We take a look at the stories that affected home computer users in the past year
Ed Vaizey, the Minister of Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, proposed that people should be forced to opt in if they wanted to visit adult-themed websites. It caused fury among internet service providers (ISPs) and civil liberty groups. Alex Hanff of Privacy International said this was “censorship by the back door and who decides what is pornographic and what is culture?”.
It came to light that ISPs were considering charging customers more to view bandwidth-hungry content such as video. BT denied it was planning any such move, but Sebastien Lahtinen of the advice site Thinkbroadband.com said he believed “other major ISPs such as O2, Sky, Virgin and Talktalk were probably looking at technologies” to enable such services.
We learned that the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) was facing serious budgetary constraints. The Government wanted CAB to take on much of the consumer-protection work carried out by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Consumer Focus.
Two and a half years after we uncovered the Zavvi Direct scam, which conned over 2,500 people, justice finally prevailed. Two of the fraudsters behind the site that pretended to be the legitimate high street chain Zavvi were found guilty of 14 counts of money laundering and fraud. They were jailed in June for two years each.
There was even better news in the spring when the bullying tactics of one firm of solicitors was exposed in court. ACS Law had demanded payments by letter from thousands of people it claimed had illegally downloaded copyright-protected pornographic videos, with 27 people ending up in court for a test case. But Judge Birss dismissed the claims, saying that he was “getting the distinct impression that with every twist and turn, it appears the claimant is trying to avoid judicial scrutiny.” ACS Law closed and its owner declared bankruptcy.
Ofcom asked the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) to review broadband advert claims. In October CAP said if ISPs offered ‘unlimited’ services, then they should not charge customers or suspend their services for excessive usage. As for speed claims, it said maximum speeds should be based on a reasonable proportion of people being able to get the speed.
Sony was forced to apologise to online games fans as it admitted criminals had stolen the personal details of thousands of its Playstation Network customers. The service was closed for two weeks, and Sony was criticised for not making customers aware of the potential breach sooner.
Social networking received the royal seal of approval when Clarence House announced that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton would be streamed live on Youtube.
There was a shock for rugby lovers when a ruling in the High Court upheld the Rugby Football Union’s terms and conditions that it could bar people from games if they had bought tickets second-hand from sites such as Viagogo. The ruling throws into doubt the legality of selling tickets to events that the original buyer can no longer attend.
Long-standing PC manufacturer Mesh Computers went into administration, leaving hundreds of people in limbo. People who had ordered but not received a PC had to make a claim through their card providers, although the new owner, PC Peripherals, said it would honour existing warranties.
The National Fraud Authority appeared to begin to take the computer cold-calls scam more seriously. It set up a dedicated web page where victims of this type of fraud can log a complaint. However, to date it doesn’t appear to have had any impact on this crime, which is as persistent and pernicious as ever.
The first details of Microsoft’s next operating system began to emerge. Windows 8 has been designed to work better on tablet computers and will load web pages and videos faster.
Social networks found themselves at the centre of controversy as the UK experienced the worst riots seen in the country for more than 20 years. Prime Minister David Cameron and some senior police officers considered shutting down social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter during periods of unrest. They were maligned as being one of the reasons for the spread of the lawless behaviour. But defenders of the sites said updates on Facebook had helped many people to steer clear of trouble hotspots, and that the clean-up campaign organised via Twitter showed social networking did more good than harm.
Illegal file sharing hit the headlines again with the Government planning to make it harder for people to appeal against convictions. Ofcom is setting up an appeals body but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport asked it to remove a general right to appeal on “any other reasonable grounds”.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and former chief executive, died at the age of 56. Mr Jobs did much to turn the computing world on its head. Long-term rival - and friend - Bill Gates paid tribute: “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.”
BT lost a legal battle with the Motion Picture Association, and was ordered to block the file-sharing site Newzbin2. The judge ruled that the ISP must set up filters within 14 days to stop its customers accessing the site.
The website-blocking proposal raised in January reappeared, though misreported. Reputable newspapers and TV channels reported that consumers would have to opt in to access sexually explicit websites. But the major ISPs had only agreed to promote their parental-control software more effectively.
An insider at one of the four main ISPs said: “The mistakes were down to Lobby briefings by Number 10 to political journalists: people who don’t know what they’re talking about telling technical things to others who don’t know what they’re talking about.”
There was more woe for PC retailers with Carphone Warehouse announcing it was closing all of its Best Buy stores, and Comet being sold for just £2.
As the year closes, the legal dispute between Apple and Samsung continues over technology used in smartphones and tablets. The battle raging in 10 countries started in April, with Apple claiming Samsung infringed 13 of its patents. Apple failed to obtain a court order to block sales of Samsung’s 4G smartphone and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the US.
Fraudsters meanwhile hit Xbox users, who have been warned in the run up to Christmas to beware of phishing emails that could lead them to a fake site, where their personal details could be stolen and accounts hijacked.
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