Tech Round-Up: Anonymous Takes on ISIL, Square IPO Beats Estimates and a Freeze Ray

technology-news-335Rapid developments in the worlds of technology and science have us returning with our latest Tech Round-Up here on IPWatchdog. From tech developers trying to take a stand against tech-savvy terrorists to a pair of highly anticipated initial public offerings of stock for tech start-ups, there’s been plenty of news to cover in recent days. We also take a little time to explore research at an American university which has led to the world’s first-ever “freeze ray” laser technology.

The Tech World Steps Up the Fight Against ISIL

Much is made about the technologically savvy nature of the terrorist group known as ISIL/ISIS in recent weeks but not many realize that the organization has its own 34-page cybersecurity manual which it gives to recruits, advising them on which encrypted channels to communicate across. Cryptocat, Telegram, RedPhone, Wickr and ProtonMail are just a few of the encrypted communications technologies which are mentioned in that manual, indicating that they’re likely being used by ISIL and other terrorist groups to coordinate attacks.

There has been much discussion in the wake of the attacks on Parisian civilians about whether the government should be given greater control over data surveillance to prevent future attacks. Within a week of the tragedy, Telegram founder Pavel Durov, who was once reported as saying that “our right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism,” announced that Telegram had blocked 78 ISIL-related chat channels operating across 12 languages as well as another 164 public channels featuring terrorist propaganda.

Related activity is also being seen on behalf of the international hacktivist group known as Anonymous, a non-governmental organization which has targeted diverse organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America and the Church of Scientology. After the Paris attacks, Anonymous declared war against ISIL in the digital sphere. Within days, Anonymous claimed responsibility for the deletion of thousands of Twitter accounts which it reports were related to ISIL. However, cybersecurity experts have said that the activities of Anonymous could actually cause collateral damage in certain counter-terrorism efforts.

Square’s IPO Trounces Estimates, But Tech Unicorn Issues Remain

Near the end of November, Wall Street got its latest look at the value of tech unicorns, private companies with a valuation exceeding $1 billion, with the initial public offering of shares of mobile payment services provider Square Inc. (NYSE:SQ) of San Francisco, CA. The IPO was valued at $4 billion even though Square’s valuation as a private company had previously been about $6 billion, causing some to question whether the heyday of tech unicorns was coming to an end.

Plenty of naysayers got their comeuppance when shares of Square increased by 50 percent in the day after hitting the market, rising from $9 per share to a high mark of $14.78; Square stock was priced at $12.85 as of this writing. Some analysts noted how this kind of stock activity following an IPO, where stock valued under company prospectus have ended up trading higher than the prospectus’ target range, hasn’t been seen in Wall Street in 17 years, going back to the early days of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s.

The IPO wasn’t a complete win for Square, however. At least one analyst has noted that Square may have left as much as $50 million on the table by pricing the stock lower than the prospectus target range of $11 to $13 per stock. The discount forced by investors has already caused at least one company, mortgage lender LoanDepot, to delay plans for its own IPO over fears that it might have to offer stock at a price below its own private valuation. Square has also been facing growing complaints from its small business clients which have had accounts deactivated when Square’s fraud detection technologies register a false positive.

Pfizer-Allergan Merger Could Happen Despite New Tax Inversion Rules

The largest pharmaceutical company in the world would be created if a proposed merger between New York City-based Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Dublin, Ireland-based Allergan PLC (NYSE:AGN) is successful. The merger deal reportedly worth more than $150 billion would create a single enterprise marketing such popular healthcare products and medicines as the Prevnar pneumonia vaccine, Lipitor cholesterol medication, Botox anti-wrinkle treatment and other medications treating conditions as diverse as cancer, Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis.

The expected structure of the merger deal, however, may pose problems for Pfizer if federal regulators decide to get involved. The terms of the deal will see Allergan acquiring Pfizer, enabling the resulting company to benefit from more favorable corporate tax rates in Ireland in a move that has come to be known as a tax inversion. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has issued rules in recent weeks which are intended to limit such tax inversions, which reduce the amount of corporate tax taken in by the American federal government. However, the comparable size of both companies and the expected ownership stake of each are expected to pass the tax inversion litmus test established by the Treasury Department.

There are other benefits to Pfizer that would come from this deal which don’t involve the taxes saved from the corporate inversion. Pfizer executives have contemplated a split of the corporation and have said that a decision will officially be made by the fourth quarter of 2016. Allergan’s drug portfolio would allow Pfizer to carve out less valuable divisions like non-patent protected established business products, a sector which has been declining for Pfizer in recent quarters. Comments from Allergan CEO Brent Saunders indicate that the resulting company may be friendlier to research and development than Allergan itself has been in the past.

Match Group IPO Reflects Growing Popularity of Online Dating

Square is not the only tech firm which entered the latter parts of November looking to score big in an IPO. The Match Group Inc. (NASDAQ:MTCH), owned by New York City-based IAC, was also looking to cash in on its varied portfolio in online dating services by going public. Match also opted for a low price initial offering, going public at $12 per share, the bottom of Match’s projected price range. Shares popped by 12.5 percent in the day after the IPO, trading at $13.50 per share; Match Group shares had surged further to $15.35 as of this writing.

Match Group owns and operates a portfolio of more than 45 online dating service brands including some very recognizable names like, Tinder, PlentyOfFish and OKCupid. In total, these online dating services cater to an active user base of 59 million monthly users. Statistics being reported by the Pew Research Center indicates that about 10 percent of American adults have used a dating app at some point and more than one-third of those who are single and looking have taken the plunge into the online dating world.

An ill-advised interview by Tinder CEO Sean Rad given to the London Evening Standard on the eve of the IPO raised concerns among Match Group executives that stock prices would be affected. In response, the company filed an updated S-1 statement distancing the company from Rad’s remarks. The company also corrected falsely reported statistics, noting that as of September 2015, Tinder had 9.6 million daily users contributing a total of 1.4 billion swipes, the method by which Tinder users signal attraction, each day.

University of Washington Researchers Create Laser with Cooling Properties

The freeze ray is the stuff of science fiction legend: archvillains from Dr. Freeze of Batman & Robin to Dr. Horrible of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog have made their mark on their foes by capturing them in a beam of energy that turns a living person into a block of ice. Most lasers that we’re familiar with in the real world, however, create heat, proving to be a poor solution for putting an enemy on ice.

While the concept of a pistol-shaped device to freeze a person is still very much fiction, researchers at the University of Washington have made a major breakthrough in laser technology. An infrared laser was used to cool water by a total of 36°F, the first time such a laser was employed to remove heat from a substance. The scientists achieved the effect by reversing a common laser technique, suspending a single microscopic crystal in water and using the infrared laser to excite a glow with a higher energy than the amount of light absorbed. As the glow is sent out by the crystal, it carries heat with it away from the water.

A number applications for what is being called “spot cooling” have been envisioned for this technology. The infrared laser technology could be incorporated onto microprocessors to cool components of computer chips, keeping them from overheating and improving their ability to process information. Medical scientists could also use the technology to cool down individual cells, slowing down the rapid process of cell division to give researchers a better opportunity to study that process.


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