Gmail access appears to be blocked in China

Easy access to Google’s email service Gmail is now blocked in China, according to reports.

Using Gmail directly via Google’s site has been impossible in the country for some time, but locals had still been able to use third-party apps, such as Microsoft Outlook, to use the service.

However, Google’s own data indicates such traffic took a nosedive on Friday and has only slightly recovered since.

The US firm said there were no known issues with its provision of Gmail.

“There’s nothing technically wrong on our end,” Taj Meadows, a spokesman for Google Asia Pacific, told news agency Associated Press.

The digital rights campaign group, GreatFire.org, was one of the first organisations to flag the fact that internet protocol addresses used to let software access Gmail had become inaccessible in China.

“Those protocols are used in the default email app on iPhone, Microsoft Outlook on PC and many more email clients,” it said.

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China’s Xiaomi becomes most valuable tech start-up

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has become the world’s most valuable technology start-up just four years after it was founded.

The firm raised $1.1bn (£708m) in its latest round of funding, giving it a valuation of $45bn, which surpassed the $40bn value of taxi booking app Uber.

It has quickly risen to the ranks of the world’s biggest smartphone makers, behind Samsung and Apple in sales.

The company is also set to unveil a new flagship device in January.

Xiaomi’s investors include private equity funds All-Stars Investment, DST Global, Hopu Investment Management, Yunfeng Capital, and Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, said co-founder and president Bin Lin in a Facebook post.

“This is an affirmation of Xiaomi’s stellar results in four years, and heralds a new phase for the company,” Mr Bin said.

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The Interview makes $15m in online release

Controversial Sony film The Interview has become the number one online movie ever released by the studio just four days after its release on 24 December.

The film raked in over $15m (£9.6m) and was downloaded more than two million times as of 27 December.

The film, about a fictional American plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was initially halted from being released by the studio.

It angered North Korea and was behind a wide scale cyber attack on the studio.

The hack from a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace led to the leaking of confidential information including upcoming movie scripts, confidential emails and actors’ salaries.

Sony halted the release after unspecified threats of attacks against theatres and moviegoers.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) later said its investigation into the hacking attack pointed the finger at North Korea. The country denied involvement, but described the hack as a “righteous deed”.

Sony said in a statement on Sunday that the movie was made available in the US and Canada through Google services YouTube and Play, Microsoft’s Xbox Video and its dedicated website in HD versions for 48-hour rental at $5.99 and for purchase at $14.99.

There was also a “strong turnout” for the movie’s limited theatre release, after major US chains backed out of screening it.

Sony’s move to cancel the film’s release had garnered criticism in the US including from President Barack Obama, who said it meant freedom of expression was under threat.

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North Korea struggles to stay online

North Korea appears to have suffered a second internet blackout, according to internet performance measuring firm Dyn Research.

On its Twitter feed, the firm reported a second outage this afternoon – which was restored less than an hour later.

“Internet of North Korea down again at 15.41 UTC. Second blackout since last night’s restoration of service,” the tweet read.

The first outage saw large parts of the internet unavailable in North Korea.

Officials have not yet commented on the issue.

Speculation is rife about the source of the blackouts, following a cyber security row with the US.

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Location services: How GPS delivery is changing shopping

It is the world after taxi app Uber made your smartphone broadcasting your location seem normal.

In 2015, after you’ve paid for your Mocha Frappuccino on your mobile, Starbucks will experiment with bringing it straight to you.

Own a Volvo? Since February, Volvo On Call pilot Roam has let couriers leave parcels and groceries in the boot of your car.

And in parts of the US, crowdsourced couriers, location data and top secret algorithms seem to be taking the place of dispatchers with two-way radios.

We have seen the future, and it is wearing a GPS device.

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What is FBI evidence for North Korea hack attack?

The FBI’s analysis has concluded North Korea is to blame for the attack on Sony Pictures – but how can it be sure?

As well as Pyongyang having a motive for taking serious issue with The Interview, there’s a couple of pieces of key evidence the US is now using to pin the blame.

However, they’re not without flaws.

As security researcher Brian Honan put it to me earlier: “I still don’t see anything that in a court would convict North Korea beyond reasonable doubt.”

So let’s take a look.

First, the FBI says its analysis spotted distinct similarities between the type of malware used in the Sony Pictures hack and code used in an attack on South Korea last year.

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Asians flock to social networks for shopping sprees

Singaporean student Dora Soh posts her “outfit of the day” online every day, to connect with fellow fashionistas and inspire her nearly 10,000 followers on Instagram.

The 22-year-old’s shopping habits have become so influential that online retailers are now sponsoring her to wear their clothes, in hopes that her posts will boost their brand and sales.

Online retailers sponsoring Dora include Singaporean brands The Tinsel Rack, MGP and Mint & Ooak

“On social media, I can interact with strangers and share fashion inspiration by following their accounts and liking their photos,” Ms Soh says.

While this sounds like a simple formula to keep up with the latest fashion trends, the avid shopper is at the forefront of a rapidly growing business in Asia – social shopping.

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Sony hack: A guide to the cyber attack on Hollywood

In November, the headquarters of US entertainment giant Sony Pictures suffered a devastating digital attack.

One month on, and the consequences of the hack are still being experienced, with damage caused to the film world and major Hollywood celebrities alike.

Leaked documents have laid bare confidential and personal information of both famous faces and Sony employees.

Here, we examine the complicated catalogue of events, and the implications it could have for major players in the entertainment industry – including consumers.

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Sony Pictures hackers threaten US cinemas

The group, calling themselves Guardians of Peace, mention the 9/11 attacks in their warning, claiming “the world will be full of fear”.

The hackers also released more data stolen from Sony’s computer networks.

It is believed the attacks were triggered by Sony’s new film, a comedy that features a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

“Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” the hacker group wrote in a message on Tuesday.

“If your house is nearby, you’d better leave,” they add. “Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

The Interview stars James Franco (left) and Seth Rogen

The group also released a new trove of Sony company data, calling it a “Christmas gift”.

A cache of company emails, social security numbers and salary details had already been released.

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Pirate Bay ‘copy’ goes online after shutdown

Isohunt, a website providing access to mostly pirated material, has cloned the database of its competitor, The Pirate Bay, after it was shut down last week.

The cloned site is online and fully functioning, according to users.

The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s most visited websites, has been closed since a police raid in Sweden last week.

Isohunt, which was banned in the UK last month, says it made the move in order to “save the Freedom of information on the Internet”.

If The Pirate Bay returns, the cloned site will be taken down, Isohunt added.

The Pirate Bay offered an expansive list of links to pirated content including films, TV shows and music.

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