against its chief executive Jeff Bezos.

All of this could all have ramifications for the 2020 presidential election. Regulation of big tech is already on the agenda, and Amazon could make a tempting target for Mr Trump during the campaign.

But if Mr Bezos believes the Republican leader’s re-election could threaten his business, his status as one of the world’s richest men and the owner of the Washington Post could make him a formidable foe.

November: The eyes have it

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At the start of the year, TikTok was fairly obscure beyond its core teenage audience. These days it is one of the most talked about apps. It has launched one meme after another, and earned a reputation as being one of the most joyous places to be on the internet. But there are also concerns about it being Chinese-owned.

Matters came to a head last month when an American teenager posted a video that started off like an eyelash beauty tutorial. But creator Feroza Aziz quickly changed tack to criticise China’s treatment of the Uighurs.

Her clip went viral. Shortly afterwards, the 17-year-old discovered she had been blocked from posting new material. And soon after that, TikTok took the clip offline.

Then the social network reversed course. It put back the clip, blaming the removal on a “human moderation error”. And it re-established Ms Aziz’s access, saying that she had been locked out because of unrelated past behaviour.

The app insisted that there had been no attempt to suppress criticism of the Chinese government’s actions, but Ms Aziz was not convinced.

She has continued to flag concern about the Uighurs. And in her latest “skin care” video also raises awareness about India’s controversial citizenship law, which offers illegal immigrants from nearby countries amnesty but only if they are non-Muslims – something she claims is “immoral”. For whatever reason, the post has attracted far more views on Twitter and Instagram than the copy posted to TikTok.

Meanwhile, TikTok bosses are reportedly looking for a new global headquarters outside of China to help reinforce their claims to autonomy. But the app’s owner Bytedance has denied rumours that it might sell off the division to give it true independence.

December: Age of the Splinternet?

It’s been a long while since the internet was a free-for-all, in which governments had little ability to restrict what their citizens did online. Even so, Russia’s announcement that it had successfully tested what it terms a “sovereign internet” still felt like a significant moment.

The initiative involves forcing all web traffic through special nodes – a term for network connection points – where content can be filtered to remove what is deemed to be risky material. Furthermore, the intention is that in an “emergency” all data from outside the country could be blocked and the Runet – a term for the Russian internet – isolated.

The achievement is described in the state media as a way to protect domestic companies and government bodies from cyber-attacks. But human rights campaigners warn that once the effort is up and running, the Kremlin may also use it to limit Russian people’s access to “undesirable” information.

In doing so, the Russian government would be following the path of its counterparts in China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which all censor dissenting voices.

And it would be following a wider trend. The US-based Freedom House digital rights group has warned that global internet freedom declined for a ninth consecutive year in 2019. Beyond Russia, it highlighted Kazakhstan, Sudan and Brazil as examples of places where digital surveillance, targeted cyber-attacks and/or online disinformation campaigns were cause for concern.

We should hear more about Russia’s effort once President Putin has had a chance to examine the results of the tests, and decides how to proceed. For now, a Kremlin spokesman has denied it has any intention of “cutting the internet” up into separate parts.

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BBC News – Technology

Apple, Google and Amazon decide to ‘play nice’ over smart home tech

The highly competitive tech giants Apple, Google and Amazon have announced they are teaming up in an effort to make smart home tech easier to use.

The firms, along with the Zigbee Alliance, will work together so that smart home products are compatible with many different smartphones and voice assistants.

Ikea is among other companies involved.

One analyst said the move was a “surprise” and showed the companies were willing to “play nice”.

In recent years, the tech giants have been fiercely vying for dominance over smart home tech – with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant often considered to have carved up the lion’s share of products.

Manufacturers have often had to choose a particular voice assistant with which to make their device compatible – a smart speaker that “works with Alexa” but not Siri, for instance.

To take an example, Hive does not yet have Apple HomeKit integration, which would allow its wide range of smart home products to be used with Siri and the iPhone’s Home app, despite having promised to add the functionality for years.

Meanwhile, the Chamberlain MyQ system for garage door openers can be operated via voice with Google Assistant – but not Amazon’s Alexa.

Having to force consumers – and manufacturers – to choose one voice assistant over another could be a thing of the past, if the new partnership between the tech firms goes as planned.

On their project website, the companies state: “Customers can be confident that their device of choice will work in their home and that they will be able to set up and control it with their preferred system.”

The firms say that current smart home products should continue to work, even after the new standard is brought in.

However, that won’t be imminent – draft specifications are due to be released in late 2020 at the earliest.

“If you take the three names involved, the last thing they do is play nice together,” said analyst Carolina Milanesi at Creative Strategies, referring to Apple, Google and Amazon.

“It makes a lot of sense to come together and at the end of the day… It’s just going to make the whole market and opportunity bigger for all of them.”

But Ms Milanesi said it would not spell the end of competition between the firms – although products advertised as working with one voice assistant versus another, may disappear.

The announcement comes practically on the eve of CES – the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show, which is held every year in Las Vegas in early January.

Ms Milanesi points out that consumers attending the show in 2020 might now be more interested in what smart home product manufacturers come up with the following year, once more details of the new standard have been made available.

It was noteworthy that the first product category to be targeted by the new standard will be security products, said tech analyst Adam Simon at market research firm Context.

He said Context research showed that the most important reason consumers gave for the purchase of smart home products was “to give me peace of mind to know that my home is secure”.

Devices such as smart locks, security cameras, connected smoke alarms and intruder-sensors fall into this category.

However, Mr Simon noted that the tech firms would have to ensure that the new standard, which will increase compatibility between products, must not make it easier for hackers to get access to connected devices in peoples’ homes.

“Inasmuch as it’s great for everything to communicate, you’re as good as your weakest link – the product that doesn’t have all the security features in it.

“Security has to be paramount.”

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BBC News – Technology

‘Bad things could happen’: Turning to tech to tame the crypto jungle

© Reuters. Joel Fruhman, right, and Dan Fruhman, directors of BCB Group pose for a photograph in London © Reuters. Joel Fruhman, right, and Dan Fruhman, directors of BCB Group pose for a photograph in London

By Tom Wilson

LONDON (Reuters) – “Hi guys, could you please show me a firm bid for 100 bitcoin?” a seller texts on Skype.

“One sec. $ 10270.”

Two minutes later: “Sorry guys, that was an old order from Friday when skype wasn’t working.” 

“I really think we should get off skype. Bad things could happen. Someone is going to make an expensive mistake.” 

*****

A messaging exchange over a potential $ 1 million deal, between a European asset manager looking to sell bitcoin and broker Joel Fruhman, illustrates the casual and often chaotic nature of cryptocurrency dealmaking.

Trades involving hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars are routinely struck via brief chats on apps like Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat or Zoom, often with scant certainty over the identities of participants or the legal basis of agreements.

“We’d end up in a Zoom call with about five ‘introducers’ – we didn’t really know who any of them were,” said Fruhman, a physicist by training who started a cryptocurrency brokerage business with his brother Dan in their British hometown of Manchester in 2018.

“And who were we? What was our credibility?”

Over-the-counter (OTC) trading – buying and selling through a broker – is now beginning to change, however.

It is moving toward electronic automation as the cryptocurrency sector matures from the province of online enthusiasts to emerging financial assets drawing increasing mainstream interest, Reuters interviews with more than a dozen industry players show.

This is a fundamental shift, as messaging apps have for years been the predominant platforms.

It is a key front in attempts by cryptocurrency enthusiasts with roots in the traditional finance industry to drag into the mainstream a singular, largely unregulated sector born on the web a decade ago as a symbol of rebellion against the establishment and offering users near-anonymity.

OTC trading is favored by big investors like hedge funds because cryptocurrency exchanges often suffer from thin liquidity, and large buy and sell orders can move the market.

But the opaqueness of the messaging process and its impracticality for use on a large scale, plus the glitches that could cause the “expensive mistake” warned of by Fruhman, have left it fraught with risk.

Now, as spreads – the differences between bid and ask prices for immediate orders – tighten as liquidity in crypto markets grows, OTC brokers and market makers are seeking to move away from unsophisticated chats and offer quotes electronically, with automated execution and settlement.

“Things have shifted quite rapidly toward electronic trading,” said George Zarya, CEO of London-based cryptocurrency exchange BeQuant, which also runs an OTC desk and is planning to switch toward automation.

“Anything that is liquid – bitcoin or ethereum – these markets are going to go electronic. That’s a natural path that traditional markets have gone through.”

The changes are likely to appeal to larger investors using algorithms and high-frequency trading for whom split-second timings are important, according to the interviews with cryptocurrency OTC brokers, market makers and investors.

Alameda Research, a crypto trader based in California and Hong Kong, launched an almost entirely automated OTC desk around six months ago that is already seeing flows of $ 20 million-$ 30 million a day, said Ryan Salame, its Asia-Pacific head of OTC.

For Salame, the future of OTC trading is electronic, with prices for all but the smallest coins to be quoted electronically.

“This is just the next step how you stay more competitive. Each desk is trying to be more competitive and making better systems,” he said. “It’s just a by-product of spreads coming in so much that I can’t update in the chat fast enough to give people the pricing they’re expecting.” 

‘CAN YOU SELL A FEW MILL?’

The Fruhman brothers, Joel aged 29 and Dan 28, built a contact book packed with bitcoin miners they met on internet forums and apps as they grew interested in the emerging technology.

Miners use computers to solve complex mathematical puzzles, competing against others and earning rewards in the form of new digital coins. As recently as a few years ago, individual crypto enthusiasts could mine bitcoin from their bedrooms.

But many had a problem, the Fruhmans found: They were producing bitcoin faster than they could convert them to the cash they needed to clear the hefty electricity bills run up by their high-powered computing gear working overtime. 

“We saw something very clear: A bunch of guys with a lot of bitcoin valued in USD, who had no idea how to turn that into money,” said Joel. “It started with one request, which was just one of these guys, our mate, who was like: ‘Can you sell a few mill?'”

Late last year, in an attempt to tap bigger investors and offer more sophisticated back-office services, the brothers swapped their contact book for a stake in a startup run by ex-financiers well-versed in the infrastructure of the financial system, from escrow accounts to settlement systems.     

The startup, BCB Group, then based in London’s financial district, offered something the Fruhmans lacked: regular access to clients from mainstream finance willing and able to buy the regular supply of digital coin offered by their mining contacts.

“It’s not the stoned 22-year-old that we were dealing with a year and a half ago,” said Joel. “And it’s not the equity traders, the Goldman Sachs (NYSE:). They’re kind of in between – it’s growing from one into the other.”

    

TRADE BLOSSOMS IN BITCOIN BUBBLE

Global cryptocurrency trading volumes are highly erratic. Over the past year, bitcoin alone – by far the largest coin – has seen daily volumes of between $ 900 million and $ 3 billion, according to research firm Coin Metrics.

Brokers estimate the OTC market typically accounts for 10% to 30% of global volumes on any given day.  

The OTC market blossomed as bitcoin’s value soared during its 2017 bubble. That was when miners, wealthy individual investors, hedge funds and companies earning revenue in crypto grew active in the market.

Now, said the industry players who spoke to Reuters, the market is seeing a new shift as the predominance of messaging apps wanes and the more sophisticated tools used in traditional markets like equities and bonds become increasingly common. 

“Doing stuff over Skype and over these voice chats is not really scalable,” said Kevin Zhou, co-founder of San Francisco-based OTC desk Galois Capital.

The evolution is partly being driven by newer entrants to the sector, many of whom are tooled up with cutting-edge tech. Some, like Chicago-based Jump Trading, are from the traditional proprietary trading worlds. Others, such as Alameda Research, specialize in cryptocurrencies. 

And the changes are popular with big investors.

“I prefer to use electronic because all our algorithms are fully automated,” said Andrea Leccese, president of Bluesky Capital in New York, an investment firm that often runs orders of $ 5 million-$ 10 million through OTC desks. “If we can send our quote electronically to the OTC broker, it’s much better for us.” 

“It’s fair to say more or less half of OTC trading is going through technical innovation like making fully electronic platform, and that’s even better on our side.” 

Cryptocurrency regulation is patchy across the world, with curbs on the illegal use of digital coins the priority, and the implications of increasing automation in OTC trading are unclear. But, some market players say, because the changes are likely to attract more mainstream investment they could be a factor in speeding up the introduction of the kind of securities rules seen in traditional markets.

MACHINE VS MAN

While increasing automation may be inevitable, many OTC desks are in a bind. Some clients are loath to ditch the personal relationships they have established with their brokers and the apps they use to communicate.

New York-based Genesis Global Trading sees around $ 1 billion a month in volume, CEO Michael Moro said. While that’s down from the $ 2 billion-$ 2.5 billion a month during bitcoin’s 2017 boom, volumes are now rising between 10% and 20% a month.

Genesis uses TradeBlock, a New York firm that provides tools for trading cryptocurrencies, to execute its deals – but can’t completely abandon messaging apps.

“We will give market color over (Skype), but the actual transactions are over TradeBlock,” Moro said. “When your clients that are buying $ 5, $ 10 million say, ‘Hey, let’s just chat on Skype’, to get them to change their behavior and say, ‘No, we don’t do Skype’, you end up creating a friction.”

For the Fruhman brothers, personal relationships will remain key. 

“The plan is to go to an automated platform, where they’ll be able to request quotes on our front-end website,” said Dan. “But the interesting thing is that a lot of people actually like the human-to-human interaction.” 

“It’s not just ‘like’,” said Joel, quickly. “If you’re trading $ 20 million, you’re not clicking a button – you want to push on the price, you want to get a feel, you want to maybe break it up.”

“I think there’ll always be this human OTC component for institutional clients.”

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Forex News

Data regulator probes King’s Cross facial recognition tech

The facial-recognition system at King’s Cross is to be investigated by the UK’s data-protection watchdog.

Media exposure of live facial recognition at the site prompted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to look into how it was being used.

The ICO will inspect the technology in place and how it is operated to ensure it does not break data protection laws.

The regulator said it was “deeply concerned” about the growing use of facial-recognition technology.

Fair and transparent

The Financial Times was the first to report a live face-scanning system was being used across the 67-acre (0.3-sq-km) site around King’s Cross station in London.

Developer Argent said it used the technology to “ensure public safety” and it was just one of “a number of detection and tracking methods” in place at the site.

But the use of cameras and databases to work out who is passing through and using the site has proved controversial.

So far, Argent has not said how long it has been using facial-recognition cameras, what is the legal basis for their use, or what systems it has in place to protect the data it collects.

In its statement, the ICO said: “Scanning people’s faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives, in order to identify them, is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all.”

The regulator said it was keen to ensure that King’s Cross developer was using the technology in accordance with UK laws governing the use of data.

“Put simply, any organisations wanting to use facial recognition technology must comply with the law – and they must do so in a fair, transparent and accountable way,” said the ICO.

It must have documented how and why it believed its use of the technology was legal, proportionate and justified, it added.

Argent has not yet responded to a request for comment by BBC News.

The mayor of London is also quizzing developer Argent about its use of facial-recognition systems.

Sadiq Khan wrote to the company and said there was “serious and widespread concern” about the legality of facial recognition.

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BBC News – Technology

BoE looks to throw open doors to tech companies ahead of Brexit

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the Bank of England in the City of London © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the Bank of England in the City of London

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England opening up its balance sheet to payment companies and tech firms such as Facebook (NASDAQ:) would bolster Britain’s 7 billion pound ($ 9 billion) fintech sector just as it faces tougher competition from Europe after Brexit.

BoE Governor Mark Carney has said the Bank will consult next year on providing an “appropriate” level of access to its 500 billion pound balance sheet to new payment providers, putting them more on a par with the big banks that dominate payments.

If the BoE approves the move, it would be the first major central bank anywhere in the world to let non-banks have direct access to its coffers, making it potentially attractive to large technology companies expanding into payments such as Amazon (NASDAQ:) and Apple (NASDAQ:).

“The Governor’s promise to go further by opening (the BoE)balance sheet and access to the payments system could further cement London’s role as a key international fintech hub,” said Margaret Doyle, partner and head of financial services insights at Deloitte.

Banking analyst John Cronin said the Bank could also be taking out insurance if the rapid advances of technology at payment companies dent the ability of commercial banks to make enough money as payment companies.

“Arguably over the much longer term it could be seen as a defensive move if banks’ business models were to come under threat from Facebook’s Libra and others,” Goodbody analyst Cronin said.

“You can see how winners and losers emerge.”

Earlier this week Facebook announced plans to introduce a cryptocurrency called Libra, part of an effort to expand into digital payments.

RAPID CHANGE

Payments make up a significant element of fintech activity but collectively they have yet to match the central role of banks in operating the financial system’s plumbing.

Carney’s comments coincided with British finance minister Philip Hammond announcing a review of the payments landscape to make sure that regulation and infrastructure keep pace with the “dizzying array of new payments models”.

Currently only systemically important firms that are regulated to the same level as UK banks and are exposed to overnight liquidity risk – typically banks, broker-dealers and clearing houses – can access the central bank’s balance sheet.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency plans would turn it into a systemically important financial firm, Carney said.

If a payments company were granted access, it could park cash at the BoE overnight, meaning it would be less risky and rely less on commercial banks.

“Users should benefit from the reduced costs and increased certainty that come with banking at the central bank,” Carney said.

Britain’s government and financial regulators have been encouraging the fintech sector for several years, seeing it as a growth sector that already employs around 60,000 people.

The authorities are anxious to keep Britain at the cutting edge in an increasingly digitalized economy where electronic payments have already overtaken cash.

But Britain is due to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 and fintech firms in London have already expressed concerns they could be locked out of the EU market in future and unable to keep recruiting from the bloc.

UK regulators have been lauded by fintech firms for their flexibility in allowing new business models to be tested on real customers early on, but Berlin, Luxembourg and Paris are vying to attract firms from London by offering them access to the EU’s vast single market.

Charlotte Crosswell, chief executive of Innovate Finance, a fintech industry body, said opening access to new types of payment providers at the BoE shows a real coming of age moment for fintech.

“We are delighted that regulators are keeping in step with the times, as this approach has propelled the UK to the forefront of financial services innovation, and allowed us to consistently maintain that position,” Crosswell said.

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Texas Tech tops Michigan State, will now face Virginia in final

For those who thought Texas Tech only plays defense, it’s time to meet Matt Mooney. While the Red Raiders were locking down Michigan State on one end, the graduate transfer shooting guard was raining in 3s on the other, lifting Tech one win away from the title Saturday night with a 61-51 victory over the Spartans in the Final Four. 

It’s the first time Texas Tech will play in the natioanl championship. 

Mooney matched his season-high with 22 points, including three 3-pointers over the span of 3 minutes to give Texas Tech a 13-point lead midway through the second half that, under these circumstances, was too much to overcome.

Mooney’s first two shots in the stretch capped a 5-for-5 hot streak by Texas Tech that stood as the game’s only true blast of offense.

Texas Tech v Michigan State
Brandone Francis #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives to the basket against Xavier Tillman #23 of the Michigan State Spartans in the second half during the 2019 NCAA Final Four semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 6, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hannah Foslien / Getty Images

The rest of the game was a defensive slog, filled with air balls, blocked shots and clogged-up passing lanes. It was, to put it Texas Tech’s way, perfectly ugly. 

The Red Raiders (31-6) move onto Monday’s final to face Virginia, a 63-62 winner over Auburn in the earlier game.

Michigan State (32-7) leaves coach Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four with its seventh loss – the 2000 title is still the only time the Spartans have taken it all the way under their veteran coach.

But they did not go away easily.

After Mooney put them down by a baker’s dozen midway through the half, the Spartans trimmed it to 3. Matt McQuaid had a wide-open look from the corner – one of the very few on this night – to tie with 1:50 left, but the ball rimmed out and the Red Raiders pulled away.

Jarrett Culver (10 points, five boards) made one free throw on the next trip down, then Norense Odiase swiped the ball from MSU’s Xavier Tillman – one of Tech’s four steals on the night – and the Red Raiders worked the ball to Culver, who made his only 3 to push the lead to 58-51 and start the celebration.

The defense that led the nation in efficiency and held teams to under 37% shooting – second best in the county – held Michigan State to 31.9% from the floor.

Most tellingly, it stymied Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston. Yes, he led the Spartans with 16 points, but it came on 4-for-16 shooting, and he didn’t score his first second-half points until more than 10 minutes had elapsed – long after Mooney put this game out of reach.

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U.S. – CBSNews.com

Tennessee Tech hires Pelphrey as coach

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: University of South Alabama Jaguars head coach Pelphrey disagrees with official on call in his team's game in Jacksonville © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: University of South Alabama Jaguars head coach Pelphrey disagrees with official on call in his team’s game in Jacksonville

Tennessee Tech announced Saturday that it has hired John Pelphrey as its basketball coach.

Pelphrey served on Alabama’s coaching staff for the past three seasons. He was a former head coach at South Alabama (2002-07) and Arkansas (2007-11).

“It’s an honor and privilege to be at Tennessee Tech,” Pelphrey said in a school news release. “My family and I, and our staff, were looking for a place where we could go and learn, lead and take on challenges in college basketball. We’re very appreciative of (athletic director) Mark Wilson and his pursuit of us. We have complete confidence and trust in him.

“We love the alignment between him and President (Phil) Oldham and their vision for basketball at Tennessee Tech moving into the future, and we are very, very excited to be a part of that. We understand that there’s a lot of work to do, but we’re going to embrace that.”

Pelphrey, 50, replaces Steve Payne, who compiled a 118-134 in eight seasons. The Golden Eagles were just 8-23 this past season.

Pelphrey went 80-67 at South Alabama and made the NCAA Tournament in 2006 as his club finished 24-7. He went 20-12 the following season before departing for Arkansas.

The Razorbacks went 23-12 and made the NCAA Tournament in his first season (2007-08). But the team had losing campaigns the following two seasons and he went 69-59 in four seasons before being fired in March 2011.

Pelphrey played college basketball at Kentucky and averaged 11.0 points in 114 games (89 starts) over four seasons (1988-92).

–Field Level Media

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Sports and General News

Australia targets tech firms with ‘abhorrent material’ laws

Australia has passed controversial laws which could see tech companies face penalties – including jail for executives – if they host violent videos on their platforms.

The laws, billed as a probable world first, follow last month’s New Zealand mosque shootings which killed 50 people and were live-streamed by the gunman.

The Australian government said websites “should not be weaponised”.

Critics say the laws have been rushed through parliament without scrutiny.

The bill says tech firms could face penalties if they fail to remove “abhorrent violent material” quickly enough. Such content is defined to be terror attacks, murders, rapes, tortures and kidnappings.

The penalties include fines of up to A$ 10.5m (£5.6m; $ 7.5m), or 10% of annual turnover, according to the legislation. Company executives or those who “provide a content service” could face up to three years in jail.

The laws put the onus on firms to take down the content “expeditiously” – a term that is not further defined but would be ultimately determined by a jury, the government said.

Social media sites struggled to contain the video of the Christchurch attacks, which was copied onto the alt-right file-sharing site 8chan and then spawned 1.5 million copies.

Last week, Facebook said it would explore restrictions on live-streaming in the wake of that event.

Bill criticised

Prime Minister Scott Morrison proposed the laws for the first time last week.

The Labor opposition helped to pass the legislation on Thursday, despite describing it as “flawed”. It pledged to review the laws after Australia’s election, which is expected to take place next month.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the crackdown was “most likely a world first”.

“There are platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook who do not seem to take their responsibility to not show the most abhorrently violent material seriously,” he said on Thursday.

Mr Morrison met last week with social media executives, who have since criticised the bill – as have legal experts.

The Digital Industry Group, which represents several tech companies in Australia, said firms were already committed to removing violent content quickly.

“With the vast volumes of content uploaded to the internet every second, this is highly complex problem,” a spokeswoman said.

Legal experts warned that the law in its current form could lead to media censorship or prevent whistleblowers from sharing information.

“Laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences,” said the Law Council of Australia.

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BBC News – Technology

Tech Tent: Apple, Lyft and feel-good tech

I’ve got a proposition for you. Would you like to invest in my tech firm?

It’s never made a profit – oh, and there is the small matter of the $ 911m (£700m) it lost in 2018.

Come back….

Well, that sums up the fortunes of ride-share firm Lyft, a rival to Uber that isn’t yet in the UK.

And yet within minutes of its launch on the New York Stock Exchange (as Tech Tent went on-air) it had soared to a valuation of $ 30bn.

Annabelle Timsit, from the news website QZ, told me on the latest programme that investors “want to believe” that after a couple of years of investment Lyft will start to turn a profit – and early indications suggested that she was right as we watched the share price shoot up.

We also looked at Apple’s big announcements earlier this week – not a gadget in sight but a number of new or enhanced services, including a credit card with some pretty competitive offerings.

Are people sick of paying subscriptions, and why has Apple rushed out its TV streaming announcement without the details in place of how much it will cost?

Finally, from grandparents discovering Facetime to new mums finding new friends, we ended the programme on a positive note – looking at tech that’s genuinely served a good purpose.

The BBC’s Jane Wakefield highlighted the mapping start-up what3words which enabled the rescue of a mother and daughter in a car crash in a rural part of the UK.

Annabelle Timsit nominated a wearable device from the University of Switzerland that will help doctors monitor children with health conditions who live in remote areas.

As for me… I’m off to work on my investment proposition.

Rory Cellan-Jones returns next week.

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BBC News – Technology