Does the government really want to ban WhatsApp, iMessage and Skype?

WhatsApp logo

Eight hundred million people around the world use WhatsApp to communicate, we learned this week from its owners, Facebook.

Yet this is the messaging service which could soon be banned by the British government because its use of encryption makes it too private for the security services to access. That at least was the story repeated in several newspapers in recent weeks, and frequently denied by Downing Street.

But this morning even the Financial Times seemed to back it up. In an article about the battle between governments and corporations over access to encrypted messages it says this: "David Cameron, UK prime minister, has proposed a complete ban on strong encryption 'to ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate'."

WhatsApp is just one of the services that uses strong encryption for their messages, along with Apple's iMessage and Skype's internet calls. Both the US and UK governments have expressed growing concerns that criminals and terrorists are making use of such services to communicate, knowing that they are completely private.

So does the prime minister really want to ban them? The idea first arose in a speech he made in January which posed this rhetorical question: "In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary personally, that we cannot read?" His answer was no.

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The FT and the value of digital news

The Financial Times newspaper

The Financial Times has a global paying audience, the majority of them with a digital subscription, and it makes a profit. But now - like many other great British institutions - it is going to have a foreign owner.

Japan's leading financial media group Nikkei has paid £844m to acquire the FT Group. That has been described as a luxury price by news industry watchers, which tells you something about how far old media firms have fallen out of fashion. They point out that the price is about five times what the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the venerable Washington Post two years ago, a deal described then as remarkably generous.

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The serious science (and business) of gaming

Man looks at screen through virtual reality glasses

Video games - a childish and sometimes dangerous pursuit, not worthy of being spoken of in the same breath as music or movies, either in cultural or economic terms?

Until recently, that was quite a common view in Britain, not just in certain newspapers but among many politicians. But a visit to Brighton this week should have been enough to convince anyone that games have serious value.

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Amazon’s profitless path

Jeff Bezos at an Amazon launch

Twenty years ago today Amazon sold its first book, created the first online book store and went on to become a hugely profitable internet superpower. Today it's celebrating that anniversary with Amazon Prime day, 24 hours of special offers which will be the biggest day of e-commerce the world has ever seen.

Actually, scrub that first paragraph - almost every fact in it is inaccurate. That birthday? Three months earlier Amazon had already tested its systems, selling an academic work about artificial intelligence to a computer scientist in April 1995. It was not the first online book store - the previous year a British man, Darryl Mattocks, posted the first book sold by his Internet Bookshop, a venture soon eclipsed by Amazon.

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Microsoft and Nokia - a marriage made in hell?

Microsoft Nokia sign

Microsoft's takeover of Nokia's mobile phone operation is bound to end up as a business school case study. The deal now looks like a disaster for all concerned - many of the 25,000 Nokia employees have seen their jobs disappear and Microsoft has written off just about all the money it spent.

It looks as though the new chief executive Satya Nadella has looked at the strategy of his predecessor Steve Ballmer and decided it was a disaster. It was Ballmer who decided to buy Nokia, and when the deal was announced he told me "together as one company with the devices folks at Nokia, we'll do a phenomenal job".

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Micro Bit - questions and answers

Micro Bit

Inside the BBC Radio Theatre this morning, the enthusiasm was palpable.

From the BBC's director general to senior executives from technology companies, from Dara O'Briain to teenage techies, everyone at the unveiling of the Micro Bit seemed convinced that this was an idea whose time had come.

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Robots on the march

Sitting eating a hot dog outside Lyon's exhibition centre, I couldn't help noticing the group at the next table. Three young men were chatting while a fourth sat completely immobile, not saying a word.

Maybe that was because the fourth was a robot.

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Taylor forces Apple to listen

Taylor Swift

Apple is not a company famed for listening. After all, it prides itself on knowing what consumers want before they do, so why should it care what they think? All the more surprising then, that it should have listened to one angry customer, a Ms T Swift of Beverly Hills, California.

It helped, of course, that Taylor Swift is probably the biggest name in the recording industry right now. But her more in sorrow than anger Tumblr post about Apple's "shocking, disappointing" plan to pay artists nothing for the first three months of its Apple Music service certainly had an instant impact.

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Google's Schmidt - Apple is wrong about our privacy

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in March

The two giants of the tech world, Google and Apple, are battling over where we spend our time online - and Apple maintains it has a key advantage, privacy.

The company which makes huge sums from selling us hardware maintains it is far more careful with our data than Google, whose profits are based on giving advertisers detailed knowledge of our habits. But now Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has fired back.

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At E3, virtual becomes real

In the past few days I've taken part in a London jewel raid, and ended up in a shootout with my fellow conspirators.

I've stood on the bridge of an American battleship, trying to decide whether a small boat a mile or so away is occupied by pirates and if so what action I should take. And I have watched as an entire world in toy bricks animate suddenly upon a coffee table.

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