Google to face $5bn privacy lawsuit as consumer craving for secrecy increases

Law firm Boies Schiller Flexner has filed a $5 billion class action lawsuit against Google in the Northern District of California for continuing to collect data while privacy mode is activated.

Alleging Google violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment, the law firm is suing on behalf of millions. Although $5 billion is a significant financial penalty to be fearful of, Google should perhaps be more worried of precedent as losing this case could open the door for other lawsuits in States with their own privacy laws.

The ruling of this lawsuit will boil down to one question; did Google illegally mislead users by overstating the privacy protection afforded when users activated ‘Incognito’, a mode which supposedly acts as an opt-out for data collection and analysis.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” the lawsuit states.

“Indeed, even when Google users launch a web browser with ‘private browsing mode’ activated (as Google recommends to users wishing to browse the web privately), Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information.”

Should the lawsuit be successful, the team would like to award $5,000 in damages to every user who has used Google’s ‘Incognito’ mode since June 1, 2016.


‘Incognito’ mode was first introduced to Google search functions in 2008 and is designed to allow users to browse the internet without Google Chrome remembering the activities. Although it sounds promising, what should be noted is that Google has always stated it is not an absolute protection from online tracking.

The following statement is taken from the Google ‘Incognito’ section of the website:

Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms. Files you download and bookmarks you create will be kept. Your activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.

The contentious issue is how much ‘Incognito’ mode was oversold to the user, with the Boies Schiller Flexner legal team believing Google misled users. Through applications and functions such as Google Ad Manager and Google Sign-In, the claim is that browsing information was still collected by the search giant despite assurances to the user it wouldn’t.

Of course, what is worth noting is that there is serious incentive for the collection of personal information. According to estimates (albeit, old estimates) from Tim Morey of digital strategy firm Frog, the value of different data segment vary quite significantly:

  • $240 – Social security number
  • $150 – Credit card information
  • $57 – Internet browsing history
  • $38 – Health history
  • $5.7 – Online purchasing history
  • $4.2 – Contact information

The question which is being asked today is whether all of these data collection and analysis strategies are being done legally.


One trend which is becoming increasingly more obvious is the desire for more privacy.

Earlier this week, Brave, a privacy-orientated search engine, said that monthly active users (MAUs) passed 15 million for the first time in May, a 125% increase year-on-year. These browsers also tend to be more engaged, with click-through rates of ads were as high as 9%.

Perhaps it is the dangers of the digital economy hitting home, finally, but users are becoming much more aware of their privacy rights. This is not good for business for the likes of Google and other internet giants where business models are moulded around information, but it does raise a few questions about the suitability of existing privacy laws:

Telecoms.com Poll – Should privacy rules be re-evaluated in light of a new type of society?
30% Yes, the digital economy requires a difference stance on privacy
41% The user should be given more choice to create own privacy rights
29% No, technology has changed but privacy principles are the same

One question which has not been properly addressed is whether the privacy rules which are being enforced today are suitable for the digital era?

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) were passed in 2018, ensuring rules in Europe were fit for purpose, but many countries are dictated by privacy rules and regulations written in a bygone era.

In this lawsuit against Google, the three laws mentioned could certainly be considered out of date:

  • The Federal Wiretap Act was actually written in 1968 and largely replaced by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
  • California’s Invasion of Privacy Act was first legislated in 1967, though there have been numerous updates, including the California Consumer Privacy Act in 2018
  • The Fourth Amendment was written in 1789 to protect the rights of citizens and prevent warrantless searches of their homes

Although all of these laws are theoretically in the same ballpark, they have been designed for analogue societies. Legal documents are full of nuances and loopholes and taking an example slightly out of context can create all sorts of problems. Today’s digital society is fundamentally different from the analogue era, making it difficult to apply existing laws perfectly.

A donkey might have four legs, a tail and eat hay, but that does not mean it will be at home in the starting gate at a racecourse.


There are plenty of ways the lawsuit against Google can fall apart, most notably as the lawyers on the offensive will have to demonstrate an extensive knowledge of the intricate operations within the search engine business to prove their points. This is an issue.

What you can also guarantee is that Google will throw plenty of legal resources at the case. These are seasoned professionals who have become very well accustomed to defending the internet giant.

Google will of course not want to pay the $5 billion penalty which is being sought by the lawyers championing this class action suit, a bigger consequence is precedent. If lawyers are successful in suing Google for breaking California laws, who is to say another firm would not raise the alarm in any one of the other 49 States which make up the USA.

The USA is a highly litigious country and precedent is a very powerful force in this community.

‘Remove China Apps’ was top of the Indian Android charts until Google removed it

China seems to be falling out with everyone these days, as symbolised by the popularity of an Indian app designed solely to help uninstall Chinese ones.

The FT reports that ‘Remove China Apps’ was taken down from the Google Play store because Google’s policies don’t allow apps that help people delete or disable other apps. Judging by the cached app page, which you can see a screenshot of below, the developer tried to get around that stipulation by insisting the app merely served to inform people of the country of origin of their apps. If so, they somewhat undermined that effort with the naming of the app.

Onetouch Applabs, which developed the app, managed evade the Android police for a week or two, however, in which time it was apparently downloaded five million times and was briefly at the top of the download chart. The most intriguing aspect of this story is not that the app was taken down, but that it was so instantly popular.

“The focus of the prime minister Narendra Modi’s fifth televised address on Covid-19 was ‘Atm Nirbhar Bharat’ or a self-reliant India,” explains the developer. “Remove China App will help people to support “Atm Nirbhar Bharat’ by identifying  the origin country of the applications installed in their mobile phones.” Modi doesn’t seem to have named China specifically, but there’s plenty of evidence that’s the country he’s most keen to be less reliant on.

At the end of April India moved to protect its domestic assets from Chinese acquisition. More recently there has been significant tension at a bit of disputed border between India and China, at the Galwan Valley. The belligerent in that dispute appears to have been China, which is especially keen on claiming random bits of land these days.

Symbolically, the Galwan Valley region is near the ancient Silk Road between China and Europe/Africa. China’s Belt and Road strategy takes its name from that and is generally viewed as an attempt at economic imperialism. With India growing increasingly hostile to China and the US ramping its own antagonism, the country is running out of people to do business with. Unfortunately China seems likely to double down on its own belligerence in response to this resistance, which makes a new global cold war ever more likely.

2020 will see a video conferencing profit boom, but it could be short-lived

Zoom might be riding a high for the moment, but unless it starts to add additional value into its products it will soon wither away to the realms of irrelevance.

Yesterday, June 2, Zoom announced its financial results for the three-month period ending April 30. Total revenues increased by 169% year-on-year, while the management team boasted of more than 265,000 customers with more than 10 employees, up 354% year-on-year.

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly been profitable for the video conferencing firm.

“We were humbled by the accelerated adoption of the Zoom platform around the globe in Q1,” said CEO Eric Yuan. “The COVID-19 crisis has driven higher demand for distributed, face-to-face interactions and collaboration using Zoom. Use cases have grown rapidly as people integrated Zoom into their work, learning, and personal lives.”

For some companies, the rapid shift in working behaviour has been a welcome change, and while some of these trends will remain permanent, what remains to be seen is whether the profits will be.

Telecoms.com Poll – Do you think your business will continue the current work from home dynamic once the coronavirus pandemic has passed?
34% Yes, we’ll be given the option to work as we please
25% Yes, but we’ll have to check into the office occasionally
4% No, but others job functions in the company will
6% No, can’t do my job properly unless in the office
6% No, my company is still not convinced by remote working

What has been made quite clear over the last few weeks is that the remote working dynamic will at least partly be embraced. The digital transformation programme companies have been strong-armed through has proven successful, economies have not ground to a halt through COVID-19, and even the most traditional (dated) managers would have to keep some of the new working practices.

Admittedly this is a small poll, but Gartner supports the outcome, suggesting that while 60% of meetings take place in-person today, this could drop to as little as 25% in 2024.

Employees are happier, productivity has been maintained and cost-savings can be realised with a more mobile workforce. What is there not to like?

But the question some suppliers will ask is how much money can be made in the future?

According to Gartner unified communications (UC) research, overall spending on video conferencing software will increase 24.3% in 2020. This is the second-fastest growing category in the UC market, only behind cloud-based telephony. Both of these surges can be easily explained by the coronavirus pandemic.

Worryingly for companies like Zoom, this growth is forecast to taper off in 2021, while are suspicions that cloud expenditure could be rationalised over the mid-term, effectively penalising niche suppliers who do not offer a portfolio of services.

When we spoke to Nick McQuire of CCS Insight, he highlighted that while increased cloud spend might be sustainable post-COVID-19 as mobility trends are embraced, there are likely to be rationalisation projects on the horizon. As many of the decisions made to enable remote working were likely to have been knee-jerk reactions, overlap within organisations could exist or decisions might have been poor ones.

These rationalisation programmes could manifest in numerous different ways. Centralised procurement could mean single suppliers are selected, contracts could be ended as better options are found, or free services could be bundled into existing commercial contracts as value adds.

The final possibility is one which should be feared by all nice software providers who specialise in single areas. Best in breed suppliers could be sacrificed at the altar of financial efficiency. You have to consider what is out there currently.

Zoom is a video conferencing service, with plans to offer a cloud-telephony service in addition, however it offers little else. Other companies will offer the same services, perhaps not as high a quality, but as long as a satisfactory experience is achievable this is a palatable concession for a bundled contract.

Google, for instance, has made its video conferencing services free for all. This is temporary, but it could be made free for corporate customers in the future bundled into a contract which also includes desktop virtualisation, cloud storage, data analytics and numerous other elements. Bundled contracts are generally cheaper for the customer, and Google would most likely be very accommodating.

GoToMeeting is another niche player in the video conferencing world, though it is part of the LogMeIn group which also offers desktop virtualisation and user authentication services. This is not as broad as a supplier like Google, but there is an opportunity to bundle. Another example of a niche service is BlueJeans, however this was recently acquired by Verizon and will certainly be bundled into larger connectivity contracts for enterprise customers.

During the recent earnings call, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said the business would continue to be ‘laser-focused’ on video and phone service, though competition should be welcomed to encourage innovation. Being the best in one area and little else is fine in a perfect scenario, but the world is very rarely in such a state. Decision makers will state that they will search for best in breed, but sometimes concessions have to be made. Budgets do exist after all and the ultimate objective is to make money.

This is the risk that niche providers will face. They could be muscled out of the market as enterprise decision makers elect for more cost-effective bundled service offerings. Such thinking would benefit the tech giants, but with a recession on the horizon it might be a trend we’ll have to get used to.

Google Cloud signs valuable procurement deal with UK Government

Google Cloud has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UK Crown Commercial Service, a step towards developing a supplier relationship with public sector organisations in the country.

While there might be some UK public sector organisations out there already working with the Google Cloud team, signing a deal with the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) could be considered a seal of approval from a higher bureaucratic power. It’s a valuable credibility badge to have when attempted to secure additional business from public sector customers.

“CCS provides commercial agreements which help organisations across the entire public sector save time and money on buying everyday goods and services,” said Simon Tse, Chief Executive of CCS.

“This MoU with Google Cloud unlocks large-scale business benefits for our customers and demonstrates CCS’s role in helping the public sector serve UK citizens in more innovative ways.”

While the MOU incorporates all services and products offered by the Google Cloud business, particular attention have been afforded to Anthos, a hybrid- and multi-cloud management tool. This is an interesting element of the announcement, as it allows Google to boast about its toolset to aid interoperability in an increasingly complex cloud environment.

This agreement might not seem anything more than a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but it could prove to be important. Theoretically, public sector organisations in the UK should aim to work companies which have been approved by or signed an MOU with CCS. The following is the organisation’s mission statement:

We’ve brought policy, advice and direct buying together in a single organisation to; make savings for customers in both central government and the wider public sector, achieve maximum value from every commercial relationship and improve the quality of service delivery for common goods and services across government

In a nutshell, the CCS is aiming to leverage the purchasing power of the UK public sector as a whole, negotiating discount rates and creating standardised contracts. Of course this will dynamic will not work perfectly, and there will be those who ignore the correct procedures, but it could be viewed as an edge over rivals.

Looking through the suppliers listed on the Digital Marketplace, it is an exhaustive list but there are some very big omissions. Google has made it, as has Oracle, perhaps owing to legacy business relationships, but Amazon Web Services and Microsoft do not feature.

If the world is to become more defined by cloud computing, the wrestling match to secure valuable contracts will require every advantage which is possibly available. This MOU with the CCS could certainly prove to be one for Google in its scrap with the other cloud segment leaders.

What is worth noting is that being listed on the Digital Marketplace as a supplier might not mean much. There are several Government departments and agencies offering very lucrative contracts to companies who are not listed.

The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Ministry of Justice are high-profile AWS customers, while Microsoft counts the Department for Education, the BBC and Kent County Council as its own. Microsoft Azure is also being used to power the UK’s controversial contact tracing app being used to track and combat COVID-19.

Interestingly enough, what this does demonstrate is Google’s success in monetizing its higher-value services on top of cloud computing basics.

Nick McQuire, of analyst firm CCS Insight, highlighted that Google Cloud does lag behind rivals AWS and Microsoft for UK cloud market share, being viewed as more of a ‘backup’ service provider in a multi-cloud market, but this could change.

“What we are seeing now however is the market shifting more rapidly to Google’s higher-level services on top of compute and storage such as its data, analytics, AI and it’s hybrid multi-cloud management offerings for Kubernetes in Anthos,” said McQuire.

“So, it’s no surprise this announcement reflects this trend. But above all, it highlights that the market is very much in a hybrid multi-cloud picture but no doubt the move is a big boost for Google in the government sector, a segment where we have seen AWS and Microsoft push more aggressively towards in the past.”

Whether this agreement is viewed as merely symbolic or not, it is perhaps evidence that Google is being considered more on level terms with its rivals. This is not to say public sector organisations will not be just as tempted to go with AWS or Microsoft, neither of whom are featured on the Digital Marketplace, but credibility is the first step toward profitability for Google. This is perhaps want this MOU is more than anything else.


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Making Sense of the Telco Cloud

In recent years the cloudification of communication networks, or “telco cloud” has become a byword for telecom modernisation. This Telecoms.com Intelligence Monthly Briefing aims to analyse what telcos’ transition to cloud means to the stakeholders in the telecom and cloud ecosystems. Before exploring the nooks and crannies of telco cloud, however, it is worthwhile first taking an elevated view of cloud native in general. On one hand, telco cloud is a subset of the overall cloud native landscape, on the other, telco cloud almost sounds an oxymoron. Telecom operator’s monolithic networks and cloud architecture are often seen as two different species, but such impressions are wrong.

(Here we are sharing the opening section of this Telecoms.com Intelligence special briefing to look into how telco cloud has changing both the industry landscape and operator strategies.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.)

What cloud native is, and why we need it

“Cloud native” have been buzz words for a couple of years though often, like with many other buzz words, different people mean many different things when they use the same term. As the authors of a recently published Microsoft ebook quipped, ask ten colleagues to define cloud native, and there’s good chance you’ll get eight different answers. (Rob Vettor, Steve “ardalis” Smith: Architecting Cloud Native .NET Applications for Azure, preview edition, April 2020)

Here are a couple of “cloud native” definitions that more or less agree with each other, though with different stresses.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), an industry organisation with over 500 member organisations from different sectors of the industry, defines cloud native as “computing (that) uses an open source software stack to deploy applications as microservices, packaging each part into its own container, and dynamically orchestrating those containers to optimize resource utilization.”

Gabriel Brown, an analyst from Heavy Reading, has a largely similar definition for cloud native, though he puts it more succinctly. For him, cloud native means “containerized micro-services deployed on bare metal and managed by Kubernetes”, the de facto standard of container management.

Although cloud native has a strong inclination towards containers, or containerised services, it is not just about containers. An important element of cloud native computing is in its deployment mode using DevOps. This is duly stressed by Omdia, a research firm, which prescribes cloud native as “the first foundation is to use agile methodologies in development, building on this with DevOps adoption across IT and, ideally, in the organization as well, and using microservices software architecture, with deployment on the cloud (wherever it is, on-premises or public).”

Some would argue the continuous nature of DevOps is as important to cloud native as the infrastructure and containerised services. Red Hat, an IBM subsidiary and one of the leading cloud native vendors and champions for DevOps practices, sees cloud native in a number of common themes including “heavily virtualized, software-defined, highly resilient infrastructure, allowing telcos to add services more quickly and centrally manage their resources.”

These themes are aligned with the understanding of cloud native by Telecoms.com Intelligence, and this report will discuss cloud native and telco cloud along this line. (A full Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider at Red Hat can be found at the end of this report).

The main benefits of cloud native computing are speed, agility, and scalability. As CNCF spells it out, “cloud native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs exemplify this approach. These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.”

To adapt such thinking to the telecom industry, the gains from migrating to cloud native are primarily a reflection of, and driven by, the increasing convergence between network and IT domains. The first candidate domain that cloud technology can vastly improve on, and to a certain degree replace the heavy infrastructure, is the support for the telcos’ own IT systems, including the network facing Operational Support Systems and customer facing Business Support System (OSS and BSS).

But IT cloud alone is far from what telcos can benefit from the migration to cloud native. The rest of this report will discuss how telcos can and do embark on the journey to cloud native, as a means to deliver true business benefits through improved speed, agility, and scalability to their own networks and their customers.

The rest of the report include these sections:

  • The many stratifications of telco cloud
  • Clouds gathering on telcos
  • What we can expect to see on the telco cloud skyline
  • Telco cloud openness leads to agility and savings — Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider, Red Hat
  • Additional Resources

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.

Google looking at Vodafone Idea investment – report

Google is rumoured to be considering an investment in struggling Indian telco Vodafone Idea as Facebook positions itself for an assault on the market.

India has long been held in high regard for the potential of its economy, but this promise has often failed to translate into profits. Hope has been renewed with Reliance Jio democratising connectivity across the country, and it seems to be getting US investors excited.

According to reports in the Financial Times, Google is looking at an investment in the struggling Vodafone Idea, as much as 5%, as a pathway to Indian riches.

Some have suggested Google’s parent company was considering an investment in Reliance Jio, though these rumours are highly unlikely to progress any further with Facebook’s investment in the disruptive telco. That said, an investment in Vodafone Idea would be a very interesting transaction.

Firstly, Google would like to enter the Indian market. Reliance Jio has forced rivals to re-evaluate tariffs, opening-up connectivity to the masses. Democratised connectivity is a remarkable opportunity for Silicon Valley, one which is not being ignored by anyone else. Google has numerous business units which would benefit; balloons to offer connectivity in rural environments, a cloud computing unit and mobile-native applications from search to video and payments.

Secondly, Vodafone Idea needs input, both financially and operationally. It is facing a considerable spectrum bill from the Government and parent company Vodafone has said it would not be contributing anymore funds. Operationally, something has to change if it is to compete with Reliance Jio and bringing in one of the worlds’ most innovative companies would certainly be a step forward.

This could be a cut-price opportunity for Google to get a solid foot through India’s front door at a time where the market potential is looking very attractive.


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Arizona Attorney General sues Google for misleading data collection practices

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has filed a lawsuit against Google for what he describes as ‘deceptive and unfair’ methods to secure valuable personal data.

While it is hardly unusual for Google to find itself on the wrong side of right when it comes to data collection and privacy practices, registering the attention of a single Attorney General could be a worrying start. These lawyers have a tendency to swarm around an adversary, collecting support from counterparts in other states. Simply look at how easily New York Attorney General Letitia James rallied disciples in failed opposition to the T-Mobile US and Sprint mega-merger, as well as a previous antitrust case against Google.

“While Google users are led to believe they can opt-out of location tracking, the company exploits other avenues to invade personal privacy,” said Brnovich. “It’s nearly impossible to stop Google from tracking your movements without your knowledge or consent. This is contrary to the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act and even the most innovative companies must operate within the law.”

The basis of this lawsuit is whether Google is acting with the rules set forth in Arizona consumer law. Brnovich details that the majority of Google’s revenues are derived from the collection of valuable personal information, though he also claims it is often done without the users’ consent or knowledge.

In 2018, the Associated Press ran an article which claimed Google was continuing to collect data even when the user explicitly removed consent. This practice seemingly carried on until the mid-2018’s and forms the basis of the case for Arizona. However, this is only the tip of the spear.

Following a two-year investigation, the Arizona Attorney General office has filed a 50-page complaint against Google in the Maricopa County Superior Court. Featuring internal documents, under-oath testimony from Google employees, as well as external opinions from academia condemning the activities.

A significant proportion of the information has been redacted and will be examined in private, thanks to confidentiality claims from Google, but the State lawyers will be pushing for more to be made public. Over the course of the next few weeks this could be a very interesting case to keep an eye on as details of the internal workings of Google are potentially exposed. Few people genuinely understand how Google works, so this could be very illuminating.

This will be an interesting case, though Brnovich will have to rally some support very quickly. The privacy advocacy organisations are remaining quiet for the moment, as are other politicians and Attorney Generals. That might change by this afternoon as our transatlantic cousins wake up but fighting the powerful Google legal department solo is unlikely to end well for Arizona’s Attorney General.

Apple and Google release jointly developed exposure notification API

Just over a month after they started working on it, Apple and Google have made their COVID-fighting framework available to public health authorities.

The key to using smartphones for exposure notification and contract tracing is giving them the ability to constantly sense each other. This is best done through Bluetooth LE, but both iOS and Android prevent apps from using Bluetooth unless they’re active, so a special workaround is required. That has been built into this framework, but is only available to apps that use it.

“Starting today, our exposure notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android,” said a joint statement from the companies. “What we’ve built is not an app—rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better.

“Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.”

The Verge reports that three US states (the response is much more decentralised over there) are already working on apps that use the framework. That piece also contains some handy explanations and links about the underlying tech and privacy implications. Apparently a total of 22 countries have received access to the API.

Turning this around so quickly is a good effort from Apple and Google, as was their quick decision to put business rivalry to the side for the time being, but then this sort of thing is one of their core competencies. The same can’t be said for health agencies, which is why the hubris of those, like the NHS in the UK, is so frustrating. They should stop trying to reinvent the wheel and go with the best technology available, which is almost certainly this.

Major blow for Google and Apple as Rogan podcast moves exclusively to Spotify

The streaming wars have opened a major new front with the news that Spotify has lured the Joe Rogan Experience away from YouTube and iTunes.

For those unfamiliar with the JRE podcast, it is the defining long-form, open discussion show, featuring completely unstructured conversations between host Joe Rogan and usually one other guest. As a comedian and martial arts commentator, those two topics are covered frequently, but the guest list is very eclectic, ranging from academics to politicians to showbiz figures.

JRE has 8.4 million subscribers on Google-owned YouTube and while that’s a massive number it’s nowhere near the top of the list of all YouTube subscribers. But if you strip out the music and TV brands, it must be right up there. The real traffic for podcasts, however, is from audio streams and downloads, which Rogan himself estimates are around ten times greater that video views. The biggest single platform for that is probably Apple iTunes, on which JRE is the second biggest in the US.

The raw numbers only tell half the story, however, with Rogan’s cultural influence extending even further, especially in the US. US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders used a claimed Rogan endorsement for political capital at the start of this year while, more recently, Rogan’s negative assessment of the eventual winner of the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, sent shockwaves across the country and beyond. Most recently, his criticism of how California is handling the coronavirus lockdown seems to have made many residents consider fleeing the state.

So for Spotify to lure Rogan away from these two internet giants with a deal that will be exclusive from the start of next year is a major victory and a significant blow to its competitors. The WSJ reports that it cost Spotify $100 million, which is serious money. While that’s great news for Rogan, we will probably never know if it pays off for Spotify, but if Netflix (where you can find Rogan’s excellent standup) is anything to go by, paying for big names is the way forward.

As you may have gathered your correspondent is a big fan of JRE. At a time when public discussion seems to be more shrill, polarised and dumbed-down than ever, Rogan offers the kind of honest, nuanced, agenda-free discussion that is desperately needed. JRE fans not currently on Spotify will have some serious thinking to do at the start of the year and the Swedish streaming giant is betting a lot of the new users Rogan brings will upgrade to premium services.

The only thing that could go wrong is for Spotify to in any way try to alter the format or censor the often colourful content. Netflix hasn’t and it would be very surprising for Rogan to agree to any such interference. “While Spotify will become the exclusive distributor of JRE, Rogan will maintain full creative control over the show,” assures the Spotify announcement.

To date the streaming wars have largely focused on video content, but this move brings audio to the fore. Once people start commuting again, podcasts will be more important than ever and it increasingly looks like you need to be a Spotify user if you want access to the best ones.

Incidentally the only pod more popular than JRE in the US is currently in the middle of a drama over switching platforms. It may be no coincidence the YouTube recently lured its biggest star, PewDiePie, back from a rival platform. In these fractious times, authenticity has become a precious commodity, one that the internet giants are prepared to pay top dollar for.


Finland joins the quest for quantum computing strengths

The Technical Research Centre of Finland is going to build the country’s first quantum computer, joining a growing European contingent to compete at the front of next generation computing technology.

VTT, Finland’s state-owned Technical Research Centre (Teknologian tutkimuskeskus VTT Oy) announced that it will design and build the country’s first quantum computer, in partnership with “progressive Finnish companies from a variety of sectors”, aiming to “bolster Finland’s and Europe’s competitiveness” in this cutting-edge technology.

“In the future, we’ll encounter challenges that cannot be met using current methods. Quantum computing will play an important role in solving these kinds of problems,” said Antti Vasara, CEO of VTT. Referring to the country’s challenge of post-COVID-19 recover, Vasara said “it’s now even more important than ever to make investments in innovation and future technologies that will create demand for Finnish companies’ products and services.”

The multi-year project, with a total cost estimated about €20-25 million, will run in phases. The first checkpoint will be about a year from now, when VTT targets to “get a minimum five-qubit quantum computer in working order”, it said in the press release. Qubit, or “quantum bit”, is the basic information unit in quantum computing, analogous to binary digit, or “bit”, in classical computing.

In all fairness, this is a modest target on a modest budget. To put the 5-qubit target into perspective, by late last year, Google claimed that its quantum computer had achieve 53-qubit computing power. It could perform a task in 200 seconds that would take Summit, one of IBM’s supercomputers, 2.5 days by IBM’s own admission. By the time of writing, VTT has not responded to Telecoms.com’s question on the project’s ultimate target.

When it comes to budget, the VTT amount is easily dwarfed by the more ambitious projects. Although the most advanced quantum computers in the world are developed and run by the leading American technology companies and academic institutions, for example the MIT, IBM, and Google. But other parts of the world are quickly building their own facilities, including businesses and universities in Japan, India, China, and Europe. One of the high-profile cases recently is IBM’s decision to build Europe’s first commercial quantum computer in German’s state-backed research institute in Fraunhofer, near Stuttgart.

In addition to getting closer to and better serving the European markets in the future, IBM’s decision to build a quantum computer in Europe is also to do with GDPR requirement. While European businesses can use IBM’s quantum computer located in the US, through the cloud, they may hesitate when sending user data outside of the EU. The Fraunhofer project has been personally endorsed by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. The federal government has pledged €650 million investment for quantum computing, though not in the Fraunhofer project alone.

When it comes to quantum computing applications in the communications industry, at least two areas it can have strong impact. The first is security. Quantum computing will enable new modes of cryptography. The second is new materials. Daimler, the carmaker, has already used IBM’s quantum computers to design new batteries for its electric cars by simulating the complex molecule level chemistry inside the battery cells. On top of batteries, another research topic in new materials in the communications industry is to find silicon replacement as semiconductor in extremely high radio spectrums.

Despite its modest scope, the VTT undertaking is significant. Not only does it give Finland the right to boast of being the first Nordic country to build its own quantum computer, the success of the project would “provide Finland with an exceptional level of capabilities in both research and technology”. Faced with the worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nordic nation is looking to technology breakthroughs for sustainable revival and long-term competitiveness. Quantum computing capability of this project, if not pursuing supremacy, limited by its scope, may at least give Finland the table stake.