Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2009 The year in review

We cast tan eye back over the biggest stories reported by Computeractive over the past year

The beginning of the year was dominated by concerns over BT’s plans to use the controversial advertising technology Phorm, which monitors the websites visited by internet users in order to show them more relevant adverts. After the end of a test the company said it expected “to move towards deployment”. Meanwhile, Microsoft released an early testing version of its Windows 7 operating system for the public to try,while Nintendo’s hugely popular Wii games console caused trouble. Molly Elvig of Colorado sued the gaming giant for $5m (£3m) after a Wii controller flew from her son’s hand and smashed a television.

February saw computer security experts warning of rising infections spreading via USB memory keys. The Conficker worm, still active almost a year later, was exploiting part of Windows called Autorun to spread via USB devices. Meanwhile, Computeractive readers alerted us to a website that was run by Gary Cooper, a then 16-year-old boy from Essex. GC’s PCs sold mobile phones and other gadgets, but some customers complained of unauthorized charges – Terence Warmbier was charged an extra £800 after buying four phones.

In March children’s charities called on the Government to take action to limit access to websites showing images of child abuse. The NSPCC claimed that around 700,000 households were connected to the internet via internet service providers (ISPs) that did not subscribe to the Internet Watch Foundation block list. Youtube users found themselves up against a different block list as a spat between the video clip website and the Performing Right Society (PRS) came to a head. Thousands of music videos were made unavailable in the UK.

Fake security software that fools users into paying for unnecessary ‘virus removal’ was a major problem in 2009, and it hit the headlines in April after security company Finjan claimed scammers could earn $10,800 (£7,452) per day. According to another report, some of those tricked by dodgy software might not even notice they have lost money. Security firm CPP reported that British cardholders were unable to account for over £10.8bn of transactions in the preceding year, with more than a third of those surveyed unable to account for a fifth of their monthly transactions.

Phorm leapt back into the limelight in May as the European Commission launched legal action against the Government for failing to ensure the privacy of internet users. The online retail giant Amazon also stepped in, announcing it would not allow its sites to be monitored by the system. Phorm fought back with a website in which it accused critics of orchestrating a “smear campaign”. The rather strange website, which mocked the company’s critics as “privacy pirates”, disappeared a few months later.

This summer saw a 50p tax on landline telephones proposed to pay for next-generation broadband. Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report said the levy was the “fairest” way to ensure that everyone in the UK could benefit from fibre-optic high-speed broadband services. Meanwhile three people were arrested and released on police bail in relation to GC’s PCs (see February). Detective Simon Dovaston told Computeractive that “enquiries are still required to resolve the matter”, but two months later we were told that the investigation had been concluded with no charges brought.

In July we reported that Microsoft was planning to slash the cost of Windows 7 in the UK. At the time, the company said it would not be selling upgrade licences in the UK, so full copies of Windows 7Home Premium would cost just £80 until the end of 2009. The controversial advertising technology Phorm made the news again, as both BT and Talktalk announced they had dropped plans to use the technology. Of the UK’s major ISPs this left only Virgin Media in talks with the company.

In August we reported an Ofcom study claiming that only one person in nine was getting the speed advertised for their broadband internet connection. This did not come as a huge surprise as Computeractive had been campaigning for clearer broadband advertising since 2007. Microsoft announced that upgrade editions of Windows would be available to UK customers, but raised the cost of the full versions of Windows 7 Home Premium to £150.

The possibility of a ‘three-strikes’ rule that could see illegal file sharers disconnected from the internet had been looming for months, but after comments that were made by Communications Minister Stephen Timms in August the debate flared up again. Privacy International, the Open Rights Group and other organizations warned that it could break both European and human rights legislation. September saw good news for would-be broadband customers, as BT announced a test of a new technology that could see broadband reach homes up to 12km from phone exchanges.

Anation wide retune of the Freeview television system had sounded the death knell for some older set-top boxes. Other users found channels such as BBC1 and ITV moved to new channel numbers, while almost half a million people lost access to ITV3 and ITV4.
In the same month, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said a Conservative government would scrap the 50p levy on landline telephones proposed by the Government to pay for next-generation broadband.

The ISP Talktalk opened a new front in the fight against a lawthat could see illegal file sharers disconnected from the internet, warning the Government that it would refuse to disconnect its customers unless concrete proof of their guilt was provided. It also launched a campaign website, asking visitors to petition against the proposals. Our next issue brought news that the Digital Economy Bill, which is planned to introduce a ‘three-strikes’ rule, had been included in the Queen’s speech.

Just like January, controversy surrounded an ISP planning to monitor its users. This time the culprit was Virgin Media, which planned to test a technology called Cviewon 40 per cent of its network. The trial was designed to look for illegally shared music files, but Virgin did not plan to report users to the copyright owners. Computeractive also got its first look at the Google’s new operating system, Chrome OS.

Source of Information : Computer Active Issue 310 January 7 2010

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