Good morning, Data Sheet readers. Physicist Stephen Hawking is the high-profile spokesman for Intel’s latest assistive technology for the physically disabled. Plus, there are plenty of security and privacy developments for you to mull over the weekend. Here’s what you need to know on this first Friday in December.
The high price of security negligence. A Minnesota judge greenlighted a lawsuit filed by five banks against retailer Target. They’re seeking financial damages to share the cost of rectifying and replacing more than 40 million stolen credit cards. Target actually had a sophisticated detection system in place to prevent breaches like the one it suffered last year but apparently didn’t heed alarms earlier enough. By the way, Bebe Stores is the latest high-profile store to admit to a breach. New York Times, Reuters
U.S. hires cybersecurity prosecutor. The Justice Department officially established a group specializing in data breach investigations. Because obviously we kind of need one. The team will also play a role in shaping federal policies related to electronic surveillance and online crimes. Reuters
Smartphones and privacy. It looks like Taiwan is getting ready to crack down on 12 manufacturers that collect data improperly—although it doesn’t say what products it’s not happy about. In the United States, companies like Apple and Google have added default data encryption, which irks the FBI. Now, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is proposing a bill called the Secure Data Act to “protect our constitutional rights.” Reuters, Ars Technica
Appeals court considers proposed Apple-Samsung patent payout. A special three-judge panel in Washington must decide whether a $930 million jury judgment is appropriate. Samsung thinks it’s too big. Wall Street Journal
Microsoft officially bails on Nook tablet. It initially invested $300 million to help Barnes & Noble establish the struggling e-reader technology. Since then, it has focused on its own technology, called Surface. Microsoft recouped less than half of its original investment. Fortune, Reuters
Hershey satisfies data sweet tooth. Analytics company Palantir—aiming for $1 billion in revenue this year—got its start helping the CIA and NSA find bad guys. Now, the candy giant uses the software to track Kisses and such from cocoa farm to store shelf. Fortune
Done deal. Business expense software maker Concur is now officially part of SAP. Approximately 25,000 companies use the cloud service. The “addressable market” is $1.2 trillion in corporate travel spending.
RESEARCH & PREDICTIONS
Death to email! Not really, but the tide is turning. More information workers are logging out of bloated inboxes. Instead, they’re opting for collaboration and messaging technologies that prioritize urgent communications. So, prepare to hear way more in 2015 about software startups that could restore the sanity, such as Slack (started by Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield). Plus, no more fighting for limited power outlets. Wireless charging for your gadgets will finally catch on next year. Fortune
POLICY & STRATEGY
Why Stephen Hawking is talking up Intel’s ‘assistive technology’ innovation
You’ve heard plenty about diversity in the high-tech industry this year, mainly focused on matters of gender and race. Subtly, but surely the dialogue is expanding to include another often-overlooked demographic—individuals with physical disabilities.
So-called “assistive” technologies that adapt computers and mobile gadgets for people who can’t use traditional input methods like keyboards or mice or even touch screens have been around for some time, of course.
But Intel this week cast a new spotlight on this category. In particular, it’s pitching a system developed in collaboration with the world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. (Convenient timing given the release of a major motion picture based on his early life, “The Theory of Everything.”)
The technology, due in early 2015, lets individuals like Hawking—who is afflicted with motor neuron disease—control software applications through eye movements.
The major differences between this new platform and the one he’s been using for close to a decade center on performance. Intel’s new approach allows Hawking to “type” twice as fast. That means he can complete tasks such as composing an email message or navigating the Internet through a web browser more quickly. It also allows him to switch back and forth among applications more seamlessly. Intel figures there are roughly 3 million people worldwide who could benefit from this particular system.
Hawking noted: “Intel has been supporting me for almost 20 years, allowing me to do what I love every day. The development of this system has the potential to improve the lives of disabled people around the world and is leading the way in terms of human interaction and the ability to overcome communication boundaries that once stood in the way.”
Speech synthesizers and eye-controlled pointing devices included in the Intel solution represent are just two examples of technologies that fall under the assistive umbrella. Some things you’d normally associate with computer gaming also have an obvious use, including joysticks or wands that respond to gestures. “Technology for the disabled is often a proving group for the technology of the future,” observed Intel Labs researcher Lama Nachman.
From a corporate standpoint, supporting assistive technologies could become a hiring differentiator. Consider an example I noticed earlier this week involving call center software. Utah-based company TCN has added features to its cloud-based service that allow businesses to include visually impaired agents in customer support roles. This was made possible by connecting its software with a screen reader called JAWS (which stands for Job Access with Speech) sold by Freedom Scientific.
“We can roll this out in a matter of hours,” said TCN co-founder CEO Terrel Bird, who positions the technology as useful for any call center organization. “I believe this will be adopted more broadly when agencies realize that they can hire visually impaired people and bring them onside, or have them work remotely, and give them equal footing.”
In a report issued in late 2013, research firm Gartner estimates that approximately 15% of the world’s population could benefit directly from assistive technologies—and the rest of us will also feel a positive impact from the innovation behind them.
“Every day situational disabilities include listening to a conference call in a noisy airport, or using a mobile phone while driving or wearing gloves,” said Gartner analyst Andrew Johnson. “In many cases, assistive technology features will not only help mitigate common environmental factors, but can be used as the foundation to improve security and enhance privacy for everyone.”
MY FORTUNE.COM BOOKMARKS
Why I decided to ‘unplug’ from email By Tristan Walker
Warren Buffett’s latest investment: Hillary Clinton By Stephen Gandel
Uber is now more valuable than at least 72% of the Fortune 500 By Erin Griffith
Larry Page explains why dominant tech companies falter By Miguel Helft
FOR YOUR INNER TECHNOPHILE
More honest than a focus group? Best Buy, GoogleX and Lego are three of the companies using sensors and software from consulting firm mPath to gather feedback about product design. The idea is to track emotional reactions. Think of it as a new-age lie detector. Wired
ONE MORE THING
Tim Cook’s revelation inspires Alabama legislation. A new state bill outlawing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation might be named after Apple’s CEO. Cook publicly announced he was gay in an October Bloomberg Businessweek editorial. The Verge
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
IBM Interconnect 2015: Cloud and mobile strategy. (Feb. 22 – 26, 2015; Las Vegas)
Microsoft Convergence 2015: Dynamics solutions. (March 16 – 19, 2015; Atlanta)
Knowledge15: Automate enterprise IT services. (April 19-24, 2015; Las Vegas)
MicrosoftIgnite: Enterprise tech extravangaza. (May 4 – 8, 2015; Chicago)
SAPPHIRE NOW: The SAP universe. (May 5 – 7, 2015; Orlando, Fla.)