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If you’re a telecoms or online firm that’s been itching to invest in China, now’s your chance – as long as you’re happy to set up shop in the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ), a kind of sandbox lab for Chinese market liberalization. On Tuesday state-owned outlets CRI and Xinhua reported that foreign investors will be able to own up to 55 percent of the e-commerce operations of “data-processing companies”, and as much as they like of app store, home internet access and “multi-party communications” companies. Most services can be offered country-wide, though foreign-owned ISPs will only be allowed to operate in the FTZ for now.

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The British carrier EE, which got a headstart on its rivals in offering high-speed 4G/LTE mobile broadband, said on Tuesday that it now has over 2 million 4G subscribers. What’s more, takeup seems to be accelerating – it took 10 months to score a million, and only 4 months to score the second million – and EE claimed it has the fastest 4G sign-up rate outside South Korea. The company, a joint venture of Deutsche Telekom and Orange, also said its LTE services would cover 70 percent of the UK population by the end of this month.

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Google has bought a small Swiss app developer called Bitspin, known for its Timely alarm clock app. Timely has a neat gesture-based user interface, a “Smart Rise” mode that gently introduces the alarm sound ahead of time in order to wake the user from a deep sleep, and the ability to synchronize alarms between devices. The Zurich-based outfit said in a weekend post that the app would “continue to work as it always has,” but I daresay we’ll also see the stock Android alarm get a bit smarter soon.

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Around 250 leading academics from around the world have decried the online spying activities of U.S. and European intelligence services in an “Academics Against Mass Surveillance” manifesto, published on Friday. The signatories work in a variety of fields, including human rights, law, privacy, sociology, security and media. One, Cambridge University Head of Cryptography Ross Anderson, also gave an interview to Forbes in which he called for the abolition of the UK Security Service, also known as MI5, arguing that national security should be a job for the police. In December more than 500 of the world’s leading authors also banded together in a coalition dubbed Writers Against Mass Surveillance.

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Cash-rich Vodafone is keen on becoming India’s largest mobile carrier by buying out Tata Teleservices, according to a report in the Economic Times. Vodafone is currently the number two player, not far behind Bharti Airtel (155 million subscribers to Airtel’s 196 million), and Tata DoCoMo is around sixth place with 90 million subscribers. However, according to the report, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo – Tata Teleservices’ partner – has the right of first refusal for Tata’s majority stake in the venture. If NTT doesn’t want to buy out Tata, Tata could potentially force NTT to sell out alongside it. Vodafone declined my request for comment.

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In Brief

The NSA is trying to build a quantum computer in order to break today’s digital encryption and create new types of encryption, the Washington Post has used documents leaked by Edward Snowden to reveal. Quantum computers can theoretically compute much faster than today’s “classical” bit-based systems, which would help them break encryption by brute force, a.k.a. high-speed guesswork – most encryption today relies on the fact that cracking it by brute force would take unfeasibly long. However, though some firms such as D-Wave claim to have built small-scale, early-stage versions, no-one has managed to build a large-scale quantum computer yet.

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The NSA developed a tool 6 years ago to let it attack the then-new iPhone, according to documents from that time, revealed on Monday by journalist Jacob Appelbaum and Der Spiegel. The tool, DROPOUTJEEP, gave the agency “the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device, SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc.” Other documents also published on Monday describe software implants for extracting phonebook, SMS, call log and geolocation information from SIM cards, as well as for targeting the now-defunct Windows Mobile OS. Der Spiegel said in September that the NSA could hack into iPhones, as well as Android and BlackBerry devices.

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A Russian hacker took control of a BBC file transfer server and tried to sell access to it on Christmas Day, according to a Reuters report. The attack was apparently detected by a U.S. firm called Hold Security, and the media giant reckons it has now secured the server again. According to the report, there is no evidence that the hacker, known rather unimaginatively as “Hash”, succeeded in finding other miscreants willing to pay him for access to the BBC’s systems.

In Brief

Google and Audi are gearing up to reveal a partnership at the Consumer Electronics Show next week, according to the Wall Street Journal. The tie-in would see the creation of infotainment systems, based on Android, that rival Apple’s upcoming iOS in the Car feature. This fits well with an EE Times report earlier in December that said Google would launch an industry consortium around such technology at CES, using Miracast to wirelessly screencast Android apps from the phone to the in-car screen.

In Brief

Another day, another addition to our pool of knowledge regarding U.S. and British surveillance activities. According to the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times, targets of the intelligence agencies have included (deep breath): Unicef, Médecins du Monde, the UN development program, the UN food program, the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, Israel’s former prime minister and defense secretary, the head of the Economic Community of West African States, other African leaders and their families, French defense contractor Thales, French oil giant Total, and EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia — although he was in charge of the EU economy at the time. File under “Diplomatic Disasters.”

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The Spanish handset maker Geeksphone has released some specifications for its Revolution phone, which will allow users to change operating systems without voiding the warranty — it will come with Android as standard, but users will also be able to install Mozilla’s Firefox OS (or Boot2Gecko, as it’s known in the case of non-Mozilla partners such as Geeksphone). Now we know the Revolution will be based on a 1.6GHz Intel Z2560 processor and will sport a 4.7-inch IPS qHD screen. It will have a 2,000mAh battery and an 8-megapixel camera with flash. It will also have expandable storage, although Geeksphone hasn’t specified the built-in storage yet.

In Brief

Strong encryption may still work, despite the best efforts of the NSA, but a new research paper suggests that clever audio analysis can recover users’ private encryption keys. The exploit takes advantage of the fact that processors make noises that can sometimes betray what they’re doing — noises that even a mobile device’s microphone can pick up. Actually doing this would require a very, very specific set of circumstances, but the heavily paranoid might want to make sure they’re using the latest GnuPG RSA encryption software, namely version 2.x.

In Brief

The newly-launched Jolla smartphone, made by a crew of mostly ex-Nokia employees, is now available for purchase by people in the EU, Norway and Switzerland through the firm’s new online shop. This will be the third batch of €399 ($546) Jolla handsets to go on sale, with the last one having been largely aimed at patriotic Finns. Jolla said on Thursday that already-ordered phones would be delivered in time for Christmas – there’s been a hold-up due to “some technical logistics issues” — while newly-ordered devices will ship from January.

In Brief

Cloud storage outfit Tresorit still hasn’t been hacked, it would like the world to know. Having posted a $10,000 hacker bounty in April, the firm has now upped the stakes to $25,000 and invited researchers from the likes of MIT and Stanford to take up the challenge. Tresorit is trying to pitch itself to the security-conscious – it encrypts data before it leaves the device, and it recently moved its operations from Hungary to Switzerland, claiming Swiss neutrality laws would provide extra jurisdictional protection for its users.

In Brief

Google revealed last week that it was getting into the robot-building game in a big way, in order to push into the manufacturing and logistics industries. Now it’s bought Boston Dynamics, probably the most high-profile maker of prototype robot soldiers both strong and speedy. The deal makes Google a defense contractor — for now at least, as the company says it will honor Boston Dynamics’ existing military contracts. We can only hope Google doesn’t have plans to raise an army of its own.

In Brief

IBM was one of the first big U.S. tech firms to pay the price for the NSA scandal. Although nobody has ever proven a link between the company and the agency, IBM joined Cisco in seeing a sudden collapse in Chinese sales after the Snowden leaks. China is also investigating the company, along with Oracle and EMC. Now an IBM shareholder is suing the company, alleging that it concealed its NSA ties and the attendant risk to its Chinese market position, and that it lobbied Congress to let it share Chinese customers’ data with the NSA. The company said the allegations are “ludicrous and irresponsible.”

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