Breakfast Briefing: Microsoft under tax microscope, Ubuntu called "spyware", Twitter's Instagram rival

10 Dec 2012
Breakfast Briefing

Today in tech, stories about Microsoft's taxes, Ubuntu spying, Twitter photos, Windows Phone takeup, Facebook voting and more

To start the week, we have reports on Microsoft's online tax avoidance, Ubuntu tracking users, Twitter's Instagram rival, Windows Phone takeup, Facebook users losing the vote, Valve hardware and more on the ITU's web debate.

Microsoft’s tax avoidance targeted

First it was Amazon and Google, now details of Microsoft’s UK tax avoidance measures are being revealed. According to a Sunday Times report (covered by The Daily Mail if you don’t have a subscription) Microsoft made £1.7bn in online sales, but paid no tax by basing its European sales office in Luxembourg - where it has only eight staff - and then paying "software royalties" in Ireland and "dividends" in Bermuda.

The company still paid £19m in corporation tax last year, presumably on other sales. The full corporation tax on its total sales would top £159m, the report noted. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company operated within the law and was regularly audited.

Stallman: Ubuntu is tracking user searches

Free software giant Richard Stallman has accused Ubuntu-developer Canonical of installing spyware into the open source OS. "When the user searches her own local files for a string using the Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu sends that string to one of Canonical's servers," he writes in his blog. "Ubuntu uses the information about searches to show the user ads to buy various things from Amazon... However, the ads are not the core of the problem. The main issue is the spying. Canonical says it does not tell Amazon who searched for what. However, it is just as bad for Canonical to collect your personal information as it would have been for Amazon to collect it."

He notes it is possible to turn off the system, but argues it’s shameful for it to be on by default. Not at all surprisingly, he hasn't reacted calmly about it, asking followers to refuse to distribute Ubuntu, remove it from recommendation lists, and tell friends not to use it. "Tell people that Ubuntu is shunned for spying." We look forward to seeing Canonical’s response to this one.

Twitter making its own photo service

Instagram looks to be falling out of favour on Twitter - not because people are finally sick of over-filtered snaps, however. The photo service sold to Facebook for a billion dollars, and since then Twitter has stopped displaying Instagram snaps directly in tweets, meaning to see your friend’s shot of a latte looking like it was snapped in 1963, you’d need to click through on the link.

Now, the war for your artistic-looking shots is ramping up: All Things Digital reports that Twitter is building its own filters into its photo service, ripping off Instagram's idea to try to keep users locked into its own apps. The plan is apparently to have the system ready to go ahead of the holidays, so we can filter snapshots of our families into something a little more pleasant looking.

Windows Phone picking up pace

The Next Web has extrapolated figures from monthly active user figures for the Windows Phone Facebook application to estimate that Microsoft has shifted 4.2m handsets in the last quarter. The figure ties in with comments from company boss Steve Ballmer, who recently said the handsets were selling four times faster than during the same period last year. Could this be the moment when Windows Phone finally makes a mark? The jury is still out.

Facebook users don't vote on right to vote

More than half a million people have voted on Facebook's recent policy changes, but their opinions won't count. TechCrunch reveals that as the polls prepared to close, 619,000 had voted on changes that would allow more data sharing and actually bring down the curtain on the user voting system itself.

Sounds impressive, but with Facebook only acting on the results if 30% of members are involved, the vote mas missing some 299.4 million users to have any relevance. Of those that had voted, 544,642 were against the changes while 75,539 were in favour. It's almost as if the majority of people posting images and updates to the social network are not actually that bothered about privacy. Who knew?

Valve confirms hardware plans

Games company Valve, maker of the Steam platform, has detailed plans to develop hardware, with bosses looking to push more Linux computing into the living room. In an interview with Kotaku, Valve said it envisaged a living room machine built on Linux to give access to gaming and video content, but warned that the system would be locked down, rather than a general purpose PC.

"I think in general that most customers and most developers are going to find that [the PC is] a better environment for them," Newell said. "They won't have to split the world into thinking about 'why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?' So in a sense we hopefully are going unify those environments."

UN web plans causing governance rift

Officials at the International Telecommunications Union's summit are increasingly divided over plans to bundle the web into the UN-backed standards body. The conflict was always likely as countries and companies have been deriding the idea of UN-led standards that critics believe could make censorship easier, but the feud deepened when details of Russian plans for more control were leaked over the weekend, according to the BBC.

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