#TechTop3 – Our top three tech stories of the week

By August 15, 2014EU

By the London technology team

The internet in crisis?

This week media outlets have been busy portraying a confused and misleading picture of an ‘internet in crisis’. According to multiple reports the internet is now ‘full up’ and has “burst its digital zip”. The sense of crisis has been intensified by the emergence of an engrossing “sharks vs internet” narrative that has arisen from the release of a video showing a shark chomping down on a particularly tasty pacific subsea cable. Unlike the “internet is full up” claims doing the rounds, the vulnerability of subsea cables does constitute a valid concern. The network of subsea cables that underpin the internet are indeed crucial pieces of global communications infrastructure, yet it is a telling indicator of public interest levels that it takes a recording of a curious shark to attract real attention to these vital conduits of intercontinental internet traffic.

Repair and maintenance of subsea cables is extremely expensive but shark attacks are just one of a range of threats to undersea infrastructure that require preventative measures. Google have recently announced plans to work with partner companies to reinforce subsea data cables with a protective Kevlar mesh. Google also recently announced that it was part of a global consortium planning a new high-speed cable connecting the US to Japan in order to extend and quicken communications between Asia and America.

Mobile phone call quality: Good or bad?

Ofcom’s publication this week of research on mobile phone call quality has triggered a range of conflicting reactions, with some welcoming the findings and others questioning the validity of the data used in the report itself.

The ‘Consumer experience of mobile phone calls’ report (published on Wednesday), based on data provided by mobile network operators (MNOs) themselves and an independent mobile analytics firm RootMetrics, stated that 76% of UK consumers are satisfied with their MNOs, a claim severely criticised by some in the media. An article in The Register was particularly critical, describing the report as “very lightweight” and featuring “no actual testing”.  Meanwhile, both uSwitch and the Countryside Alliance welcomed the report, explaining that it illustrates the inferior quality of mobile phone service received by those in rural areas and hoping that it will result in an improvement to the current situation.

In Monday’s Guardian (before the publication of the report), and perhaps somewhat predictably, Owen Jones called for the nationalisation of all mobile phone companies, describing the case for nationalisation as “overwhelming” and adding that it would eradicate rip-off practices and improve the quality of services.

The dark side of social media

There have been several reports this week about the ways in which social media can be used to influence young people. The Independent carried a story on the increasing use of well-known social media platforms as modern bullying tools. Citing the lack of regulation online as the major culprit, the managing director of BeatBullying (and former government advisor) was quoted as describing the internet as a “lawless jungle that will soon be too dangerous for children to use”, referring to a number of recent cases of teenagers taking their own lives after relentless cyber-bullying.

Reports about the rising use of social media as a recruitment tool by extreme groups have fuelled debate about the vulnerability of young people in a social media age. The Daily Mail reported on growing online radicalisation and the Guardian examined questions regarding the internet’s role as “a conduit for propaganda”, both focusing on ISIS’ controversial use of social media to successfully encourage British teens to emigrate, take up arms and fight jihad. Such stories inevitably rekindle debate about social media, young people and the role of technology in modern society, and have historically led to reactionary calls for heavy handed blocking or censorship of certain communication outlets and online platforms.