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Bees get wearable tech trackers

Written By andika jamanta on Rabu, 25 Maret 2015 | 23.58

Bee with tracker
The tiny trackers measure have a range of up to 2.5m (8.2ft)

A tiny new tracker designed to monitor bee behaviour is being tested by ecologists at Kew Gardens in London.

It is made from off-the-shelf technology and is based on equipment used to track pallets in warehouses, said its creator Dr Mark O'Neill.

Readers, used to pick up a signal from the kit, are connected to Raspberry Pi computers, which log the readings.

The device has a reach of up to 2.5m (8.2ft). Previously used models were restricted to 1cm (0.4in).

The tracker consists of a standard RFID (radio frequency identification) chip and a specially designed aerial, which Dr O'Neill has created to be thinner and lighter than other models used to track small insects, allowing him to boost the range.

The engineer, who is technical director at the Newcastle-based tech firm Tumbling Dice, is currently trying to patent the invention.

"The first stage was to make very raw pre-production tags using components I could easily buy", he said.

"I want to make optimised aerial components which would be a lot smaller."

"I've made about 50 so far. I've soldered them all on my desk - it feels like surgery."

The average "forage time" for a worker bee is around 20 minutes, suggesting they have a forage range of around 1km (0.6 miles) , Dr O'Neill explained.

The idea is to have readers dotted around a hive and flower patch in order to track the signals as the bees move around freely in the wild.

The tiny trackers, which are just 8mm (0.3in) high and 4.8mm (1.9in) wide, are stuck to the bees with superglue in a process which takes five to 10 minutes. The bees are chilled first to make them more docile.

"They make a hell of a noise," acknowledged Dr O'Neill.

He told the BBC he hoped that the trackers - which weigh less than a bee and are attached at their centre of gravity so as not to affect their flight - would remain attached for their three-month expected lifespan.

bee with tracker
The bees are chilled before the trackers are attached.

They have only been fitted to worker bees, which do not mate.

"If an animal ate one, I guess it would have a tracker in its stomach," Dr O'Neill said.

"But the attrition rate for field worker bees is very low. Most die of old age - they are very competent, and good at getting out of the way."

Dr Sarah Barlow, a restoration ecologist from Kew Gardens, was involved in testing the as-yet unnamed trackers.

"These tags are a big step forward in radio technology and no one has a decent medium to long range tag yet that is suitable for flying on small insects," she said.

"This new technology will open up possibilities for scientists to track bees in the landscape.

"This piece of the puzzle, of bee behaviour, is absolutely vital if we are to understand better why our bees are struggling and how we can reverse their decline."


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BT returns to mobile phone market

BT logo
BT's announcement comes a decade after it pulled out of the UK's mobile phone market

BT is re-entering the UK's consumer mobile phone market, with a range of 4G subscriptions.

Its cheapest offer is aggressively priced at a discounted rate of £5 a month for existing BT broadband customers.

The service will use spectrum provided via a partnership with EE - a network BT is attempting to buy outright - and spectrum that BT owns itself.

One analyst said bundled access to football games would help the company.

BT is offering customers who sign up to its BT Mobile contracts the ability to watch Premier League football matches that it owns the rights to via an app, even if they are not broadband customers.

"An entry tariff of £5 a month will grab headlines, but inclusive access to BT Sport and five million wi-fi hotspots offers important differentiation in a cut-throat field," commented Paolo Pescatore, from the telecoms consultancy CCS Insight.

"We expect initial low-key marketing to heat up as BT makes a broader assault on the bundled telecom market over the summer."

BT's basic deal - which includes 200 minutes of calls and 500MB of 4G data - will cost £10 a month to customers who do not have a BT broadband subscription.

BT is the UK's biggest broadband provider with 7.6 million consumers signed up to the service, according to its latest figures.

The mobile deals it has announced so far are all Sim-card-only, meaning that calls, data and texts are included but not a handset.

BT has said it will provide more details of its strategy after its proposed £12.5bn takeover of EE - currently co-owned by Orange and Deutsche Telekom - is complete.

Regulators have still to sign off on the acquisition, which is opposed by some of BT's rivals.

BT was one of the pioneers of the UK's mobile phone sector with its Cellnet service in the 1980s, but later spun off the business.

The mobile phone firm, which was rebranded as O2, was later acquired by Spain's Telefonica.

Quad-play bundles

Sky van
Sky is planning to offer its customers a mobile phone service from 2016

The UK's second biggest broadband provider, Sky, has also announced plans to offer a mobile phone service, allowing it to offer its own rival "quad-play" bundle - including internet, landline phone, TV and mobile - but has not scheduled the launch until 2016.

Virgin Media and TalkTalk - the country's third and fourth biggest broadband firms, do offer packages including all four services.

However, their mobile phone services are both limited to 3G data at this stage, meaning they are likely to provide slower mobile internet speeds than BT's 4G service.

A spokesman for TalkTalk said it would begin offering 4G "later this year" through a deal with O2.

Basic Sim-only 4G deals compared

Cost per month 4G data allowance Included call time
BT Mobile £5* 500MB 200mins
Vodafone £14 500MB 900mins
O2 £13 500MB 500mins
EE £9.99 250MB 250mins
Three £8 500MB 200mins
Tesco Mobile £10 500MB 1,000mins
GiffGaff £12 1,000MB 500mins

At launch, BT Mobile will be totally dependant on EE's network.

However, BT intends to make use of 2.6 GHz radio frequencies, which it bought as part of 2013's 4G auction, to let its customers boost reception inside buildings via special base stations called femtocells within the next 18 months.

"BT is a credible player in the telecoms market and will be in a far stronger position next year with the inclusion of EE, subject to regulatory approval," said Mr Pescatore.

"Rivals should be threatened by this move and Sky in particular will need to react given how punchy BT's SIM only deals are.

"With this in mind Sky may need to launch mobile a lot sooner."


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Drones: US loss could be UK's gain

Amazon Prime Air
Amazon wants to start drone deliveries, but says US regulators are too slow in granting permission to run tests

US regulators' sluggishness over drone testing could be an opportunity for the UK, a leading academic has said.

The comments came after Amazon told a US Senate committee that the country's reticence was holding it back.

The firm said that, by the time it had been given permission to test one prototype, the drone had already been rendered obsolete.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the congestion of America's airspace justified its slow approach.

Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, told the committee earlier this week that permission to conduct outdoor tests on a home delivery drone prototype had taken more than six months to be granted, and came through about a week ago.

"We don't test it anymore. We've moved on to more advanced designs that we are already testing abroad," he said.

Mr Misener told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security: "Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing."

Amazon has previously said it wanted to use drones to deliver packages to people's homes. The flights would cover distances of 10 miles (16 km) or more and would require drones to travel autonomously while equipped with technology to avoid collisions with other aircraft.

Paul Misener
Amazon's Paul Misener called the European approach to drone testing regulation more "reasonable"

The case illustrates the frustrations of many industry representatives, who have said that the US regulatory process is not keeping up with rapidly developing drone technology that could generate new revenues and cost savings for a range of industries.

The FAA has sought to alleviate some of the frustrations by announcing a new "blanket" approval for some companies to fly limited operations, rather than requiring a new permit for each flight.

The change affected only flights of up to 200ft (61m) during daylight hours and within a drone operator's line of sight.

But concerns over the restrictive US policies could provide an opportunity for the UK, according to Dr Ravi Vaidyanathan, a senior lecturer in robotics at Imperial College London.

"For commercial growth, it probably does provide an opportunity because companies can do more [in the UK], so they can gauge more of the market and the likely impact," he told the BBC.

A House of Lords committee has called for strict controls to be placed on the use of drones, but also for the flexibility to allow the growth of a burgeoning industry that experts have said could create thousands of jobs.

Mr Misener called the approach of the European authorities more "reasonable", adding that the US government's "low level of... attention and slow pace" was inadequate.

Amazon Prime Air
The UK approach could allow companies to assess the market more accurately, Dr Vaidyanathan said

However, Dr Vaidyanathan highlighted the "potential downside" in reducing regulatory requirements, saying that doing so would create a greater safety risk.

And Margaret Gilligan, the FAA's associate administrator for aviation safety, said that US airspace was more complex than that of other countries. She told the Senate panel that regulators could set new standards for autonomous drone operations within a year.

The FAA recently proposed rules that would lift the current ban on most commercial drone flights, but several restrictions attached would make package delivery and other business applications unfeasible.

Among other constraints, the proposed rules would limit commercial drones to an altitude of 500ft (150m), as well as allowing flights only during daytime and requiring operators to keep the aircraft in sight at all times.

The agency does not expect to finalise the rules until late 2016 or early 2017, according to government officials. During this period, the current ban will stay in place. Companies can apply for exemptions to use drones for specific business applications.


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India court scraps online arrest law

A protest in support of internet freedom in Mumbai in June 2012
Critics said the law restricted the principle of free speech

India's Supreme Court has struck down a controversial law which allowed police to arrest people for comments on social networks and other internet sites.

The court ruled that the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was unconstitutional.

In recent years, several people have been arrested for their comments on Facebook or Twitter, sparking outrage.

The government had defended the law, saying it was meant to deter people from uploading offensive material.

Tuesday's order was delivered by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on petitions filed by civil rights groups and a law student who argued that Section 66A violated people's fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

"Section 66A is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down," news agency AFP quoted Justice RF Nariman as saying in court.

"The public's right to know is directly affected by section 66A," he added.

Section 66A was sweeping in its powers - it could send a person to jail for three years for sending an email or other electronic message that "causes annoyance or inconvenience".

The law was first challenged by a law student after two young women were arrested in November 2012 in Mumbai for comments on Facebook following the death of politician Bal Thackeray.

Shaheen Dhada was held for criticising Mumbai's shutdown after Thackeray's death. Renu Srinivasan, who "liked" the comment, was also arrested. The two were later released on bail.

The arrests led to outrage in India with many calling for the law to be scrapped.

Since then there have been several other arrests under the law, leading to charges of abuse:

  • On 17 March 2015, a teenage student was jailed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for allegedly posting a comment on Facebook criticising state minister Azam Khan. The teenager was later freed on bail.
  • In October 2012, a 46-year-old businessman in the southern city of Pondicherry was arrested for a tweet criticising Karti Chidambaram, son of then finance minister P Chidambaram. He was later released on bail.
  • In September 2012, there was outrage when a cartoonist was jailed in Mumbai on charges of sedition for his anti-corruption drawings. The charges were later dropped.
  • In April 2012, the West Bengal government arrested a teacher who had emailed to friends a cartoon that was critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He too was later released on bail.

Within minutes of Tuesday's court order, #Sec66A was trending on Twitter with many Indians applauding the ruling.

Delhi's governing Aam Aadmi Party welcomed the order:

tweet

Journalist Swati Vashishtha said the right to dissent was the most important right for citizens:

Tweet

Popular author Chetan Bhagat said he was "super happy":

Tweet

Pankaj Pachauri, communications advisor to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, said "good riddance" to the law:

tweet

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Sexism on trial in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley
It is widely acknowledged that there is a lack of women in the Silicon Valley workforce

A judge has ruled that a woman may seek punitive damages from a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley on the grounds of sexual discrimination.

Ellen Pao, now boss of community site Reddit, claims she missed out on promotions during her time at Kleiner Perkins because of her gender.

She says she was dismissed after complaining.

The firm denies the charges and says its decisions were based on her performance.

Facebook and Twitter are also facing separate legal action over allegations of sexual discrimination from two former employees, which they deny.

The controversial court case between Ms Pao and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, a high profile investor, has been in session for the last few weeks, with closing arguments due to be heard tomorrow (24 March).

Ellen Pao
Ellen Pao will be able to seek punitive damages from her former Silicon Valley employer

In addition to punitive damages, Ms Pao is also seeking $16m (£11m) in compensation for lost wages.

The court had already heard that Ms Pao sent a memo to the management at Kleiner Perkins in January 2012 expressing concerns about the treatment of women at the firm after learning that three junior male partners in the firm were facing promotion while their female counterparts were not, and that events were taking place to which she claimed women were not invited.

'Best in business'

However, investor Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, said that the firm was not a bad employer.

"When I look at the venture capital business and look at the players in the industry, Kleiner Perkins is the best place to be a woman in the business," she told the court.

"When you have people from all walks of life, all genders, all races, it helps people make better decisions because we have different perspectives."

Ms Pao had embarked on an affair with a male partner of the firm who was later fired for unrelated sexual harassment, the court also heard.

Judge Harold Kahn ruled on Saturday that there was "sufficient evidence" in favour of Ms Pao's complaint.

"There is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could find, as to Ms Pao's claims for gender discrimination and retaliation, that Kleiner Perkins acted with malice, fraud or oppression," ruled Judge Kahn.

"There is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that Kleiner Perkins engaged in intentional gender discrimination by failing to promote Ms Pao and terminating her employment, and that Kleiner Perkins attempted to hide its illegal conduct by offering knowingly false and pretexual explanations for its decisions not to promote Ms Pao and to terminate her employment," he added.

'Predominantly male'

Facebook logo in sunglasses
Facebook says it takes diversity issues seriously

Tina Huang, a former software engineer at Twitter, has filed a proposed class action legal action against the firm, alleging that promotions are based on "subjective judgement" by committees that are "predominantly male".

She resigned last year after emailing Twitter's chief executive about her concerns.

"Ms Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay," a Twitter spokesman told website Mashable .

"Twitter is deeply committed to a diverse and supportive workplace, and we believe the facts will show Ms Huang was treated fairly."

Meanwhile programme manager Chia Hong has also filed a lawsuit against her former employer Facebook.

According to the complaint she has filed with San Mateo Court, she was ordered to organise parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, told off for requesting time off to visit her child's school and asked why she did not just stay at home with her children.

"We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we've made progress," said Facebook in a statement to website Re/code.

"In this case, we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly."

Meritocracy

Men crossing road in Silicon Valley
Diversity is a continuing challenge for the tech industry, experts say

Californian investor and entrepreneur Eric Ries told the BBC the wider issue of gender bias in Silicon Valley is well documented but can be unintentional.

"Our business operates on pattern recognition. They look at patterns of what has succeeded in the past and they try to identify those patterns in the future," he said.

"So everyone wants to invest in the next Mark Zuckerberg... the problem comes when you're doing pattern recognition you're using unconscious selection... that's, I think, where you see the sex [and other forms of] discrimination," he added.

"Silicon Valley aspires to be a meritocracy so we have a culture that values outsiders and the perspectives they bring, and there is this idea that good ideas can come from anywhere... that's our aspiration but the reality is in many ways we fall short," he said.

Dr Sue Black, who has founded networks for women in computer science, said that she was pleased to see women taking legal action in the face of unfair treatment in the technology sector.

"Sure, [the cases] are very traumatic but it's great that they are taking a stand," she told the BBC.

"The numbers of women in technology are still about the same as they were 20 years ago," she added.

"In some ways we have not managed to change anything but in other ways, especially with social media, it's bringing lots of things out of the woodwork - more people are giving credibility to the fact that we need diversity in general in the workplace.

"We hear more and more women's voices about what's been happening to them - and we have more men agreeing it's a problem."

There is also more support, Dr Black said.

"I have felt in the last two or three years that there is a groundswell around this issue.

"Women are speaking out more publicly, more confidently, and there are more networks of people backing them up."


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Ordnance Survey releases map tool

Screenshot of OS map data
The mapping data brings together lots of sources of information about locations

A mapping tool that gives a detailed picture of local information in almost every corner of Great Britain has been released by Ordnance Survey (OS).

The free data set brings together information about crime, business rates, property types, local transport and geographical information.

The OS expects developers and designers to use the tool to improve information people can access via the web.

The local information is one of several data sets the OS has released.

"Good mapping products before now have been there just to get people from A to B," said a spokesman for the OS.

Increasingly, he said, people and businesses wanted more detail from online maps and wanted to get lots of local information about locations from one app or site.

"Now you would struggle to find a firm out there that does not use maps to help its business or that does not underpin its decision-making," said the spokesman.

The OS is not creating a new Google Maps-style service of its own, but is rather providing its data for use by other third-party apps and online tools that can use it to enhance their products.

The data set could be used by people looking to start a cafe to find out if any rivals were located nearby, if business rates were high, how many people live near the site and to check local crime statistics and their influence on insurance.

The map data includes 460 million separate features and includes information about the footprint and boundaries of buildings and organisations as well as the names of streets, neighbourhoods and regions.

Suggestions about what types of information to make available came from the community of people already using OS mapping data, said the spokesman.

One requested feature involves being able to change the colour palette in which information is presented which could lead to maps tuned for people with different types of colour-blindness.


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Net neutrality legal contest begins

FCC
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler faces a legal battle over net neutrality

US broadband providers have filed legal challenges to new net neutrality rules.

The claims, brought by the broadband industry trade group USTelecom and Texas-based provider Alamo Broadband Inc, are the first in what is expected to be a series of legal challenges.

USTelecom said the planned rules were misguided, but it did not object to "open internet" laws per se.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called the legal challenges "premature".

The FCC recently agreed a set of rules that would enshrine net neutrality - the principle that internet access cannot be blocked or slowed in favour of services that pay for so-called fast lanes - in US law.

But USTelecom said the rules, under which internet service providers would be defined as public utilities and more heavily regulated, were "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion" and violated various US laws, regulations and rulemaking procedures.

FCC
Pro-net neutrality campaigners said they were fighting against priority internet access for those able to pay

The industry body's president, Walter McCormick, said its members supported the enactment of "open internet" principles into law, but not using the new regulatory regime chosen by the FCC.

"We do not believe the Federal Communications Commission's move to utility-style regulation... is legally sustainable," he said.

USTelecom's case was brought in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which has rejected net neutrality regulations proposed by the FCC twice already.

Alamo challenged the new rules in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, making a similar argument to that made by USTelecom.

Challenges

According to the Reuters news agency, industry sources have previously said USTelecom and two other trade groups - CTIA - The Wireless Association, which represents the wireless communications industry, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which acts for the US cable television industry - were expected to lead legal challenges.

Verizon Communications Inc, which won a 2010 case against the FCC, was unlikely to mount its own legal challenge this time around, an industry source familiar with Verizon's plan told the agency.

The FCC said the legal challenges were "premature and subject to dismissal."

Officials added they had been prepared for legal action and the new rules were on much firmer legal ground than previous iterations.

The FCC's rules have yet to be published in the Federal Register and formally go into effect.

USTelecom, in its legal action, said it had filed the challenge on Monday in case the rules were construed to be final on the date of issue.

Priority access

In a blogpost, the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology - a free-market group - said the FCC's net neutrality rules were ideological and removed from the "real internet... [where] congestion is commonplace and the interests of content owners are divergent".

It referred to a Wall Street Journal report that major streaming networks were already seeking to separate their services from the public internet in search of higher speeds.

In Europe, regulators have also proposed allowing services other than those used to access the public internet a fast lane if they require a higher quality connection to function.

However, they sought to avoid a detrimental effect on the quality of service to internet users.


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Twitch issues password warning

Twitch
Twitch said users' names, phone numbers, addresses, and dates of birth could have been among the data leaked

Users of the Amazon-owned video game streaming service Twitch have been instructed to change their passwords amid fears the site has been hacked.

Twitch told users that their names and phone numbers were among the details feared to have been leaked.

It said it had deleted passwords, which were encrypted, and disconnected users' accounts from Twitter and YouTube.

But the site came in for criticism after it appeared to condone users setting weak replacement passwords.

As of July last year, Twitch had more than 55 million unique monthly viewers.

In an email to users, Twitch said: "We are writing to let you know that there may have been unauthorised access to some of your Twitch user account information, including possibly your Twitch username and associated email address, your password (which was cryptographically protected), the last IP address you logged in from, and any of the following if you provided it to us: first and last name, phone number, address, and date of birth."

It also said that it did not store or process full credit card information.

In a separate statement published on its blog, Twitch did not directly admit that it had been hacked.

"There may have been unauthorised access to some Twitch user account information," it said.

'Grumbling users'

When asked by the BBC, a Twitch spokesman refused to confirm whether or not it knew for sure that a breach had taken place.

However, in an email to users, the company said it had deleted all passwords and users would be prompted to choose a new one the next time they tried to log in.

After complaints from some users that the minimum requirement for replacement passwords was too restrictive, Twitch lowered its threshold, requiring only eight-digit passwords.

That prompted criticism from security experts.

"Following a hack, most companies strengthen their security - but in Twitch's case they actually watered it down to appease grumbling users who haven't yet learned that maybe life would be easier and safer if they simply used a password manager," wrote security consultant Graham Cluley on his blog.

"Part of me really wishes [Twitch] had stuck to its guns and demanded lengthy passwords to be used, as that would surely have encouraged a least a few more users to try out a password management utility," he added.

"It should go without saying that if your password has potentially been breached on a site like Twitch, you better make sure that you are not using the same password anywhere else on the internet."

'Risk'

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said: "Fortunately, in this instance passwords were encrypted, minimising the risk of passwords being used by the hackers. However, the fact that names, addresses and other personal details were not will be cause for concern for many customers.

"Our passwords are our first line of defence when it comes to protecting ourselves from cybercriminals, so it's important that businesses and we as consumers take steps to keep these protected."

Mr Emm advised choosing a password at least 12 characters long that contained a mixture of numbers, letters and symbols.

Amazon bought Twitch Interactive last year for $970m (£650m), beating a rival bid from Google Inc.


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Facebook data row in top EU court

Max Schrems
Max Schrems has long campaigned against Facebook's data practices

The future of how Europeans' data is shared with US companies such as Facebook and Google is set to be considered by the EU's highest court.

Lawyer and activist Max Schrems said revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed agreed privacy practices were being ignored by Facebook and others.

He called for the current Safe Harbour deal, which allows the transfer of data to US firms, to be scrapped.

Facebook has not commented on the case.

At a hearing in Luxembourg on Tuesday the European Court of Justice's (ECJ) Advocate General said he would give his final opinion on 24 June - the ECJ will make its final decision thereafter.

Privacy principles

The result of the proceedings could have wide implications for all US firms dealing with Europeans' data, including the likes of Twitter, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

It centres around the Safe Harbour agreement, in place since 2000, which allows US firms to collect data on their European users as long as certain principles around storage and security are upheld.

It means user data gathered in Europe can easily be stored legally in data centres within the US.

Those principles include giving adequate notice to users that their data is being collected, and suitable transparency over how it can be accessed and by whom.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook said it only complies with requests for data when forced to by law

The ECJ is considering whether the Safe Harbour agreement is effective in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

Mr Snowden alleged that Facebook and others were complicit in Prism, a surveillance system launched in 2007 by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Euro data

A complaint against Facebook - which bases its European headquarters in Dublin, Ireland - was filed by Mr Schrems last year.

He said the network should be investigated over the alleged co-operation with US intelligence agencies in handing over user data from Europeans.

Mr Schrems said Facebook had acted against the Safe Harbour rules, and that local regulators should step in to protect Europeans' data.

Data centre
The ECJ's decision could mean US firms are forced to open more data centres in Europe

The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) said it would not investigate the claims, a decision that was challenged by Mr Schrems in the Irish High Court.

Judge Duncan Hogan then referred the wider matter of whether Safe Harbour was effective to the ECJ.

'Serious effects'

The ECJ's eventual decision could have a dramatic impact on the business practices of Facebook and other US firms.

Scrapping the Safe Harbour agreement would make it much more difficult to transfer data from Europe to the US to be stored in data centres.

While Facebook has not made a formal statement on the case, the BBC understands that the firm would be likely to welcome updating the Safe Harbour rules in light of the Snowden revelations.

Some companies, such as Twitter, have said they would need to build new data centres in Europe to handle information, needlessly duplicating resources they already have in the US.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for the UK data regulator said in court that scrapping Safe Harbour would "have quite serious effects... risking disruption of trade that carries significant benefit for the EU and its citizens".

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC


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Car slows when it sees speed signs

Ford is to sell a car that can read road signs and adjust its speed accordingly to ensure the vehicle is not driving too fast.

The speed-limiting tech can be activated via the steering wheel and briefly overridden by pressing firmly on the accelerator.

The car company suggests the facility will help drivers avoid fines and could reduce the number of accidents.

However, one expert said the innovation might only serve as a "stopgap".

"There's a plan for speed restrictions to be beamed to your car's computer systems and controlled from there, rather than requiring street sign visual recognition systems," said Paul Newton, an automotive industry analyst at the IHS consultancy.

"This would be part an extension of the networks that will connect vehicles, allowing cars to warn those behind them if they are slowing down, which is all part of a move toward autonomous vehicles that drive themselves."

Speed limit dashboard
The new vehicles will alert the driver to detected road signs via a read-out in the centre of the car's speedometer

Such a system, however, is some way off.

Ford's technology will become available to the public this August, when it launches the second generation of its S-Max cars in Europe.

A spokesman for the US car company told the BBC the facility would probably be extended to other models around the world.

Speed fines

The system, which is called the Intelligent Speed Limiter, combines two existing technologies already fitted to many cars:

  • Adjustable speed limiters - these use sensors mounted in a car's wheels to detect how fast it is going. Once software detects the vehicle is at a maximum preset speed, it limits the amount of fuel that reaches the engine, rather than applying the brakes. The system does, however, allow the driver to quickly suspend the restriction by pressing the accelerator pedal to the floor, letting them overtake another vehicle or avoid a collision
  • Traffic sign recognition - a forward-facing windscreen-mounted video camera scans the environment for road signs and alerts the driver to their presence. Ford cars previously fitted with this tech are limited to showing corresponding graphics on their dashboard displays

Drivers will be able to set the new system to let them speed at up to 5mph (8km/h) beyond the detected limit.

S-Max car
The new system will only be initially available with the S-Max car, which is limited to Europe

While some motorists might still resist the idea of giving up control to their vehicle, Ford suggested others would appreciate the convenience and safety on offer.

"Drivers are not always conscious of speeding... sometimes only becoming aware they were going too fast when they receive a fine in the mail or are pulled over by law enforcement," said Stefan Kappes, a safety supervisor at Ford.

"Intelligent Speed Limiter can remove one of the stresses of driving, helping ensure customers remain within the legal speed limit."

Ford noted that in 2013 more than 15,000 drivers in the UK had been issued with speeding fines costing £100 or more and that a motorist in Finland had been fined 54,000 euros (£38,400) after being caught driving 14mph (23km/h) over a 50mph limit.

It hopes that statistics such as this will help encourage consumers to spend extra money on the technology, which it has not included as standard on the basic S-Max model.

Heart-attack detector

Ford is one of several vehicle-makers to have turned to sensor-based technologies to help people drive more safely.

Volvo bicycle safety system
Volvo has fitted some of its cars with sensors and software that can tell cyclists apart from other objects

Cars from China's Volvo offer bicycle-detection software that applies the brakes if a cyclist suddenly swerves in front of its cars. Volvo has said it also intends to expand this to avoid collisions with animals soon.

Germany's Mercedes-Benz promotes its Steering Assist system, which prevents its cars driving too close to the vehicles in front of them and aims to stop drivers unintentionally drifting out of their road lane.

Japan's Honda uses similar technology to provide its False Start Prevention Function, which prevents a sudden lurch forward if it detects another object in close range, and makes the accelerator pedal vibrate.

Elsewhere, British computer-chip maker Plessey is developing a car seat that monitors the driver's heartbeat, which could give the car control if it suspected the motorist was having a heart attack.

Meanwhile, Australia's Seeing Machines has fitted an eye-movement detection system to several coaches in Europe that sounds an alert if it detects drivers falling asleep.

Plessey heart rate monitor
Plessey has been working on a heart-rate monitor that would be built into car seats

However, Mr Newton warned the rise of further intervention-based automotive technologies posed risks of their own.

"Removing the human element is one way to provide safety, but we know that computers go wrong," he said.

"I suppose there will have to be a point in time when we accept that computer-generated accidents and even potentially fatalities are part and parcel of the greater good. We'll never get faultless technology."


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