Four more States stand in the way of Sprint/T-Mobile merger

With each week that passes, it seems to be getting more and more difficult for Sprint and T-Mobile US. Now, four State Attorney Generals have attempted to block the move.

Officially, the 180-day stop-clock which the FCC gives itself to approve any industry transactions has hit 202, and that doesn’t include the ‘pause’ it gave itself. And while the FCC might be taking things at a leisurely pace, it seems the Attorney General Offices around the US are building up a head-of-steam.

Two weeks ago, New York Attorney General Letitia James launched her campaign against the merger, questioning the logic and evidence used to promote the promises of increased competition, a faster 5G rollout or cheaper tariffs across the country. And she seems to have stuck a chord with counterparts in numerous other states.

Initially, James had the support of nine states, but with Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Nevada adding themselves to the suit, the total number of states as plaintiffs is now fourteen.

“The merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would stifle competition, cut jobs, and harm vulnerable consumers from across the country, so unity among the states will be key in defending our citizens against this power-hungry corporate union,” James said.

“We welcome the support from these four additional states, which should serve as a reminder that, all throughout the nation, we have much to lose if we do not take action to protect our people from this megamerger.”

And while this might look bad enough for Sprint and T-Mobile executives, it could get a lot worse. Over the last couple of weeks, letters have been submitted from an additional six Attorney Generals, telling the FCC investigations have begun to check the legality of the merger. Those states yet to declare are Pennsylvania (letter submitted June 5), Arizona (June 5), Delaware (June 18), Nebraska (June 18), Indiana (June 20) and Texas (June 21).

What is worth noting is that there does seem to be somewhat of a political split in in terms of objections here. All of the 14 Attorney Generals who have joined the suit so far are sitting in the Democrat camp. Of the six who are currently conducting investigations, two more are Democrat (Delaware and Pennsylvania) while four sit in the opposing Republican party (Texas, Indiana, Nebraska and Arizona).

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is objecting on the grounds of reduced competition, Minnesota AG Keith Ellison is attempting to protect jobs and lower prices, Hawaii’s AG Clare Connors didn’t say anything, and Nevada AG Aaron Ford simply said nothing of genuine value.

The most common theme with these objections seems to be focused on the idea of competition. Although T-Mobile and Sprint argue there is a need for more competition in the market, the AGs don’t seem to think so, or at least this isn’t the way to go about it. T-Mobile CEO John Legere might condemn the ‘duopoly’ which has formed at the head of the telco rankings, however the numbers do not lie.

Coverage is increasing, ARPU is coming down and the US should have all four of the major MNOs in the 5G world before the vast majority of other nations around the world. Things could be better in this market of course, but the trends seem to be heading in the right direction. This is a point which has been raised by the AGs; if it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it.

Unfortunately for Sprint and T-Mobile, the argument of decreasing the number of telcos to increase competition flies in the face of logic, especially when you are removing the two cheapest options from the market. Of course, telecommunications is a capital-intensive segment to operate in, scale is very important, as is access to more valuable spectrum. But, the general consensus in the telco world is more providers is a better approach not less.

There will of course be incredibly loud voices on both sides of the argument, but logic lies with the AGs here. This is not to say the FCC will agree, but overarching trends argue against the need for Sprint and T-Mobile to merge.

New York rages against T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Things are already looking dicey for the proposed merger between T-Mobile US and Sprint, and then New York’s Attorney General wades into the saga with scathing opinions.

“This is exactly the sort of consumer-harming, job-killing megamerger our antitrust laws were designed to prevent,” said Attorney General Letitia James.

Support for the merger is pretty rare nowadays, though James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have filed a multi-State lawsuit to add more fuel to the flames. In total, ten States have been included in the lawsuit, compounding the headaches induced by an already prolonged approval process.

The omens are not looking particularly positive for T-Mobile US and Sprint.

“When it comes to corporate power, bigger isn’t always better,” said James. “The T-Mobile and Sprint merger would not only cause irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide by cutting access to affordable, reliable wireless service for millions of Americans, but would particularly affect lower-income and minority communities here in New York and in urban areas across the country.

“That’s why we are going to court to stop this merger and protect our consumers, because this is exactly the sort of consumer-harming, job-killing megamerger our antitrust laws were designed to prevent.”

T-Mobile US and Sprint are promising a cheaper and faster service, as well as a challenge to the dominance of AT&T and Verizon, but this isn’t enough to convince the legal heavyweights. It’s the same argument which is evident throughout the world of mergers and acquisitions; four to three does not encourage optimism.

Perhaps the most damning argument against the merger is market trends over the last decade. According to the US Labor Department, the average cost of mobile service has fallen by roughly 28% over the last decade, while mobile data consumption has grown rapidly. T-Mobile US and Sprint might argue a merger is better in the long-run for competition, but there is an old saying; if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

With four telcos competing for valuable post-paid subscriptions, the consumer does appear to be winning. Tariffs are expensive in the US, though they are becoming cheaper. Another interesting aspect to the lawsuit points to some skulduggery from the duo.

The Attorneys General’s investigation into the merger found that many of the claimed benefits were unverifiable and could only be delivered years into the future, if ever. Specifically, the AG’s are referring to the lightening speeds promised and the ease at which the duo believes a 5G network can be rolled out nationwide. This isn’t necessarily stating it is not possible, just that the claim is not supported by evidence.

For a decision which is likely going to be based on evidence provided, this is a very simple, but powerful argument for blocking the merger.

Supreme Court opens the legal floodgates on Apple

Apple is potentially on the verge of facing a tidal wave of lawsuits as the Supreme Court agrees the iLeader is allowed to be challenged on a potential abuse of power in the app economy.

The pivotal case the Supreme Court has been ruling on is Apple vs. Pepper. Robert Pepper and other plaintiffs, various iPhone owners, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple claiming the firm monopolised the app market through the App Store, with developer licence fees and the 30% commission ultimately driving the price up for consumers.

One the other side of the argument, Apple suggested iPhone owners were actually customers of the developers, while the developers were customers of Apple. This nuanced argument leans on legal precedent set in doctrine known as Illinois Brick where ‘indirect purchasers’ of a product don’t have the power to file antitrust cases. In distancing itself from the end-user in the app economy, Apple was hoping to protect itself.

In the first instance, the district court ruled in favour of Apple, dismissing the case, while the Ninth Circuit Court reversed the decision, ruling that consumers are purchasing from Apple not the developers. The fight was then escalated up to the Supreme Court, with the highest legal battleground in the US ruling 5-4 in favour of the iPhone owners.

What is worth noting is this is not a ruling which states Apple’s App Store is a monopoly, but a decision which allows users to file antitrust lawsuits against the iLeader. It’s a step towards another legal headache but is by no means a sign of guilt.

For Apple, this will come as an unwanted distraction as it attempts to scale it software and services business, in which the App Store is a key cog. The last few years have seen the Apple team attempt to create a more balanced business, with less of a reliance on the staggering hardware segment and reaping the rewards of the blossoming software world.

This decision from the Supreme Court might not assign guilt to Apple, but it certainly creates a monumental migraine. Such is the lawsuit culture in the US it won’t be long before miffed customers just on the bandwagon in pursuit of compensation.

Facebook faces hyper-targeted advertising lawsuit

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has lodged a lawsuit against Facebook, challenging the hyper-targeted big data model which has made OTTs billions over the years.

Quoting the Fair Housing Act, the HUD has claimed Facebook is breaking the law by encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing and housing-related services, including online advertisements. Facebook’s advertising platform is said to discriminate individuals based on race, colour, national origin, religion, sex, disability and familial status, violating the Act.

“Even as we confront new technologies, the fair housing laws enacted over half a century ago remain clear – discrimination in housing-related advertising is against the law,” said General Counsel Paul Compton.

“Just because a process to deliver advertising is opaque and complex doesn’t mean that it’s exempts Facebook and others from our scrutiny and the law of the land. Fashioning appropriate remedies and the rules of the road for today’s technology as it impacts housing are a priority for HUD.”

Complaints were originally raised by the HUD last summer, though the two parties have been in discussions to come to some sort of settlement to avoid legal action. Reading between the lines, talks have broken down or the HUD leadership team wants to give the impression it is taking a more hardened stance against the social media segment.

Although it should come as little surprise Facebook is facing a lawsuit considering the ability for Mark Zuckerberg to stumble from one blunder to the next, this one effectively challenges the foundations of the business model. Hyper-targeted advertising is the core not only of Facebook’s business, but numerous other companies which have emerged as the dawn breaks on the blossoming data-sharing economy.

What is worth noting is this is not the first time Facebook has faced such criticisms. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also challenged the social media giant, and earlier this month Facebook stating it was changing the way its advertising platform was set up to prevent abuses with the targeting features.

“One of our top priorities is protecting people from discrimination on Facebook,” said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “Today, we’re announcing changes in how we manage housing, employment and credit ads on our platform. These changes are the result of historic settlement agreements with leading civil rights organizations and ongoing input from civil rights experts.”

As a result of the clash with the ACLU and other parties, Facebook agreed to remove any gender, age and race-based targeting from housing and employment adverts, creating a one-stop portal instead.

According to the HUD, Facebook allows advertisers to exclude individuals from messaging based on where they live and their societal status. For example, whether someone is a parent or non-American, these categories have been deemed discriminatory. Facebook also allows advertisers to effectively zone off neighbourhoods for campaigns, which is also deemed a violation of the Act. By bringing together data from the digital platform and other insight from non-digital means, HUD is effectively challenging the legitimacy of digital and targeted advertising.

As with other similar cases, the HUD is bringing attention to the light-touch regulatory landscape for the internet economy. While traditional advertising is held accountable by strict rules, the internet operates with relative freedom. This is partly down to the age of mass market media online, it is still comparatively new, and the fact few bureaucrats understand how the data machines work.

What is worth noting is that this is an incredibly narrow focus for the HUD, though should it be successful the same concepts could be applied, and other elements of the Facebook hyper-targeted advertising model could be challenged.

Facebook might be the target here, though many companies will be watching this case with intrigue. Precedent is a powerful tool in the legal and regulatory world, and should the HUD win, the same business model which is being applied elsewhere would be compromised also.

Qualcomm pays $1.5bn to ban some iPhone sales in Germany

Qualcomm has elected to post $1.5 billion as a security bond to enable the enforcement of remedies ordered by the Munich District Court blocking the sale of iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models in Germany.

The ban comes as the latest chapter of the long-running Qualcomm-Apple legal saga, with the chipmaker finding success in its copyright infringement claim in Germany. On December 20 the District Court of Munich decided Apple had in fact infringed Qualcomm’s technology for power savings in the older models and ordered the company to halt all sales in Germany.

Although the ruling was make a couple of weeks ago, the bond itself makes the ban official, allowing the court to pay Apple for any damages incurred should it be able to successfully appeal against the ruling. Apple has already stated it will appeal the ban and will also stop selling the devices at its 15 retail locations across the country.

But this doesn’t seem to be good enough for Qualcomm.

“Apple was ordered to cease the sale, offer for sale and importation for sale of all infringing iPhones in Germany,” Qualcomm said in a statement. “The Court also ordered Apple to recall infringing iPhones from third party resellers in Germany.”

This is one of the elements of interpretation in the case. Apple will continue to ship devices to third-parties to sell, only ceasing sales at its own retail locations. Qualcomm lawyers read the ruling differently however, suggesting this is a blanket ban on all iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 devices across the country, third-party retailers included.

For Apple, this is just a bad end to a bad week. Having just reduced its guidance for what traditionally is its strongest quarter in the year, a sales ban in a large, developed market is not ideal. Some suggest it has nothing to worry about considering these are older models, though cash conscious consumers are more alert to bargains than ever before and the iLeader seemingly pushed the pricing boat too far with the ridiculously priced iPhone X.

For Qualcomm, assuming it can fight to have the ruling upheld, this is a massive win. Precedent is a very powerful concept in the legal world and this might well be an order which it can use as evidence for additional ruling in other markets. The legal battle between the two has certainly been a long one, but this ruling has handed the Qualcomm team a bit of additional incentive.

Looking at the wider patent dispute, a similar case has been heard in China, were Apple has been told to stop importing the infringing models while Qualcomm is also pushing the case in the US. Qualcomm has the better of the early exchanges, though it will be the US ruling which will dictate the winner of this battle ultimately.

Washington DC takes Zuckerberg to court

The Attorney General for the District of Columbia has filed a lawsuit against Facebook on the grounds of failing to protect user’s privacy and enabling one of the biggest digital scandals to date.

It was only going to be a matter of time before one of the Attorney Generals took the opportunity to take Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies to court, the big question which remains is how many of them will do so. The Cambridge Analytica scandal might be old news in the eyes of the consumer nowadays, but the lawyers aren’t forgetting about it. Blood has been smelt and Washington DC is going to have the first bite.

“Facebook failed to protect the privacy of its users and deceived them about who had access to their data and how it was used,” said Attorney General Karl Racine.

“Facebook put users at risk of manipulation by allowing companies like Cambridge Analytica and other third-party applications to collect personal data without users’ permission. Today’s lawsuit is about making Facebook live up to its promise to protect its users’ privacy.”

The lawsuit itself relates back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, focusing on Facebook’s inability to meet expectations and commitments when it comes to data protection and privacy, but also the firm’s role in allowing the 2016 Presidential Election to be manipulated. It’s the permission to use data, or lack thereof, which is the big issue here. Cambridge Analytica harvested the data and sold it onto a political consulting firm, none of which it was entitled to do.

This is perhaps one of the biggest grey areas of the digital economy as while technology firms have streamed ahead in how data can be commercialised, rule makers have struggled to keep pace. Firms like Facebook has taken advantage of this regulatory void but cases like this will aim to hold them accountable retrospectively.

This is one of the most difficult things about innovation. Because these firms are playing with new ideas for the first time there is no precedent to where the line between right and wrong should be. In most cases, this would be an effective defence, as while most governments will of course want to protect citizens, they will also want to encourage innovation and exploration. In this case however, Facebook might not be able to lean on this idea.

Recent documents released by the UK government demonstrate not only that Facebook was aware there might unethical and illegal aspects to these practises, but that this knowledge went from the bottom to the top of the organization. The internal emails, which were secured by Six4Three during its own lawsuit against Facebook, paint a very deceptive and nefarious picture of the firm, with no regard to the opinion or privacy of the user.

Facebook is in a hole right now, which seems to be getting deeper and deeper. While it cannot shake off the Cambridge Analytica scandal, new controversies are being thrown at the platform, including the most recent claim. Rumbling through the world as we speak are claims Facebook granted certain technology companies, such as Netflix and Spotify, access to user’s private messages.

Facebook will of course end up in court and considering it has admitted wrong-doing on several occasions, there will be heavy punishments laid out. One of the big questions which remain is how many of the Attorney Generals across the US will bring their own lawsuit forward.

Google faces lawsuit for snooping which would even embarrass spooks

One Napoleon wanted to conquer the Commonwealth Empire, but this one only wants to topple Google. We’re not too sure which mission is more difficult.

San Diego resident Napoleon Patacsil has filed a lawsuit against Google following the revelation the internet giant was continuing to track user location after the user had opted out from location tracking services. Patacsil is suing for unspecified damages and class-action status on behalf of US users. The San Francisco court will first have to decide whether he has a case, and then whether he can take forward the class action suit.

“Google itself assured individuals that they could prevent Google from tracking them by disabling a feature called ‘location history’ on their devices,” the filing reads. “Google represented that a user ‘can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the place you go are no longer stored’. This is simply not true.”

The filing claims Google’s conduct falls short of reasonable expectations of not only privacy, but the trust which is placed in a business in a valuable position in the data economy. The privacy debacle could lead Google down a path towards PR disaster, though should the firm be found to be directly misleading users, this could evolve into a completely new saga.

While it does appear Google has quietly altered the support page detailing it might still collect location data since the revelation, there might be a way for Google to squirm out of any wrong doing. We suspect Google has given itself permission to continue to collect data, despite the opt-out, in terms of use. It would like be buried down, and thanks to some creative legal work, it might not have to have told users it was making the changes. As users accept the terms and conditions before using a device, they have effectively opted-in.

That said, explicitly telling the user it would not collect data is directly misleading. This is a massive no-no when it comes to consumer confidence, ethical behaviour and what the company can do legally. There might be a few regulators throughout the US keeping an eye on the situation here. An investigation would not be a massive surprise.

While multi-national corporations making money by any means possible is nothing new, the Silicon Valley firms have always considered themselves above such human desires. These were companies which only existed to make our lives better, and they certainly had the advertising budgets to tell us how wonderful they actually are. The last couple of months are starting to create an image of Silicon Valley firms similar to the investment banks who caused the financial collapse in 2008.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica saga, alongside Twitter’s initial refusals to silence Infowar’s resident lunatic Alex Jones, Google’s war-mongering ambitions for AI and this Big Brother impression are not doing Silicon Valley’s reputation any favours.

Blackberry sues Facebook – has it just given up on tech?

Blackberry is taking Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to court for patent infringement relating to messaging apps. We wonder if Blackberry has just given up on tech in favour of a litigious business model.

Of course there are still areas of the Blackberry business where it is developing technology, but the brand on the whole is becoming less and less relevant to today’s society. Such is its relevance, the company is hitting the headlines far more often in cases where it is taking another business to court than for its technology breakthroughs.

Over the last few years, Blackberry has sued Nokia for transmitters and software IP infringement, won $815 million off Qualcomm in a royalties dispute and taken Avaya to court for infringement of eight patents for product lines such as unified communications, network switches and routers, communications servers and client software. Blackberry reportedly has more than 38,000 patents to its name, so there is plenty of opportunity to make the software licensing business model work.

In the Facebook case, Blackberry is claiming Facebook has been using its patents relating to messaging without its permission. The apps mentioned in the filing are Facebook Messenger, Facebook Messenger Lite, Facebook Pages Manager, Facebook.com and Facebook Workplace Chat, WhatsApp and the direct messaging feature in the Instagram app. For those who wish to have a look through the filing, you can do so here, though we warn you its 117 pages long.

In short, Blackberry is suing for the following:

  • Security improvements: incorporating cryptographic techniques into a messaging app
  • Interface improvements: streamlining of notification symbols, previews of messages and display of timestamps on messages
  • Tagging contacts in photographs
  • Linking messaging and gaming
  • Read receipts on sent messages

Blackberry claims all of these features are now ‘table stakes’ for messaging apps and social media, and it came up with them all. As you can see below, Blackberry has said it is the very reason Facebook has succeeded in the messaging game. Facebook used Blackberry’s IP against it to gain the upper hand.

Lawsuit

While we are not legal experts, some of the claims are pretty superficial. Saying that anyone using encryption techniques on messaging would have to pay Blackberry royalties is a pretty big ask. As is showing an unread message indicator on top of an icon. Blackberry also says it should be paid by anyone who doesn’t show a timestamp next to every message. But perhaps this is an intentional overreach.

When negotiating, it is common practise to overextend your hand. Ask for too much and the counteroffer will come back. The back and forth could result in a net-gain, assuming of course Facebook does have any intention of settling. The social media giant has indicated it will fight the claims, which will be a relief to anyone else in the social media game. Should Blackberry win this legal battle, precedent would be set and it could sue basically anyone involved with social media or messaging. Twitter, Slack, Apple, Microsoft and Google (just to name a few) might have one, wary eye on this saga.

Blackberry did beat Facebook to the messaging space and to be fair to the Canadians, it was a pretty notable breakthrough at the time. This could be viewed as one of the first appearances of a ‘zero-rating’ offering as messages across BBM would not be charged to the user. This made it particularly useful to users who were in roaming territories. Don’t forget, this is more than a decade ago when using your device abroad was a very costly exercise.

Ultimately Facebook and the other OTTs won out here because of scale of adoption, default installations on multiple devices and interoperability with other features. Blackberry might have come up with a great idea, but limiting the feature to a doomed device was never going to spell a success story. In the latter years it did try to release a BBM app to move into the wider smartphone world, but this was too little too late. Like a Dad trying to relate to a teenagers taste in music, no-one took Blackberry seriously.

This does seem like a very speculative move from Blackberry. It seems like it knows it is dead to the technology world, irrelevant and largely forgotten, but it might as well make as much money as possible. It has 38,000 patents so might as well have a bit of a look around and figure out what it can sue for. We can just imagine some ‘no win, no fee’ lawyer approached the beaten and bored Blackberry executives with the idea, and they thought why not, haven’t got anything else to do at the moment.

Schrems loses first battle against Facebook but war has only just begun

Data privacy campaigner Max Schrems is been dealt a minor blow by the European Court of Justice but Facebook will have to fight to keep skeletons in the closet as individual court case is given thumbs up.

While the internet giant always had the upper ground, there was a small chance Schrems could pile misery sky-high with a class action lawsuit. Such occurrences are rare in European courts, and the European Court of Justice has now ruled he is unable to represent 25,000 people in an Austrian court to sue Facebook for data privacy violations, but he will be allowed to pursue an individual legal case.

This certainly takes the risk of a hefty financial blow out of the equation for Facebook, but the damage to credibility and consumer trust could be massive. Irrelevant as to whether Schrems is representing one person or 25,000, the privacy advocate will presumably use such an occasion to expose the data sharing practises and business model, which could leave Facebook in a relatively sensitive position.

Initially, Schrems was seeking permission to take Facebook to court on behalf of 25,000 individuals, seeking €500 compensation for each. Class actions lawsuits are rare in Europe, especially when the individuals are from a range of different nations and jurisdictions, therefore this idea was shot down. Perhaps this is a just a case of timing though. Under GDPR, which will be introduced later this year, collective action will be allowed in some cases. It is not known whether this is a case which would be accepted.

Although it is generally accepted that user information is used by Facebook to build its advertising solutions, some in the general public might be shocked at the breadth of information Facebook hordes, the granularity of the data, as well as the practise of data sharing with third-parties. Facebook has never denied it shares information with ‘selected’ third-parties, presumably ‘selected’ means anyone who is willing to pay, but it has been rather opaque about how the data mining, refining and distribution machine actually works.

Played correctly, Schrems could make a media circus of the situation, leaving Facebook to answer some awkward questions about practises which are common in the world of media, but rarely see the light of day or public scrutiny. Facebook has avoided a substantial financial penalty, having to fork out compensation to thousands, but the PR damage will be a crater the internet giant will want to avoid.

The actual case itself is based on how Facebook handled Schrems personal information, both with third-parties for advertising, as well as intelligence agencies in the states. Both areas Schrems believes violates his data privacy rights as a European citizen. The shady world of data and intelligence agencies is certainly an area which numerous parties would want to avoid getting into the public domain.

Again, it is generally accepted the internet giant collaborate with intelligence agencies when the appropriate occasion arises, but details on these relationships are very thin on the ground. Facebook and various others publish statistics on how much information is requested by the government, but the processes and discussions are secretive. Schrems could expose some uncomfortable truths should the game be played correctly.

While the smart money would be placed on the army of legal experts at the disposal of Facebook, it should be worth noting Schrems does have form when taking on the odds. Schrems was one of the leading activists and campaigners against Safe Harbour, the mechanism to facilitate and manage transatlantic data transmission, exposes its flaws and data privacy abuses from intelligence agencies in the US. The odds were against him there as well, but he was successful.

While there is a notable PR and financial risk for Facebook, precedent could also be set. Should Schrems be successful in his pursuit, the door could be opened for other privacy campaigners to have a poke not only at Facebook, but any other organization which facilitates the flow of information between third-parties. Google, Amazon, Twitter, app developers, media organizations and numerous other companies might be casting a wary eye over developments here.

Intel hit with class action suit over CPU defects

Law firm Doyle APC has filed a class action lawsuit against Intel for the design defect found in all of Intel’s x86-64x CPUs.

2018 has not been a great year for Intel so far, as the last week or so has simply been a tsunami of bad news concerning security vulnerabilities in its x86-64x CPUs. Considering the extent of the Intel’s woes, it wasn’t going to be too long before a class action appeared, and here it is; Garcia, et al. vs. Intel Corp, Case No. 18-cv-00046, (ND Cal).

The case itself aims to represent any US purchaser of Intel CPUs containing the defect, or purchasers of a device containing one of these Intel processors. The defect is actually down to what Intel must have through was a clever bit of engineering. The kernel mode attempts to guess what the user will do next, known as ‘speculative execution’, having certain programmes on stand-by to increase speed and performance. This action potentially exposes kernel data, one of the most sensitive parts of a computer.

Since the vulnerability was initially exposed, Intel has been rushing to develop a patch, essentially closing the threat, though it is believed it will degrade performance at the same time. Intel claims 90% of processor products introduced within the past five years will be fixed by the end of this week, and for the average user, the impact on performance will be minimal. This has also been echoed by Intel’s customers:

Apple:

“Our testing with public benchmarks has shown that the changes in the December 2017 updates resulted in no measurable reduction in the performance of macOS and iOS as measured by the GeekBench 4 benchmark, or in common Web browsing benchmarks such as Speedometer, JetStream, and ARES-6.”

Microsoft:

“The majority of Azure customers should not see a noticeable performance impact with this update. We’ve worked to optimize the CPU and disk I/O path and are not seeing noticeable performance impact after the fix has been applied.”

Google:

“On most of our workloads, including our cloud infrastructure, we see negligible impact on performance.”

Amazon:

“We have not observed meaningful performance impact for the overwhelming majority of EC2 workloads.”

This has been disputed by some commentators as the ‘speculative execution’ feature is believed to be one of the primary drivers of increased performance. Only time will tell.

Doyle APC’s ambulance chaser impersonation should of course been expected, though Intel has been the main recipient of attention so far. AMD and ARM are two other suppliers who have also admitted to vulnerabilities, though neither has gotten anywhere near the same amount of consideration. The flaw may not impact these products as much as Intel, or the severity of AMD and ARM defects has not been truly uncovered just yet.