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The top news in tech: the January digest

In January, the World Economic Forum released its 2022 Global Risks Report, with cybersecurity failure named as one of the top risks facing society today. This certainly comes as no surprise given the significant increase in cybersecurity threats lately. While I hate to start the year in tech news on a pessimistic note, I think it is necessary to note a troubling new trend in the security space – the rise in state-sanctioned cyber-attacks.

At the beginning of the year, TechCrunch reported that North Korea hacked nearly $400 million of digital assets via at least seven different attacks on cryptocurrency platforms in 2021. The report by blockchain analysis firm, Chainalysis, revealed that Ethereum and Bitcoin were the platforms with the most funds stolen. According to the report, North Korean state actors used the money gained through the hacks to support its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile-related programmes. While this has not been officially confirmed, we couldn’t help but notice the potential damage that cyber warfare could inflict.

Meanwhile, the political tensions between Russia and Ukraine (which are currently at an all-time high) are transgressing into technology. In January, Microsoft issued warnings that it had detected dangerous malware in a number of government websites and private computer networks in Ukraine. While evidence points to Russia being behind this massive cyber-attack, the Kremlin strongly denied these claims. There is speculation that the cyber-attack could be the prelude to a military attack, but in the modern age of technology, non-physical attacks through cyberspace could do more damage than physical warfare. While cyber warfare may not gain the same media attention than conventional combat, it is important that we recognise how technology is being weaponised, something I expect to continue as current geopolitical tensions worsen.

Security news aside, what else caught the media’s attention this month?

Facebook patents reveal how it intends to cash in on metaverse

As we predicted in our blog here, the metaverse hype train will accelerate throughout 2022. While I hate to fan the flames of hype, I couldn’t help but mention this story in the FT, which really caught my eye. Meta’s patents have given an indication of what it hopes to achieve in the metaverse – and it is scary. Dozens of patents have already been granted to the tech giant, including those governing common human expressions and micromovements. Nose scrunches, pupil movements and body poses, for example. The metaverse, an immersive virtual world that will be filled with human avatars, will use eye and face tracking technology alongside skin replicators to make the animations as realistic as possible. Scary. But that’s not all – Meta has patented technologies that utilise users’ biometric data ‘to help power what the user sees and ensure their digital avatars are animated realistically’. Even scarier. This raises further data privacy concerns. Meta/Facebook has already come under significant scrutiny as a result of anti-trust cases (see the most recent lawsuit here), so what will it do with even more of our personal data, how will it make sure it is secure and how will it manipulate this information for its own gain?

Sony pulls out of MWC 2022

At Babel, we are in full preparation mode for Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the end of this month! After the GSMA cancelled the February show in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and postponed it to June in 2021, we’re excited for the first MWC to be held at its usual time since 2019. Despite the rising numbers of covid-19 cases, the GSMA remains bullish about the event proceeding as normal, with vendors and journalists alike also displaying a show of confidence. However, Sony announced that it will be pulling out of MWC for the third year in a row. They were the first exhibitor to pull out, but since then, Lenovo has also pulled out. We have to ponder…will Sony’s decision have a domino effect on other exhibitors? We certainly hope not! Babel has a record number of clients planning to attend the tradeshow and we’re excited for a return to in-person events. We’re remaining optimistic, buoyed by the GSMA’s confidence, and Ericsson’s public endorsement of MWC.

3G networks will disappear this year — and that’s bad news for your car. Here’s why 

Telco operators are currently battling it out to extend 5G coverage, while simultaneously racing to develop to the next generation of mobile technology: 6G. To free up mobile bandwidth for upcoming 5G network rollouts, every major mobile carrier plans to shut down its 3G network throughout 2022. However, the extinction of 3G networks, will have an adverse effect on vehicles that entered the market anytime from 2010 to as recently as 2021. So, what does this mean for you? As 3G ceases to exist, some car models will lose the ability to update location and traffic data, and be unable to connect with your smartphone, voice assistant, or emergency call services. For some, this could come as early as February. Check the article to see if you could be affected.

Microsoft to gobble up Activision in $69 billion metaverse bet

Microsoft made waves this month with the announcement of its latest acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard, its largest deal yet. This $68.7 billion deal positions Microsoft as the world’s third-largest games-maker, which will no doubt attract the watchful eye of regulators. This is a bold move from Microsoft – it comes at a time when legislators and regulators are trying to rein in the dominance of big tech companies. Meta has just lost its second attempt to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust case that seeks to break up the platform. I expect to see questions raised about Microsoft’s market dominance, and the company to be hit with anti-trust lawsuits. This acquisition is not only interesting from a regulatory standpoint; it brings Microsoft one step closer to the metaverse, to which gaming will be central. According to Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella, ‘gaming is the most dynamic and exciting category in entertainment across all platforms today and will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms’.

Amazon’s first clothing store lets you summon clothes to the fitting room

I know – there’s been a lot of focus on big tech in this blog. But I couldn’t not mention this story on Amazon’s newest venture (I’m struggling to keep up, too!). Amazon has revealed plans to launch a clothing store in Los Angeles; one that is all digital. Customers will use the Amazon app to scan QR codes as they shop and an algorithm will suggest items for customers to try on. You will be able to queue virtually, fitting rooms will be unlocked by your smartphone, and they’ll be kitted out with touchscreens allowing customers to request items to be brought to them. It’s convenient, yes, and one way to tackle the labour shortage. But, with the over-digitalisation of stores at almost every touchpoint of the shopping experience, are we unnecessarily driving a workforce out of their jobs and closing the door on those looking to go into retail? Let’s talk about the algorithm too. This means Amazon is going to acquire even more of our data. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t see Amazon as a big authority on fashion.

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