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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - February 21st, '09
"EPIC WINNING LOL" – Peter Sunde, The Pirate Bay
February 21st, 2009
50% of Charges Against Pirate Bay Dropped
There has been high drama on the second day of the Pirate Bay trial. Due to serious shortcomings in the prosecution evidence, around 50% of the charges in the case are going to have to be withdrawn. The defense describes it as a ’sensation’, seeing half of the charges being dropped on the second day.
What has been shown in court today is that the prosecutor cannot prove that the .torrent files he is using as evidence actually used The Pirate Bay’s tracker. Many of the screenshots being used clearly state there is no connection to the tracker. Additionally, prosecutor Håkan Roswall didn’t adequately explain the function of DHT which allows for so called “trackerless” torrents.
The flaw in the evidence was pointed out by Fredrik Neij (TiAMO), who requested to comment on Roswall’s explanation of how BitTorrent actually works. Fredrik said that the prosecution misunderstood the technology, and told the court that the evidence doesn’t show that the Pirate Bay’s trackers are used.
This has resulted in prosecutor Håkan Roswall having to drop all charges relating to “assisting copyright infringement”, so the remaining charges are simply ‘assisting making available’. “Everything related to reproduction will be removed from the claim,” he said.
The defense was happy to see that already half of the charges were dropped during the morning session of the second day. “This is a sensation. It is very rare to win half the target in just one and a half days and it is clear that the prosecutor took strong note of what we said yesterday,” said defense lawyer Per E Samuelson.
Peter Althin, representing Peter Sunde said, “It is clear that this is an advantage for the accused.”
“EPIC WINNING LOL,” Peter himself later commented on Twitter.
During the morning session it was mostly prosecutor Håkan Roswall talking. Among other things he explained in detail how email works (made no mistakes there). Several details on the hardware that was taken during the raid in 2006 were discussed, as well as invoices and email conversations about server costs.
After the lunch break, around 1:30pm the court decided to end the day early. Tomorrow morning the prosecution will continue to build (or break) their case and on Thursday the defense will have its say.
The Pirate Bay Is Making a "Spectrial" of It
The Harvard Law students defending accused file-swapper Joel Tenenbaum are doing their best to turn his upcoming trial into a media event. But when it comes to pure spectacle, they have nothing on The Pirate Bay. TPB is referring to the event as a "spectrial," a cross between a spectacle and a trial. They have set up a site where you can track their current location, complete with journal entries. The trial begins next Monday and features a live audio feed and Twitter translations.
Draconian DRM Revealed In Windows 7
A few days' testing of Windows 7 has already disclosed some draconian DRM, some of it unrelated to media files. A legitimate copy of Photoshop CS4 stopped functioning after we clobbered a nagging registration screen by replacing a DLL with a hacked version. With regard to media files, the days of capturing an audio program on your PC seem to be over (if the program originated on that PC). The inputs of your sound card are severely degraded in software if the card is also playing an audio program (tested here with Grooveshark). This may be the tip of the iceberg. Being in bed with the RIAA is bad enough, but locking your own files away from you is a tactic so outrageous it may kill the OS for many persons. Many users will not want to experiment with a second sound card or computer just to record from online sources, or boot up under a Linux that supports ntfs-3g just to control their files.
Re — Photoshop: That Photoshop stopped functioning after we messed with one of its nag DLLs was not so much a surprise, but what was a surprise: Noting that Win7 allows programs like Photoshop to insert themselves stealthily into your firewall exception list. Further, that the OS allows large software vendors to penetrate your machine. Even further, that that permission is responsible for disabling of a program based on a modified DLL. And then finding that the OS even after reboot has locked you out of your own Local Settings folder; has denied you permission to move or delete the modified DLL; and refuses to allow the replacement of the Local Settings folder after it is unlocked with Unlocker to move it to the Desktop for examination (where it also denies you entry to your own folder). Setting permissions to "allow everyone" was disabled!
Re — media: Under XP you could select 'Stereo Mix' or similar under audio recording inputs and nicely capture any program then playing. No longer.
700 Comments Tell the FTC "No DRM!"
The Federal Trade Commission's DRM conference coming up in March has already attracted 700 user comments... nearly all of them negative. Gamers currently appear to be the single most vocal group on the topic.
The Federal Trade Commission wants to know about DRM, and it's hosting a March conference on the topic. The agency looks set to get an earful—today is the final day to file public comments, and more than 700 individuals have already done so. Surprisingly, the main concerns in the comments don't appear to be about DVDs or protected music files but about video games. If FTC staff didn't know much about SecuRom, Spore, install limits, and activation codes before the conference, they will soon be experts on the topics.
The big players in these sorts of public hearings follow a predictable plan: they hold their filings until the final day for submissions, apparently out of a desire not to tip their hand to opponents and give them a chance to directly address their arguments. The strategy appears to be in play in the DRM proceeding, with only a fistful of corporate or think thank names appearing among the 700 current submissions.
The upside of this behavior is that it makes it simple to browse the comments and get a sense of what those without political clout think of the issue. And, when it comes to DRM, they don't have much good to say—our troll through 30 or 40 comments turned up only a couple that supported DRM. (Including this pithy submission: "The FTC has no place in a matter between private enterprise and public consumption. You are a blight on free speech and a waste of taxpayer dollars.")
While some comments were brief to the point of unhelpfulness ("NO DRM!") and some were filed by a 17-year old Dutch gamer and other non-US residents, most comments stand out for being relatively informed on the issues.
User comments are generally short and lack the polish of the "professional commenters," but they have a "man on the street" authenticity to them. Most make cases against DRM that we've all heard before: it limits buyers but not pirates, it turns content into something "licensed" and controlled rather than sold outright, it has been responsible for root kits, it doesn't work, etc. But such complaints gain their power from the sea of specific examples provided in the comments, brief stories of real people negatively impacted by DRM while attempting to perform legal activities.
My father... received a digital media player for his birthday, so he went and downloaded a track from the largest music sites—iTunes. However, his music player only supported WMA, so his money was wasted.
One commenter writes, for instance, about his father's attempt to buy music online. "The compatibility problems DRM can introduce have been readily apparent in the digital music market," he says. "People have been buying digital music players they call 'MP3 players' because the MP3 format popularized digital music. However, when they went to download digital music, they were almost invariably restricted to one of two formats: WMA and iTunes. No one device supported both formats, so some users who hadn't followed the market bought music they couldn't play. My father was one such consumer. He received a digital media player for his birthday, so he went and downloaded a track from the largest music sites—iTunes. However, his music player only supported WMA, so his money was wasted."
Florida's Mark Wolf was one of many (many!) people to offer their thoughts on DRM and gaming. "I've owned numerous PC game titles from EA and Ubisoft that use DRM such as SecuROM or StarForce," he writes. "Games I own are bought from brick-and-mortar retail outlets, or from online distributors such as Steam, Direct2Drive, or EA Link. On several occasions I've had to remove non-game applications, such as CD/DVD burning tools, DVD Region modification tools (since I am German and live in the US), virtual CD/DVD drives or simple CD/DVD Copying utilities, because I was having problems with games not starting after installation. I am unaware of any law that allows another program to dictate what I can and cannot have on my computer.
"The computer is my personal property, as are the applications that I install on them. I am an IT Director for a firm and understand there may be incompatibilities between applications and that issues can occur, but to blatantly have a GAME PUBLISHER ask a user to uninstall applications because they're been "blacklisted" by their chosen DRM, is totally absurd. The applications that I use are lawfully distributed and I apply them lawfully."
The FTC event will no doubt be interesting to watch (a webcast will be available for those not in the Seattle area). Discussion questions on the agenda include "What can be done, and by whom, to protect consumers or mitigate harm to them if content they purchase is protected by DRM systems that become archaic or obsolete?" and "Are DRM systems being designed in a way that will require consumers to purchase the same content multiple times?"
The event takes place on March 25 at the University of Washington Law School... in William H. Gates Hall. Ars will be there to cover it.
U.K. Govt Rebuffs EU Copyright Vote
David Lammy, the U.K. minister of state for intellectual property, has reaffirmed the British government's position on term extension by refusing to accept the European Parliament's legal affairs committee ruling on a 95-year copyright term for music recordings.
The vote went through yesterday (Feb. 12), approving a European Commission proposal to increase the copyright term from 50 years to 95 years. The U.K. government has only recently shifted its public position from maintaining the status quo to moving to a 70-year term.
In a statement, Lammy effectively reiterated that support for a 70-year term for music recordings. The European ruling will ultimately be voted on by the Council of Ministers, in which Germany and France are supporters of the 95-year term.
"While the U.K. believes that performers should be protected throughout their lifetime a period of 95 years goes beyond what is needed to achieve this aim," said Lammy.
The minister also questioned the benefits to performers in the committee's report, but welcome the so-called 'clean slate' amendment. The committee amended the original text to prevent the use of previous contractual agreements by labels to deduct money from the additional royalties.
Lammy added: "The U.K. strongly believes that any proposal on extension of term must deliver substantial benefits to all performers.
"Whilst we do not believe the current proposal delivers sufficient benefits to performers, the introduction of the clean slate provision is a step in the right direction."
Crop Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Are Thwarting Research
Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists.
“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions,” the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.
The statement will probably give support to critics of biotech crops, like environmental groups, who have long complained that the crops have not been studied thoroughly enough and could have unintended health and environmental consequences.
The researchers, 26 corn-insect specialists, withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. But several of them agreed in interviews to have their names used.
The problem, the scientists say, is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honor company patent rights and environmental regulations. But the agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.
So while university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the seed companies. And sometimes that permission is denied or the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published, they say.
Such agreements have long been a problem, the scientists said, but they are going public now because frustration has been building.
“If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research,” said Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who was one of the scientists who had signed the statement.
What is striking is that the scientists issuing the protest, who are mainly from land-grant universities with big agricultural programs, say they are not opposed to the technology. Rather, they say, the industry’s chokehold on research means that they cannot supply some information to farmers about how best to grow the crops. And, they say, the data being provided to government regulators is being “unduly limited.”
The companies “have the potential to launder the data, the information that is submitted to E.P.A.,” said Elson J. Shields, a professor of entomology at Cornell.
William S. Niebur, the vice president in charge of crop research for DuPont, which owns the big seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred, defended his company’s policies. He said that because genetically engineered crops were regulated by the government, companies must carefully police how they are grown.
“We have to protect our relationship with governmental agencies by having very strict control measures on that technology,” he said.
But he added that he would welcome a chance to talk to the scientists about their concerns.
Monsanto and Syngenta, two other biotech seed companies, said Thursday that they supported university research. But as did Pioneer, they said their contracts with seed buyers were meant to protect their intellectual property and meet their regulatory obligations.
But an E.P.A. spokesman, Dale Kemery, said Thursday that the government required only management of the crops’ insect resistance and that any other contractual restrictions were put in place by the companies.
The growers’ agreement from Syngenta not only prohibits research in general but specifically says a seed buyer cannot compare Syngenta’s product with any rival crop.
Dr. Ostlie, at the University of Minnesota, said he had permission from three companies in 2007 to compare how well their insect-resistant corn varieties fared against the rootworms found in his state. But in 2008, Syngenta, one of the three companies, withdrew its permission and the study had to stop.
“The company just decided it was not in its best interest to let it continue,” Dr. Ostlie said.
Mark A. Boetel, associate professor of entomology at North Dakota State University, said that before genetically engineered sugar beet seeds were sold to farmers for the first time last year, he wanted to test how the crop would react to an insecticide treatment. But the university could not come to an agreement with the companies responsible, Monsanto and Syngenta, over publishing and intellectual property rights.
Chris DiFonzo, an entomologist at Michigan State University, said that when she conducted surveys of insects, she avoided fields with transgenic crops because her presence would put the farmer in violation of the grower’s agreement.
An E.P.A. scientific advisory panel plans to hold two meetings next week. One will consider a request from Pioneer Hi-Bred for a new method that would reduce how much of a farmer’s field must be set aside as a refuge aimed at preventing insects from becoming resistant to its insect-resistant corn.
The other meeting will look more broadly at insect-resistant biotech crops.
Christian Krupke, an assistant professor at Purdue, said that because outside scientists could not study Pioneer’s strategy, “I don’t think the potential drawbacks have been critically evaluated by as many people as they should have been.”
Dr. Krupke is chairman of the committee that drafted the statement, but he would not say whether he had signed it.
Dr. Niebur of Pioneer said the company had collaborated in preparing its data with universities in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, the states most affected by the particular pest.
Dr. Shields of Cornell said financing for agricultural research had gradually shifted from the public sector to the private sector. That makes many scientists at universities dependent on financing or technical cooperation from the big seed companies.
“People are afraid of being blacklisted,” he said. “If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can’t do your job.”
Royalty Rates Reduced For Online Streaming
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and SoundExchange have reached a comprehensive agreement on Internet streaming rates for local radio stations that simulcast over the Internet or that create new stand-alone Internet stations. The agreement provides discounts on the previously set rates for 2009 and 2010 and establishes set rates for the future, from 2011 to 2015. Rates for simulcasts or web channels operated by local stations are now reduced in 2009 and 2010 by approximately 16 percent. They will increase gradually through 2015 from $0.0015 per streamed sound recording in 2009 to $0.0025 per stream by 2015.
Additionally, the NAB reached separate agreements with individual record label groups that waive certain statutory format restrictions allowing, for example, certain artists to be played more often during a four-hour period.
"Because of the explosive growth of music on the Internet, this is good news for everyone involved in music - from artists to labels to broadcasters and to fans," said SoundExchange Executive Director John Simson. "It provides radio stations more opportunity to grow their online businesses in a stable business environment. Furthermore, it gives artists and copyright holders the opportunity to have more of their music played, while being fairly compensated, in more places as radio services expand their offerings on the Internet."
"Today's announcement provides local radio stations with the ability to enhance their local service with an online component, boosting listeners' access to music, local news and information," added NAB EVP Dennis Wharton. "By ensuring the continued viability of Internet streaming for America's radio stations, today's agreement further strengthens the relationship between free, local radio and our 235 million weekly listeners."
Viva La Best Selling Album In The World
Topping the charts as the best-selling global album of 2008 was British rockers Coldplay with their fourth studio album, Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends, according to the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry). The recent three-time Grammy award winners sold 6.8 million units worldwide, beating out sales for the #1 album of 2007, which was the High School Musical 2 soundtrack.
Coming in at #2 was the legendary AC/DC with their fifteenth album, Black Ice, a testament to their impressive staying power. The cast of Mamma Mia! secured the #3 spot for the soundtrack to the movie, featuring classic ABBA hits as sung by actors Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Julie Waters, who all appear on the album.
Rounding out the top five are best-selling new artist Duffy and rockers Metallica, respectively. Welsh singer/songwriter Duffy also recently won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album for her debut, Rockferry. Death Magnetic, Metallica’s ninth album, debuted by selling 490,000 copies in just three days.
Rapper Lil Wayne reigns at #1 with his smash-hit "Lollipop" on the Top 10 digital single tracks of 2008. Tha Carter III sold over one million copies in its first week, and was the only Rap album to make the top 10 best-selling list, coming in at #9. "Lollipop" was also the year’s biggest selling ringtone, according to SoundScan. "Low" by Flo Rida, "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" were also among the top 10 selling singles of the year.
Madonna Tops 2009 Music Money Makers List
If anyone had any doubt that touring is where the money is in the music business, a quick look at the top Moneymakers for 2008 should hammer the point home.
Regardless of genre, retail sales or radio play, each of the 20 acts on Billboard's Moneymakers list toured in 2008. (Taylor Swift mostly opened for Brad Paisley but doesn't get credit for that revenue). For almost all of them, touring generated the most revenue. And in a year when recorded-music sales declined yet again, many earned more at the box office than ever before.
1. Madonna: $242,176,466
2. Bon Jovi: $157,177,766
3. Bruce Springsteen: $156,327,964
4. The Police: $109,976,894
5. Celine Dion: $99,171,237
6. Kenny Chesney: $90,823,990
7. Neil Diamond: $82,174,000
8. Rascall Flatts: $63,522,160
9. Jonas Brothers: $62,638,814
10. Coldplay: $62,175,555
11. The Eagles: $61,132,213
12. Lil Wayne: $57,441,334
13. AC/DC: $56,505,296
14. Michael Buble: $50,257,364
15. Miley Cyrus: $48,920,806
16. Taylor Swift: $45,588,730
17. Journey: $44,787,328
18. Billy Joel: $44,581,010
19. Mary J. Blige: $43,472,850
20. Kanye West: $42,552,402
The top five Moneymakers are also the five acts that earned the most on tour, and in the same order, according to Billboard Boxscore. Eight of the top 10 Moneymakers are in the Boxscore top 10.
Even more remarkably, the top Moneymaker -- Madonna -- only had the 50th-best-selling album in the country. She ranked 14th on the list of digital track sellers and didn't place on the ringmasters chart. Her place on Moneymakers, like her $242,176,466 income, comes from the highest-earning tour that took place in 2008.
A Life of Troubles Followed a Singer’s Burst of Fame
She was the quiet Ronette, the one people called the prettiest, the one who was content to remain in the shadow of her younger sister, Ronnie, because even in the shadow there’s still some spotlight.
For a few years in the mid-1960s Estelle Bennett lived a girl-group fairy tale, posing for magazine covers with her fellow Ronettes and dating the likes of George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Along with her sister and their cousin Nedra Talley, she helped redefine rock ’n’ roll femininity.
The Ronettes delivered their songs’ promises of eternal puppy love in the guise of tough vamps from the streets of New York. Their heavy mascara, slit skirts and piles of teased hair suggested both sex and danger, an association revived most recently by Amy Winehouse.
But Ms. Bennett’s death last week at 67 revealed a post-fame life of illness and squalor that was little known even to many of the Ronettes’ biggest fans. In her decades away from the public eye she struggled with anorexia and schizophrenia, and at times she had also been homeless, said her daughter, Toyin Hunter.
“I want to know who my mother was,” Ms. Hunter, 37, said in an interview. “From the time I was born she suffered with mental illness; I never really got to know Estelle in a good mental state.”
Those who knew Ms. Bennett in her healthier days portray her as gentle and intelligent, and as playing a critical part in the development of the Ronettes’ style. The eldest of the group, she worked at Macy’s and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the look she helped devise for the group was all superlatives: bigger, badder and sexier than anybody. Racial ambiguity lent an exotic element: the Bennett sisters had black, American Indian and Irish blood; Ms. Talley was black, Indian and Puerto Rican.
“We called them the bad girls of the ’60s,” said the singer Darlene Love, who met the Ronettes in 1962, a year before they became famous with “Be My Baby.” “They had the really, really short skirts and they had big, big, big hair. Most of the black entertainers of the ’60s didn’t look like that, but they wanted to be separate from everybody else.”
By the time they met Phil Spector and began recording with him in 1963, the Ronettes had their look precisely calibrated. That August “Be My Baby” went to No. 2, and the Ronettes were instant stars. When they toured Britain in 1964, the Rolling Stones were an opening act.
But even in the early days there were signs that Estelle was fragile. When their grandmother died in 1959, Estelle was shattered, said her cousin, now known as Nedra Talley Ross.
“She was going to buy Mama knee warmers,” Ms. Talley Ross said, “and I remember Estelle being so devastated — screaming, like she would never go on. Just screaming for this thing that would never get done.”
After the Ronettes broke up, in 1966, and Ronnie married Mr. Spector, in 1968, Estelle was lost, Ms. Talley Ross said. She made several failed attempts at a solo career, and when Ronnie Spector, who divorced Mr. Spector in 1974, formed a new version of the Ronettes in the early ’70s it did not include either of her former band mates. (Ms. Spector did not respond to messages left for her.)
Meanwhile, Ms. Bennett was gradually becoming more ill. When she brought her infant daughter to visit, Ms. Talley Ross said, she slept straight through the baby’s crying. Not long after, Ms. Bennett was hospitalized with anorexia, and her grip on reality continued to loosen. In recent years, Ms. Hunter said, she sometimes wandered the streets of New York, telling people that she would be singing with the Ronettes in a jazz club.
“Estelle had such an extraordinary life,” Ms. Talley Ross said. “To have the fame, and all that she had at an early age, and for it all to come to an end abruptly. Not everybody can let that go and then go on with life.”
In 1988 the Ronettes sued Mr. Spector for back royalties, and the suit dragged on for 14 years. Part of the case was dismissed, but the three women won the right to some royalties, and according to Jonathan Greenfield, Ms. Spector’s husband, they received “in excess of $1 million.” After lawyers’ fees, Ms. Hunter said, each woman took home about $100,000. Ms. Talley Ross said the figure was a little higher.
During the litigation Ms. Love was called as a witness, and one day at court she saw Estelle.
“She didn’t remember me,” Ms. Love said. “They cleaned her up and made her look as well as possible. She wore white gloves. She looked the best she could for somebody who lived on the street. It broke my heart.”
Her daughter and her cousin said they also helped her to look her best for the Ronettes’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago. They were worried that the ceremony would overwhelm her, so one of Ms. Spector’s current backup singers performed in Ms. Bennett’s stead. But before the concert Ms. Bennett did give a brief acceptance speech.
"I would just like to say thank you very much for giving us this award,” she said. “I’m Estelle of the Ronettes. Thank you.”
Hospital Workers Sharing Music? They May Also Be Sharing Your Medical Records
Health care workers using Gnutella or other peer-to-peer (P2P) networks to share music and video, may be putting you at risk for medical identity theft, Dartmouth researchers find
If Pres. Obama has his way, the medical records of every American will be digitized by 2014. The stimulus package (read the text here) includes $19 billion in funding to pay for the effort and calls for the appointment of a chief privacy officer to advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on how best to protect this sensitive information. If a new study of how easily your medical records can be found online by others is any indication, the new chief privacy officer (to be appointed over the next 12 months) will have his work cut out for him because an increase in digital medical records would likely mean an increase in medical identity theft.
Using software written specifically for scanning Internet-based peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks, Eric Johnson, an operations management professor at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business in Hanover, N.H., and colleagues recently found confidential medical files, involving thousands of people, including patient billing records and insurance claims containing Social Security numbers, birth dates, medical diagnoses and psychiatric evaluations. (The same type of information could have been found without the special search software, although not as quickly because the researchers would have had to search individual computers on each of the P2P networks they visited.)
Johnson's team found the data by trolling P2P networks such as Gnutella, FastTrack, Aries and e-donkey. (A visit to the eDonkey2000 Network indicates it is no longer available.) The leaked information came from the heath care organizations themselves, their employees working remotely, and from businesses that perform billing and other services for these organizations. "Our goal was to see the kinds of information that was leaking out, and P2P was simply a window into those organizations," says Johnson, who will present his findings on Monday at the Financial Cryptography and Data Security '09 conference in Barbados.
In P2P people share information stored on their computers with other people on a particular network, a practice first made popular by the music-swapping service Napster. Often, P2P users must download software on their computers that allows others to search their computer for different files. Allowing other P2P users to access your computer, however, means dropping your defenses (including firewalls meant to keep out snoopers and hackers).
Searching P2P networks, the researchers, for example, found a government application for employment that included detailed background information, including the applicant's Social Security number, full name, date and place of birth, and mother's maiden name. Ironically, the document also included a three-page intro highlighting the Electronics Communications Privacy Act measures undertaken by the government to protect the information in the document. Still, "it somehow ended up on to a P2P network," adds Johnson, who is also director of the Dartmouth's Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies.
P2P users—there were an estimated 10 million of them in 2007, according to an earlier study by Johnson and colleagues—generally think that, because they're just looking to share music, the rest of the files on their computers are off-limits, says Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute. "But there are no defenses once you let someone inside your computer."
Over a two-week period last year, Johnson and his team used special P2P network analysis software developed by Cranberry Township, Pa.–based Tiversa, Inc., to search for information related to or mentioning the top 10 publicly traded U.S. health care providers, including two in Tennessee: Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America, and Community Health Systems in Franklin, the latter of which in 2007 bought health care giant Triad Hospitals. When their searches turned up a file containing medical information on a particular computer, the researchers were able to use Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to trace that computer back to a particular location. In some cases, these files were located on computers connecting to the network from work, in others the computers were connecting wirelessly from homes, hotels or Starbucks.
In one case, Johnson and his team found two databases with detailed information on more than 20,000 hospital patients from the computer of a collection agency working for the hospital. Another search turned up a 1,718-page report with nearly 9,000 patient names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, insurers, group numbers and identification numbers. The researchers also found a pdf form for writing prescriptions that was blank, except for a doctor's signature at the bottom. "This document could be used for medical fraud by prescription drug dealers and abusers," Johnson noted in his report.
Stolen medical information can be used to steal your identity and ruin your credit, or to affect your medical records, Johnson says. "If I assume your identity to obtain medical services, such as using your insurance information to go to the hospital for treatment, it's not only insurance fraud, it's also adding false information to your medical records," he adds.
P2P file sharing has become the "bane of the security officer's life" at many corporations, as well-intentioned employees put their personal information as well as their company's proprietary information at risk, says Nick Selby, a vice president and research director with The 451 Group, a New York City–based technology research firm. People often use their work computers for personal reasons because they have higher bandwidth at the office, making it easier to download large music and video files. Although some P2P software allows users to specify which information they want to make available to the network, Selby adds, this software can easily be misconfigured and sensitive data made available to the network because people are using technology do not really understand how it works.
Johnson points out that the shift to digital health care records will not be easy. "The (Obama) administration is moving toward a national electronic health care records system," he says, "but the transition is going to be painful. It's not until they understand how to secure these records that we'll be safe." (The new chief privacy officer will have to not only secure new digital medical records but also promote ways to protect existing data.) The nirvana is to store this information in high-end databases systems that are well-secured, rather than in spreadsheets, e-mail and Word documents that can be left on someone's PC, he says, adding: If this cannot be done soon, hospitals and other health care organizations will need to restrict employee access to patient data.
Bands Bypass iTunes by Streaming Music Through iPhone Apps
If you're a Presidents of the United States of America fan, you can now listen to the band's entire discography for a mere $3, but not through the iTunes Store. Fire up your iPhone and grab it from the App Store instead; the band has bypassed the record label bureaucracy and released everything on its own.
What's a good way to release your entire back catalog of music to a large audience without having to deal with the bureaucratic red tape of the record labels and the iTunes Store? Release it yourself through the App Store, of course. The album-as-an-iPhone-app method has been experimented with by some bands already, but the Presidents of the United States of America (yes, the guys behind the "Peaches" song) have gone all out, selling its entire discography through the App Store in hopes of engaging fans in ways they couldn't through the iTunes Store alone.
The app, called "The Presidents' Music - PUSA," sells for $2.99 on the App Store (iTunes link) offers users access to four full albums, including the band's early "lost" recordings. This includes the previously-unavailable FroggyStyle—"unless you have one of the 500 cassettes the band sold in 1994, you've never heard this before," reads the app description. The app also features a number of extras and exclusives that the band says are updated regularly, and fans can read the band's blog directly from the app on their iPhones or iPod touches.
The music, however, is not actually contained within the application itself; instead, it is streamed to the app from a server, requiring the user to be connected to a network of some kind (iPhone users on the cell or WiFi network, iPod touch users on WiFi) in order to access the media. This allows the band to constantly update the app's offerings, but it also makes it possible for them to pull content at any time. For $3, however, it could most certainly be worth re-living your teen years, and if you find yourself dying to keep the songs around for longer, there are buttons that allow you to buy the music for your permanent collection.
In a way, this method is almost the beginning of the iTunes subscription model, except controlled entirely by the bands (and not technically subscription, since the fee is not recurring). It allows users to try before they buy to their heart's content—so long as the music stays on the server—and for very little money up front. And if the music does eventually go away, they're only out a few bucks and hopefully still entertained.
PUSA isn't the first band to go the App Store route. Snow Patrol made headlines in September of 2008 after it released an "interactive album" for the iPhone and iPod touch that included images, lyrics, artwork, and even videos. And PUSA singer-turned-entrepreneur Dave Dederer thinks this is all just the beginning. "The possibilities around these open app stores, with Apple being the first and foremost, and hopefully RIM, Android, and others to follow in terms of size and impact—they've radically changed the mobile application, because they're open," Dederer told Wired. "You don't have to negotiate, you don't have to go through the process of approval with a big carrier."
More importantly, Dederer sees the value of bringing distribution control back to the bands themselves. "If all the rights to the masters and the publishing are contained—if the artist has control of them or the label has control of them, they can sell music in this entirely new format," said Dederer, "The first one we're doing is for my band, The Presidents... you can sort of pump anything in there that you want, at random. Maybe we'll put my bandmate Chris Ballow's answering machine message on there... it becomes an open conduit to the fans to promote tours... and include links to the band's blog."
New York Considers Taxing iTunes Downloads
New York wants a share of iTunes' money.
The state is staring at a $15.4 billion deficit so Gov. David Paterson is proposing an "iPod tax" as part of his state budget. Under the plan, New York would charge state and local sales tax for "digitally delivered entertainment services," according to a story in The New York Daily News.
That includes e-books downloaded to Amazon's Kindle as well as for the digital songs obtained from Apple's iTunes. If the state legislature passes the governor's plan, the price of digital content for New Yorkers is sure to go up. The tax would also apply to sporting events, movie tickets, taxis, and satellite TV and radio.
Wow. To some Manhattan residents, Hoboken, N.J., may be looking better all the time. But wait, New Jersey is among the 17 states that already tax downloads, according to my colleague Stephanie Condon. She wrote back in August that states taxing digital entertainment include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington.
California and Wisconsin considered similar proposals, but they were defeated. Tech industry groups like NetChoice, which counts eBay, AOL, and Yahoo as members, have been lobbying against the rise in so-called iTaxes.
Casinos on Lookout for iPhone Card-Counting App
Since the July 2008 launch of the App Store, Apple has maintained a sort of moral code--a PG-13-type standard, if you will--surrounding the thousands of iPhone and iPod Touch applications available via the service.
That's why, for example, there are no iPhone porn apps, though it is certainly possible to access adult content optimized for the device.
Given that, one would think that Apple wouldn't have given the thumbs-up to an app that, if used in the most logical manner, could get someone arrested, or worse. But with an app called "A Blackjack Card Counter," that's not, in fact, the case.
We've all seen the movies where the hot-shot gambler slips up and finds himself hustled off to a back room where a genial but brutal casino manager calmly breaks a few fingers while issuing a stern warning never to come back. Films like The Cooler, 21, Rounders, Casino and many others have made this kind of scene, even if it's not always about card counting, a staple of our imagination.
Yet card counting--a complex practice that gives practitioners a way to determine the optimal times to bet in blackjack--prevails to this day. And it's not even illegal, though being caught at it is sure to lead to a hasty expulsion from a casino, at best, or even the kind of back-room visit discussed above. What is definitely illegal, however, is the employment of any kind of electronic device that aids players in counting cards.
And that's where "A Blackjack Card Counter," and perhaps a few other iPhone apps come into play.
Earlier this month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, itself tipped off by the California Bureau of Gambling Control, issued an alert to "all non-restricted licensees and interested parties"--the state's casinos--warning of the emergence of iPhone card counting apps.
"This blackjack card-counting program can be utilized on either the Apple iPhone or the Apple iPod Touch...Once this program is installed on the phone through the iTunes Web site it can make counting cards easy," Nevada Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre wrote in the alert. "This program can be used in the 'stealth mode.' When the program is used in the 'stealth mode' the screen of the phone will remain shut off, and as long as the user knows where the keys are located, the program can be run effortlessly without detection."
And, as Sayre pointed out, "use of this type of program or possession of a device with this type of program on it--with the intent to use it--in a licensed gaming establishment, is a violation" of the law.
For its part, the makers of "A Blackjack Card Counter," an Australian outfit called Webtopia, couldn't be happier about the attention being paid to its app as a result of its potentially illegal nature.
"Since the Nevada Gaming Control Board warned casinos about 'A Blackjack Card Counter' there's been an unprecedented demand for this app," Webtopia wrote in the tool's official App Store description. "Now you can see what all the fuss (is) about at a very reasonable price."
According to Webtopia, the app "allows any blackjack player, professional or amateur, to keep track of their blackjack card count." Among the features it offers are a "count vibrate," which vibrates the iPhone or iPod touch "when the true count reaches the value you specify...This is particularly useful when using stealth mode."
Webtopia also cautions users of the app that, "This card counter is great for learning to count cards or for playing blackjack with your friends. While counting cards is deemed legal, electronic card counting devices are illegal in many casinos. Therefore I would not recommend using this app in a casino as you could get into a lot of trouble."
And in an interview, Webtopia's Travis Yates, a 35-year-old developer in Cairns, Australia, said that the stealth features of the app--which allow players to surreptitiously hit buttons updating the count on the iPhone while its screen appears black--came as a result of feedback on earlier versions of the app.
"It's the features people were asking for," Yates said. "The was very simple at the start. It's my understanding that the app isn't illegal, so I thought, 'Why not?'"
Yates also said that since the Nevada Gaming Control Board put out its alert, sales of the app have risen to around 500 a day, after lingering at 10 or so a day previously.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
In a story in the Las Vegas Review Journal, Howard Stutz wrote that the Gaming Control Board leaves it up to individual casinos to decide their own policies regarding the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices. But he added in the story that, "After iPhones came on the market in 2007, Harrah's Entertainment halted their use at the World Series of Poker."
In an interview, Stutz said, "It's actually unusual that a (Nevada Gaming Control Board) memo went out. It's kind of interesting that they were forthcoming about this."
To Sayre, of the Gaming Control Board, it would indeed be abnormal to issue a public statement about new cheating technology.
"But this technology is available and can be utilized for appropriate as well as criminal conduct," Sayre said in an interview, "and because (mobile) phones are of such prevalent use in all walks of society, because this phone can be used in this capacity, I thought that it was appropriate to notify the entire industry that this capability was available."
Sayre added that the application can be used legitimately--outside any Nevada casino--to help people learn advanced blackjack techniques.
While "A Blackjack Card Counter" might be the only iPhone app specifically called out by the Gaming Control Board, it is by no means the only app that purports to at least teach card counting techniques. Others currently available on the App Store include Card Counter and Card Counting Practice, the latter of which warns, "This app is for entertainment purposes only. Counting in casinos may be hazardous to your health."
Of course, to some people, the dangers of being caught using apps like this to count cards might even be worse than having a Vegas tough guy break some fingers. They might decide to take away your iPhone.
Stand for Open Access, Oppose HR801
The most painful defeat is an overturned victory. And this very well may happen if supporters of OA do not respond. Congressional Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has re-introduced a bill (HR801) that essentially would negate the NIH policy concerning depositing research in OA repositories.
The bill's name in no way reflects its purpose: Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. A more apt title would go something similar to Fallacious Companies in Research Win Again, in order to retain its possible acronym. Jennifer McLennan, Director of Communications over at SPARC, issued a letter in which she outlines the five key characteristics of the bill, quoted below:
H.R. 801 is designed to amend current copyright law and create a new category of copyrighted works (Section 201, Title 17). In effect, it would:
BlockShopper Bullied Into Settling Over Web Links
Faced with the potential of crippling legal fees and an unsympathetic judge, Internet startup BlockShopper has settled with massive Chicago law firm Jones Day over how, exactly, to craft its links to the firm. Goliath wins this round.
A tiny startup that was threatened by a massive law firm over nothing more than a humble hyperlink has been forced to settle and change its linking policies, handing Goliath the win in this gratuitous trademark case. Under the agreement, real estate startup BlockShopper can no longer include hyperlinks anywhere on its website to Jones Day, a massive Chicago law firm, except explicitly on URL text. Essentially, jonesday.com is okay, but not blah blah blah.
During the summer of 2008, BlockShopper linked to the Web profile of a prominent real estate lawyer in a posting that highlighted his purchase of a condo, and noted that Jones Day had purchased homes/condos/apartments on Chicago's North Side. The information on these sales is public record, and BlockShopper did nothing more than follow standard Web linking procedure that practically every website on earth follows. For reasons still unbeknownst to the world, however, Jones Day was very displeased by these links and filed a lawsuit against BlockShopper in September of 2008, leveling the odd charge of trademark dilution.
The complaint cites the issue as "confusion"—the claim was that people visiting BlockShopper and seeing the links in question might assume that it was somehow officially related to Jones Day. This, of course, was a ridiculous claim, but BlockShopper tried to play nice and consented to a temporary restraining order that required the site ti remove the links. Soon thereafter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Citizen jointly filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of BlockShopper, pointing out the obvious: "linking is what web sites do—that is, after all, why it is called the 'World Wide Web'."
Unfortunately, the judge in the case refused to even look at the brief after Jones Day said the brief sided with one party (as most amicus briefs do); he also refused to dismiss the case at the request of BlockShopper. According to TechDirt, the judge even allegedly put pressure on BlockShopper to back down by saying, "Do you know, young man, how much money it's going to cost you to defend yourselves against Jones Day?"
BlockShopper did, in fact, realize how much money it would cost. Faced with crippling legal fees and an unsympathetic judge, the company was forced to settle the case out of court by agreeing not to use embedded links to Jones Day on any words or names. If BlockShopper wants to link to a specific attorney's profile at Jones Day's website, BlockShopper must state that the person in question is employed by Jones Day along with the text "more information about [so-and-so] can be obtained at Jones Day's website at www.jonesday.com/[remainder of URL here]" with a link encompassing only the URL. If you ask us, this almost sounds more like a bad Internet marketing scheme than a lawsuit settlement.
As pointed out by Slate, the conclusion of this lawsuit doesn't seem to solve any of Jones Day's alleged trademark concerns, and doesn't even prohibit the posting of attorneys' home purchases (presumably the information that Jones Day didn't like in the first place). The links still exist, just in a somewhat different, slightly awkward structure that is not clearly better than the original. In essence, Jones Day won by simply bullying BlockShopper until it was forced to give in and craft its links in the way that the law firm would prefer.
Turning the Web into a permissions-based linking system would be, at worst, catastrophic, and at best, annoying. We can only hope that future cases like this one will have outcomes that make more sense.
Court Finds California Video Game Law Unconstitutional
A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that a California law restricting the sales and rental of violent video games to minors and imposing labeling requirements is too restrictive and violates free speech guarantees.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the labeling requirement unfairly forces video games to carry "the state's controversial opinion" about which games are violent.
The unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel could have a far-reaching impact on efforts by other states to establish mandatory video game labeling requirements.
The court upheld a lower court finding that California lawmakers failed to produce evidence that violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to children.
"Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there remain less restrictive means of forwarding the state's purported interests," the court wrote.
Those alternative measures include the voluntary ratings system established by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, educational campaigns and parental controls, the court said.
State Sen. Leland Yee, the author of the legislation, said he will urge California Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I've always contended that the ... law the governor signed was a good one for protecting children from the harm from playing these ultra-violent video games," Yee told Reuters. "I've always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court."
Bo Andersen, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Merchants Association, said the ruling vindicates his group's position that "ratings education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content."
Andersen and Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, urged the state to abandon any further appeals of the case.
"This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting taxpayer money, government time and state resources," Gallagher said in a statement.
The 2005 law, which requires games described as violent to carry an "18" label, has been contested by video game publishers, distributors and sellers.
A lower court had barred the law from taking effect in 2006, and later invalidated it. The state appealed that case, titled Video Software Dealers Association v. Arnold Schwarzenegger (CV-05-04188), last October.
Entertainment Software Association members include Disney Interactive Studios, Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp, THQ Inc, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and Take-Two Interactive Software.
(Reporting by Gina Keating; additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Richard Chang)
Canadian Content Available Online May be Regulated
Rosalyn Lemi has been working as a caregiver in Ottawa for four years now, but she can keep up with news and her favourite TV shows from home for as little as $12 a month.
Like millions of Filipino ex-pats around the world, Lemi accesses shows from the Philippines' major network, ABS-CBN, over the Internet.
"I watch everything," says the 28-year-old, who tunes into news, entertainment shows — "even sports!" — because it's "nice to know all that information and what's going on back home. It makes you feel like you're in the Philippines."
Going the online route is a no-brainer not only for Lemi, but for the foreign broadcaster as well. Getting ABS-CBN's shows into the Canadian homes would have been near-impossible going the traditional broadcasting route.
As the company's chairman and CEO Eugenio Lopez III recently told the Wall Street Journal, "we had been trying to get into the Canada market for 15 years, but the cable operators there said we must have Canadian content and use Canadian satellites."
By broadcasting over the Internet, ABS-CBN has been able to bypass all those pesky regulations — like paying for and broadcasting Canadian content. That's because the federal regulator has given broadcasting over the Internet a free pass for almost a decade.
But that may change at what could be watershed regulatory hearings over whether broadcasting over the Internet should — or even can — be regulated.
At issue, according to some, is the very future of Canadian content available on the Internet. Since 1999, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission has exempted programming broadcast over the Internet from the same regulations that apply to conventional broadcasters, which include everything from licences, to the percentage of Canadian channels and programs aired — and at what hours those shows are on — to foreign ownership restrictions.
Part of the reason for this exemption was that the regulator believed "the effect of new media on television audience size would be limited, at least until such time as high-quality video programming could be distributed on the Internet."
That time is upon us.
Not only can viewers go online to see shows from foreign networks like ABS-CBN, they can also access major U.S. shows right here in Canada — usually for free.
Miss last week's episode of Gossip Girls? No problem. Go to CTV's website, and watch a high-quality live-streaming version of it — including a 15-second commercial for Dove's "Go Fresh" body wash — on your computer.
While most of the evidence is still anecdotal, it's clear that watching shows over the Internet is growing in popularity.
Earlier this month, for example, Glenn Britt, chief executive of Time Warner Cable Inc., told financial analysts that "we are starting to see the beginning of cord cutting. People will choose not to buy subscription video if they can get the same stuff for free." And considering the next generation of televisions will include USB ports for easy Internet connection, the draw of watching programming over the Internet can only increase.
"I think the future is more and more in front of a computer screen, with what is effectively on-demand access to programming and content," says Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in the Internet.
Which brings us to this week's hearings.
Although the CRTC will consider a wide range of questions regarding the regulations of professional, private broadcasting online — user-generated video of the type that appears on YouTube is exempted, and the publicly funded CBC is a special case — few believe the federal regulator will try to apply the same rules in this new media that it would in traditional broadcasting.
For one thing, it's near impossible. The CRTC can hardly require licences from everyone broadcasting over the Internet. And, short of becoming a quasi-totalitarian state, there's not much the regulator can do to stop songs, videos and movies from around the world coming into millions of Canadian homes.
The bigger question is how to promote — some would say, protect — Canadian content in an area in which federal regulators can't control the delivery of programming.
That's why much of the hearings will concentrate on whether there should be additional funding of Canadian programming for the Internet and other new media, like wireless devices.
There's some indication that the CRTC is at least open to the possibility. In a 2006 report on the "future environment" of Canadian broadcasting, the regulator determined that "public policy action" would be needed in three to seven years.
Indeed, one of the CRTC's reasons for a review of its current exemption is recent evidence that "Canadian content on the Internet was insufficiently available."
And a report commissioned by the CRTC on the role of government in overseeing the new media, especially as it relates to television programming, recommends financial support for Canadian programming online. Broadcasting over new media should be "largely unregulated, with a mechanism for public financial support for the production and distribution of content," says the report, called TV or Not TV: Three Screens, One Regulation? written by renowned Columbia University professor Eli Noam. He suggests, among other things, charging Internet service providers, largely cable and telephone companies, a fee to help fund Canadian productions. Cable companies already pay five per cent of their gross revenues into a Canadian content fund.
Not surprisingly, those working on the creative side of television programming couldn't agree more.
The Directors' Guild of Canada is "deeply concerned with Canada's flagging competitiveness in the new media broadcasting environment," and counsels the CRTC to "pay particular attention to the creation of high-quality, high-cost, scripted Canadian broadcasting content in the new media."
The Writers' Guild of Canada warns that the Canadian new media sector "risks being overwhelmed by the U.S. new media sector if it is not encouraged."
The guild, which represents about 2,000 screenwriters, says not only should Internet service providers contribute to "the creation of professionally produced Canadian content online," but that the CRTC should provide "incentives" to encourage broadcasters to promote and feature Canadian programming online.
"It is insufficient to merely fund Canadian new media programming: Canadians must also be able to find it."
Broadcasters and cable companies — again, to no one's surprise — oppose any form of regulation.
Cable companies argue it would be illegal to make the Internet service arms of their companies pay for content — and they have official legal opinions that say so.
"We're a dumb pipe," says Ken Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory for Rogers Corp. "We don't know what you're downloading . . . so how can we be responsible for the content?"
ISPs also argue that consumers will bear the brunt of any levy imposed upon them. So while governments around the world are trying to find ways to make broadband more affordable for citizens, Canada would be making it more expensive, their argument goes.
And anyway, what's the problem? According to cable and broadcasting companies, there's plenty of popular Canadian content on the web.
On the other hand, goes another side of their argument, there's almost no high-end programming being developed anywhere exclusively for the web. Instead, broadcasters both here and south of the border repurpose programming from their traditional broadcasting companies for online, offering "web-exclusive" extras like bloopers, alternative endings and director interviews.
Why should the CRTC charge them for programming that doesn't yet exist?
Technology moves ahead rapidly, and the emergence of Internet-exclusive, high-quality shows is just around the corner.
Canadian private broadcasters, who last year spent $615 million on Canadian programming,may be motivated simply by the Internet's business model to be aggressive in creating their own content, says Geist.
He points out that Canadian broadcasters license the Internet right for foreign shows — like CTV does with Gossip Girls. But there may be a time, he says, when foreign broadcasters will want those rights for themselves. At that time, owning their own content will be more important than ever for broadcasters. By that time though, it'll be too late if the Canadian production industry doesn't start developing content for new media now, say proponents of regulation.
Whether it'll get a helping hand from CRTC regulations is what these hearings will determine.
A decade of non-regulation
1999: CRTC issues the New Media Exemption Order, which exempts broadcasting services delivered and accessed over the Internet from regulations as set out under the Broadcasting Act. According to the regulator, 'the effect of new media on television audience size would be limited, at least until such time as high-quality video programming could be distributed on the Internet.'
2003: CRTC extends the New Media Exemption Order to conventional television and radio programming 'retransmitted' over the Internet. The CRTC determines that this type of transmission 'would not become a substitute for licensed over-the-air broadcasting or distribution until it was capable of performing the same functions less expensively, more conveniently and with greater choice or higher quality.'
2006: CRTC issues the Report on the Future Environment Facing the Canadian Broadcasting System, calling for public policy action within three to seven years in the new media environment.
2007: Following a public consultation, the CRTC extends the New Media Exemption Order to mobile broadcasting services, such as video delivered to users' cellphones or other wireless devices. Furthermore, the regulator concludes that 'given the technical challenges associated with wireless technology at that time, mobile television broadcasting services were unlikely in the near future to become substitutes for conventional broadcasting services.'
2007: CRTC launches the New Media Project Initiative to investigate the cultural, economic, and technological issues associated with new media broadcasting.
2008: CRTC commissions study by Columbia University professor Eli Noam, 'TV or Not TV: Three Screens, One Regulation?' The report calls for 'public financial support for the production and distribution of content which would include public broadcasting' and a levy on the revenues of Internet service providers.
2008: CRTC calls for hearings to review the role of new media in the broadcasting system. Its reasons include evidence that:
- Canadian content on the Internet is insufficiently available;
- The new media environment is having an impact on conventional radio and television audiences;
- The availability of high-quality video programming on the Internet is increasing;
- Canadian Internet users are demonstrating a substantial interest in accessing programming on their computers;
2009: CRTC begins hearings Tuesday to consider whether it should regulate broadcasting over the Internet. In particular, it will look at whether incentives or regulations are 'required for the creation and promotion of Canadian new media broadcasting.'
Court Denies Cable Bid to Turn Back Privacy Rules
A U.S. appeals court on Friday denied a bid by the cable industry to overrule privacy rules that make it more difficult for them to share subscribers' personal information with other parties.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which argued that federal rules on telecom carriers' use of customer data violated free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution, federal law or both.
At issue are rules set by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that mandate telecommunications carriers must get an "opt-in" before disclosing customers' information to a carrier's joint venture business partner or an independent contractor.
The FCC "gave sufficient reasons for singling out the relationships between carriers and third-party marketing partners," the court said in denying the petition for judicial review sought by the NCTA.
The cable group's spokesman, Brian Dietz, said it is disappointed with the ruling, but could not comment on whether the group would appeal.
FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps said the rules are needed to protect consumers.
"Telephone carriers today handle vast amounts of their customers' personal information, and in light of documented abuses of consumers' privacy, the Commission appropriately required carriers to institute additional safeguards to protect customers' personal information," Copps said in a statement.
The cable trade group's members sell local phone service using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology. Cable companies have about 18 million phone subscribers nationally, according to NCTA.
Verizon Communications <VZ.N, one of the biggest telephone and mobile phone companies, had backed the cable industry's petition.
(Editing by Brian Moss; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
Do We Need a New Internet?
Two decades ago a 23-year-old Cornell University graduate student brought the Internet to its knees with a simple software program that skipped from computer to computer at blinding speed, thoroughly clogging the then-tiny network in the space of a few hours.
The program was intended to be a digital “Kilroy Was Here.” Just a bit of cybernetic fungus that would unobtrusively wander the net. However, a programming error turned it into a harbinger heralding the arrival of a darker cyberspace, more of a mirror for all of the chaos and conflict of the physical world than a utopian refuge from it.
Since then things have gotten much, much worse.
Bad enough that there is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that Internet security and privacy have become so maddeningly elusive that the only way to fix the problem is to start over.
What a new Internet might look like is still widely debated, but one alternative would, in effect, create a “gated community” where users would give up their anonymity and certain freedoms in return for safety. Today that is already the case for many corporate and government Internet users. As a new and more secure network becomes widely adopted, the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.
“Unless we’re willing to rethink today’s Internet,” says Nick McKeown, a Stanford engineer involved in building a new Internet, “we’re just waiting for a series of public catastrophes.”
That was driven home late last year, when a malicious software program thought to have been unleashed by a criminal gang in Eastern Europe suddenly appeared after easily sidestepping the world’s best cyberdefenses. Known as Conficker, it quickly infected more than 12 million computers, ravaging everything from the computer system at a surgical ward in England to the computer networks of the French military.
Conficker remains a ticking time bomb. It now has the power to lash together those infected computers into a vast supercomputer called a botnet that can be controlled clandestinely by its creators. What comes next remains a puzzle. Conficker could be used as the world’s most powerful spam engine, perhaps to distribute software programs to trick computer users into purchasing fake antivirus protection. Or much worse. It might also be used to shut off entire sections of the Internet. But whatever happens, Conficker has demonstrated that the Internet remains highly vulnerable to a concerted attack.
“If you’re looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have the Japanese ships streaming toward us on the horizon,” Rick Wesson, the chief executive of Support Intelligence, a computer consulting firm, said recently.
The Internet’s original designers never foresaw that the academic and military research network they created would one day bear the burden of carrying all the world’s communications and commerce. There was no one central control point and its designers wanted to make it possible for every network to exchange data with every other network. Little attention was given to security. Since then, there have been immense efforts to bolt on security, to little effect.
“In many respects we are probably worse off than we were 20 years ago,” said Eugene Spafford, the executive director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security at Purdue University and a pioneering Internet security researcher, “because all of the money has been devoted to patching the current problem rather than investing in the redesign of our infrastructure.”
In fact, many computer security researchers view the nearly two decades of efforts to patch the existing network as a Maginot Line approach to defense, a reference to France’s series of fortifications that proved ineffective during World War II. The shortcoming in focusing on such sturdy digital walls is that once they are evaded, the attacker has access to all the protected data behind them. “Hard on the outside, with a soft chewy center,” is the way many veteran computer security researchers think of such strategies.
Despite a thriving global computer security industry that is projected to reach $79 billion in revenues next year, and the fact that in 2002 Microsoft itself began an intense corporatewide effort to improve the security of its software, Internet security has continued to deteriorate globally.
Even the most heavily garrisoned military networks have proved vulnerable. Last November, the United States military command in charge of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars discovered that its computer networks had been purposely infected with software that may have permitted a devastating espionage attack.
That is why the scientists armed with federal research dollars and working in collaboration with the industry are trying to figure out the best way to start over. At Stanford, where the software protocols for original Internet were designed, researchers are creating a system to make it possible to slide a more advanced network quietly underneath today’s Internet. By the end of the summer it will be running on eight campus networks around the country.
The idea is to build a new Internet with improved security and the capabilities to support a new generation of not-yet-invented Internet applications, as well as to do some things the current Internet does poorly — such as supporting mobile users.
The Stanford Clean Slate project won’t by itself solve all the main security issues of the Internet, but it will equip software and hardware designers with a toolkit to make security features a more integral part of the network and ultimately give law enforcement officials more effective ways of tracking criminals through cyberspace. That alone may provide a deterrent.
This is not the first time a replacement has been proposed for the current Internet. For example, modern Windows and Macintosh computers already come equipped to support a new Internet protocol known as IPv6 that would fix many of the shortcomings of the current IPv4 version. However, because of cost, performance and compatibility questions it has languished.
That has not discouraged the Stanford engineers who say they are on a mission to “reinvent the Internet.” They argue that their new strategy is intended to allow new ideas to emerge in an evolutionary fashion, making it possible to move data traffic seamlessly to a new networking world. Like the existing Internet, the new network will almost certainly have no one central point of control and no one organization will run it. It is most likely to emerge as new hardware and software are built in to the router computers that run today’s network and are adopted as Internet standards.
For all those efforts, though, the real limits to computer security may lie in human nature.
The Internet’s current design virtually guarantees anonymity to its users. (As a New Yorker cartoon noted some years ago, “On the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog.”) But that anonymity is now the most vexing challenge for law enforcement. An Internet attacker can route a connection through many countries to hide his location, which may be from an account in an Internet cafe purchased with a stolen credit card.
“As soon as you start dealing with the public Internet, the whole notion of trust becomes a quagmire,” said Stefan Savage, an expert on computer security at the University of California, San Diego.
A more secure network is one that would almost certainly offer less anonymity and privacy. That is likely to be the great tradeoff for the designers of the next Internet. One idea, for example, would be to require the equivalent of drivers’ licenses to permit someone to connect to a public computer network. But that runs against the deeply held libertarian ethos of the Internet.
Proving identity is likely to remain remarkably difficult in a world where it is trivial to take over someone’s computer from half a world away and operate it as your own. As long as that remains true, building a completely trustable system will remain virtually impossible.
When Pinochet's military overthrew the Chilean government 30 years ago, they discovered a revolutionary communication system, a 'socialist internet' connecting the whole country. Its creator? An eccentric scientist from Surrey. Andy Beckett on the forgotten story of Stafford Beer
During the early 70s, in the wealthy commuter backwater of West Byfleet in Surrey, a small but rather remarkable experiment took place. In the potting shed of a house called Firkins, a teenager named Simon Beer, using bits of radios and pieces of pink and green cardboard, built a series of electrical meters for measuring public opinion. His concept - users of his meters would turn a dial to indicate how happy or unhappy they were with any political proposal - was strange and ambitious enough. And it worked. Yet what was even more jolting was his intended market: not Britain, but Chile.
Unlike West Byfleet, Chile was in revolutionary ferment. In the capital Santiago, the beleaguered but radical marxist government of Salvador Allende, hungry for innovations of all kinds, was employing Simon Beer's father, Stafford, to conduct a much larger technological experiment of which the meters were only a part. This was known as Project Cybersyn, and nothing like it had been tried before, or has been tried since.
Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to "implant" an electronic "nervous system" in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before - a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.
When the Allende administration was deposed in a military coup, the 30th anniversary of which falls this Thursday, exactly how far Beer and his British and Chilean collaborators had got in constructing their hi-tech utopia was soon forgotten. In the many histories of the endlessly debated, frequently mythologised Allende period, Project Cybersyn hardly gets a footnote. Yet the personalities involved, the amount they achieved, the scheme's optimism and ambition and perhaps, in the end, its impracticality, contain important truths about the most tantalising leftwing government of the late 20th century.
Stafford Beer, who died last year, was a restless and idealistic British adventurer who had long been drawn to Chile. Part scientist, part management guru, part social and political theorist, he had grown rich but increasingly frustrated in Britain during the 50s and 60s. His ideas about the similarities between biological and man-made systems, most famously expressed in his later book, The Brain of the Firm, made him an in-demand consultant with British businesses and politicians. Yet these clients did not adopt the solutions he recommended as often as he would have liked, so Beer began taking more contracts abroad.
In the early 60s, his company did some work for the Chilean railways. Beer did not go there himself, but one of the Chileans involved, an engineering student called Fernando Flores, began reading Beer's books and was captivated by their originality and energy. By the time the Allende government was elected in 1970, a group of Beer disciples had formed in Chile. Flores became a minister in the new administration, with responsibility for nationalising great swathes of industry. As in many areas, the Allende government wanted to do things differently from traditional marxist regimes. "I was very much against the Soviet model of centralisation," says Raul Espejo, one of Flores's senior advisers and another Beer disciple. "My gut feeling was that it was unviable."
But how should the Chilean economy be run instead? By 1971, the initial euphoria of Allende's democratic, non-authoritarian revolution was beginning to fade; Flores and Espejo realised that their ministry had acquired a disorganised empire of mines and factories, some occupied by their employees, others still controlled by their original managers, few of them operating with complete efficiency. In July, they wrote to Beer for help.
They knew that he had leftwing sympathies, but also that he was very busy. "Our expectation was to hire someone from his team," says Espejo. But after getting the letter, Beer quickly grew fascinated by the Chilean situation. He decided to drop his other contracts and fly there. In West Byfleet, the reaction was mixed: "We thought, 'Stafford's going mad again,' " says Simon Beer.
When Stafford arrived in Santiago, the Chileans were more impressed. "He was huge," Espejo remembers, "and extraordinarily exuberant. From every pore of his skin you knew he was thinking big." Beer asked for a daily fee of $500 - less than he usually charged, but an enormous sum for a government being starved of US dollars by its enemies in Washington - and a constant supply of chocolate, wine and cigars.
For the next two years, as subordinates searched for these amid the food shortages, and the local press compared him to Orson Welles and Socrates, Beer worked in Chile in frenetic bursts, returning every few months to England, where a British team was also labouring over Cybersyn. What this collaboration produced was startling: a new communications system reaching the whole spindly length of Chile, from the deserts of the north to the icy grasslands of the south, carrying daily information about the output of individual factories, about the flow of important raw materials, about rates of absenteeism and other economic problems.
Until now, obtaining and processing such valuable information - even in richer, more stable countries - had taken governments at least six months. But Project Cybersyn found ways round the technical obstacles. In a forgotten warehouse, 500 telex machines were discovered which had been bought by the previous Chilean government but left unused because nobody knew what to do with them. These were distributed to factories, and linked to two control rooms in Santiago. There a small staff gathered the economic statistics as they arrived, officially at five o'clock every afternoon, and boiled them down using a single precious computer into a briefing that was dropped off daily at La Moneda, the presidential palace.
Allende himself was enthusiastic about the scheme. Beer explained it to him on scraps of paper. Allende had once been a doctor and, Beer felt, instinctively understood his notions about the biological characteristics of networks and institutions. Just as significantly, the two men shared a belief that Cybersyn was not about the government spying on and controlling people. On the contrary, it was hoped that the system would allow workers to manage, or at least take part in the management of their workplaces, and that the daily exchange of information between the shop floor and Santiago would create trust and genuine cooperation - and the combination of individual freedom and collective achievement that had always been the political holy grail for many leftwing thinkers.
It did not always work out like that. "Some people I've talked to," says Eden Miller, an American who is writing a PhD thesis partly about Cybersyn, "said it was like pulling teeth getting the factories to send these statistics." In the feverish Chile of 1972 and 1973, with its shortages and strikes and jostling government initiatives, there were often other priorities. And often the workers were not willing or able to run their plants: "The people Beer's scientists dealt with," says Miller, "were primarily management."
But there were successes. In many factories, Espejo says, "Workers started to allocate a space on their own shop floor to have the same kind of graphics that we had in Santiago." Factories used their telexes to send requests and complaints back to the government, as well as vice versa. And in October 1972, when Allende faced his biggest crisis so far, Beer's invention became vital.
Across Chile, with secret support from the CIA, conservative small businessmen went on strike. Food and fuel supplies threatened to run out. Then the government realised that Cybersyn offered a way of outflanking the strikers. The telexes could be used to obtain intelligence about where scarcities were worst, and where people were still working who could alleviate them. The control rooms in Santiago were staffed day and night. People slept in them - even government ministers. "The rooms came alive in the most extraordinary way," says Espejo. "We felt that we were in the centre of the universe." The strike failed to bring down Allende.
In some ways, this was the high point for Cybersyn. The following year, like the government in general, it began to encounter insoluble problems. By 1973, the sheer size of the project, involving somewhere between a quarter and half of the entire nationalised economy, meant that Beer's original band of disciples had been diluted by other, less idealistic scientists. There was constant friction between the two groups. Meanwhile, Beer himself started to focus on other schemes: using painters and folk singers to publicise the principles of high-tech socialism; testing his son's electrical public-opinion meters, which never actually saw service; and even organising anchovy-fishing expeditions to earn the government some desperately needed foreign currency.
All the while, the rightwing plotting against Allende grew more blatant and the economy began to suffocate as other countries, encouraged by the Americans, cut off aid and investment. Beer was accused in parts of the international press of creating a Big Brother-style system of administration in South America. "There was plenty of stress in Chile," he wrote afterwards. "I could have pulled out at any time, and often considered doing so."
In June 1973, after being advised to leave Santiago, he rented an anonymous house on the coast from a relative of Espejo. For a few weeks, he wrote and stared at the sea and travelled to government meetings under cover of darkness. On September 10, a room was measured in La Moneda for the installation of an updated Cybersyn control centre, complete with futuristic control panels in the arms of chairs and walls of winking screens. The next day, the palace was bombed by the coup's plotters. Beer was in London, lobbying for the Chilean government, when he left his final meeting before intending to fly back to Santiago and saw a newspaper billboard that read, "Allende assassinated."
The Chilean military found the Cybersyn network intact, and called in Espejo and others to explain it to them. But they found the open, egalitarian aspects of the system unattractive and destroyed it. Espejo fled. Some of his colleagues were not so lucky. Soon after the coup, Beer left West Byfleet, his wife, and most of his possessions to live in a cottage in Wales. "He had survivor guilt, unquestionably," says Simon.
Cybersyn and Stafford's subsequent, more esoteric inventions live on in obscure socialist websites and, more surprisingly, modern business school teachings about the importance of economic information and informal working practices. David Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Blair's new head of policy, Geoff Mulgan, have all cited Beer as an influence.
But perhaps more importantly, his work in Chile affected those who participated. Espejo has made a good career since as an inter- national management consultant. He has been settled in Britain for decades. He chuckles urbanely at the mention of Pinochet's arrest in London five years ago. Yet when, after a long lunch in a pub near his home in Lincoln, I ask whether Cybersyn changed him, his playful, slightly professorial gaze turns quite serious. "Oh yes," he says. "Completely."
I.B.M. Delivers Rural Broadband Over Power Lines
With $7 billion of government money on the line, it’s no surprise that all kinds of companies are claiming they can wire the most isolated ranchers and cave dwellers with broadband Internet service.
On Thursday, I.B.M. piped up to say that it is working with rural electric cooperatives to offer high-speed Internet service, delivered over electric power lines.
Technology to send broadband over power lines has been around for several years, but it typically hasn’t been able to offer enough capacity at a low enough price to beat service from cable and phone companies.
But with government subsidies, the approach is starting to be deployed in areas that don’t have access to other forms of broadband.
I.B.M. Global Services is actually a contractor working for International Broadband Electric Communications, a Huntsville, Ala., company that has developed both the technology and service model to make the system work, at least in rural areas without other broadband offerings. The companies began deploying Internet service last year with one rural cooperative in Alabama, and this week announced an expansion to include five more cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia.
There appears to be pent-up demand in these areas. One Michigan cooperative signed up 5,000 customers in the first two weeks, said Raymond Blair, the director of advanced networks for I.B.M.
These deployments have been subsidized by low-interest loans from the Rural Development Program of the Department of Agriculture, which is going to get a big chunk of new money for loans and grants from the stimulus bill that was just signed.
To deploy a broadband system, a power company needs to run an Internet connection over fiber to each electrical substation. Then it can simply install one amplifier per mile of power line. Another device sends the signal the final stretch to subscribers’ homes. To use the service, consumers can plug the modem into any outlet. With the amplifiers, the signal can be sent 25 miles from a substation, far longer than DSL service over phone wires.
Mr. Blair said this technology has been cost-effective in areas that have five to fifteen people living near each mile of line. The government grants might even encourage power companies to install it in even more sparsely populated areas.
Wireless service, of course, is another option for rural areas, but Mr. Blair said that delivery over power lines could be especially good for hilly terrain that blocks wireless signals.
The service, as offered by I.B.E.C., is certainly not something you’d want if you can get broadband another way. The company charges $29.95 a month for service at 256 kilobits per second and $49.95 for 1 megabit per second. Those are far slower speeds than cable and phone companies offer at those prices.
“The Internet at 256 kilobits may not sound like a lot, but that’s literally 10 times what people are getting today,” Mr. Blair said. “If you remember what it was like to be on dial-up, it’s totally inadequate for the nature of the Internet in this world.”
Against Guilt by Accusation
Over the years I've taken a strong stand for legal due process on this blog. I've opposed the government's treatment of Ahmed Zaoui, its plans to seize assets from suspected (or even acquitted) criminals, and its plans for ASBOs, local body banishment orders, anti-domestic violence "police orders", and anti-boy-racer "cease and desist orders" for one simple reason: because I believe that people should not be punished without trial, and that when the government accuses you of something, you should be given a decent chance to defend yourself against that accusation. These are basic principles of a fair and just society, and recognised as such in our Bill of Rights Act.
So you can imagine what I think of the government's attempt to impose guilt by accusation on the people of New Zealand when it comes to copyright. This move violates those basic principles of justice and fairness, and it does so for the worst of reasons: because the copyright mafia have decided that it would be too expensive to even try to prove an allegation of breach of copyright. Instead, they want people cut off from the internet - and by extension, their friends, family, community, society, political system, and life - simply on accusation. And if they get it wrong? Tough shit.
This should not happen in a free society. We should not let it happen. Quite apart from the gross unfairness, the potential for abuse is enormous. Want to silence someone? Accuse them of copyright violation, and their ISP will be forced to take them down. The possibilities are endless...
As for what you can do about it, the Creative Freedom Foundation has a few suggestions here. And they promise not to kick you off the net if you pass it around...
Whatever Happened to Free Speech?
Britain was once renowned around the world for defending people's right to speak out. Not any more, says Philip Johnston.
The refusal to admit the oddball Dutch MP Geert Wilders to Britain yesterday marks a further retreat from this country's traditions of free speech. It stands in stark contrast to what happened exactly 20 years ago tomorrow, when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for insulting the Prophet Mohammed in his book The Satanic Verses.
In retrospect, that was a turning point in the country's history of free speech, an event that appeared to demonstrate indomitability, yet turned out to be a defeat. An unambiguous stand was taken on Rushdie's behalf by the government of the day, which denounced the threat to his life and broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. Sir Geoffrey Howe, then foreign secretary, told the Commons: "This action is taken in plain defence of the right within the law of freedom of speech and the right within the law of freedom of protest."
Despite mass book burnings, protests around the world, including in Bolton and Bradford, and threats of violence, the work continued to be published and sold. How could it be otherwise? This was Britain, after all, the citadel of free speech. We would not be brow beaten into denying the rights of one of our citizens, or anyone else for that matter, from having their say, however controversial or offensive their opinion might be.
Sadly, the past two decades have seen a pusillanimous flight into cowering capitulation. We seem to have forgotten what free speech entails, how hard it was fought for and how important it is to defend. It is the value with which this country is most associated throughout the world. It is why Britain has been home, over the centuries, to so many political dissidents who would have been persecuted elsewhere, and why those who live in autocracies that brook no criticism tune into the BBC World Service.
They see this as a place able to accommodate opinions that are obviously crazy, offensive or even seditious, a country where a view can be held and expressed, provided – and this has always been true – that it does not foment violence.
Geert Wilders is an anti-Islamist who regards the Koran as inherently inflammatory and believes he is justified in saying so. He has made a 17-minute film, Fitna – an Arabic word meaning test of faith – setting out this thesis and was invited to show it at a private screening in the House of Lords. The film can be seen on the internet, so there is no question of stopping its dissemination. It contains some unpleasant images of bomb explosions, of captured hostages facing death and of chanting mobs interlaced with passages from the Koran.
Wilders claims that these verses from the holy book of Islam are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and anti-democratically. You may think he is wrong to say this; you may agree with him; you might, like the lords who invited him to Britain, think it is something worthy of discussion, given the obvious problems caused around the world by radical Islamism and the violence perpetrated in the name of the religion. It is hard, in a free country, to understand why it is a view that must be suppressed.
What, then, possessed the Home Office to ban Wilders – an unprecedented action against a democratically-elected politician from a European state, who is entitled to free movement within the EU? By any measure, it was an extraordinary decision; yet it was not even raised in parliament, the supposed guardian of our freedoms, though some MPs have commented on the ban, largely to support it.
Were Wilders a terrorist preaching violence against particular groups, it could be understood on public order grounds. The order issued by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, read: "The Secretary of State is of the view that your presence in the UK would pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. The Secretary of State is satisfied that your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere would threaten community harmony and therefore public security in the UK."
Yet what possible threat to public security is posed by a Dutch MP showing a film, in private, to a smattering of peers on a Thursday afternoon in February? Of itself, the film does not call for violence against Muslims; indeed, it suggests that Islam is a cause of violence, a view with which you are entitled to agree or feel strongly about, but not to prohibit.
The reason for the ban appears to have been the possibility of protests by some Muslim organisations against Wilders's visit. In other words, his freedom to express a view and the liberty of peers to hear it in an institution supposedly devoted to free speech, were set aside in the face of intimidation – the opposite of what happened in the Rushdie case, even if that author was forced into hiding.
What is particularly insidious is the application of double standards. One of those most opposed to Wilders's visit is the Muslim peer Lord Ahmed, though he denies allegations that he warned parliamentary authorities that 10,000 demonstrators would take to the streets. Yet two years ago, Lord Ahmed invited Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian previously detained on suspicion of fundraising for groups linked to al-Qaeda, to Westminster to meet him. When he was criticised for doing so, he said it was his parliamentary duty to hear Rideh's complaints. He does not appear to see any contradiction with the position he now adopts against his fellow peers.
Had a foreign parliamentarian who disliked Christians and considered the Bible to be inflammatory planned a visit to Britain, does anyone imagine he would have been prevented from doing so? No, and neither should he have been. This must work for everyone.
The arrest and possible prosecution of Rowan Laxton, a Foreign Office diplomat, for railing at the Israeli invasion of Gaza from his exercise bike in the gym, is the latest example of an equally sinister development – the denunciation of opinions expressed in private, as with Carol Thatcher's "golliwog" comments. Free speech is about understanding that some people hold a different view from you, whether you like it or not. When we start to alert the "authorities" to thought crimes we really are one step away from the dystopian world that Orwell invented as a warning, not a prophecy.
The Government that has treated our liberties in such a cavalier way is having none of this, of course. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said the film made by Wilders was "full of hate" and therefore fell foul of British laws, though he admitted that he had not seen it and therefore could not judge. But, in any case, is he right? Is it against the law?
People have always been free under the criminal law to speak their minds, provided they did not, in doing so, incite others to commit violence or infringe public order. Rabble-rousers trying to whip up the mob have never been the beneficiaries of this latitude: there is, in other words, a difference between license and liberty. However, it is necessary to demonstrate that the words complained of are likely to stir up hatred and public disorder, not merely to complain that they are unpleasant or objectionable to some. Imams have been allowed to continue preaching in mosques when it could be argued that they have overstepped this mark, as when they have called for the death of homosexuals or Jews.
Wilders is no advertisement for free speech. After all, he wants the Koran to be banned. But that is not the point. It is what this affair says about us, not him, that matters. Is Britain now adopting a position where people who support suicide bombers and jihad are able to make known their opinions without legal challenge, whereas those who oppose them cannot?
The very people who in 1989 were demanding the murder of Salman Rushdie for writing a book are today leading the charge against a Dutch MP for making a film. The fundamental difference is that 20 years ago, the government supported free speech; today, it has cravenly surrendered. It is simply not good enough to say that Wilders should not be heard because he might provoke a backlash from those who do not like him or his views. That is not upholding the law. That is appeasement.
Chinese Blogger Stabbed After Public Reading
A Chinese blogger whose satirical postings have gained a wide following was stabbed in the stomach at a Beijing book store after giving a reading, witnesses and friends said Monday.
Xu Lai, who writes under the pseudonym Qian Liexian, was attacked Saturday evening at the Wanda branch of the Beijing Danxiangjie Book Store, a staffer there confirmed Monday.
He was meeting readers ''and it happened after that,'' said the clerk, who declined to give her name as is common among Chinese. She gave no other details.
Xu, who is also culture editor at the Beijing News paper, was apparently stabbed in the store's bathroom by two men who later fled, according to friends and fellow bloggers who posted the news online.
The motive was unclear for the assault, which was the first known physical attack on a prominent blogger.
Xu's blog, entitled ''Qian Liexian Wants to Speak,'' offers witty, satirical observations on society and politics. At times provocative, he has also commented on government corruption and the recent scandal of milk contaminated with an industrial chemical.
Last year, he was listed among the ''20 Most Influential Figures in China's Cyberspace'' by Southern Metropolis Weekly. Xu was in a Beijing hospital Monday recovering after surgery for his wounds, which were not life-threatening, according to postings by friends on the bullogger.com Web site.
''According to the doctor, there was only a small hole in his stomach, and no other injuries were found in his other organs,'' one post said. ''The doctor said it seemed that he was in a good condition. So people who care for him should not worry.''
Police responsible for that area of Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Xu's blog was one of many hosted on the Chinese blogging Web site bullog.cn, which was shut down in January as part of a government crackdown on the Internet. The successor site, bullogger.com, is hosted overseas.
Online writers and commentators in China are often censored and sometimes persecuted by authorities over controversial postings.
Student Arrested For Classroom Texting
Wisconsin girl, 14, nabbed after refusing to stop messaging
A 14-year-old Wisconsin girl who refused to stop texting during a high school math class was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, according to police. The teenager was busted last Wednesday at Wauwatosa East High School after she ignored a teacher's demand that she cease texting. The girl, whose name we have redacted from the below Wauwatosa Police Department report, initially denied having a phone when confronted by a school security officer. However, the phone was located after the girl was frisked by a female cop. The Samsung Cricket, the police report noted, was recovered "from the buttocks area" of the teenager. The student was issued a criminal citation for disorderly conduct, which carried "a bail of $298," and had her phone confiscated. The girl, who was barred from school property for a week, is scheduled for an April 20 court appearance on the misdemeanor rap.
Canon Has No Sense of Humor, Tries to Shut Down Fake Chuck Westfall Blog — Update: And Fails
Holy parody Batman! I just saw over at the Fake Chuck Westfall blog (read *fake* Chuck Westfall blog folks, sorta like that *fake* Steve Jobs blog from a while back) that Canon Inc. and some lawyerish type named Douglas E. Mirell from Loeb & Loeb are trying to shut poor fake Chuck down.
Apparently Canon and/or the real Chuck (pictured to the left) are a wee bit pissed off at fake Chuck for running around poking fun at their expense and sent our good man Matt Mullenweg over at Automattic a take down request.
From the lawyer’s letter:
“Canon U.S.A., Inc. currently employs Mr. Chuck Westfall as the Technical Information Advisor for its Camera Marketing Group. Mr. Westfall’s job responsibilities at Canon include providing market feedback to Canon in terms of constructive comments on current equipment and software, as well as feature suggestions for future products. Accordingly, Mr. Westfall is a well-known figure in the photography community; he is frequently interviewed in many prominent publications concerning photography and photographic equipment, including magazines, online publications, special interest forums and blogs.
It has come to our clients’ attention that one of the blogs hosted on the wordpress.com site — http://fakechuckwestfall.wordpress.com (the “Blog”) — is using our client’s trademark and Mr. Westfall’s name and likeness without authorization, and is violating several covenants contained in your own Terms Of Service, as well as many federal and state laws including the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.. 1125.”
blah, blah, blah, etc.
The main objections that Canon seems to have as cited in their takedown notice are.
1. The fact that Fake Chuck is using “the Canon stylized” logo.
2. Threats of physical violence against their client and employees.
3. An invasion of privacy.
4. That the “overall look, feel and tone of the Blog” is calculated to mislead recipients.
For Pete’s sake! It’s the *fake* Chuck Westfall Blog Canon! Fake, in the title, Fake in the url. And the whole thing is written in such an absurd over the top manner that there is no way anyone would believe that it were a real Canon blog from the real Chuck Westfall.
Interestingly, Canon’s agents of censorship over at Loeb and Loeb, cite a comment in the post “Thank you Maeda,” (check out the dude’s hair) as the threat of physical violence:
“Micahel, you don’t give me a lot of hope with your comment, but I’m sure you know that. Do you think they’ll listen to me if I come in one day at the office and start bashing their heads with a two by four? Or perhaps I could also come in with a shotgun and lots of ammo and start shooting in the wild. I’m not going to kill anyone, just scare the ever loving crap out of them and show them I mean business now. Do you think that would make a difference?
But your comment about Nikon making tools for photographers is right on, even though, I must admit, I hate to admit that. I guess I’m a bit jealous, but I really hoped we could have gone more in that direction with our latest products. I guess it’ll have to wait for a while.”
I’m sorry, but the whole “look, tone and feel” to use Loeb & Loeb’s words, of the Fake Chuck Westfall blog are anything *but* designed to mislead people. While the blog takes some serious jabs at Canon and mocks both Canon and the real Chuck to no end, it ought not confuse anyone any more than someone might misconstrue Weird Al Yankovich’s “Eat it,” as Michael Jackson’s similarly sounding tune, “Beat It.”
This takedown notice is simply an attempt by Canon, Chuck Westfall and their lawyers to silence a blogger and silence a critic. I hope someone from the EFF or some other type can step up here and help the good Fake Chuck Westfall out. With blog titles like “5D Mark II Fix Coming, 50D is Fucked” and “5D Mark II Banding Problem - Why has the lord forsaken us?, Fake Chuck has provided a humorous look at the fake inside working of the fake Canon.
Maybe Canon should spend a little less time harassing bloggers and a little more time working on getting their new cameras out on time.
If you want to read the take down request yourself you can do so here.
Update: Automattic CEO Toni Schneider has responded to Canon over this take down request and it’s good to see that he and Automattic are standing by Fake Chuck on this one. The Fake Chuck Westfall has removed the Canon logo from his blog and below is Toni’s email (reprinted with permission) back to Canon’s lawyers:
We have received your complaint about fakechuckwestfall.wordpress.com.
The owner of the blog has removed the Canon logo.
We consider the privacy complaint about the names of Chuck Westfall’s wife and child void since Mr. Westfall mentions them in his own bio at http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0604/westfall.html.
We also reject your other complaints regarding the blog being confused with an official Canon site given that the blog name and URL contain “Fake”, the about page starts with “Hi, I’m not actually Chuck Westfall.”, and the tone and content of the whole blog are clearly satirical.
A Successful Failure
Yiying Lu, an artist and a designer in Sydney, Australia, has made a number of appealing illustrations, many featuring animals. But one image in her portfolio is far more likely to be familiar to at least some of you than any of the others: the one depicting a peaceful whale held aloft by a small flock of birds. To certain particularly dedicated users of the online social-networking service Twitter, the “Fail Whale” is as iconic as any corporate logo, and far more beloved. Some have bought the T-shirt, and some have joined the fan club. Most recently, Fail Whale earned Lu a Shorty — an award devised by Sawhorse Media, an Internet company, to praise all manner of Twitter expression — winning her a trip to the New York awards ceremony in mid-February.
As with many Web-popularity stories, there’s a lot of flukiness to Fail Whale’s rise. For starters, Lu had never heard of Twitter when she created the image (which she called Lifting Up a Dreamer) as an electronic birthday card for a friend overseas while she was still finishing her visual communications degree at the University of Technology, Sydney. In July 2007, she uploaded a number of her illustrations, including that one, to a service called iStockphoto. That’s where, almost a year later, it came to the attention of Biz Stone, a Twitter founder.
If you’ve managed to miss the hype around Twitter, it’s generally described as a “mini-blogging” tool. Its estimated five-million-plus users communicate in bursts of 140 characters or less to those friends or strangers who follow their “tweets.” Last May, during a big popularity spike, Twitter experienced regular service outages; users were greeted with a picture of a cat at a computer during these down stretches. Stone decided that was too jokey and turned to iStockPhoto, where he encountered Lu’s illustration, which nicely suggested a team effort to accomplish something difficult. Plus, it was supercute. He paid a few dollars to use the illustration under iStockPhoto’s standard license, which grants a perpetual worldwide right for such online uses.
What happened next was chronicled almost in real time by online observers like ReadWriteWeb and Widgets Lab: a Twitter user dubbed the image Fail Whale; another created a Twitter feed and Web site for the mascot; a third found the image on iStockPhoto. This revealed the name of the whale’s creator and suggested a mission for fans, recalls Tom Limongello, a Twitter enthusiast who works in business development for Crisp Wireless: “Let’s promote her.” The Fail Whale community sent a box of T-shirts to Twitter headquarters. “Mixed feelings,” Evan Williams, another Twitter founder, tweeted upon receipt. But he honored the request for a public shout-out to Lu.
Lu was flattered to learn about her illustration’s quasi-icon status, she says, but of course a stock image’s popularity does not translate directly into revenue. (She has since removed it from iStockPhoto.) The T-shirt stunt ended up being a kind of branding event for the artist. Limongello figures the number of tweets, blog posts and other online info-bursts must have numbered in the tens of thousands. This helped Lu to sell a few thousand dollars’ worth of whaled T-shirts, mugs and prints through Zazzle.com and other services. She also got a lot more attention from design and illustration clients. “It fits Twitter’s brand so well,” Lu says. “I don’t know if it’s fate or a coincidence.”
Either way, it’s surprising — as if a song heard mostly as hold music hit the Billboard charts. It probably took two specific factors to create the accidental icon. First, it’s a lesson in the power of raw repetition — the “mere exposure effect” identified by psychology studies that suggests we like things more simply by seeing them more often. Second, Twitter enthusiasts are almost alarmingly zealous. Even now the Fail Whale Twitter feed continues to share news of, say, the most recent Fail Whale-related video on YouTube.
An e-card visual emerging as an artist’s best-known image might also inspire mixed feelings. “It’s not like I only created this fish,” Lu says with a laugh. On the other hand, she has become more interested in exploring the “animal/technology metaphor” and in extending her illustration into the physical world by way of goods. Someone suggested a plush-toy version of the Fail Whale, for instance, and she says she likes the sound of that. But she would probably need to find a partner other than Twitter to make it happen. Stone says, understandably, that his company would prefer the whale to be a memory, not merchandise.
Lawsuit Says Google Was Unfair to Rival Site
A small Web site operator filed an antitrust suit against Google on Tuesday, accusing it of unfairly manipulating its advertising system to harm a potential competitor.
TradeComet.com, which operates a site called SourceTool.com, a vertical search engine for those seeking business products and services, accused Google of raising the advertising rates it charged the company after it realized that SourceTool was a potential competitor.
TradeComet also said that Google entered into an anticompetitive agreement with Business.com, a SourceTool rival, which despite having a similar business model was offered more favorable advertising terms.
“Google understood the threat that vertical search engines posed to its business model,” said Jonathan Kanter, a partner in Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.
Mr. Kanter’s firm represents Microsoft in antitrust matters. Mr. Kanter said Microsoft “has no involvement in this matter at all.” Google said it had not reviewed the complaint in detail. “But as we have consistently made clear, the advertising market in which Google operates is highly competitive and advertisers have a huge range of choices,” said Andrew Pederson, a Google spokesman.
Ben Hanna, a vice president for marketing at Business.com, said his company had no special relationship with Google.
TradeComet said that Google initially welcomed SourceTool, which bought ads on Google to drive traffic to its site.
That traffic grew quickly, reaching 650,000 visitors a day. By the following year, however, Google increased the prices that SourceTool had to bid for its ads by as much as 10,000 percent, the company charged.
Google uses a proprietary algorithm to assign “quality scores” to advertisers’ sites, using measures like the apparent usefulness of the sites. Advertisers with low scores have to pay more for their ads, and many advertisers have complained that Google can use the system to manipulate prices.
Last year, SourceTool urged the Justice Department to block a proposed search advertising partnership between Google and Yahoo. Its story became the subject of a column in The New York Times.
After the Justice Department notified Google and Yahoo that it planned to file suit to block the agreement, Google abandoned the partnership.
Legal experts said that the lawsuit appeared to be fallout from the Justice Department review of the partnership, which concluded that Google’s market share in search advertising amounted to a monopoly. But they were split on the merits of the case.
“I do believe that this properly alleges harm to competition, not just harm to one plaintiff,” said Samuel Miller, a partner at Sidley Austin in San Francisco.
But EricMr. Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, cast a skeptical eye on TradeComet’s accusations , noting that courts had dismissed a similar antitrust case against Google. “We’ve heard all these arguments before and they haven’t gotten much traction,” Mr. Goldman said.
Google Wins Street View Privacy Suit
A couple in Pittsburgh whose lawsuit claimed that Street View on Google Maps is a reckless invasion of their privacy lost their case.
Aaron and Christine Boring sued the Internet search giant last April, alleging that Google "significantly disregarded (their) privacy interests" when Street View cameras captured images of their house beyond signs marked "private road." The couple claimed in their five-count lawsuit that finding their home clearly visible on Google's Street View caused them "mental suffering" and diluted their home value. They sought more than $25,000 in damages and asked that the images of their home be taken off the site and destroyed.
However, the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania wasn't impressed by the suit and dismissed it Tuesday, saying the Borings "failed to state a claim under any count."
Ironically, the Borings' suit subjected themselves to even more public exposure by filing the lawsuit, which included their home address. In addition, the Allegheny County's Office of Property Assessments included a photo of the home on its Web site.
The Borings are not alone in their ire toward the Google Maps feature. As reported earlier, residents in California's Humboldt County complained that the drivers who are hired to collect the images are disregarding private property signs and driving up private roads. In January, a private Minnesota community near St. Paul, unhappy that images of its streets and homes appeared on the site, demanded Google remove the images, which the company did.
However, Google claims to be legally allowed to photograph on private roads, arguing that privacy no longer exists in this age of satellite and aerial imagery.
"Today's satellite-image technology means that...complete privacy does not exist," Google said in its response to the Borings' complaint
Not long after the feature launched in May 2007, privacy advocates criticized Google for displaying photographs that included people's faces and car license plates. And last May, the company announced that it had begun testing face-blurring technology for the service.
Sirius XM bet on a losing technology. Here's how the company can save itself.
Satellite radio is falling out of orbit. Sirius XM, the product of a merger between America's founding satellite radio companies, is reportedly unable to meet a $175 million debt payment due at the end of the month. It has hired bankruptcy advisers and has been talking to satellite TV companies about a possible takeover.
None of this is surprising. Though many of Sirius XM's problems have been exacerbated by the economy—the company loaded up more than $3 billion in debt with the expectation that cheap credit would remain plentiful—satellite radio has always been an idea out of step with the times. Like print newspapers, travel agencies, and record shops, Sirius XM offers what seems like a pretty great service—the world's best radio programming for just a small monthly fee—that has, in practice, been eclipsed by something far cheaper and more convenient: the Internet.
Go online and you can find just about any music or talk show that you want. It's pretty much all free, and it's computationally personalized to suit your tastes. You can get these services on the go, too. Apple's iPhone, Google's Android platform, and other smartphones can stream a huge lineup of radio content through cellular networks. There are still many hiccups—3G wireless networks don't yet blanket the nation nearly as well as Sirius XM's seven geosynchronous satellites—but Internet radio's reach is sure to expand. Indeed, it's already mesmerizing: Load up a program like Pandora or the Public Radio Tuner on your iPhone, plug it into your car's audio-in jack, and you've got access to a wider stream of music than you'll ever get through satellite.
It's hard to blame entrenched industries for failing to see how new technologies might upend their operations. But unlike other business models that were killed off by the digital transition, satellite radio isn't ancient. The dream began in the late 1980s, when Martin Rothblatt, a lawyer, entrepreneur, and satellite enthusiast, began to lobby the Federal Communications Commission to devote a part of the spectrum to radio beamed from the sky. (Rothblatt, who later underwent a sex-change operation and became Martine, now runs the Terasem Movement, an organization that aims to educate the public on "creating consciousness in self-replicating machines.") In 1992, two companies—Rothblatt's, which later became Sirius, and XM—bought licenses to the spectrum, and over the next decade they set about starting extra-planetary radio stations. They launched satellites, developed portable receivers, and built up huge programming facilities. By the time they began operations—XM in 2001, and Sirius in 2002—they were already outdated.
Remember, this was after the advent of Napster—people were already used to getting every song on demand. Sirius and XM found that the only way to convince customers to pay $10 or more a month for radio was to offer exclusive acts. This proved expensive. In 2004, Sirius signed Howard Stern to a $500 million, 5-year contract; in a bombastic press release, Stern called Sirius "the future of radio," and the company declared the move "the most important deal in radio history." Soon after, Oprah signed with XM. Martha Stewart went to Sirius. Besides talent, the companies also spent a bundle on subsidies to automakers to get satellite receivers pre-installed in cars. And, of course, they had to keep running those satellites.
Altogether, the economics of satellite radio are ugly: Sirius XM—after a long regulatory review, the companies merged last summer—now pays about $100 million a year to maintain its satellites; about $1 billion on programming and royalties; and about $600 million on various "customer acquisition costs," including discounts and subsidies. For a while, these huge outlays worked—the company has about 19 million subscribers—but dampening car sales have cut its growth rate. Sirius and XM never made a profit, and last fall, the merged company predicted that it wouldn't see its first positive cash flows until 2012.
In retrospect, the most important announcement in the recent history of radio had nothing to do with Howard Stern. Instead, it was Apple's unveiling of the iPod in the fall of 2001. The device didn't look like a radio killer—after all, it couldn't receive any signals. But the iPod could connect to your computer, and your computer was connected to the Internet—so, really, the iPod could get everything. In addition to carrying all the music you could get through your favorite file-sharing app, digital music players spawned podcasts—essentially time-shifted radio—which attracted both talented amateurs and established stars.
Then, with the introduction of the iPhone, the iPod went live. How could satellite possibly compete? Music is the nichiest of all popular arts; the more people a radio station reaches, the more people it's got to satisfy, and the more likely you are to hear stuff you hate. Even with its plethora of channels, satellite is still a one-way, mass-media technology, while the portable Internet allows endless interactivity. Don't like a song? Skip to the next one. Like something? Press thumbs up. That's how Pandora works—over time, the station learns about your tastes, and eventually begins to serve up old songs and new stuff that you can't resist. The Internet allows all kinds of other neat tricks: FlyCast, a radio app for the iPhone that features tens of thousands of both terrestrial and Internet stations, lets you skip back to the start of a talk show if you joined late. You can't do that on satellite.
Despite all of this gloom and doom, the Internet doesn't have to be the death of Sirius XM. If the company can get its debt in order, it might find that the network can be its savior. My advice: Forget the satellites, the special radios, and the huge customer acquisition costs. Instead, focus on your content—and figure out a way to get it to the largest possible audience at very low prices. Sirius XM should make sure that Howard Stern and Oprah and Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour and the NFL and Major League Baseball are available on every Internet-connected device on the market.
At the moment, the company charges $13 per month for Web access to non-satellite-radio subscribers. (Satellite customers used to get online access for free, but Sirius XM recently started charging $3 a month.) If Sirius XM slashed that price dramatically—which it could afford if it stopped paying off automakers—it would see a huge rise in online subscribers. These people would pay to get Sirius not only on the Web but on their phones. There have long been rumors that Sirius is building an iPhone app; the company ought to make those rumors a reality, plus get its service on Android and the BlackBerry. And be sure to make it the cellular radio app, packed with features that allow for personalization—great enough that people will pay $5 a month for it. Also, start doing podcasts! The Stern show is one of the most pilfered programs online. I'm sure that lots of people trade MP3s of his program because they just don't want to pay for it. But I'm guessing that lots of people would pay $1 for an ad-free version of yesterday's show that they could listen to on the train or at the gym. And I'm sure Sirius XM can come up with a bunch more ideas—once you realize that your potential audience is everyone with a Web connection, the possibilities abound.
Sirius Creditors Threaten to Oust CEO: Report
A group of Sirius XM Radio Inc creditors will seek to remove Chief Executive Mel Karmazin if the company chooses a bankruptcy filing over a deal with an investor that would let it stay solvent, the Wall Street Journal said.
"Creditors will act quickly and definitively if they perceive that management is (not) acting ... in the best interest of the estate," the paper quoted Edward Weisfelner, a partner with Brown Rudnick LLP - the law firm representing the creditor group - as saying.
The satellite radio company said in response that its management is "continually working to ensure the best possible outcome for the enterprise," the Journal reported on its website on Sunday, adding that a final decision on Sirius' future is expected on Monday.
Liberty Media Corp is in talks with Sirius to invest but not take it over, a source said on Friday, as Sirius tries to stave off a bid by EchoStar Corp.
The talks with Liberty are seen as a last-ditch attempt by Karmazin to hold off EchoStar, which holds $175 million in Sirius convertible bonds due on February 17.
Sirius said it had refinanced some debt that was due in December, but added that it still might have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection if talks toward refinancing other debt did not yield results by Tuesday.
(Reporting by Ramya Dilip in Bangalore; editing by John Stonestreet)
Sirius XM Wins a Critical Loan From Liberty Media
Michael J. de la Merced
Sirius XM Radio said Tuesday that it struck an investment deal with Liberty Media, the owner of DirecTV, helping the beleaguered satellite radio company stave off a default on some of its bonds and a potential bankruptcy filing.
The agreement also fends off an aggressive takeover by EchoStar Communications. EchoStar owns the Dish Network and had purchased Sirius debt in hopes of acquiring the company in case it defaulted on debt due Tuesday.
Liberty will provide Sirius up to $530 million in loans in exchange for preferred stock that is convertible to 40 percent of Sirius’s equity. Liberty’s chairman, the media mogul John C. Malone, and its chief executive, Gregory B. Maffei, are expected to take seats on Sirius’s board, the companies said in a joint statement.
“We are pleased to have come to this agreement with Liberty Media, particularly in light of today’s challenging credit markets,” said Mel Karmazin, Sirius’s chief executive.
Liberty will first provide a $280 million loan to cover $171.6 million in bonds owned by EchoStar and another $150 million loan later. Liberty has also offered to acquire up to $100 million of Sirius’s bank loans.
The accord caps a week of frenzied negotiations. Mr. Karmazin had entered talks with two strong-willed executives, Liberty’s Mr. Malone and Charles W. Ergen of EchoStar. Mr. Malone’s white-knight bid proved more attractive because it would keep Sirius independent for now.
As Earnings Drop 32%, Comcast Raises Dividend
The Comcast Corporation, the nation’s largest cable TV provider, said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter earnings fell 32 percent, hampered by a $600 million write-down of its investment in the Clearwire Corporation, the wireless technology provider.
Comcast’s revenue and adjusted earnings beat Wall Street estimates, however, helped by growth in Comcast’s video segment.
Comcast also raised its annual dividend by 2 cents a share, to 27 cents.
In the fourth quarter, Philadelphia-based Comcast earned $412 million, or 14 cents a share, compared with $602 million, or 20 cents a share, in the quarter a year ago.
The Clearwire write-down was expected; other investors like Google, the Intel Corporation and Time Warner Cable have recently taken similar charges against their earnings.
Excluding items like the Clearwire charge, Comcast earned 27 cents a share, up 7 cents a share from the same quarter last year. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected an adjusted profit of 22 cents a share.
Comcast’s revenue rose 9 percent, to $8.77 billion, ahead of analyst forecasts for $8.64 billion in revenue.
Comcast’s video revenue rose 3 percent to $4.74 billion. The company lost 233,000 basic subscribers in the quarter but gained 247,000 digital customers, who pay more for service. Its average revenue per video customer rose 9 percent, to $113.80 a month, helped by customers adding to their cable channel lineup, even in the recession.
Revenue from broadband Internet services rose 9 percent, to $1.86 billion. Comcast added 184,000 Internet subscribers during the quarter, down 46 percent from the 341,000 it added in the year-ago quarter. The company ended the period with 14.9 million broadband customers.
Revenue from Comcast’s digital phone segment rose 45 percent, to $731 million. However, the company’s addition of 344,000 digital phone customers was down 44 percent from the amount added in the fourth quarter of 2007.
For the year, Comcast earned $2.55 billion, or 86 cents a share. Comcast earned $2.59 billion, or 83 cents a share, in 2007. The company’s revenue rose 11 percent, to $34.3 billion, in 2008.
Cable and Satellite Providers: Beware the Killer Rabbit (Ears)
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, our equine-challenged heroes come upon the Rabbit of Caerbannog, which appears to be an ordinary, harmless rabbit until it starts killing people.
Outdated, obsolete -- but useful again with DTV
With the transition to broadcast digital TV (DTV) in the U.S. — whenever it’s going to happen — outdated, obsolete “rabbit ears” indoor antennas are poised to become a viable threat to cable and satellite TV providers, especially as consumers become increasingly budget-conscious.
My eyes were opened to this threat recently when my parents asked me to connect a digital converter box to the small, 5 year old LCD TV my mother uses in the kitchen. I was naturally concerned that they had (1) attempted a technology purchase without seeking my advice and (2) had gone to Radio Shack to do it.
But what a pleasant surprise the Zenith DTT901 digital converter box turned out to be! (The Shack took care of them — thanks, guys.) For about $20 (after coupon), that little TV suddenly had the best picture in the house:
• Digital-perfect reception of all of Boston’s network affiliates (and then some), and several new sub-channels to boot
• Automatic scaling, zooming, and cropping of HD and SD programming
• An on-screen program guide
And since all of Boston’s DTV stations are currently UHF, they don’t even need the VHF “ears” extended (only channel 7 is currently scheduled to return to its old VHF frequency after the transition’s analog shutdown).
Clearly, this is not the broadcast TV of my youth.
Broadcast TV then
Back then, living 25.5 miles southeast of Boston’s primary broadcast towers in Needham, MA (thanks, AntennaWeb!) meant that we had a VHF/UHF antenna on our chimney, just like everyone else. Ours rotated, though, controlled by an unapologetically analog dial which made a satisfyingly mechanical “thunk” as it stepped the mast from NW to SSW to try for Providence stations too.
Broadcast TV now
Picture quality was mediocre at best. Snow, static, ghosts, waves, whatever, whenever. We signed up for cable as soon as it became available in our town and never looked back. We switched to digital in the early 1990’s as soon as DirecTV receivers hit the magic $99 mark.
But with DTV so easily available, of such high quality, and with such advanced features — for free — why would anyone in the city or suburbs ever pay a $9 or $10 monthly fee for a barebones “local TV” package again?
For cable and satellite providers feeling pressure on the high-end as consumers respond to the economy by shedding premium channels, this new threat to the low-end is unwelcome indeed. Multi-play packages and other retention efforts (such as Cablevision’s Optimum WiFi deployment) become all the more important, but must be targeted carefully, like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, not haphazardly like Jimmy Carter’s boat oars.
With Four More Months to Make the Switch, Over 400 TV Stations Are All Digital
More than 400 television stations have stopped broadcasting in old-fashioned analog form, according to the Federal Communications Commission, months before the rescheduled transition to digital TV.
Turning off the analog signal allows stations that are short of cash to save money, but it also means a loss of service for viewers who have not yet upgraded their older television sets.
The long-awaited move to digital TV, which promises clearer pictures and more channel choices for over-the-air television viewers, had been scheduled to happen Tuesday, more than three years after the federal government set the day as the deadline for stations to cease analog broadcasting.
This month, however, the government delayed the move until June 12, citing a troubled transition process and a fear that millions of Americans would find that their televisions had been rendered incapable of receiving signals.
Despite the delay, 421 stations, most of them in smaller TV markets, chose to turn off their analog signals Tuesday. When they are combined with the 220 broadcasters that already broadcast solely in digital, the F.C.C. estimates that 36 percent of the nation’s stations will have switched by Wednesday morning.
President Obama signed legislation last week that pushed back the deadline until June and allowed some stations to turn off their analog signals earlier.
Nielsen Media Research estimates that about 5.8 million households, or about 5.1 percent, have not upgraded their sets. Households that rely on rabbit ears and older analog televisions to watch TV over the air need to install a converter box to view the digital programming.
The government’s coupon program to subsidize the cost of the converter boxes is experiencing a backlog; the stimulus bill Mr. Obama signed on Tuesday allots $650 million more for the initiative.
The F.C.C. said it had sought to ensure that at least one ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC affiliate in each market would stay on the air in analog form until June.
In about 20 markets where all the major affiliates intended to turn off the analog signal on Tuesday, the agency pushed stations to keep at least one signal on the air for news and emergency information.
“We are trying to make the best of a difficult situation,” Michael J. Copps, the acting chairman of the agency, said in a statement.
“While this staggered transition is confusing and disruptive for some consumers, the confusion and disruption would have been far worse had we gone ahead with a nationwide transition on Tuesday,” Mr. Copps said.
In major markets like New York, all the major affiliates will remain on the air in analog until June.
San Diego is the largest market where three of the biggest affiliates are turning off their analog signals. In that market, only 7 percent of people rely on over-the-air signals.
“We have been running crawls and stories and spots, everything required by the F.C.C., in great abundance, to try to end whatever confusion there is,” said Ed Trimble, the general manager of KFMB, the CBS affiliate in San Diego.
Most stations across the country are choosing to stay in both analog and digital form until June 12, meaning that viewers will see four more months of reminders to buy a converter box.
“There are still a few consumers who are not quite prepared yet, and that’s why we elected to go with the delay,” said Brent Hensley, the general manager of KOCO, the ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City.
Under the F.C.C.’s current rules, other stations may be allowed to turn off their analog signals in March and June.
Once stations stop analog broadcasting in local markets, the stations are bound to hear from confused consumers.
The F.C.C. said more than 4,000 people were available to answer the agency’s phone number, 1-888-CALLFCC (1-888-225-5322), to help consumers who are confused about the switch.
DTV Coupon Backlog Seen Gone Within Weeks
Consumers should be able to receive new coupons within weeks to help defray the cost of converter boxes for the nationwide switch to digital television signals, the federal government said on Tuesday.
The mandatory switch to digital TV has been officially postponed by several months to June 12, after the government ran out of budget authority for the $40 coupons earlier this year.
With President Barack Obama's signature on the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus bill, the government can clear its coupon waiting list of more than 4 million coupons within 2 to 3 weeks of receiving the funds, the National Telecommunications Information Administration said on Tuesday.
With about 1.85 coupons sought per household, about 2.4 million households are waiting, the NTIA said.
The stimulus bill contains tens of millions of dollars needed to restart the coupon program -- designed to help consumers pay for electronic boxes that make digital signals usable on analog TVs -- for an estimated 10 to 20 million households which have older televisions that won't work after the switchover.
The coupon problem was a major reason cited by lawmakers and Obama in backing the digital transition delay, which has been years in planning.
The congressionally mandated switch, in which the government auctioned public spectrum for a profit of nearly $20 billion, is intended to free up airwaves for public safety officials, and to improve viewing.
The postponement could benefit cable and satellite companies, which could attract more customers during the extension, according to Stanford Washington Research analyst Paul Gallant.
Beneficiaries are likely to include Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV Group, EchoStar Corp, Mediacom Communications, and Charter Communications, he said.
Big Day Wednesday
Even with the delay, regulations were caught off guard by the number of stations that will start digital-only broadcasting after the old deadline expires this evening.
Major U.S. television networks, including CBS Corp's CBS, General Electric Co's NBC and Walt Disney Co's ABC, vowed last week to continue to transmit TV signals in analog.
But the networks own only about 100 of the 1,800 or so broadcast television stations in the United States, according to an industry group, and 421 already will have stopped broadcasting in analog signals, or will by next week, the Federal Communications Commission said Monday.
In areas where viewers have few to no choices when analog ends, the FCC is requiring the top-four network affiliates to keep at least one analog signal on the air to provide programing that includes, at a minimum, local news and emergency information.
"We are trying to make the best of a difficult situation," said Michael Copps, the acting chairman of the FCC, the other agency working to carry out the digital transition, on Monday.
What Convergence? TV’s Hesitant March to the Net
You would be hard-pressed to find a screen today that does not have Internet access. It’s not just the PC and the phone — online content appears in elevators, in the back of taxis and at your airplane seat. Some companies have even tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to get the Internet displayed on a refrigerator door.
So how is it that the Internet has largely escaped the single biggest screen in most of our lives — the TV?
An intensifying, and perhaps surprising, debate is playing out around this question and others. Should televisions be able to get access to the Web? And not just the thin slices of the Web allowed by a few services, but the whole cacophonous, unregulated, messy thing? And if they should, how should they?
Now a movement is afoot by chip makers big and small to spur a new generation of TVs with full browser capability, like a personal computer. In October, Intel released its own TV-centric chip, and many other semiconductor designers and manufacturers are doing the same, industry analysts said.
But perhaps the most surprising thing is not how long it is taking to get the Internet on TV but that, to some degree, that slow pace is deliberate. Television manufacturers simply do not seem to want it.
“Sony’s stance is that consumers don’t want an Internet-like experience with their TVs, and we’re really not focused on bringing anything other than Internet video or widgets to our sets right now,” said Greg Belloni, a spokesman for Sony. Widgets is an industry term for narrow channels of Internet programming like YouTube.
Ditto for Sharp Electronics. “I don’t think that consumers are yet ready to access all content on the Internet on the TV,” said Bob Scaglione, senior vice president for marketing at the Sharp Electronics Marketing Company of America.
He added: “For now, it’s more important to deliver content consumers want on a TV and let them do their browsing on a PC.”
Some industry analysts say TV makers have a point, in that many consumers associate their television with one-way communications they ingest while leaning back on the couch. Browsing the Internet, the thinking goes, is a more immersive, active pursuit.
Analysts and industry executives say TV manufacturers have other reasons for asserting that consumers do not want to use the Internet from their couch. For one thing, profit margins in the TV industry are as tight as can be. So adding the cost of surfing technology — which could be $100 — is one potential roadblock.
Then there is the reality of opening a television up to the Internet and, potentially, the viruses and hiccups that can creep in from outside. Consumers have become accustomed to the occasional “blue screen of death” on a PC, but imagine that happening during prime time or the Super Bowl.
“People have very little tolerance for viruses and crashes on TVs,” said Eric Kim, senior vice president for the Digital Home Group at Intel. “If someone’s TV ever crashes, they will pack it up and bring it back to the store.”
Intel’s chip, called the Intel Media Processor CE 3100, does allow full browsing. But it has been adopted by only a handful of television manufacturers, and only in a limited fashion. Manufacturers seem to prefer to keep their customers in a walled garden of selected content.
Samsung, for instance, plans to sell TVs this spring that provide access to news, weather and finance channels provided by Yahoo. Sharp’s Aquos TVs already have widgets that provide traffic, weather and financial information, access to daily syndicated comic strips, and some Web-based sports and entertainment programming from NBC. Sony offers similar widgets on some of its TVs.
For some TV manufacturers, Intel itself may be part of the problem, said Richard Doherty, an industry analyst at Envisioneering, a consumer-electronics market research firm. Mr. Doherty said TV manufacturers are wary of having Intel come to dominate the chip market.
“Even companies that are working with Intel have told me that they don’t want a single-supplier solution if they can help it,” Mr. Doherty said. He added that Intel’s entry in the market has accelerated the development of Internet-centric TV chips at competitors like Broadcom, Texas Instruments, ST Micro, Free- scale and NXP.
Mr. Doherty said TV makers also risk losing control of the process if they do not figure out a solution soon enough. Other competitors include an array of set-top box makers, one, pointedly, deployed by cable companies that Mr. Doherty said could solve some niggling problems.
For instance, he said that such Internet access could run through the servers of the cable companies, allowing them to screen for viruses, add parental controls, and generally prevent some of the less desirable aspects of full Internet access.
The other possibility is that some entirely new competitor will emerge — someone like Gordon Campbell. Mr. Campbell, 64, was Intel’s first chief corporate marketing officer. He later designed semiconductors and has since done pioneering work on chips for the iPod and 3-D video games. He calls the opportunity to make browser-centric chips for televisions “the biggest opportunity of any of them.”
His current company, Personal Web Systems, is poised this quarter to ship its first product, a $150 adapter that will attach to televisions to make them fully Internet-enabled. Mr. Campbell says his company is reducing the technology included in the TV adapter device into a single stamp-size semiconductor that would embed full Internet access in TVs in more developed markets.
He thinks the price to manufacturers could be as low as $100. He also thinks the TV manufacturers are not being genuine when they say consumers do not want full Internet access.
“That’s hogwash,” he said. “This generation doesn’t want their hands tied behind their backs. They want the same experience as with a PC, and widgets don’t do that.”
Industry analysts said that chip makers — whether Mr. Campbell, Intel or others — need cooperation from the TV manufacturers. To some extent, Mr. Campbell said, that is true, but he believes that consumers will eventually buy set-top boxes that get the Internet, forcing TV makers to embed chips themselves or lose the business.
“The ultimate test will be when the technology hits the market and consumers decide,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be on the widget side when that happens.”
Hollywood Struggles to Find Wealth on The Web
After more than a decade of hype about the Internet being the next great stage for mass entertainment, it remains dominated by amateurs with most Hollywood stars watching from the wings.
Even as talent agencies like William Morris and television networks such as NBC push for more celebrities on websites and better quality programs, many actors and producers balk at Internet projects, saying they have meager revenue potential compared with TV and movies.
The future of Web entertainment is front and center in fractious labor contract talks between the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood's major studios that, after a nearly eight-month stalemate, begin again on Tuesday.
Among major sticking points is a demand by SAG, the largest U.S. actors union representing some 120,000 actors, for payments when members' work goes online.
But the studios argue they are making too little money on the Web now, and its future as an entertainment medium is uncertain. Still, they are pushing ahead because they see an audience of teens and young adults -- consumers of the future -- who are more often online than in front of the TV.
"Digital media is really one of the great avenues of the future," actor and producer Ashton Kutcher told Reuters. Still, he noted that because of the uncertainty surrounding financial models, "I don't know that anybody, truly from an entertainment standpoint, is firing all guns at that arena."
Show Them the Money
Kutcher is one of the few trying. This month he unveiled a Web series called KatalystHQ on website Facebook.com. In under three minutes, the reality-style vignettes take viewers behind the scenes at his production company.
The 31-year-old former star of TV comedy "That '70s Show," said he asked workers at his Katalyst Films if they would rather lose the Web or their TV, and they picked the latter. "I felt like that was a great indicator," he said.
But actors like Kutcher and Will Ferrell with his comedy site, funnyordie.com, are the exception in Hollywood where the Web continues to be regarded as a venue for amateur programs with low production values and little money behind them.
"Web shows blur the line between what would be considered professional content and what would be considered amateur content, because anyone who has a camcorder and a bright idea can produce a show," said Dina Kaplan, co-founder and chief operating officer of video hosting site blip.tv.
The Web remains mostly a springboard for performers to launch a career. One recent example is YouTube sensation Iman Crosson, whose impersonation of President Barack Obama landed him on celebrity news program "Entertainment Tonight."
He is one of a lucky few. The best advice for fledgling Web performers and producers, many people say, is to continue chasing TV and movie deals because the money being made by the most popular of the Web producers falls far short of salaries earned by even unknown actors.
YouTube officials say they have hundreds of video posters making thousands of dollars a month in ad revenue-sharing.
But at a minimum, a SAG actor makes $759 for one day of work on a TV show, and if that program is rerun on the network once, the actor gets another $759. For one week of work, the rate is $2,634 plus another $2,634 for the first rerun. Later reruns also generate payments.
TV vs. Web
Pay for reruns online is important to many hardline SAG members who want similar earnings from Web work that they get from TV reruns.
"They feel that if a bad deal gets embedded in the contract that they'll never be able to change it. The concern is not without justification," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney who is monitoring the contract talks.
The studios say the Internet as a distribution outlet remains unproven, so they cannot offer equivalent pay for work on the Web.
In a survey of online video viewers by research firm Magid Advisors, 70 percent of respondents said they were unfamiliar with made-for-the-Web shows from TV and movie producers.
In December, YouTube, with its mix of amateur and professional videos, attracted more than 40 percent of views in the U.S. Its competitors each attracted less than 5 percent.
Hulu.com, which distributes reruns of TV shows and movies and is a joint venture of News Corp and NBC Universal, the media wing of General Electric Co, received 1.7 percent of video viewership.
Still, the popularity of Web videos continues to grow. Earlier this month, web tracking firm comScore reported that Internet users viewed a record 14.3 billion videos in December, an increase of 13 percent over the previous month.
Howard Suber, a professor at UCLA and the author of "The Power of Film," said the Web's most profitable days are ahead.
"So far, nobody has the imagination to figure out what new thing you can provide on the Internet that you can't get in any other medium," Suber said. But that day, he says, will come.
(Editing by Alan Elsner and Bob Tourtellotte)
YouTube Begins to Kill Off Video Download Tools
When we wrote about YouTube's paid download initiative, currently being tested, it should have been obvious that there are plenty of ways to download YouTube videos for free, so why would anyone pay for this? Thing is, when we wanted to download a video earlier, the downloader I tried (TechCrunch's, which has been around for years, and which pops up at or near the top when doing a Google search) didn't work. Uh, oh.
We wanted to download the video from YouTube because the YouTube video kept sitting there, with a apinner, rather than playing. It was probably due to the traffic, but it annoyed us. So, the desire to download it.
While other sites seemed to work (yes, we used another one), TechCrunch's failed. TechCrunch seemed to think it had been singled out, saying:
It's not surprising that YouTube would begin cracking down. In fact, I wasn't aware of that ToS clause listed above. So will downloading YouTube videos now become as frowned upon (to put it mildly) as BitTorrent? Hard to believe that YouTube could close all the holes to downloading (there are so many ways, and many of them free, and still working, when we tried recently).
It's not even clear that people are going to want to pay for user-generated videos from YouTube. While Google continues to try to monetize YouTube, it's also true that Hulu, with far less traffic than YouTube, is reportedly catching up to YouTube in terms of revenue --- and fast, due to the fact its content is movies, TV shows, and the like.
Late-Night Shuffle: A Seismic Shift In Overnight Entertainment
Conan O'Brien Bids New York Adieu
It's the last week for Conan O'Brien in New York.
After Friday's "Late Night," he'll pack up his hair accessories, cart up the "In the Year 2000" cape and move it all off to his new set in Burbank, Calif., where he'll take over from Jay Leno and become the host of " The Tonight Show."
Signing off Friday will set up TV's biggest late-night shift since Leno himself took the reins of the venerable institution from Johnny Carson in 1992.
The timetable goes like this: O'Brien's "Late Night" will go into a week of reruns before "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" takes over the slot at 30 Rockefeller center on March 2.
The former cast member of "Saturday Night Live" has been testing his chops online in short webisodes since December, a forum he hopes will attract young viewers.
Leno will take his final bow on "The Tonight Show" May 29, and O'Brien and his unwieldy pompadour of orange hair will take over officially on June 1.
Leno's premature retirement from "The Tonight Show" at just 58 and at the top of his game — with an average audience of 5.1 million, compared with 3.9 million for "Late Show With David Letterman" in the most recent numbers — created another problem for NBC as other networks were looking to hire him away.
So, in an unusual solution, NBC hung on to Leno by offering him a nightly Monday through Friday 10 p.m. slot starting in the fall.
The unprecedented move into prime time by a late-night entertainer may be seen as a way to keep Leno and retain his older-skewing viewers, who may well prefer to get their entertainment and go to bed earlier. But there was a real chance ABC was going to snatch up the hard-working host and put him head-to-head against O'Brien.
Others say starting Leno 90 minutes before O'Brien's show — with both originating from the West Coast — will undercut the ability of the "Tonight" show to attract guests and essentially leave the Boston-born comedian where he was before, following Leno.
All of the 21st-century switches are a result of the original late-night-host crisis 17 years ago.
Letterman, who began his talk show in the mornings on NBC, had long held down the post-"Tonight Show" slot, waiting for the time when Carson would retire and he could ease from the "Late Night" slot he had well established at 12:35 a.m. to the more visible 11:35 p.m. time slot of his hero.
When NBC instead decided to give Carson's seat to reliable comic and frequent fill-in Leno, Letterman jumped to the competition, starting his "Late Show" on CBS from the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway.
Not wanting to alienate its own well established "Late Night" host, NBC announced in 2004, on the 50th anniversary of "The Tonight Show" no less, that Leno would be replaced in 2009 by O'Brien.
It sounded like something so far away: We'd all be watching the show in flying cars on wristwatch TVs by then. But now it's here.
O'Brien says he understands any anxiety.
"Jay's been hosting that show very well, doing a fantastic job for 16, 17 years now," O'Brien told reporters at a press tour. "And then, someone announces we're going to change the furniture around a little bit, and it creates a lot of unease. So I don't take that personally. I think that that's very natural. This is a big change."
Accordingly, he's learning how much of his 12:30 a.m. sensibility will be brought to the bigger 11:35 p.m. audience. Last week, for example, he announced that one long-running "Late Night" bit, the Masturbating Bear, would become known as Bear Frantically Trying to Find his Cellphone in his Fanny Pack.
On the other hand, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog will likely be welcomed.
"Triumph the Insult Comic Dog has been a guest on Jay Leno's 'Tonight Show' several times," O'Brien says. "So I think Triumph could easily appear at 11:30 at night.
"There's this sort of archaic idea that there's 12:30 and then there's 11:30, and people who watch 11:30 can't possibly comprehend what's happening at 12:30, or vice versa. And the truth is I see things on MTV at 4:30 in the afternoon that I would never want my children to see. That said, it's all just taking it a day at a time and figuring out, 'What do I want to do on the show?'"
O'Brien says he wasn't worried about the sheer volume of talk shows he'll be part of — come the fall, he'll be second of four consecutive chat-fests on NBC that end with "Last Call With Carson Daly" at 1:30 a.m. The NBC late nighters have competition: "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," which follows Letterman on CBS, and "Jimmy Kimmel Live" at 12:05 a.m. on ABC.
"I'm a Darwin guy," he says. "I think that when conditions get tougher, it's an opportunity to get better."
And he doesn't feel undercut by Leno's 10 p.m. presence.
"A few people asked me, 'Does this, you know, in any way diminish 'The Tonight Show'?" And my response is, 'I don't need any help diminishing 'The Tonight Show.' I've got that covered."
As for Fallon, appearing on O'Brien's "Late Night" this week, he told O'Brien, "I have nightmares sometimes about filling your shoes."
Fallon says he's been doing a lot of practice, studying old shows and even getting Lasiksurgery so he can better see cue cards.
"It's all about just engaging, and like everyone says, listening is the most important part of being a good talk-show host, so I'm just going to listen and try to work off that, " he says.
On the other hand, while on "Late Night," he also showed a clip of his eye surgery. "Because it's 2009! It's time for change!"
After it ran, O'Brien had some advice: "No more eye stuff."
Ben Blank, Innovator of Graphics for TV News, Dies at 87
Ben Blank, who as graphics director for CBS and later ABC television news introduced the concept of using logolike images behind anchors as signatures for major news coverage, died on Feb. 3 at his home in Teaneck, N.J. He was 87.
The cause was complications of a stroke suffered three years ago, said his daughter Karen Blank.
Mr. Blank invented novel ways of presenting on-air visual information, illustration and symbols, and in so doing helped transform the appearance and content of network evening news.
“He was, indeed, a pioneer of television graphics at a time when his artistry and genius were all we had to demonstrate a complicated story,” the former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite said in an e-mail message reported on NorthJersey.com.
For most of the 1950s, television news broadcasts, in black and white, were visually austere. Anchors sat at small desks with a simple clock or map hanging on the wall behind them; often the name of a sponsor was displayed in front. Mr. Blank, a cartoonist for four years in the Air Force who was hired by CBS as a graphic designer in 1953, believed that to pique and retain the viewer’s interest, it was necessary to provide a visual mnemonic that would serve as a logo for the story. This was especially useful when a photograph or film was difficult to obtain on deadline. The image, known in TV news-speak as the “over-the-shoulder” graphic, could be repeated as needed to show narrative continuity from day to day. Mr. Blank also called it the “think-quick visual.”
His big break at CBS came in 1956, when he was asked to illustrate the collision of two ships, the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm, off the coast of Nantucket, Mass. Another early image, for a story on segregation, was the silhouette of a house, half black and half white. To illustrate the buildup in the Vietnam War before American involvement, he drew a map and then had it set afire on camera to show the intensity of the fighting, an image he chose because “most people are very weak on geography,” he said in a 1963 article in The New York Times.
When the launch of the first Sputnik satellite took Americans by surprise, in 1957, Mr. Blank created what is believed to be the first electronic animation by repeating camera shots of a rotating golf ball, which represented Sputnik, on the end of some coat-hanger wire; the wire was attached to a small rotating globe. For added effect he glued glittering stars to the black background.
For two decades, before the existence of the Quantel Paintbox, a high-tech computer tool for rendering graphics, Mr. Blank did all his work by hand, using materials like cardboard and glue. When the Mercury astronaut L. Gordon Cooper set down in the Pacific, far from any cameras, Mr. Blank used a small-scale model of the space capsule from the office of ABC’s science editor, Jules Bergman, and floated it in a janitor’s water bucket. To animate this makeshift display, he had a stagehand jiggle the pail as the camera moved in close, illustrating the astronaut’s risky situation.
Mr. Blank was born in San Francisco and as a child moved with his family to Union City, N.J. He worked in his father’s grocery, where he taught himself to draw. Before and after serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, he studied at the Cooper Union in New York. In 1962 he left CBS for ABC, where he remained as graphics director until retiring in 1992. There he developed graphic formats still used today. His last major logo was for coverage of Operation Desert Storm.
In 1986 he was the co-author, with Mario R. Garcia, of “Professional Video Graphic Design,” which became the standard text for anyone interested in broadcast graphics.
In addition to his daughter Karen, of West Hartford, Conn., he is survived by his wife of 60 years, Miriam, known as Miki; a son, Edward, of Teaneck; another daughter, Jody Cook of River Vale, N.J.; and four grandchildren.
Mr. Blank once recalled that the NASA mission to the Moon was a wellspring of news-graphics creativity. What he called animations were elaborate fake spaceships and real actors on tethers simulating astronauts in zero gravity. Because of this and other studio mockups, he was once asked by the broadcast journalist John Hockenberry in a 1996 I.D. magazine article about the tabloid claims that the space program was just a hoax filmed on a movie lot.
Mr. Blank answered: “You know, we could have done it all with graphics. All they had to do was ask.”
Cinematographers Use Tech to Bring Visions to Life
Anthony Dod Mantle remembers racing through the slums of Mumbai, desperately trying to keep up with the 7-year-olds who ran ahead of him.
There they were, "armed with life's energy and a world of hope and wonder; and me, overladen with 14 kilos of state-of-the-art equipment and a normal dose of middle age! What more can I say, except that I lost 11 kilos," quips the "Slumdog Millionaire" cinematographer.
Like his fellow Oscar nominees, he had to juggle high-tech equipment with the realities of capturing performances in a sometimes hostile environment. To record the energy of the densely populated streets of India, Mantle chose to shoot with a combination of 35mm and lightweight SI-2K digital cameras. The digital camera helped him to move quickly and discreetly through the slums, and to shoot while running alongside the child actors, getting him into the action without being obtrusive. It's a camera he never could have turned to a few years ago.
"The tools we use in the industry are developing and being re-evaluated all the time," he says. "This is how it should be." Keeping up with them, he says, is "one of my main responsibilities as a cinematographer."
Taking advantage of the latest technology, "The Dark Knight" is the first narrative studio feature to be lensed, in part, using Imax film cameras.
Wally Pfister, director Christopher Nolan's longtime collaborator, lensed six key action sequences of "The Dark Knight" with 65mm Imax film cameras and the rest of the film in anamorphic 35mm. His goal was to create the epic imagery of Gotham, from breathtaking aerials to high-octane chase sequences, in the highest possible resolution. The Imax sequences included the bank heist that opens the film and the chase through the Chicago streets during which the filmmakers literally flipped an 18-wheel truck.
Pfister was unwilling to compromise on camera movement and setups with the heavy 100-pound Imax camera, so he hung the camera off a car, helicopter and an 18-wheeler.
Claudio Miranda, a longtime collaborator of director David Fincher, lensed "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" primarily with a Grass Valley Viper digital cinematography camera, which he had used on a number of the director's award-winning television commercials. For portions of the film, he also used a Sony digital cinematography camera and film. Film, for instance, was used in the sequence when Benjamin and Daisy take a trip to the Caribbean.
The use of the Viper has a lot to do with the way Fincher works. With the digital camera, Miranda is able to roll for a longer period of time, without having to pause to reload -- something Fincher likes when working with his actors.
Miranda's creative objective was to give a natural look to each period as the story follows the title character through the decades. "In the early years, the lighting is a lot warmer, with gas lamps and tungsten light," he says, adding that the lighting grows cooler and clearer as it approaches the present decade.
Performance Take Precedence
If "Button" combined cutting-edge technology with top-rate performances, Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" simply was about the actors.
"Clint's priorities come from the acting side," says director of photography Tom Stern, who lensed "Changeling" in anamorphic 35mm. "It's about (framing lead actress) Angelina Jolie in the appropriate '20s environment that didn't distract from her work."
This doesn't mean Stern wasn't concerned with the images he created. "I always try to involve the audience's imagination," he notes. "Things aren't always fully lit. Sometimes Angelina will play in and out of light. Clint likes black. That gives a realistic atmosphere. It's more or less as you might perceive something in a real situation."
Capturing performance also was critical to "The Reader," shot partly by Roger Deakins and partly by his friend Chris Menges.
"We like to improvise, and we like to work with the actors and director and live in the moment," Menges says. "We tried to make the photography very natural, very simple, to catch the performance. Roger and I both have big respect for performance."
Menges replaced Deakins when "The Reader," lensed in 35mm 3-perf, had to take a hiatus in the middle of filming: Nicole Kidman had dropped out because of a pregnancy, and the crew had to wait until Kate Winslet came onboard. Deakins was unable to complete the film because of a commitment to shoot "Doubt."
Regardless of credit or methodology, "everyone involved was fighting to make something important of the screenplay," Menges says. "'The Reader' is a story, not of redemption or forgiveness, but of how the subsequent generation comes to terms with what happened during the Third Reich ... Roger and I tried to create something very believable."
(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)
Film World has Capitalism and Crisis in its Sights
Communism and terrorism have long vied for the title of cinema's favorite bad guy.
Now, it seems, capitalism looks set to challenge them, with globalization as its evil sidekick.
At least 11 dramas and documentaries at this year's Berlin film festival cast a mostly critical eye on the world of banking, big business, the sometimes shocking gap between rich and poor and the harsh reality of economic migration.
By questioning the West's long-held belief that free markets are the way forward and globalization is a force for good, the films resonated with increasingly skeptical audiences aware of the gathering economic storm in the real world.
The Berlin festival, an annual showcase of hundreds of new films, opened in 2009 with "The International," a thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts.
By casting a nefarious bank manipulating debt markets as the villain, it set the tone for the event.
For director Tom Tykwer, the prescient picture turned out to be an unhappy coincidence.
"The fact that the bubble has burst the moment the movie is coming out I don't find enjoyable but ... dismal," he said.
The German film maker, like others in Berlin, was aware of the irony that his movie was made with money from a financing powerhouse, admitting "it is almost impossible to trace back to find where the money really comes from."
Critics believe that by tackling the economic crisis, directors are continuing the kind of political cinema popular toward the end of George W. Bush's presidency, when movies tackled issues ranging from the Iraq war to health care.
"I'd say cinema was already fairly political, I think particularly starting with the late Bush years," said Jay Weissberg of trade publication Variety.
"People were feeling angry about it and there was solidarity so it was easy to make movies about it. I think the same thing is going to be true of the economic crisis."
Migration, Free Markets Targeted
Economic migration was portrayed less as an opportunity to make dreams come true and more as a necessary evil requiring people to take huge risks only to end up in a kind of modern-day slavery away from their families.
Competition entries "Mammoth" and "Little Soldier" tackled the issue head on, as did the closing film "Eden is West," about illegal immigrants trying to eke out a living in Europe.
In documentary "The Wondrous World of Laundry," German director Hans-Christian Schmid highlights how the blurring of borders in Europe and the ideal of equality across a continent have often failed to materialize.
Luxury hotels in Germany send their dirty linen to be cleaned at a giant laundry just over the border in Poland, where the labor is cheaper.
Five years after Poland joined the European Union, many Germans still had little idea about the conditions in which their eastern neighbors lived and worked, Shmid said.
"It's only an hour's drive away but I have the impression that we still know so little about the country and the people."
A documentary adaptation of Naomi Klein's 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine" argued that governments, often in collusion with big businesses, exploit natural disasters, economic crises and wars to push through radical free market policies.
The result, the film concludes, is often catastrophic for ordinary people and beneficial to big corporations. Leaders have also turned to brutal repression in order to sustain their agendas of privatization, deregulation and tax cuts.
British directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross updated the book with a section on the economic crisis, and questioned the policy of bailing out ailing banks.
"When you see bankers being given hundreds of billions of dollars (in bailouts) who have been taking billions of dollars themselves for all these years it makes people very angry," Winterbottom told reporters in Berlin.
"I think that is the only positive thing -- that people around the world are so angry about what's been going on. Perhaps that will change what happens in the future."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives
The cellphone is the world’s most ubiquitous computer. The four billion cellphones in use around the globe carry personal information, provide access to the Web and are being used more and more to navigate the real world. And as cellphones change how we live, computer scientists say, they are also changing how we think about information.
It has been 25 years since the desktop, with its files and folders, was introduced as a way to think about what went on inside a personal computer. The World Wide Web brought other ways of imagining the flow of data. With the dominance of the cellphone, a new metaphor is emerging for how we organize, find and use information. New in one sense, that is. It is also as ancient as humanity itself. That metaphor is the map.
“The map underlies man’s ability to perceive,” said Richard Saul Wurman, a graphic designer who was a pioneer in the use of maps as a generalized way to search for information of all kinds before the emergence of the online world.
As this metaphor takes over, it will change the way we behave, the way we think and the way we find our way around new neighborhoods. As researchers and businesses learn how to use all the information about a user’s location that phones can provide, new privacy issues will emerge. You may use your phone to find friends and restaurants, but somebody else may be using your phone to find you and find out about you.
Digital map displays on hand-held phones can now show the nearest gas station or A.T.M., reviews of nearby restaurants posted online by diners, or the location of friends. In the latest and biggest example of the map’s power and versatility, Google started a location-aware friend-finding system called Latitude in 27 countries early this month.
On its face, Google’s new service — available on dozens of mobile systems — is simply a way for friends to keep track of one another and meet up, for families to stay in touch or for parents to find comfort in knowing where their children are.
But it will generate a gold mine of new information about where millions of people travel each day, and there is no doubt that Google and others are planning to dig in that mine. “Everyone is watching Google, and this will open a floodgate of location-oriented applications and services,” said Greg Skibiski, the chief executive of Sense Networks, a New York City firm that mines the millions of digital trails left by cellphone users for marketing purposes.
It was the arrival of the so-called WIMP interface — for windows, icons, menus, pointer — in the 1980s on both the Apple Macintosh and computers using Microsoft Windows that made personal computers personal and moved them beyond the world of hobbyists and business. Now many of the software designers who created those interfaces say they see a change of similar magnitude with phones and maps.
“We’re way early on, and we don’t know what the Macintosh of maps will be yet,” said Paul Mercer, a former Apple Computer software designer who more recently worked on the development of the Palm Pre smartphone. “But because of their relationship to the real world, maps will be a metaphor for a huge swath of mobile computing.”
Indeed, a new generation of smartphones like the G1, with Android software developed by Google, and a range of Japanese phones now “augment” reality by painting a map over a phone-screen image of the user’s surroundings produced by the phone’s camera.
With this sort of map it is possible to see a three-dimensional view of one’s surroundings, including the annotated distance to objects that may be obscured by buildings in the foreground. For starters, map-based cellphones simply translate paper maps into a digital medium, but future systems will probably begin to blur the boundaries between the display and the real world.
“I always said the next interface would be Quake,” said Steve Capps, one of the designers of the original Macintosh interface, referring to the popular video game. “How long will it be before you come out of the subway and you hold up your screen to get a better view of what you’re looking at in the physical world?”
Increasingly, phones will allow users to look at an image of what is around them. You could be surrounded by skyscrapers but have an immediate reference map showing your destination and features of the landscape, along with your progress in real time. Part of what drives the emergence of map-based services is the vast marketing potential of analyzing consumers’ travel patterns. For example, it is now possible for marketers to identify users who are shopping for cars because they have traveled to multiple car dealerships.
“When I go from point A to point B with my feet, there is something of real value there,” said Tony Jebara, a Columbia University computer scientist who is a co-founder of Sense Networks.
A full-blown map-based, location-aware mobile world would entail rethinking basic American notions of privacy. For a generation of older Americans, exposing their precise location around the clock to an army of little brothers for marketing and advertising purposes is a privacy invasion.
Today the vast majority of cellphone users in the United States still use the devices primarily for just one function: talking. About 10 percent of cellphone users take advantage of map features, according to the market research firm M:Metrics. But the number is growing, the company said. And a survey by another market research firm, LJS, showed that 24 percent of those interviewed wanted GPS mapping capabilities on their next phone, but only 19 percent wanted an Internet connection.
On the other hand, there is a generation of smartphone users in their 20s that has grown up sharing the most intimate details of their lives on MySpace and Facebook. They may have a different point of view.
Recently, for example, Sam Altman, a 23-year-old Stanford University computer science graduate and the founder of Loopt, a pioneering friend-finding service, was having dinner in Palo Alto, Calif., when he noticed from the screen on his phone that his freshman college roommate was having dinner just two restaurants away. The two met after dinner at a bar, where they were joined by another former Stanford student who noticed on his display that they were socializing together.
Mr. Altman said his willingness to display his location was just as valuable in his business dealings. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, he turned on a feature that broadcasts his location and his name. He had more than a dozen business contacts as he traveled around the vast trade show, and he said he was able to kick off four deals from his random contacts.
The map interface even seems to have a biological basis, as suggested by new brain studies showing how the world is represented in brain maps.
“Humans evolved with amazing navigational abilities in our brains from an evolutionary perspective,” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive. He argues that the correlation between the map on the phone and the internal map in your head is a natural way to navigate all kinds of information.
For example, neuroscientists have discovered that people who have occupations that require them to maintain complex mental maps of the world, like London taxi drivers, have an enlarged hippocampus. What happens when our hand-held computers become extensions of the way we think?
“I have wondered about the fact that we might as a culture lose the skill of mapping our environment, relying on the Web to tell us how to navigate,” said Hugo Spiers, a neurobiologist at University College London. “Thus, it might reduce the growth of cells in the hippocampus, which we think stores our internal maps.”
Among cellphone makers, the map metaphor has been adopted most aggressively by Nokia, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones. The company has acquired digital maps of 69 countries and is now rushing to deliver to developers the tools to create software for Nokia phones oriented toward maps and navigation. In many ways this is similar to the tool kit that early computer designers gave programmers to develop Windows applications.
“This is a new metaphor upon which others can build,” said Michael Halbherr, Nokia’s vice president for social location services.
PC Companies Make Risky Smartphone Call
Profit-hungry PC brands rushing to the booming smartphone sector are likely to falter in their ambitious plans to capture market share from formidable players such as Nokia and Apple.
Dell and Acer, the world's No. 2 and 3 personal computer brands, have recently announced or been linked to smartphone launches, joining leader Hewlett-Packard and No. 4 PC maker Lenovo in the high-growth space.
But these companies are unlikely to make any headway.
"We've got Nokia, who's the 500-pound gorilla in the room, then there's Apple, which is super cool, and there's Blackberry, which all executives must have," said IDC analyst Aloysius Choong "What are these PC brands going to offer?"
PC makers, less known for their creativity than their ability to mass produce, may find that selling smartphones depends more on looks and less on mass marketing.
"It's a lot more about style, form and brand, rather than substance," said IDC's Choong. "The mobile phone universe is very different from the PC world, and smartphone buyers are more likely to go with something they feel they like."
The PC industry has been grappling with rapidly weakening demand in recent months, leaving vendors on the lookout for new products to revive growth.
Acer and Asustek, pioneer of the low-cost netbook PC, both unveiled new models this week at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
HP and Lenovo already sell such phones, while Dell is rumored to be weighing a move into the space.
"I don't see PC vendors going anywhere," said Roberta Cozza, a Gartner analyst. "It's very tough and risky for PC vendors, especially if they want to enter the sector right now, because it's a different business altogether."
PC makers however remain upbeat.
In an interview, Acer's head of smartphone business, Aymar de Lencquesaing, said: "We are extremely serious entering this space" adding that Acer aims to become one of the top five smartphone makers within five years.
For a graphic on smartphone growth and major players, click: here
Smartphones were one of the few bright spots in the technology sector in 2008, growing by more than 22 percent worldwide and, in some regions, by more than 70 percent from the previous year, according to data tracking firm IDC.
These feature-jammed phones with computer-like functions also offer fat margins, with Nokia, Apple as well as HTC and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion enjoying profit margins many times those of PC makers whose margins are in the low single digits.
But as often happens with a hot product, there is a risk of oversupply as others rush in, leaving newer arrivals the most vulnerable as most lack a special niche.
That could lead to rapid price cuts and lower margins, a scene that has already played itself out once after Asustek launched its low-cost netbooks in 2007.
"The kind of margins we're seeing in the smartphone sector is just not feasible in the long run," said Pranab Sarmah, an analyst at the Daiwa Institute of Research.
PC makers might also be saddled with perceptions of being stodgy and less than cool.
Shoppers at a Taiwan service center run by mobile operator Chunghwa Telecom balked at the idea of buying dull, grey cell phones in a part of the world where they are often seen as a fashion accessory.
"Didn't Asustek sell phones before," asked Leon Lin, a 22-year-old university student. "Those looked really bad!"
(Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki in Barcelona; Editing by Doug Young and Anshuman Daga)
Industry Makes Pitch That Smartphones Belong in Classroom
Matt Richtel and Brad Stone
The cellphone industry has a suggestion for improving the math skills of American students: spend more time on cellphones in the classroom.
At a conference this week in Washington called Mobile Learning 09, CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, plans to start making its case for the educational value of cellphones. It will present research — paid for by Qualcomm, a maker of chips for cellphones — that shows so-called smartphones can make students smarter.
Some critics already are denouncing the effort as a blatantly self-serving maneuver to break into the big educational market. But proponents of selling cellphones to schools counter that they are simply making the same kind of pitch that the computer industry has been profitably making to educators since the 1980s.
The only difference now between smartphones and laptops, they say, is that cellphones are smaller, cheaper and more coveted by students.
“This is a device kids have, it’s a device they are familiar with and want to take advantage of,” said Shawn Gross, director of Digital Millennial Consulting, which received a $1 million grant from Qualcomm to conduct the research.
His group is also talking to school districts in Chicago, San Diego and Florida about buying specially equipped phones for the classroom. It projects that wireless companies could sell 10 million to 15 million phones as a result of this effort in the next few years.
On Tuesday, Digital Millennial will release findings from its study of four North Carolina schools in low-income neighborhoods, where ninth- and 10th-grade math students were given high-end cellphones running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software and special programs meant to help them with their algebra studies.
The students used the phones for a variety of tasks, including recording themselves solving problems and posting the videos to a private social networking site, where classmates could watch. The study found that students with the phones performed 25 percent better on the end-of-the-year algebra exam than did students without the devices in similar classes.
The students also were allowed 900 minutes of talk time and 300 text messages a month to use outside of class. Teachers monitored the messages and reprimanded students if any of the activity violated the school’s standards.
Critics point out that access to such communications usually detracts from the overall time students spent thinking about studies. That is why at least 10 states, and many other school districts, have outright bans on cellphones on school premises.
“Texting, ringing, vibrating,” said Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union. “Cellphones so far haven’t been an educational tool. They’ve been a distraction.” Ms. Bass says it is “almost laughable that the cellphone industry is pushing a study showing that cellphones will make kids smarter,” particularly during a recession that is crushing the budgets of many school districts.
For the industry, however, there is a lot of money at stake. Schools now spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computers to provide an average of one computer for every three students, at a cost of $1,000 a year for each machine.
Bill Rust, an education and technology analyst at the Gartner Group, a research firm, said smartphones could help in some aspects of education. But he said that computers and their larger screens offer a range of teaching opportunities, in addition to helping students to write papers and do research online.
“I’d like to see if they can improve writing skills with a cellphone,” he said.
There have been previous attempts to bring cellphones into schools. Last year, 2,500 New York City public school students got an exemption from the city’s overall ban on cellphones and received a free Samsung flip-phone. They could earn prepaid minutes for good behavior and high test scores, and teachers could send them text messages, reminding them of deadlines. The project was later abandoned for lack of money.
This latest attempt to get cellphones into schools might quell some of the old concerns while raising new ones. Suzette Kliewer, the teacher who administered the Digital Millennial program at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, N.C., said the phones excited her students and made them collaborate and focus on their studies, even outside of school hours. “They took average-level kids and made them into honors-level kids,” she said.
But Ms. Kliewer also said that she spent much of her own time at night, and during weekends and holidays, monitoring the students’ phone use and occasionally disconnecting phones remotely when students broke the rules.
“You have to be willing to put in the time and be very patient with the technology,” she said.
More LG Cellphones to Use Microsoft System
Kevin J. O’Brien
Microsoft said Monday that LG Electronics had agreed to use Microsoft’s new mobile operating system on 50 of its smartphone models, increasing the software maker’s bid to gain a bigger share of the fast-growing mobile software business.
LG had previously used the software, called Windows Mobile, on only one handset model. Microsoft made the announcement on the opening day of Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s largest convention.
Microsoft’s Windows operating system software powers more than 90 percent of all personal computers, according to the research firm Gartner. But Microsoft trails its rivals in mobile software for smartphones. Symbian, the operating system developed by a consortium led by Nokia, the world’s top handset maker, leads with 52.4 percent and Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, with 16.5 percent, according to Canalys, a research firm in Reading, England.
At the end of 2008, Microsoft had 13.9 percent of the global mobile operating system market. The company hopes agreements with major handset makers like LG will help it regain its momentum in mobile software, which is among the fastest-growing segments of the global software industry.
“The mobile device is the computing device of the future,” said Bengt Nordstrom, the founder and chief analyst of Northstream, a company in Stockholm, Sweden, that advises mobile operators and equipment makers. “Mobile operating systems are the biggest battleground of the mobile industry.”
The cooperation with LG, which Microsoft said had agreed to use Windows Mobile as its primary operating system, highlighted a series of moves intended to extend the Windows brand to smartphones, the fastest-growing segment of the cellphone market.
Microsoft said it also would open an application store called Windows Marketplace for Windows, selling 20,000 applications, many of them for mobile devices. Microsoft also unveiled the latest version of its mobile software, Windows Mobile 6.5, which the company said corrected many unwieldy features of its predecessor.
Windows Mobile 6.5 has a touch-enabled screen and user interface that resembles the one used in Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player, with icons replacing drop-down menus. Users can search the Internet without going to the browser, which is built on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6. Even so, Windows Mobile 6.5 does not have the multi-touch feature of Apple’s iPhone, which has 9.6 percent of the operating system market, according to Canalys.
“We were dinged for not having a friendly consumer interface,” said Scott D. Rockfeld, the director of Microsoft’s mobile communication business. “This addresses that.”
The mobile industry is turning its attention to software from hardware as faster third-generation wireless networks increase consumers’ appetite for the mobile Internet and smartphones, which are sophisticated devices with computing power that now rivals many desktop computers.
This week in Barcelona, several mobile makers, including the Taiwanese maker HTC, are expected to introduce models using Google’s Android mobile operating system.
As part of its effort to raise its mobile profile, Microsoft said it planned to provide Windows Mobile users with a free service that backs up personal information like data, contact lists and photos onto Microsoft servers. Consumers can replace the information if a phone is lost or stolen or if they decide to use another cellphone.
Microsoft said it had also reached an agreement with mobile makers to include a button with Microsoft’s corporate flag on all mobile phones that use Windows Mobile to direct users to a menu of functions and services.
The manufacturers have also agreed to display the Windows Mobile operating system logo prominently on their handset packaging and in advertising promotions, said Andy Lees, head of Microsoft’s Windows mobile team.
“We want people to be aware of the brand when they go to buy a phone,” Mr. Lees said.
About 12 percent of mobile phones sold worldwide are smartphones, Lees said, but the percentage is expected to increase to 20 percent by 2012, faster than the overall market growth.
Damon Darlin contributed reporting from San Francisco.
Hackers Jump on Newest IE7 Bug
Vulnerability patched 7 days ago now under attack, say researchers
Attackers are already exploiting a bug in Internet Explorer 7 that Microsoft Corp. patched just last week, security researchers warned today.
Although the attacks are currently in "very, very small numbers," they may be just the forerunner of a larger campaign, said Jamz Yaneza, threat research manager at Trend Micro Inc. "I see this as a proof-of-concept," said Yaneza, who noted that the exploit's payload is extremely straightforward and explained that there has been no attempt to mask it by, say, planting a root kit on the victimized PC at the same time.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see this [exploit] show up in one of those Chinese exploit kits," he added.
The new attack code, which Trend Micro dubbed "XML_Dloadr.a," arrives in a spam message as a malicious file masquerading as a Microsoft Word document. If the fake document is opened, the exploit hijacks PCs that have not been patched with the MS09-002 security update Microsoft issued last Tuesday as part of its eight-patch February batch of fixes.
That update, which plugged two holes in IE7, was rated "critical" by Microsoft at the time.
"We first saw this over the weekend," said Paul Ferguson, an advanced threat researcher at Trend Micro. "But we're not sure if it's just a targeted attack or they're staging for something larger. It's hard to tell at the moment."
It's not unusual for hackers to swing into action with a new exploit only days after Microsoft has patched a previously-unknown vulnerability. "They know it takes users a while to patch," Ferguson added. "Even months after Microsoft patched, the Conficker worm was still able to infect millions of PCs because of lousy patching. That's not lost on the bad guys."
The "Conficker" worm, also known as "Downadup," continues to compromise millions of machines daily, even though, as Ferguson noted, Microsoft patched the vulnerability exploited by the worm nearly four months ago.
Yaneza and Ferguson speculated that the current attacks are precursors to a much larger assault that will revive a campaign that tempted users with news about Tibet. Those attacks, which Trend Micro reported in January 2008, share some characteristics with the newest exploits, including malware disguised as Word documents. Yaneza also said that it appears as though the hacker's command-and-control server is based in China, lending more credence to their theory.
"This is the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan freedom movement," said Ferguson, who said it's likely that a large-scale attack based on this exploit would use that news as bait. In 1959, when the People's Republic of China took full control of Tibet, the Dali Lama fled to India, where he is the head of a Tibetan government-in-exile.
One security expert has called on Microsoft to sever the links between IE and Windows to better protect users from attack. According to Wolfgang Kandek, the chief technology officer at Qualys Inc., people plug IE holes no faster than other critical Microsoft vulnerabilities, something that might change if Microsoft split the browser from the operating system and increased the frequency of its IE patches.
Microsoft Unveils Windows 7 File-Sharing Beta
Only further riling up anxious PC users who can't wait to get their hands on the new Windows 7, Microsoft yesterday released a trial version of new file-sharing software intended for use with its upcoming and highly-anticipated operating system.
The new software allows PC users to swap files with the computers of friends, family, and trusted colleagues along safe, secure channels. Dubbed "Windows Live ID Sign-in Assistant 6.5," the beta connects the Windows Live IDs of individual users with a Windows 7 account, essentially building a secure link between data stored on a hard drive and information accessible via Windows Live online. (Source: arstechnica.com)
Much like a Google Docs spreadsheet, a user could grant access to online files -- and those on his computer -- by simply inviting them into his or her Windows 7 "homegroup".
Secure and selective user access
Microsoft boasts that its system for inviting (and omitting) users is more complicated than its competitors'. On its official website, Microsoft stated "On his homegroup, Bob wants to share certain documents with his wife but not with his kids. Simply by specifying his wife's Windows Live ID user name, Bob can give his wife exclusive permission to access documents on his computer."
Windows Live Sign-in Assistant 6.5 will gain a few new features when used in accordance with Windows 7, including twenty new hotkey combinations and native support for touch-screen technology.
Trouble looming for MS
Insiders are already calling the move a crafty one, a plea to consumers to invest in Windows 7 when it's finally released later this year or in 2010. Microsoft is clearly still reeling from the debacle that was Windows Vista, which has struggled to catch on with home and business users since it was made available to the wider public two years ago.
Windows market share dipped below 90 per cent in November, the first time that's ever happened. At the same time, competitor Apple continues to climb in popularity, already nearing a 10 per cent slice of the pie. (Source: informationweek.com)
Nifty little gimmicks like the Windows Live ID Sign-in Assistant could go a long way to reversing that trend.
Windows Live ID Sign-in Assistant 6.5 beta is available for free via Microsoft's official download site.
Facebook's New Terms Of Service: "We Can Do Anything We Want With Your Content. Forever."
Facebook's terms of service (TOS) used to say that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire. Not anymore.
Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later. Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want.
Oh, you also agree to arbitration, naturally. Have fun with that.
Facebook’s Users Ask Who Owns Information
Reacting to an online swell of suspicion about changes to Facebook’s terms of service, the company’s chief executive moved to reassure users on Monday that the users, not the Web site, “own and control their information.”
The online exchanges reflected the uneasy and evolving balance between sharing information and retaining control over that information on the Internet. The subject arose when a consumer advocate’s blog shined an unflattering light onto the pages of legal language that many users accept without reading when they use a Web site.
The pages, called terms of service, generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users’ data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.
This month, when Facebook updated its terms, it deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Further, it added new language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated.
Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, said in a blog post on Monday that the philosophy “that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant.” Despite the complaints, he did not indicate the language would be revised.
The changes in the terms of service had gone mostly unnoticed until Sunday, when the blog Consumerist cited them and interpreted them to mean that “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.”
Given the widespread popularity of Facebook — by some measurements the most popular social network with 175 million active users worldwide — that claim attracted attention immediately.
The blog post by Consumerist, part of the advocacy group Consumers Union, received more than 300,000 views. Users created Facebook groups to oppose the changes. To some of the thousands who commented online, the changes meant: “Facebook owns you.”
Facebook moved swiftly to say it was not claiming to own the material that users upload. It said the terms had been updated to better reflect user behavior — for instance, to acknowledge that when a user deletes an account, any comments the user had posted on a page remain visible.
“We certainly did not — and did not intend — to create any new right or interest for Facebook in users’ data by issuing the new terms,” said Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman.
Greg Lastowka, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Law who is writing a book on Internet law, said Facebook’s language was not unusual. “Most Web sites today offer terms of service that are designed to protect and further the interests of the company writing the terms, and most people simply agree to terms without reading them.”
For Facebook, the ability to store users’ data and use their names and images for commercial purposes is important as it seeks to make more money from the virtual interactions of friends.
But balancing the desire for sharing with the need for control remains a challenge for Facebook as it turns five years old this month. “We’re at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out,” Mr. Zuckerberg wrote.
Amid the evolution, at least a few members are showing their uneasiness about the stance that Facebook is taking.
Some members, including Sasha Frere-Jones, the pop critic and staff writer for The New Yorker, said they had deleted their accounts to show their opposition to the new terms.
“Zuckerberg’s response to the protest is just the modern version of ‘Ignore the fine print, ma’am, just sign here,’ ” Mr. Frere-Jones wrote in an e-mail message. “Why would anyone trust a company with his or her personal information, especially when that company’s explicit legal language claims eternal rights to exploit that information, and there is good reason to expect that they will?”
Facebook Withdraws Changes in Data Use
After a wave of protests from its users, the Facebook social networking site said on Wednesday that it would withdraw changes to its so-called terms of service concerning the data supplied by the tens of millions of people who use it.
The posting invited users to click on a link to get more details.
Terms of service generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users’ data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.
Earlier this month, Facebook deleted a provision from its terms of service that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. It added new language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated.
Last Monday, the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said in a blog post that the philosophy “that people own their information and control who they share it with has remained constant.” But, at that time, he did not indicate the language would be revised.
The changes in the terms of service had gone mostly unnoticed until Sunday, when the blog Consumerist cited them and interpreted them to mean that “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.”
Given the widespread popularity of Facebook — by some measurements the most popular social network with 175 million active users worldwide — that claim attracted attention immediately.
The blog post by Consumerist, part of the advocacy group Consumers Union, received more than 300,000 views. Users created Facebook groups to oppose the changes. To some of the thousands who commented online, the changes meant: “Facebook owns you.”
The posting said the decision to return to previous terms was “the right thing for now.”
Mr. Zuckerberg went on to say that Facebook’s next revision of terms would reflect “a new approach” and “will be a substantial revision from where we are now.”
He promised Facebook users “a lot of input in crafting these terms.”
“Our terms aren’t just a document that protect our rights; it’s the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world,” the posting said. “Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service.”
“You have my commitment that we’ll do all of these things, but in order to do them right it will take a little bit of time. We expect to complete this in the next few weeks,” he said.
Cash-Rich Tech Companies Move Carefully in Downturn
Even as many U.S. companies struggle to stay solvent in one of the worst financial crises in decades, some technology companies are bursting with cash, with the only question being how they plan to use it.
While these tech companies are guarding their money and investing in only the safest of instruments, such as U.S. Treasury debt, analysts expect the bigger players to put their cash to work later in the year in the form of acquisitions or share buybacks.
"There's a strong emphasis on the preservation of liquidity, but we think the larger players will use their balance sheets and use their cash balances to ignite mergers and acquisition activity," said Fitch Ratings analyst Nick Nilarp.
Fitch estimates that the U.S. tech industry is carrying a cash balance of around $260 billion, one of the largest among all sectors. However, around $100 billion of that money is overseas, Fitch says, meaning it cannot be used in the United States for acquisitions or share buybacks without being repatriated and incurring a tax hit.
Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is the most cash-rich tech company with $29.5 billion on hand, putting it just behind Exxon Mobil Corp's (XOM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) $31.4 billion, despite having a market value less than one-quarter of the oil giant's.
Cisco has said it plans to be acquisitive during the economic downturn, and bankers and analysts think it may make a move on virtualization software maker VMware Inc (VMW.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) or its parent EMC Corp (EMC.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).
Other tech companies with some of the largest cash piles in the United States include Apple Inc (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) with $25.6 billion, Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) with $20.7 billion, Google Inc (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) with $15.9 billion, and International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) with $12.9 billion.
Even companies whose share prices have been hammered by fears about weakening global tech spending are sitting on relatively large amounts of cash.
Sun Microsystems Inc (JAVA.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) carries a cash balance of $2.6 billion and a market cap of $3.8 billion, for instance, making it a possible takeover target for Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), IBM, Dell Inc (DELL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Cisco, analysts have said.
Cash For Tough Times
Standard & Poor's analyst Bill Wetreich said tech companies have historically been capitalized very conservatively to protect themselves from the industry's inherent volatility.
"This is the rainy day, so to speak, that they were saving up for," he said.
The challenge facing bigger companies is what to do with the cash they have, perhaps while they wait for valuations of potential acquisition targets to become even more attractive as the economy worsens.
Wetreich expects instruments such as short-term Treasuries to be popular, noting that some companies which had previously invested in higher risk assets such as auction-rate securities have been burned.
"At this point people are more focused on protecting principal and liquidity than maximizing yield," he said.
The old cliche that cash is king is never more true than in bad times. So as investors navigate tough financial markets, the cash hoards held by tech companies could make their shares more attractive and bolster the argument made by some analysts that the sector will lead the way out of the downturn.
But it remains to be seen when tech companies might spend their warchests. With the 2009 outlook dire and uncertainty on when global demand can bounce back, caution rules.
"I am quite sure that the treasury officers of the larger tech companies truly wish they had mattresses large enough to hide cash in," said Eric Openshaw, the U.S. technology leader for Deloitte LLP.
He does not expect to see companies put their cash to work in the next six months. "There's a bit of a wait-and-see game going on," he said, noting that companies may be simply waiting to see how bad it gets before moving in to scoop up intellectual property at bargain-basement valuations.
Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist with IHS Global insight, thinks share buybacks might be more attractive that acquisitions because companies know what sort of return to expect. If companies do acquire, he expects them to be very selective given the economic uncertainty.
"I don't think they're in the mode just to look for bargains," Bethune said. "If there's a technology out there that they need to get a hold of, that they need to stay on top of the competitive curve, then they'll do it."
Companies that generate lots of cash, such as IBM, HP and Dell, have spent billions buying back stock in recent years. However, with so much uncertainty, companies may become less aggressive. Applied Materials Inc (AMAT.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), the No.1 maker of semiconductor production equipment, suspended its stock buybacks in the face of the brutal downturn.
(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; editing by Richard Chang)
In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update
It was the “aha!” moment that Stephanie Rosalia was hoping for.
A group of fifth graders huddled around laptop computers in the school library overseen by Ms. Rosalia and scanned allaboutexplorers.com, a Web site that, unbeknownst to the children, was intentionally peppered with false facts.
Ms. Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, urged caution. “Don’t answer your questions with the first piece of information that you find,” she warned.
Most of the students ignored her, as she knew they would. But Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, noticed something odd on a page about Christopher Columbus.
“It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!” Nozimakon exclaimed, pointing at the screen. “That’s wrong.”
It was an essential discovery in a lesson about the reliability — or lack thereof — of information on the Internet, one of many Ms. Rosalia teaches in her role as a new kind of school librarian.
Ms. Rosalia, 54, is part of a growing cadre of 21st-century multimedia specialists who help guide students through the digital ocean of information that confronts them on a daily basis. These new librarians believe that literacy includes, but also exceeds, books.
“The days of just reshelving a book are over,” said Ms. Rosalia, who came to P.S. 225 nearly six years ago after graduating at the top of her class at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. “Now it is the information age, and that technology has brought out a whole new generation of practices.”
Some of these new librarians teach children how to develop PowerPoint presentations or create online videos. Others get students to use social networking sites to debate topics from history or comment on classmates’ creative writing. Yet as school librarians increasingly teach students crucial skills needed not only in school, but also on the job and in daily life, they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches.
Mesa, the largest school district in Arizona, began phasing out certified librarians from most of its schools last year. In Spokane, Wash., the school district cut back the hours of its librarians in 2007, prompting an outcry among local parents. More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, according to federal statistics, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.
Lisa Layera Brunkan, a mother of three in Spokane, said she recognized the importance of the school librarian when her daughter, who was 7 at the time, started demonstrating a PowerPoint project. “She said, ‘The librarian taught me,’ ” Ms. Brunkan recalled. “I was just stunned.”
School librarians still fight the impression that they play a tangential role. Ms. Rosalia frequently has her lessons canceled at the last minute as classroom teachers scramble to fit in more standardized test preparation. Half a fifth-grade class left in the middle of a recent session on Web site evaluation because the children were performing in a talent show.
“You prepare things to proceed in a logical sequence and then here comes a monkey wrench,” Ms. Rosalia said. “We are teaching them how to think. But sometimes the Board of Ed seems to want them to learn how to fill in little bubbles.”
In New York City, Ms. Rosalia is a relative rarity. Only about one-third of the city’s public schools have certified librarians, and elementary schools are not required to have them at all.
Ms. Rosalia ran beauty salons with her husband and volunteered in her sons’ school libraries before pursuing her graduate degree. She was recruited to P.S. 225 by Joseph Montebello, the principal, a brother of a middle school librarian in Brooklyn.
In the school, just a block from a bustling stretch of Brighton Beach Avenue with its overflowing fruit stands and Russian bakeries, Ms. Rosalia faces special challenges. More than 40 percent of the students are recent immigrants. Language barriers force her to tailor her book collection to readers who may be in seventh grade but still read at a second-grade level.
Before Ms. Rosalia arrived, the library was staffed by a teacher with no training in library science. Some books in the collection still described Germany as two nations, and others referred to the Soviet Union as if it still existed.
Ms. Rosalia weeded out hundreds of titles. Working with just $6.25 per student per year — compared with a national median figure of $12.06 — she acquired volumes about hip-hop and magic and popular titles like “Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty.” With the help of grants from the City Council and corporations, she bought an interactive white board and 29 laptops.
Ms. Rosalia introduced herself to her new colleagues as the “information literacy teacher” and invited teachers to collaborate on lessons. The early sessions focused on finding books and databases and on fundamental research skills.
Soon Ms. Rosalia progressed to teaching students how to ask more sophisticated questions during research projects, how to decode Internet addresses and how to assess the authors and biases of a Web site’s content.
Even teachers find that they learn from Ms. Rosalia. “I was aware that not everything on the Internet is believable,” said Joanna Messina, who began taking her fifth-grade classes to the library this year. “But I wouldn’t go as far as to evaluate the whole site or look at the authors.”
Combining new literacy with the old, Ms. Rosalia invites students to write book reviews that she posts in the library’s online catalog. She helped a math teacher design a class blog. She urges students to use electronic databases linked from the library’s home page.
Not all of Ms. Rosalia’s efforts involve technology. The license plate on her black BMW says “READ,” and she retains a traditional librarian’s passion for books.
During a lunch period earlier this month, Gagik Sargsyan, 13, slunk into the library and opened a laptop to research a social studies paper on the 1930s and 1940s.
“Have you looked at any books?” Ms. Rosalia asked.
A look of horror came over Gagik’s face. “No,” he said.
Ms. Rosalia, who has a bubbly manner, went to a shelf and returned with a stack of volumes on the Empire State Building, fashion in the 1930s and life during the Great Depression. Gagik recognized the Empire State Building as the place he spent his 13th birthday and started paging through the book.
At the end of every week, Ms. Rosalia opens the library for classes to come in solely to check out books. One Friday, she wore a T-shirt imprinted with the words “Don’t make me use my librarian voice.” Whirling from child to child, she swiftly pulled volumes off the shelves as third graders requested books on sharks and scary topics. By the end of one period, more than 30 students stood in line at the circulation desk.
Still, Ms. Rosalia understands the allure of the Internet. Speaking last fall to a class of a dozen seventh graders who recently immigrated from Russia, Georgia, China and Yemen, Ms. Rosalia struggled to communicate. “We have newspapers in all of your languages,” she said. She turned to the digital white board.
When she clicked on the home page of Izvestia, the Moscow-based newspaper, the Russians in the group cheered.
“Does anybody like books?” Ms. Rosalia asked. Several students stared blankly. The Russians, who spoke some English, shook their heads.
So Ms. Rosalia pulled up the home site for Teen People magazine, and Katsiaryna Dziatlouskaya, 13, immediately recognized a photograph of Cameron Diaz. Ms. Rosalia knew she had made a connection.
“You can read magazines, newspapers, pictures, computer programs, Web sites,” Ms. Rosalia said. “You can read anything you like to, but you have to read. Is that a deal?”
Carlos Slim Helú: The Reticent Media Baron
Carlos Slim Helú was clearly annoyed. He had invited dozens of foreign correspondents to lunch one day last fall and, after many questions about business trends, one journalist pressed him on how it felt to be worth so much in a country in which many people struggle to get by.
Mr. Slim cut off the questioner and defended his stewardship of a vast business empire. His curt tone made clear that he did not favor that line of questioning.
Mr. Slim, Mexico’s richest man and now a major shareholder in and lender to The New York Times, has a complex relationship with the news media. He invests money in an array of television and newspaper companies and says he sees a bright future for those media companies that adapt.
But when the news media focus their spotlight on him, he sometimes gives the impression that he wants to be left alone to make more money in peace.
An avid newspaper reader of what he calls the “paper generation,” Mr. Slim says he sees the shift to digital news, which has left newspaper companies struggling, as not necessarily being their death knell. He likens them to transport companies at the turn of the 20th century that grappled with the advent of motorcars. Those that stuck to horses went belly up.
With telecommunications, retailing and construction companies under his command, Mr. Slim looms large over the media landscape in his country. Notoriously thin-skinned, he does not have to pick up the phone and bellow at those who publish and broadcast something he does not like. His vast resources often translate into less-than-critical coverage.
Mr. Slim declined through his spokesman and son-in-law, Arturo Elias, to be interviewed for this article.
Raymundo Riva Palacio, a veteran journalist in Mexico City, said that after he wrote a column in El Universal newspaper in 2006 condemning Mr. Slim as a monopolist, a Slim adviser threatened to remove newspaper ads from his companies.
That was no small threat. Mr. Slim’s holdings are so vast that he controls a large chunk of all advertising countrywide. Eduardo García, a Mexican journalist who runs a Spanish-language financial news Web site and follows Mr. Slim, estimated his wealth at almost $44 billion as of the end of 2008.
“I took it as part of the natural dynamic between the media and the powers that be in Mexico,” Mr. Riva Palacio said, adding that the incident was quietly resolved. “That’s how things work here.”
Mr. Elias, the Slim spokesman, said that no ads were removed and that Mr. Slim does not use his economic might that way. “We are an important advertiser, yes, but that doesn’t give us a right to meddle in the editorial side,” Mr. Elias said.
Mr. Slim built his fortune buying distressed companies and turning them around, but he joined the top ranks of the world’s billionaires when he bought the Mexican telephone monopoly, Teléfonos de México, known as Telmex, from the government in 1990. His critics say his political connections won him the company, but he has countered that his winning bid of $1.76 billion was above market price.
Today, even though Mexico’s telephone market is ostensibly open to competition, its rates are among the highest in the world. Telmex controls more than 90 percent of the local market for fixed lines and more than 70 percent of the cellphone market. Competitors say the company throws up repeated obstacles and regulators are reluctant to act.
When it comes to the media, Mr. Slim’s family businesses have invested in a variety of television networks and bought a 1 percent stake in The Independent newspaper in Britain last year.
“His leverage is tremendous,” said Mr. García, who publishes a financial news Web site in Mexico City, (sentidocomun.com.mx), that tracks Mr. Slim’s many holdings. “That’s how he muffles all the criticisms that might come his way.”
He may muffle some critics, but not all. Denise Dresser, a Mexican political scientist, regularly suggests in newspaper columns that favorable government treatment, rather than business acumen, made him rich.
“Going down in history as an evil monopolist who fleeced Mexican consumers is not an image of himself that he likes, but it’s a true image,” she said. “The possibility that he would throw his weight around itself acts as a gag.”
But as Mexico’s recession deepens, Mr. Slim’s critics are multiplying. Last week, he forecast grim times for Mexico and received a barely disguised rebuke from President Felipe Calderón, who prefers upbeat assessments, and said, “Those who have received the most from this great nation” are obligated to help.
Mr. Slim bristles at suggestions that he is not doing his part for Mexico. “I think it’s perverse to believe that there shouldn’t be strong companies in poor countries,” he told the journalists who attended the media lunch last fall.
Behind the scenes, though, he deploys a team of lawyers to fight efforts by the government to enforce antitrust laws against him.
The country’s Federal Competition Commission is looking into Mr. Slim’s companies. But the agency is outspent and outmanned by Mr. Slim. His companies “spend more on a single case than our entire annual budget,” said an official at the commission, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about agency matters.
Even though Mr. Slim sees moneymaking opportunities in the media, Raúl Trejo, a journalism professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said Mr. Slim is not an aspiring media tycoon who dictates news coverage.
At a dinner in London in December, after Mr. Slim bought his initial Times Company stock, a group of British newspaper editors expressed astonishment at the large size of the Times newsroom, which has roughly 1,300 reporters and editors. “He gave no indication whether he knew the size of the staff,” said a participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
Mr. Elias said recently that Mr. Slim considered his latest investment in The Times — $250 million, for which he will receive a 14 percent interest rate and warrants that are convertible into Times Company shares — as a business deal.
He already owns 6.9 percent of the company and has lost tens of millions on that investment. Under the new financial arrangement, that stake could grow to 17 percent, though he will receive no representation on the company’s board and no shares with special voting rights.
Bankers representing The Times approached Mr. Slim with the investment opportunity, Slim advisers say. Those bankers, at the firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, had first approached The Times with the idea of a deal with Mr. Slim, said a Times spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis.
Besides the financial benefits, those who know Mr. Slim also see in the deal an effort to bolster his reputation by linking himself with a well-known brand.
Stung by suggestions that he is a some kind of robber baron — a label used by Eduardo Porter, a Times editorial writer, in a 2007 op-ed article — Mr. Slim has granted more interviews in recent years and expanded his philanthropic work.
“Unlike a great number of business guys who are only focused on the latest numbers, he has a variety of interests and is focusing more and more on using his wealth to improve the world,” said Alvin Toffler, the futurist author, who is a friend of Mr. Slim’s.
It is not merely Mr. Slim’s resources that help swing coverage his way, Mexican journalists say. Rather, they say, Mr. Slim, a widowed father of six, has an unassuming, avuncular persona.
He often shuffles into events alone, his bodyguards well out of sight. Addressing the press, Mr. Slim can appear ill at ease, resembling at times a small business owner rather than Mexico’s richest man.
And even when newspapers ran columns criticizing him for his recent negative comments about the Mexican economy, the front pages of leading papers in Mexico City all ran reports on Thursday of a rumored romance between Mr. Slim and Queen Noor of Jordan — speculation that was quickly quashed by Mr. Elias.
“We journalists cover so many bad guys here in Mexico, so many big egos, that Slim, despite all his faults, doesn’t appear all that bad,” said Mr. Riva Palacio, the Mexico City journalist.
Elizabeth Malkin and Antonio Betancourt contributed reporting.
NY Cartoon Appears to Link Obama to Dead Chimp
The Rev. Al Sharpton says a New York Post cartoon that appears to link President Obama to a violent chimpanzee is "troubling at best."
The cartoon in Wednesday's Post by Sean Delonas shows a dead chimp and two police officers, one with a smoking gun.
The caption reads, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
The cartoon refers to Travis the chimp, who was shot to death by police in Stamford, Conn., on Monday after it mauled a friend of its owner.
It links the chimp to Obama, who signed his administration's economic stimulus plan on Tuesday.
Sharpton called the cartoon offensive and divisive.
The Post had no immediate comment.
Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0
Local business owners say Yelp offers to hide negative customer reviews of their businesses on its web site ... for a price.
The phone calls came almost daily. It started to get creepy.
"Hi, this is Mike from Yelp," the voice would say. "You've had three hundred visitors to your site this month. You've had a really good response. But you have a few bad ones at the top. I could do something about those."
This wasn't your average sales pitch. At least, not the kind that John, an East Bay restaurateur, was used to. He was familiar with Yelp.com, the popular San Francisco-based web site in which any person can write a review about nearly any business. John's restaurant has more than one hundred reviews, and averages a healthy 3.5-star rating. But when John asked Mike what he could do about his bad reviews, he recalls the sales rep responding: "We can move them. Well, for $299 a month." John couldn't believe what the guy was offering. It seemed wrong.
In fact, something seemed shady about the state of his restaurant's negative reviews. "When you do get a call from Yelp, and you go to the site, it looks like they have been moved," John said. "You don't know if they happen to be at the top legitimately or if the rep moved them to the top. You don't even know if this is someone who legitimately doesn't like your restaurant. ... Almost all the time when they call you, the bad ones will be at the top."
Usually, John said, he would politely decline to advertise. "Well, thanks," he'd say. "I'll talk to my partner about it." Or, "It's not really in my budget right now." But inevitably, in another week or so, he'd get another phone call. Occasionally, the voice on the other end of the phone would change, but the calls continued. These days, John chooses to not answer his phone when it's from a number with a 415 area code.
John may sound paranoid, but he's got company. During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.
Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.
Many business owners, like John, feel so threatened by Yelp's power to harm their business that they declined to be interviewed unless their identities were concealed. (John is not the restaurant owner's real name.) Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation. "Every time I had a sales person call me and I said, 'Sorry, it doesn't make sense for me to do this,' ... then all of a sudden reviews start disappearing." To these mom-and-pop business owners, Yelp's sales tactics are coercive, unethical, and, possibly, illegal.
"That's the biggest scam in the Bay Area," John said. "It totally felt like a blackmail deal. I think they're doing anything to make a sale."
Yelp officials deny that they move negative reviews, although such allegations have surfaced many times before. The issue is even addressed on the web site's Frequently Asked Questions page. Chief Operating Officer Geoff Donaker said advertisers and sales representatives don't have the ability to move or remove negative reviews. "We wouldn't be in business very long if we started duping customers," he said.
But Donaker's denials are challenged by nine local business owners and also by a former contract employee who worked with Yelp in its early days. That person, who is still close to some Yelp employees and only agreed to be interviewed if granted anonymity, said several sales reps have told him they promised to move reviews to get businesses to advertise. "It's not illegal or unethical," he said they told him. "We're just helping the little guy. It doesn't hurt them, it benefits them."
Such tactics may be legal, but they clearly raise ethical concerns. Yelp touts its web site as consisting of "real people" writing "real reviews." The allegations of business owners who have tangled with the company suggest otherwise.
If Yelp indeed suppresses honest reviews in exchange for its advertisers' money, it is cheating users who expect genuine consumer feedback. Conversely, if Yelp demands payment to remove even dishonest reviews, then advertisers are being cheated.
One thing is certain: In both cases, Yelp benefits.
Yelp.com was founded in July 2004 by two young entrepreneurs: Jeremy Stoppelman, 31, and Russel Simmons, 30, who had worked together at PayPal. They conceived the idea during an "incubator" held by PayPal cofounder Max Levchin. The concept was an online city guide with a Web 2.0 mentality, allowing "real people" to write "real reviews" about nearly any type of business — from restaurants to dentists, bars to clothing stores.
Yelp creates a page for individual businesses, including address and phone number, like a directory. Then, any person who signs up for a free Yelp account can write a review of the business and rate it on a five-star system.
The site's social-networking capabilities and clever marketing quickly made it popular with young, web-savvy users accustomed to using the Internet to find their goods and services. Launched in the Bay Area, the site has since spread to many major metropolitan areas — including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Boston, Las Vegas, and Seattle — as well as England and Canada.
Today, Yelp draws more than 16 million unique visitors to the site each month, according to Yelp spokeswoman Stephanie Ichinose. More than 4.5 million reviews have been written so far, and the company has raised $31 million in funding to date.
Translating that traffic into a viable business model hasn't been easy. According to the Financial Times, the company still isn't making a profit. Yelp relies solely on advertising for revenue: banner ads from national businesses like Monster.com and Toyota, and fees from local businesses, which pay between $300 and $1,000 per month to highlight themselves in search results and enhance their page with photo slideshows and other information.
But while the basic premise of Yelp hasn't changed since its inception, its spirit has changed for the worse, according to "Mark," the former contract employee. "I started with them at the beginning, helping them market and put the word out for the company, and I loved the concept of this," he said, sitting in a Berkeley cafe in December. "I thought the whole thing would be positive and will increase business to a lot of the small businesses, the mom-and-pops."
But Mark complained that in the past two years there has been an increase in negative, trash-talking reviews. "If you don't like somebody for no reason, you can go on there and talk horrible about their place for whatever reason and also encourage close friends to go on there and trash those places." Mark cited a recent case with his own cafe in which a customer who was angry that the business was closed for a private event went on Yelp and accused employees of being unsanitary.
Other business owners describe similar experiences — receiving negative reviews from competitors or customers who are unreasonably angry. John said one of his employees told him that her former employer — a rival restaurateur — had gone on Yelp and written a negative review of his business. "How many other people have done that?" he wondered in an interview. "It's hard to know what's real."
Yelp's web site states that slamming a competitor is grounds for removing a review. But business owners say the company's response to such complaints is woefully inadequate. "We don't get anywhere," Mark said. "We're just one little restaurant in the middle of 500,000 restaurants that they review, or more than that. They don't have time to respond."
Last April, in response to a litany of complaints, Yelp began allowing business owners to sign up for a free "business owner account." It enables them to track how many people view their page, update their business' information, and send messages directly to a reviewer (although reviewers can choose to disable this feature).
Still, it's up to business owners and not Yelp to resolve disputed reviews. In a November e-mail from a Yelp employee in response to a local business owner's inquiry about why a positive review was removed, the staffer wrote, "While we can't evaluate individual cases or re-instate specific reviews, we certainly appreciate your feedback and are continually striving to improve the user experience."
Given the economics of the Web, Mark believes Yelp has no interest in curbing illegitimate reviews. "They needed more people to go on the site; they needed to promote the site; so they can't stop it," he said. "They don't want to stop it and create any problems for themselves. So they just let it open and try to get as many people on as they can." Mark said he stopped working with the company after several years because he didn't agree with the direction it was headed in.
Here's what advertisers receive, according to an e-mailed sales pitch that a local business owner sent to this newspaper. They can highlight a favorite review to appear at the top of the page about their business. They also show up first in search results for similar businesses in their region (for example "coffee" near "Alameda, CA"). Ads for that business appear on the page of local competitors, while competitors' ads do not appear on their page. Owners can post photo slideshows, add a "personal message" about their business, and have the ability to update info on special offers and events. They also can find out how many users visit their web site, update their page, contact Yelpers who've reviewed their business, and have access to an account manager who will help "maximize" their experience with Yelp.
But aside from a single "sponsored review" at the top of the page, the order of all other reviews is based on a secret Yelp algorithm, spokeswoman Ichinose said. The order is mostly due to recency and reader votes for certain reviews as "useful," "funny," or "cool." But Ichinose said there are other factors, including how frequently reviewers contribute to the web site and "what kind" of review writer they are. "It's a number of different things we don't disclose," she said. "To be explicitly clear, the algorithm is an automated system. There's no human manipulation of that. ... If we were to start doing that, that would erode the trust we have with consumers."
Yelp officials strenuously deny that the company moves negative reviews for advertisers. So how to explain all the stories?
In an interview, Chief Operating Officer Donaker said it is all a big misunderstanding. "Do I think that sales reps call are saying, 'We'll move your bad reviews'?" he asked. "No. But I think it could be true — when you get to pick your favorite review and put it to the top, if I said it a little different way, it might sound a little nefarious." Donaker conceded that Yelp could do a better job of training its sales team to be "crystal clear about what you get and don't get."
Donaker also offered a more cynical answer to the question of why so many businesses accuse it of extortion. "Change isn't good for everybody," he said. "The vast majority of dentists and salons are getting a lot of benefit out of the New World Order, but there are some who aren't benefiting from it and like it the way it used to be. Maybe customers weren't happy but they could market their way out of it."
However, the advertisers and advertising prospects interviewed for this story weren't just responding bitterly to harsh reviews on Yelp. That's because Yelp doesn't allow just anyone to advertise on its site. In order to advertise, businesses need at least a three-star rating and a "significant number of reviews," Ichinose said. Consequently, every person interviewed for this story was favorably reviewed by a majority of Yelp reviewers.
Former Yelp advertiser Mary Seaton said she took the company up on its offer to move her negative reviews if she advertised. Seaton, the owner of Sofa Outlet in San Mateo, paid $350 a month for six months about a year ago. During that time, Seaton said, her negative reviews were removed and old positive reviews showed up. "There was one negative review but they pulled it down and then it came off," she said. After her contract was up, Seaton said a negative review appeared, which contained lies. When she asked her sales rep, Katie, about it, she responded, "We don't get involved with that. We're not mediators." Seaton said at that point she chose not to renew her ad contract.
One San Francisco merchant said a Yelp sales rep rearranged the reviews on his restaurant's page to entice him into advertising. Greg Quinn, general manager of Anabelle's Bar and Bistro in San Francisco (168 reviews, 3.5-average star rating), said that around January 2007, a Yelp sales rep was trying to get him to advertise. Quinn said he subsequently noticed that some of his negative reviews had moved further down on the page. "It was clearly ... a sales tactic," said Quinn, who added that the rep called him up and asked, "'Did you notice what I did? Well, we can keep doing that for you.'" Quinn said he ultimately turned the sales rep down, and told Yelp's latest sales rep to never call him again due to "the lack of reliability of the reviews and the narrow demographic."
"She said, 'I'm very sorry you feel that way.' And I said, 'It's not how I feel; it's fact.'"
Another East Bay business owner said that in January of 2008 he was approached by Yelp sales reps offering to move one- or two-star reviews of his business if he advertised. The owner, who we'll call "Joe," said he initially toyed with the idea. His two businesses have more than two hundred total reviews; one averages a three-star rating, the other averages four stars.
"At one point, I finally said to them, this doesn't sound too local," Joe said. "This is the voice of the people and you're manipulating the voice. She got her manager on the phone to respond to that. 'No, not at all, we've been doing this for years. We're not eliminating your bad reviews, we're shifting them around. We do that anyway, we move them around anyway. This is just to your advantage.'" But Joe wasn't impressed. "I said, 'This sounds like the Mafia — I'm paying you off to make me look better. I'm not comfortable with this.'"
Business owners are also disturbed that some negative reviews are written by paid Yelp employees. When the company first launched in 2004, its staff wrote many reviews on the site. And to this day, Yelp hires "Scouts" or "Ambassadors" to write reviews — especially when they enter new markets. CEO Stoppelman himself has written nearly eight hundred reviews. It's not immediately apparent which reviews are written by paid Yelpers until you click on a user's name to get to their profile page, where they might display a "Scout" or "Ambassador" badge.
In some cases, businesses that received negative reviews from paid Yelpers were also asked to advertise. San Francisco's Elite Cafe, which advertises with Yelp, received a two-star review by a paid Yelp ambassador, as did Anabelle's Bar and Bistro. In both instances, the negative reviews appeared after Yelp sales staff asked them to advertise. Both business owners were unaware that a paid Yelper had written a negative review of their business.
Ichinose insisted that Yelp does not use negative reviews as leads for its sales staff. But she affirmed that reps do have access to the complete profiles of sales prospects through the company's database. "Leads are determined purely by the reputation of that business," she explained. "Any sort of timing beyond that would be coincidental."
Negative reviews are not the only bait that Yelp employees apparently use to attract advertisers. Some business owners believe Yelp sales reps remove positive reviews when they refuse to buy an ad.
Robert Gaustad, co-owner of Bobby G's Pizzeria in Berkeley, said that about a year ago a Yelp sales rep offered to "move good reviews to the top to make us look better." Since declining to advertise, approximately fifteen to twenty of his restaurant's reviews — mostly positive — have been removed for reasons he can't figure out.
Gaustad said his complaints have gone unheard but that a Yelp sales rep told him his complaints would be heard if he advertised. In an e-mail from salesman Ethan Davidoff, which he read to this reporter, Davidoff told Gaustad that if he paid for an ad, "you will have access to an account manager who will help keep your page up-to-date and ... you will never have to ever wait again to talk with Yelp about your listing and issue with reviews."
A San Francisco wedding photographer relayed a similar story. About two years ago, a Yelp sales rep contacted her to advertise. The photographer — we'll call her "Mary" — declined the offer. But the sales rep was pushy; Mary said she received about three phone calls and as many as ten e-mails per week asking her to advertise. Still, she declined. "All of a sudden my reviews started disappearing," she said. "I called them up and said, 'I'm a little curious why my reviews are disappearing.' They said, 'Well, people stop reviewing, we take them down.' ... I talked to the clients — they're still actively reviewing."
"Ellen," who only agreed to be interviewed if not identified by name, owns an Oakland business with more than twenty Yelp reviews, and averages a 4.5-star rating. She says she began to receive solicitations to advertise soon after her business began receiving positive customer reviews. But she declined. "The prices were cost-prohibitive," she recalled telling the sales rep. "I can't pay $300 a month when I pay $90 for Google AdWords. After that, reviews started to disappear."
When Ellen questioned her sales rep as to why some reviews had disappeared, the rep told her reviews can be taken down based on the company's algorithm. Reviewers must follow certain guidelines to post a legitimate review, the rep replied. "They had to have pictures, friends, be part of the community," Ellen recalled the rep telling her. But Ellen says the reviews that were removed fit the profile of acceptable reviews. Ellen turned down the offer again, and more reviews disappeared. She says she's now down to 50 percent of her original reviews. "Just today I got three more e-mails from Yelp. They're aggressive. ... But it's blackmail."
Of course, none of these business owners could say for sure whether the disappearance of positive reviews was an intentional strategy or mere coincidence. Yet the claims don't appear to be far-fetched given the experience of other business owners.
Yelp suggests in its Terms of Service that it moves and removes reviews at will, without explanation: "Yelp reserves the right (but has no obligation) to remove or suppress User Content from the Site at its sole discretion for any or no reason and without notice or liability of any kind, including without limitation, the suppression or removal of User Content that Yelp deems untrustworthy or in violation of the Terms of Service or guidelines for reviews, photos, or talk threads."
COO Donaker said there are three reasons why reviews might disappear. First, they could have been removed by the reviewer who wrote them. Second, the reviews could have violated Yelp's Terms of Service by containing second-hand experiences or hearsay, personal attacks, lack of relevance, plagiarism, or a conflict of interest such as an owner praising their own business or trashing that of a competitor. Third, reviews could disappear as a result of the company's "automated review filter." Donaker says he's not exactly clear how the filter works, but that the software looks for "suspicious patterns," such as "rants and raves from friends and competitors." Yelp reviewers also can flag reviews that seem suspect, and Yelp's customer service staff then reviews them.
So is it legal for Yelp to do all this? Probably, according to Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "As a general matter, web sites are allowed to present information however they want, so there's nothing inherently illegal about that," he said. But denying they do this could get them in hot water, he added. "I suppose a disgruntled business could bring an unfair-trade-practices-type lawsuit of their Terms of Service, but it has to hinge on whether they're saying one thing and then are doing something else. That's the only way there could be any legal action." The same would be true if a paid Yelper had written the review, he said.
"Business owners who pay Yelp.com may feel like victims of extortion, but offering to remove derogatory reviews after the fact probably doesn't fit the legal definition of the crime of extortion," wrote Mark Hathaway, a white-collar criminal defense attorney who practices in California, New York, and Washington, DC. But while manipulating how reviews are displayed to make people buy advertising may not be illegal, it doesn't necessarily feel right. "Yelp.com has to be careful that their business model does not look like they are asking business owners for protection money from bad reviews when Yelp.com controls whether the bad reviews are posted in the first place," Hathaway added. "Some business owners may feel that the local neighborhood protection racket has just moved to the Web."
In principle, there's certainly nothing wrong with Yelp soliciting reviews about businesses. Or with Yelp removing certain reviews.
Tens of thousands of newspapers, magazines, and online destinations — including this newspaper and its web site — write reviews of businesses even as their advertising departments are busy soliciting those same businesses for advertising. Ideally there is no causal relationship between the two. Financial considerations shouldn't affect the tone of supposedly independent content.
But if the accusations are true, Yelp is compromising the integrity of its reviews to make a buck, which contradicts its identity as a user-generated, consumer-first web site. Quoted in The New York Times last year, CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said of his company's priorities: "We put the community first, the consumer second, and businesses third." In fact, the evidence suggests that Yelp comes first.
To Jo-Ellen Pozner, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, the whole concept is ethically murky. "Yelp appears to be an unbiased, unmotivated web site, and this kind of rating site operates more on the basis of trust than something like a CNET or for-profit Consumer Reports," she said. "To be successful, people have to trust the content that Yelp is showing. By the same token it's the Internet ... deception is easy and it's almost inevitable. It's clearly not ethical. It does seem to be close to extortion if Yelp is actually removing positive reviews if business owners don't pay up. Then again, these kinds of user-generated sites are also subject to manipulation by the businesses that are being reviewed."
So where should Yelp's values lie? Pozner says stricter controls to eliminate manipulation by business owners would make the site more trustworthy, but such controls might be inconsistent with the company's revenue goals. "It's a really tricky spot," she said. "I don't know if I could define that in ethical terms. It doesn't make a lot of sense. It's difficult to keep the integrity of this kind of model."
User Foster Kerrison of Pasadena said Yelp's integrity as a user-generated site was what first attracted him to it. He said he'd trust the site less if he knew that Yelp manipulated its content. "That does bother me, because up till now I feel like it's been completely — just all user content," the 31-year-old said. "You take it with a grain of salt but it's all real, it's not altered."
Is such integrity counterproductive to success on the web? One of Yelp's early competitors, JudysBook.com, which launched about the same time as Yelp, tried to be responsible in the quality of its content and its relationship with businesses. According to Jeff Rodenburg, who helped build the Seattle-based online review site, the company tried to encourage good user behavior and high-quality reviews, and allowed business owners to freely post responses to reviews.
One of the biggest challenges the site faced, Rodenburg said, and one also faced by sites such as Google Local and Yahoo Local, was how to reduce the enormous cost of its sales effort. Getting businesses to advertise required a huge investment in people-power. Rodenburg said many web startups assumed that local advertising dollars would eventually migrate online — "not if, but when." "That never materialized," he said. While Yelp has obtained far more funding than JudysBook ever did, the company still faces the challenge of living within its means. "If you think you can reach profitability through online ad sales, I'm not sure," he said.
In the wake of a recent spate of critical media coverage — stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Californian, and on CBS5 — there are some signs that perhaps Yelp is changing its practices. Interviews with more than a dozen local business owners suggest that Yelp sales reps may be wording their sales pitches more carefully these days. Owners who were approached by Yelp in recent months said they were told they could choose one positive review that would appear at the top of their page, which would clearly be denoted as a "sponsored review."
And plenty of Yelp advertisers still have negative reviews on their pages. "You pretty much have to fight tooth or nail to get a bad review moved or removed," said one East Bay restaurant advertiser, who wished to remain anonymous. Peter Snyderman, the owner of Elite Cafe, said his sales rep never mentioned moving negative reviews.
In any case, there is scant evidence that the criticism has actually hurt Yelp. "We have thousands of advertisers in our program that are very happy with what they're seeing," Ichinose said. And the number of visitors to the site continues to grow. Pozner says that's probably because Yelp's target demographic — young people and college kids — isn't as sensitive to news of this kind. "I don't see it as terrifically damaging unless there was some kind of legal action taken," she said.
When avid reviewer Bill Blackburn of San Francisco was asked whether he would still use Yelp even if he knew the site manipulated its content to sell advertising, the 28-year-old conceded, "Yeah, I think I would."
In France Ads Aim at Heart, Not Wallet
It’s still famous here: a black-and-white advertisement from 1968 — the Lascaux cave drawing of French television commercials, you might call it — featuring a young man in his pajamas sitting bolt upright in bed, shouting, “Boursin!” over and over, then madly dashing for his kitchen to devour said cheese.
Lately Parisians have been congregating in a gallery of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to watch that bygone commercial along with a slew of others made here since the late 1960s. “Forty Years of Ads on TV” includes dozens of sexy Dim lingerie ads (directed by William Klein, Luc Besson, Tony Scott and Hal Hartley, among others), whose Lalo Schiffrin theme music has become embedded in the French psyche, an equivalent of America’s “plop, plop, fizz, fizz.”
The exhibition happens to have arrived at a curious moment, when several major purveyors of television commercials have suddenly had their ads pulled from the air. Ostensibly to improve programming President Nicolas Sarkozy last month banned commercials from four major stations during evening hours.
This still leaves France with dozens of outlets on which to see Maurice Lamy, an actor dressed as a crazed, chainsaw-wielding Orangina Rouge soda bottle, screaming “Because!” (don’t ask why, it doesn’t matter); or Bruno Aveillan’s digital extravaganza for Paco Rabanne’s XS perfume, in which a naked couple languidly copulate in midair like an X-rated version of the Flying Wallendas in slow motion.
Vive la France. French liberalism also accounts for Wilfrid Brimo’s public service announcement about AIDS, a cheery animation of graphic gay sex, unfolding to the soundtrack of “Sugar Baby Love.” Dick Cheney will ask for French citizenship before that one is broadcast in the United States.
Clearly French commercials speak to French culture no less than French literature or music does. Long on sensuality, style and poetry, they are notably lean on facts and nearly allergic to the rough-and-tumble of commerce. It’s forbidden here to denigrate your competitors in a television advertisement or to instruct viewers to call a certain number now to buy a product (save for exceptional cases). Hard-sell tactics, standard in America, just don’t wash in France.
“That’s because we have always had a very unhealthy relationship to money,” explained Jacques Séguéla, chief creative officer for Havas, the country’s second-biggest advertising agency. He spoke the other day in his sunny office, an all-glass affair with panoramic views of the city. A television, with flickering advertisements for automobiles and Perrier interrupting a bicycle race, played silently behind him.
“To us money implies corruption, and moreover, because we consider ourselves the inventors of freedom, never mind if that’s not true, we still consider advertising as a kind of manipulation,” Mr. Séguéla said. “This explains why television commercials started so late here — essentially because leftist opposition saw ads as corrupting the soul.”
France did take a long time before it broadcast commercials on TV. Years after the United States, Britain, Italy and other countries were making a new art form out of 30-second promotions for detergents and toothpastes, France still prohibited private advertising. Only in 1968, despite strong opposition from newspaper companies and the political left, did the government finally permit two minutes of commercials per day on a single television station. (All the stations in France were public back then.)
In retrospect the same climate that led Boursin to invent a catchy new slogan — “Du pain, du vin, du Boursin” (“Some bread, some wine, some Boursin”) — also produced political sloganeering from students on the barricades, a kind of advertising too. By the early 1980s, notwithstanding what Mr. Séguéla just said about leftists being opposed to advertising, his appointment to oversee the public relations campaign of a leftist presidential candidate, François Mitterand, became a first for France.
It was no doubt partly to play on the nation’s historic ambivalence about TV commercials that Mr. Sarkozy the other day reversed the policy of the last 40 years and barred advertisements from French public television stations (France 2, France 3, France 4, France 5, with RFO to come) during evening hours.
Opponents were left to grumble about a plot to gain further presidential control over the media. So far, though, programming hasn’t changed. It remains to be seen whether fees paid by people who own television sets here will have to go up to compensate for ad income lost by the government-owned stations. Meanwhile the move was a public relations coup for the president.
Which is not to say that the French dislike commercials. They actually love their TV ads. They just prefer not to admit it.
“We’re not a Protestant culture,” said Stéphane Martin, director of the French union for television advertisements. “So we have difficulty accepting successful people and embracing advertising as a means of selling. And there has always been such a strong sense that the state should be responsible for public services, like television.”
But the government argued back in 1968 that commercials would help French companies and (this from the land of Descartes and Tocqueville) also further democracy, in that television had become a democratic medium. (Some 60 percent of French households owned TV sets by then.)
Before that, French stations broadcast only a few public-service spots carrying messages like “Change the tie, the tie will change you,” “Eat apples for beautiful teeth” and “Beans at your place” (to promote French legumes). Such earnest ditties yielded by the 1980s to what Amélie Gastaut, the curator of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs show, likened the other day to a Renaissance of French television advertising.
That decade was the Golden Age, she said, when directors like Jean-Paul Goude, Gérard Pirès and Étienne Chatiliez produced smart, sleek productions for Peugeot, Cooper Jeans and Eram, the French discount shoe purveyor. They were succeeded by a generation weaned on electronic music and digital animation, by directors like Michel Gondry and Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, who ushered in the current era of lush, phantasmagoric effects.
Mr. Pirès, director of more than 400 commercials, the first in 1968, lamented the other evening that French television advertising today takes fewer risks, “in terms of fighting with clients for creative freedom.”
“Digital technology also means that instead of spending a few days mixing a dozen sound tracks, which was the case 25 years ago, we have an entire team that spends more than a month mixing more than 120 tracks,” he said.
Mr. Pirès shrugged. “So everything is more difficult now,” he added, “but for us what remains most important is still the image of a product, not the product itself.”
Or as Mr. Séguéla formulated the situation: American commercials go from the head to the wallet, British ones from the head to the heart, French, from the heart to the head. That accounts for why, as in a classic French commercial for Canal Plus, the French pay television station, a man describes a movie about emperor penguins in Antarctica to a woman who pictures hundreds of Napoleons sliding around the ice. Or why, in an ad for Air France, sexy models use clouds as pillows, clearly not dreaming about low fares and on-time departures.
One recent morning a cluster of young women sat rapt before a commercial by Mr. Aveillan of a buxom robot in a skintight suit caressing a naked man. (It’s a razor ad.) Across the room a mix of older Parisians smiled at the sight of a tight-lipped, elderly woman wrapping a sheet around herself, then belly surfing across a long dusty table. (It’s for furniture wax.)
“We stress sex and wit in our ads because that’s our culture,” Mr. Martin, the union chief, said. “Advertising is about presenting an idealized view of its audience. And this is who we would like to think we are.”
The Body as Billboard: Your Ad Here
Andrew Adam Newman
TERRY GARDNER, a legal secretary in California, returned home from work recently to find two police officers waiting. They said her brother had told them he thought she might be having a breakdown because she had shaved her head.
Ms. Gardner, 50, said in a telephone interview that she had told the officers that she was fine and had shaved her head for an advertising campaign by Air New Zealand, which had hired her to display a temporary tattoo. She turned around and showed them the message, written in henna on the back of her head: “Need A Change? Head Down to New Zealand. www.airnewzealand.com.”
Ms. Gardner was among 30 of what the airline calls “cranial billboards.” For shaving their noggins and displaying the ad copy for two weeks in November, they received either a round-trip ticket to New Zealand (worth about $1,200) or $777 in cash (an allusion to the Boeing 777, a model in the airline’s fleet).
Jodi Williams, director of marketing for Air New Zealand, said half the participants selected the flight, because many were either New Zealand expatriates or, like Ms. Gardner, had visited and wanted to return. The participants were, in marketing parlance, ideal brand ambassadors: when co-workers or strangers behind them in the grocery store line asked about New Zealand, they could speak enthusiastically right off the top of their heads — so to speak.
Peter Shankman, author of “Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work — and Why Your Company Needs Them,” applauds the airline for the “Tom Sawyer handing out paintbrushes” approach.
“My job at the end of the day as a publicist is not to personally get P.R. for my client,” Mr. Shankman said. “My job is to get other people to do it, and if I get people who want to talk about something on behalf of a client, and they go and recommend it to their friends using their trust factor, then that is the very definition of social marketing.”
Glenn Faulkner, 41, a carpenter who was born in New Zealand and moved to the San Francisco area 12 years ago, learned about the promotion through a fare-watcher e-mail alert from the airline.
“I’m always up for a challenge, mate, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it,’ ” Mr. Faulkner said
Mr. Faulkner, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, said the tattoo drew about 40 inquiries a day from people curious about the promotion, while others gave him a wide berth.
“I think a lot of people thought, ‘This is a crazy guy,’ and the message would be like, ‘The world is going to end,’ ” he said.
With red hair flowing to her waist, Rita Thomas, 35, a stand-up comic and commercial actor from Los Angeles, had more to shear than any other participant. But having lost her mother to cancer a year ago, she took the plunge because the airline had arranged to donate participants’ hair to Locks of Love, a group that makes hairpieces for children who have gone bald from illnesses. The gesture was lost on the man she had been dating for three months when he saw her bald head.
“He said, ‘I don’t find you attractive in the least bit,’ ” Ms. Thomas said. “And then he totally dumps me.”
A similar marketing campaign in England in January for FeelUnique.com, an online beauty products store, paid 10 men and women to apply temporary tattoos with the company’s Web address on their eyelids and then wink at strangers. Chosen randomly from more than 6,000 who applied online, participants were paid 100 pounds (about $149) to wink at people 1,000 times, or 10 pence a wink, an allusion to pay-per-view Web advertising.
The campaign was run by the London public relations firm Mischief. Dan Glover, a creative director at Mischief, said the concept led to articles in regional, national and international media and — most important for the site, whose goal was to generate traffic — hundreds of links from other sites.
Tattoo-related advertising stunts go back to at least 2001, when Golden Palace, an online gambling site, paid the middleweight boxer Bernard Hopkins to wear a temporary tattoo with its Web address during a televised bout. The stunt drew the ire of boxing authorities and ESPN. Over the next couple of years, the casino also paid the former “Partridge Family” star Danny Bonaduce and others on a Fox celebrity boxing series to apply henna tattoos.
In 2005, Andrew Fischer, then 20 and living in Omaha, set up an eBay auction offering his forehead as a site for a temporary tattoo advertisement for one month. Green Pharmaceuticals’ Snore- Stop won with a $37,375 bid, and Mr. Fischer appeared on national programs, including “Good Morning America,” and in scores of newspapers and Web sites. Soon afterward, Mr. Fischer sold his forehead a second time — to Golden Palace — but got just $5,000 and scant media attention. His forehead has remained ad-free since.
“For 40 grand, I don’t regret looking like an idiot for a month,” said Mr. Fischer, when reached by telephone. “But it’s not like the most fun thing in the world to walk around with a big ad on your face.”
Golden Palace has gone the farthest in testing the boundaries of taste. In 2005, through an eBay auction, the casino paid Kari Smith, of Bountiful, Utah, who was then 30, $10,000 to permanently tattoo its Web address on her forehead in large block letters.
It has also paid several pregnant women to display temporary tattoos on their rounded bellies, which they agreed to bare at malls and football stadiums. (Several phone messages and e-mail messages to the casino were not returned.)
Since 2005, Dunlop Tires has hired tattoo artists to work at its booth at the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas, geared to motorists who modify cars. Volunteers who agree to be permanently tattooed — either with Dunlop’s logo or its trademarked tire tread — while onlookers gawk receive a set of tires worth $500 to $1,000, said Jim Davis, a Dunlop spokesman. About 200 people have been tattooed so far.
Ms. Gardner, whose hair has grown to crewcut length since she shaved it for the airline promotion, said some people at the time asked whether the tattoo on her head was permanent.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ I might be crazy, but I’m not nuts.”
Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems
BEHIND the cash register at Smoke Shop No. 2 in downtown San Francisco, Sam Azar swipes a customer’s credit card to ring up Turkish cigarettes. The store’s card reader fails to scan the card’s magnetic strip. Azar swipes again, and again. No luck.
As customers begin to queue, he reaches beneath the counter for a black plastic bag. He wraps one layer of the plastic around the card and swipes it again. Success. The sale is rung up.
“I don’t know how it works, it just does,” says Mr. Azar, who learned the trick years ago from another clerk. Verifone, the company that makes the store’s card reader, would not confirm or deny that the plastic bag trick works. But it’s one of many low-tech fixes for high-tech failures that people without engineering degrees have discovered, often out of desperation, and shared.
Today’s shaky economy is likely to produce many more such tricks. “In postwar Japan, the economy wasn’t doing so great, so you couldn’t get everyday-use items like household cleaners,” says Lisa Katayama, author of “Urawaza,” a book named after the Japanese term for clever lifestyle tips and tricks. “So people looked for ways to do with what they had.”
Popular urawaza include picking up broken glass from the kitchen floor with a slice of bread, or placing houseplants on a water-soaked diaper to keep them watered during a vacation trip.
Today, Americans are finding their own tips and tricks for fixing misbehaving gadgets with supplies as simple as paper and adhesive tape. Some, like Mr. Azar’s plastic bag, are open to argument as to how they work, or whether they really work at all. But many tech home remedies can be explained by a little science.
Cellphone Losing Charge
If your cellphone loses its battery charge too quickly while idle in your pocket, part of the problem may be that your pocket is too warm.
“Cellphone batteries do indeed last a bit longer if kept cool,” says Isidor Buchanan, editor of the Battery University Web site. The 98.6-degree body heat of a human, transmitted through a cloth pocket to a cellphone inside, is enough to speed up chemical processes inside the phone’s battery. That makes it run down faster. To keep the phone cooler, carry it in your purse or on your belt.
This same method can be used to preserve your battery should you find yourself away from home without your charger. Turn off the phone and put it in the hotel refrigerator overnight to slow the battery’s natural tendency to lose its charge.
Remote Car Key
Suppose your remote car door opener does not have the range to reach your car across the parking lot. Hold the metal key part of your key fob against your chin, then push the unlock button. The trick turns your head into an antenna, says Tim Pozar, a Silicon Valley radio engineer.
Mr. Pozar explains, “You are capacitively coupling the fob to your head. With all the fluids in your head it ends up being a nice conductor. Not a great one, but it works.” Using your head can extend the key’s wireless range by a few car lengths.
Dry Ink Cartridge
If your printer’s ink cartridge runs dry near the end of an important print job, remove the cartridge and run a hair dryer on it for two to three minutes. Then place the cartridge back into the printer and try again while it is still warm.
“The heat from the hair dryer heats the thick ink, and helps it to flow through the tiny nozzles in the cartridge,” says Alex Cox, a software engineer in Seattle. “When the cartridge is almost dead, those nozzles are often nearly clogged with dried ink, so helping the ink to flow will let more ink out of the nozzles.” The hair dryer trick can squeeze a few more pages out of a cartridge after the printer declares it is empty.
Cellphone in the Toilet
It could happen to anyone: you dropped your cellphone in the toilet. Take the battery out immediately, to prevent electrical short circuits from frying your phone’s fragile internals. Then, wipe the phone gently with a towel, and shove it into a jar full of uncooked rice.
It works for the same reason you may keep few grains of rice in your salt shaker to keep the salt dry. Rice has a high chemical affinity for water — that means the molecules in the rice have a nearly magnetic attraction for water molecules, which will be soaked up into the rice rather than beading up inside the phone.
It is a low-tech version of the “Do Not Eat” desiccant packets that may have been packed in the box the phone came in, to keep moisture away from the circuitry during shipping and storage.
Longer Wi-Fi Reach
If your home Wi-Fi router doesn’t reach the other end of the house, don’t rush out to buy more wireless gear to stretch your network. Instead, build a six-inch-high passive radio wave reflector from kitchen items, like an aluminum cookie sheet.
Follow the instructions at freeantennas.com/projects/template. Place the completed reflector — a small, curved piece of metal that reflects radio waves just like a satellite TV dish — behind your Wi-Fi router. It focuses the router’s energy in one direction — toward the other end of the house — rather than letting it dissipate its strength in a full circle. No cables, no batteries, no technical knowledge required. Yet it can easily double the range of your network.
You need to clean a skipping DVD or CD, but as a bachelor you don’t have any sissy cleaning fluids? Soak a washcloth with vodka or mouthwash.
Alcohol is a powerful solvent, perfectly capable of dissolving fingerprints and grime on the surface of a disc. A $5 bottle of Listerine in your medicine cabinet may do the job as effectively as a $75 bottle of DVD cleaning fluid. Also, swabbing your copy of “Lost Weekend” with Stoli instead of fussing with a Discwasher kit is a lot more manly.
Too Much Flash
If your cellphone’s built-in camera flash is much too bright, washing out photos, tape a small piece of paper over the flash. Experiment with different colors and thicknesses of paper to tone down the flash from superbright white to a more pleasing glow for evening photos.
Crashed Hard Drive
If — no, make that when — your PC’s hard drive crashes and can’t be read, don’t be too quick to throw it out. Stick it in the freezer overnight.
“The trick is a real and proven, albeit last resort, recovery technique for some kinds of otherwise-fatal hard-drive problems,” writes Fred Langa on his Windows Secrets Web site. Many hard drive failures are caused by worn parts that no longer align properly, making it impossible to read data from the drive. Lowering the drive’s temperature causes its metal and plastic internals to contract ever so slightly. Taking the drive out of the freezer, and returning it to room temperature can cause those parts to expand again.
That may help free up binding parts, Mr. Langa explains, or at least let a failing electrical component remain within specs long enough for you to recover your essential data.
That’s the spirit of folk remedies: They may or may not work, but what have you got to lose?
Bringing Wind Turbines to Ordinary Rooftops
WIND turbines typically spin from tall towers on hills and plains. But in these green times, some companies hope smaller turbines will soon rise above a more domestic spot: homes and garages.
The rooftop turbines send the electricity they generate straight on to the home’s circuit box. Then owners in a suitably wind-swept location can watch the needle on their electricity meter turn backward instead of forward, reducing their utility bills while using a renewable resource.
One new model, the Swift Wind Turbine, is designed to do its job quietly, said Dave Anderson, co-director of Renewable Devices in Edinburgh, which has partnered with Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, Mich., to offer the turbine in the United States.
“The noisiest it gets is 35 decibels,” roughly the sound of a quiet conversation, he said of the whir of the blades. The turbine, which looks like a large wagon wheel, has a ring around its blades designed to diffuse noise and limit vibration. “The air is steered toward the diffuser ring and dispersed, rather than leaving the blades with a ripping noise,” Dr. Anderson said.
The turbine costs $10,000 to $12,000 including installation, said Michael Ford, manager of the renewable energy business unit at Cascade Engineering. When the wind is blowing briskly at 30 miles an hour or more, it will generate 1.5 kilowatts of electrical power, he said. Enough, for instance, to run fifteen 100-watt light bulbs.
“You need a strong average wind speed,” he said, recommending that prospective customers make careful measurements before they buy. “Don’t trust your memories about the wind power around your house,” he said. “People always remember when it’s windy,” but forget about the lulls.
Residents may measure wind speed with an anemometer, often available for rent, as well as by entering their address at the Swift Web site, which has listings of average wind speeds for localities.
The Swift turbine starts contributing electricity when the wind blows at eight miles an hour; as the wind speed increases, so does turbine output, said Mr. Ford. Over a year, the energy output in windy locations should be roughly 2,000 kilowatt hours, he said, so that for homes that use 11,000 kilowatt hours in a year, for instance, electricity costs would be reduced by about 18 percent.
Kenneth Benefiel of Conklin, Mich., bought a Swift turbine last fall, and had it installed on his 150-year-old post-and-beam barn, now a garage and workroom, in time for Christmas. “I had already switched to energy efficient appliances,” he said, reducing electricity usage by a third by buying a more efficient freezer and refrigerator and changing to fluorescent light bulbs. “The turbine was the next step.”
Mr. Benefiel, who is a retired carpenter, said that in the first five weeks after its installation, the turbine produced about 60 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power his house for about three days. The machine is quiet, but the old building to which it is mounted does its share of groaning in a stiff wind, he said.
So far, he is satisfied with his purchase. “The turbine will conserve energy,” he said. “It’s making us more self-sufficient, and we’re doing our part to cut consumption. You have to think not only about saving money, but about saving resources.”
Turbines must be placed well above the roof to benefit from wind energy, said Sander Mertens in Voorburg, the Netherlands, who is a consultant in wind energy and author of “Wind Energy in the Built Environment.”
For a two-story building, for instance, the turbine should be at least 15 feet above the roof. “Put it lower, and you will suffer from small wind speeds and a lot of turbulence,” he said. Dr. Mertens offers a spreadsheet at his Internet site, www.ingreenious.com, that can be downloaded by people who want to do their own calculations for optimum turbine placement.
The American Wind Energy Association, a trade group in Washington, recommends placing the turbine at least 30 feet above anything in a 500-foot radius, said Ron Stimmel, a specialist in small wind turbines at the trade group American Wind Energy Association, in Washington. “That way the wind can stretch its legs a bit.” For these taller towers, homeowners should be aware that they may have to deal with local rules prohibiting structures higher than 30 feet or so.
State and federal incentives will whittle down the price tag for many prospective buyers. For instance, about half the states have some sort of incentive, Mr. Stimmel said. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, for instance, covers up to half of the homeowner’s initial cost for a wind turbine.
Another small wind turbine for residences is the Energy Ball, to be sold in the United States by Home Energy Americas, in McKinney, Tex. Robert Thompson, its chief executive, said he hoped to have the turbines on the market shortly. The Energy Ball is shaped like an eggbeater placed sideways, so that its blades turn around a horizontal axis. One model, the V100, will cost $10,000 to $11,000 installed, he said, and will provide a maximum of 500 watts. One way to mount it might be on a cupola, Mr. Thompson said, “just like you would mount a weathervane.”
Bill Proposes ISPs, Wi-Fi Keep Logs for Police
Republican politicians on Thursday called for a sweeping new federal law that would require all Internet providers and operators of millions of Wi-Fi access points, even hotels, local coffee shops, and home users, to keep records about users for two years to aid police investigations.
The legislation, which echoes a measure proposed by one of their Democratic colleagues three years ago, would impose unprecedented data retention requirements on a broad swath of Internet access providers and is certain to draw fire from businesses and privacy advocates.
"While the Internet has generated many positive changes in the way we communicate and do business, its limitless nature offers anonymity that has opened the door to criminals looking to harm innocent children," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said at a press conference on Thursday. "Keeping our children safe requires cooperation on the local, state, federal, and family level."
Joining Cornyn was Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who said such a measure would let "law enforcement stay ahead of the criminals."
Two bills have been introduced so far--S.436 in the Senate and H.R.1076 in the House. Each of the companion bills is titled "Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today's Youth Act," or Internet Safety Act.
Each contains the same language: "A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user."
Translated, the Internet Safety Act applies not just to AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and so on--but also to the tens of millions of homes with Wi-Fi access points or wired routers that use the standard method of dynamically assigning temporary addresses. (That method is called Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP.)
"Everyone has to keep such information," says Albert Gidari, a partner at the Perkins Coie law firm in Seattle who specializes in this area of electronic privacy law.
The legal definition of electronic communication service is "any service which provides to users thereof the ability to send or receive wire or electronic communications." The U.S. Justice Department's position is that any service "that provides others with means of communicating electronically" qualifies.
That sweeps in not just public Wi-Fi access points, but password-protected ones too, and applies to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, libraries, schools, universities, and even government agencies. Voice over IP services may be covered too.
Under the Internet Safety Act, all of those would have to keep logs for at least two years. It "covers every employer that uses DHCP for its network," Gidari said. "It covers Aircell on airplanes-- hose little pico cells will have to store a lot of data for those in-the-air Internet users."
In the Bush administration, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had called for a very similar proposal, saying that subscriber information and network data should be logged for two years.
Until Gonzales' remarks in 2006, the Bush administration had generally opposed laws requiring data retention, saying it had "serious reservations" about them. But after the European Parliament approved such a requirement for Internet, telephone and VoIP providers, top administration officials began talking about the practice more favorably.
After Gonzales left the Justice Department, the political will for data retention legislation seemed to ebb for a time, but then FBI Director Robert Mueller resumed lobbying efforts last spring.
This tends to be a bipartisan sentiment: Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, said in 1999 that "certain data must be retained by ISPs for reasonable periods of time so that it can be accessible to law enforcement." Rep. John Conyers, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that FBI proposals for data retention legislation "would be most welcome."
Smith, who sponsored the House version of the Internet Safety Act, had previously introduced a one-year requirement as part of a law-and-order agenda in 2007.
A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act regulates data preservation. It requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity."
Because Internet addresses remain a relatively scarce commodity, ISPs tend to allocate them to customers from a pool based on whether a computer is in use at the time. (Two standard techniques used are the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet.)
In addition, Internet providers are required by another federal law to report child pornography sightings to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is in turn charged with forwarding that report to the appropriate police agency.
The Internet Safety Act is broader than just data retention. Other portions add criminal penalties to other child pornography-related offenses, increase penalties for sexual exploitation of minors, and give the FBI an extra $30 million for the "Innocent Images National Initiative."
Geography Professor Claims to have Found Osama bin Laden
A Californian geography professor has used techniques for hunting endangered species to pinpoint three houses in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden could be hiding.
Osama Bin Laden: The most likely candidate is in Parachinar which housed many mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Photo: AP
Using patterns of how animal species spread, the world's most wanted terrorist can be tracked down to a town in the tribal region of North West Pakistan it is claimed.
By factoring in his need for security, electricity, high ceilings to accommodate his 6ft 4in frame and spare rooms for his bodyguards, the search can be further narrowed to three walled compounds.
According to a team led by Thomas Gillespie, at the University of California in Los Angeles, bin Laden's location is "one of the most important political questions of our time".
Mathematical models used to explain how animal species spread out say he should be close to where he was last spotted.
Their research published in MIT International Review also concluded he should also be in a large town with a similar culture to Afghanistan where he can remain largely anonymous.
The most likely candidate is in Parachinar, 12 miles inside Pakistan, which housed many mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Finally after looking at his need for electricity for dialysis, high walls, spare rooms for his entourage, and trees to hide from prying eyes, satellite pictures show just three suitable houses.
"We believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his current location" the research concludes.
"The methods are repeatable and can be updated with new information obtained from the US intelligence community."
Kim Rossmo of Texas State University, who has worked with the military to find terrorists told USA Today: "The idea of identifying three buildings in a city of half a million especially one in a country the authors have likely never visited is somewhat overconfident."
U.S. "War on Terror" Eroded Rights Worldwide: Experts
Washington's "war on terror" after the September 11 attacks has eroded human rights worldwide, creating lingering cynicism that the United Nations must now combat, international law experts said on Monday.
Mary Robinson, who was the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when al Qaeda militants flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, said the United States caused harm with some of the ways it responded.
"Seven years after 9/11 it is time to take stock and repeal abusive laws and policies," the former Irish president said, warning that harsh U.S. detentions and interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba gave a dangerous signal to other countries that could easily follow suit.
While new U.S. President Barack Obama has announced he will close Guantanamo to break from the practices of his predecessor George W. Bush, Robinson said sweeping changes needed to take place to ensure Washington abandons its "war paradigm."
"There has been severe damage and it needs to be addressed," she told a news conference in Geneva. "We are not more secure. We are more divided, and people are more cynical about the operation of laws."
Arthur Chaskalson, former chief justice of South Africa, said that the United States should launch an inquiry into its counter-terrorism practices, including acts of torture by individual security and intelligence agents.
Although counter-terrorism issues have faded from the front pages since the change of government in Washington, Chaskalson said such practices have shifted around the world and could keep restricting liberties if they are not confronted head-on.
"We all have less rights today than we had five or 10 years ago, and if nothing happens, we will have even less," he told a Geneva briefing to launch an International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) report on counter-terrorism and human rights.
The report found that many undemocratic states have referred to U.S. counter-terrorism practices to justify their own abuses, a trend Robinson said was particularly alarming.
She called on the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Council to step up their abuse monitoring and to assist poorer nations with police training to better target rights violators.
Counter-terrorism policies worldwide should also be put under the microscope, according to Robinson. "It could warrant a special session of the Human Rights Council," she said.
The 47-member-state body has previously had special sessions on Israel and the Palestinians, Sudan's Darfur region, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and high food prices, and will assess the global financial crisis on Friday.
Robinson also questioned the effectiveness of the Council's universal periodic review, under which every U.N. member has its rights record assessed on a regular rotation.
"We have looked at some of the universal periodic reviews of countries that we know from our hearings have severely abused human rights in their counter-terrorism measures, and it is a soft review, there is no accountability," she said. "There is a necessity now for leadership at the United Nations."
Countries recently reviewed by the Council include China, Russia, Germany, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. Hearings for the ICJ report took place in Bogota, Nairobi, Sydney, Belfast, London, Rabat, Washington, Buenos Aires, Jakarta, Moscow, Delhi, Islamabad, Toronto, Ottawa, Jerusalem, Cairo, and Brussels.
Ministers 'Using Fear of Terror'
A former head of MI5 has accused the government of exploiting the fear of terrorism and trying to bring in laws that restrict civil liberties.
In an interview in a Spanish newspaper, published in the Daily Telegraph, Dame Stella Rimington, 73, also accuses the US of "tortures".
The Home Office said it was vital to strike a right balance between privacy, protection and sharing personal data.
It said any policies which impact on privacy must be "proportionate".
Dame Stella, who stood down as the director general of the security service in 1996, has previously been critical of the government's policies, including its attempts to extend pre-charge detention for terror suspects to 42 days and the controversial plan to introduce ID cards.
"It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism - that we live in fear and under a police state," she told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.
She said the British security services were "no angels," but they did not kill people.
"The US has gone too far with Guantanamo and the tortures," she said.
"MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect - there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification."
Dame Stella's comments come as a study is published by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) that accuses the US and the UK of undermining the framework of international law.
Former Irish president Mary Robinson, the president of the ICJ said: "Seven years after 9/11 it is time to take stock and to repeal abusive laws and policies enacted in recent years.
"Human rights and international humanitarian law provide a strong and flexible framework to address terrorist threats."
The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner said the ICJ report would probably have more of an impact than Dame Stella's remarks because it was a wide-ranging, three-year study carried out by an eminent group of practising legal experts.
Dame Stella appeared to be more restrained in her comments than the ICJ, he added.
She was keen to stress the risk of civil liberties being curtailed, while the jurists insisted that international law had already been "actively undermined".
Shadow security minister Baroness Neville-Jones said the Conservatives were "committed to ensuring that security measures are proportionate and adhere to the rule of law".
The Tories said the government's push to extend the detention time limit for terror suspects was the kind of measure condemned by the report.
Human rights campaign group Liberty pointed to a number of other recent developments it said represented "a creeping encroachment on our fundamental rights":
• Government plans for a giant database to record the times, dates and recipients of all emails and text messages sent and phone calls made in the UK
• The growth of Britain's DNA database - it is now the world's largest, per head of population, with samples from some 4m people
• The use by councils of laws designed to track criminals and terrorists to spy on ordinary citizens. In one case a family was watched to see if they were really living in a school catchment area
• The spread of CCTV cameras. Britain now reportedly has some 4m, the highest density in western Europe
• Proposals for "secret inquests," excluding relatives, juries and the media, which the government says would prevent intelligence details leaking out
Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said she was "enormously heartened" by what Dame Stella had said.
"Over the last seven years, we've seen a number of measures passed, some of which affect very few of us in a horrible and terrible way, whether that's house arrest under control orders or rendition and torture in foreign states," she said.
"We've also seen many, many measures that affect all of us just a little bit and, most of all, which seriously impact our rights to privacy.
"We have very broad police powers which sweep the innocent up with the guilty."
A Home Office spokesman said: "The government has been clear that where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate."
"This provides law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect the public as well as ensuring government has the ability to provide effective public services while ensuring there are effective safeguards and a solid legal framework that protects civil liberties."
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: "This is damning testament to just how much liberty has been ineffectually sacrificed in the 'war on terror'."
Dame Stella became the first female head of MI5 in 1992.
We Are All Extremists Now
The government is criminalising legitimate dissent under the guise of fighting 'extremism', a word for which it has no definition
For most of the past century, Britain's secret state bugged, blacklisted and spied on leftists, trade unionists and peace campaigners, as well as Irish republicans and anyone else regarded as a "subversive" threat to the established order.
That was all supposed to have been brought to a halt in the wake of the end of the cold war in the early 1990s. MI5 now boasts it has ended its counter-subversion work altogether, having other jihadist fish to fry (it will have soon doubled its staffing and budget on the back of the 9/11 backlash).
Whether those claims should be taken at face value must be open to question. But it now turns out that other arms of the secret state have in any case been stepping up to the plate to fill the gap in the market.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) insists that its confidential intelligence unit – reported last week to be now coordinating surveillance and infiltration of "domestic extremists", including anti-war protesters and strikers – is not in fact a new organisation, but has been part of its public order intelligence operations since 1999, liaising with MI5 and its 44 forces' special branch outfits across the country.
But yes, Acpo's spokesman tells me, it is in the business of targeting groups such as those involved in the recent Gaza war protests, trade unionists taking part in secondary industrial action and animal rights organisations – though only if they break the law or "seek to break the law".
Now, that qualification could be used to cover a very wide group of political and industrial activists indeed: including all those students who have been occupying university buildings since the new year in protest at Israel's carnage in the Palestinian territories; all those engineering construction workers who staged mass walkouts at refineries and power stations over the past couple of weeks; and all those who blocked streets – or threw their shoes at police – around the Israeli embassy in London at the height of the Gaza bombardment in January.
Add to that the fact that Acpo, and the government as a whole for that matter, bandies around the term "extremism" without being able to make even a face-saving stab at what it actually means – "there doesn't seem to be a single, commonly agreed definition", Acpo's spokesman concedes – and you have a recipe for a new lease of life for the harassment and criminalisation of legitimate dissent, protest and industrial action.
In case there were any doubt about the kind of thing this intelligence outfit is up to, a recent advertisement for its new boss specified that the unit would be specifically working with government departments, university authorities and private corporations to "remove the threat" of "public disorder that arises from domestic extremism" using "secret data" and "sensitive source material".
But since Acpo operates as a private company outside the Freedom of Information Act – and the budget and staffing of its confidential intelligence unit are, well, confidential – who's going to hold them to genuine account?
It is this kind of blurring of the distinction between political violence and non-violent protest that has seen catch-all anti-terrorist legislation routinely abused in recent years. That's exactly what seems to have happened over the weekend, when police arrested nine people on the M65 motorway near Preston allegedly on their way to join George Galloway's Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza.
Security sources said the arrests were in connection with a "potential threat of terrorism in the Middle East" — and it seems they didn't mean a renewed Israeli use of white phosphorus and heavy artillery shells against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza strip.
Six have already been released, but the operation instantly delivered a "Galloway aid convoy link to terror suspects" headline in yesterday's Mail on Sunday, casting a shadow over the 150-vehicle convoy, including 12 ambulances and a fire engine, which is intended to transport £1m worth of aid and highlight the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
The crudely politicised timing of these arrests — "security sources" have been quoted as saying the three still being held had been under surveillance for two months – underlines how easy it is to play anti-democratic political games once the mantras of terrorism and national security have been invoked. But the net can be thrown far wider under the even more meaningless badge of "extremism".
Chicago Links Street Cameras to Its 911 Network
Karen Ann Cullotta
At first glance, Chicago’s latest crime-fighting strategy seems to be plucked from a Hollywood screenplay. Someone sees a thief dipping into a Salvation Army kettle in a crowd of shoppers on State Street and dials 911 from a cellphone. Within seconds, a video image of the caller’s location is beamed onto a dispatcher’s computer screen. An officer arrives and by police radio is directed to the suspect, whose description and precise location are conveyed by the dispatcher watching the video, leading to a quick arrest.
That chain of events actually happened in the Loop in December, said Ray Orozco, the executive director of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
“We can now immediately take a look at the crime scene if the 911 caller is in a location within 150 feet of one of our surveillance cameras, even before the first responders arrive,” Mr. Orozco said.
The technology, a computer-aided dispatch system, was paid for with a $6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. It has been in use since a trial run in December. “One of the best tools any big city can have is visual indicators like cameras, which can help save lives,” Mr. Orozco said.
In addition to the city’s camera network, Mr. Orozco said, the new system can also connect to cameras at private sites like tourist attractions, office buildings and university campuses.
Twenty private companies have agreed to take part in the program, a spokeswoman for Mr. Orozco said, and 17 more are expected to be added soon. Citing security concerns, the city would not say how many cameras were in the system.
Mayor Richard M. Daley said this week that the integrated camera network would enhance regional security as well as fight street crime.
Still, opponents of Mr. Daley’s use of public surveillance cameras described the new system as a potential Big Brother intrusion on privacy rights.
“If a 911 caller reports that someone left a backpack on the sidewalk, will the camera image of someone who appears to be of Arab or South Asian descent make police decide that person is suspicious?” asked Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
“There seems to be this incredibly voracious appetite on the part of the city to link up cameras to the 911 system,” Mr. Yohnka said. “But there are just no longitudinal statistics that prove that surveillance cameras reduce crime. They just displace crime.”
Some experts, including Albert Alschuler, a law professor at Northwestern University, say the surveillance cameras and updated 911 system do not violate privacy rights because the cameras are installed in public locations.
“In America, we protest the use of cameras for things like enforcing laws that reduce crime or traffic accidents, but we probably ought to do more,” Mr. Alschuler said.
He added: “My more serious concern would be if they start using new audio technologies, which can be calibrated to alert police to loud noises, like a scream or a car crash. What worries me is if police can use technology to listen to anyone who happens to be talking in a public location, which would raise serious privacy concerns.”
No Photo Ban in Subways, Yet an Arrest
In the map of New York’s most forsaken places, it would be hard to top the Freeman Street stop on the No. 2 line in the Bronx, late on a February afternoon. Around 4:30 last Thursday, Robert Taylor stood on the station’s elevated platform, taking a picture of a train.
“A few buildings in place,” he noted. “Nice little cloud cover overhead. I usually use them as wallpaper on my computer.”
Finished with his camera, Mr. Taylor, 30, was about to board the train when a police officer called to him. He stepped back from the train.
“The cop wanted my ID, and I showed it to him,” Mr. Taylor said. “He told me I couldn’t take the pictures. I told him that’s not true, that the rules permitted it. He said I was wrong. I said, ‘I’m willing to bet your paycheck.’ ”
Mr. Taylor was right. The officer was enforcing a nonexistent rule. And if recent experience is any guide, one paycheck won’t come close to covering what a wrongful arrest in this kind of case could cost the taxpayers.
Twice in the last five years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed a ban on photography in the subways as an antiterrorism measure. And in 2007, the city proposed severe restrictions on filming in the city streets, but retreated when visual artists and activists gathered 26,000 signatures on petitions of opposition within a few weeks.
Both times that the transportation authority tried to ban photography, it, too, dropped the idea because of opposition. Even so, people taking pictures in the subways are regularly stopped by the police and asked to let the officers see their images or to delete them.
“They don’t have to do that, and it’s completely unlawful to ask them to delete them,” said Chris Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But it comes with the explicit or implicit threat of arrest. It’s a constant problem.”
Mr. Taylor — a college student and an employee of a transportation agency that he did not want to identify — said he had been stopped before when taking pictures, but without problems.
Not this time.
“I said, ‘According to the rules of conduct, we are allowed to take pictures,’ ” Mr. Taylor said. “I showed him the rules — they’re bookmarked on my BlackBerry.”
Rule 1050.9 (c) of the state code says, “Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used.”
Then a police sergeant arrived.
“He tells me that their rules and the transit rules are different,” Mr. Taylor said. “I tell him, ‘If you feel I’m wrong, give me a summons and I’ll see everyone in court.’ The sergeant told them to arrest me.”
In handcuffs, Mr. Taylor was delivered to the Transit District 12 police station, and a warrant check was run. “They were citing 9/11,” said Mr. Taylor, whose encounter was described on a blog by the photographer Carlos Miller. “Of course, 9/11 is serious. I said: ‘Let’s be real. We’re in the Bronx on the 2 train. Let’s be for real here. Come on.’ ”
Before he was uncuffed, he got a batch of summonses.
The first was for “taking photos from the s/b plat of incoming outgoing trains without authority to do so,” abbreviating “southbound platform.” It cited Rule 1050.9 (c).
The second was for disorderly conduct, which consisted of addressing the officers in an “unreasonable voice.”
And the third was for “impeding traffic” — on a platform that is about 10,000 square feet. “I don’t know if you can impede traffic with 15 people per hour coming on the station,” Mr. Taylor said.
LAST year, the city settled a lawsuit with a medical student who was using his vacation to photograph every subway stop. He got through five before an officer handcuffed him and detained him for about 20 minutes. With legal fees, the cost to the city was $31,501 — more than $1,500 a minute.
In the case of Mr. Taylor, the “officers misinterpreted the rules concerning photography,” said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman. “The Transit Adjudication Board is being notified that summons was issued in error, resulting in its dismissal.”
However, the police will press on with charges of impeding traffic and unreasonable noise, Mr. Browne said.
For his part, Mr. Taylor said he was late meeting his girlfriend: “It wasn’t a pleasant sight. I said, ‘I’ll make it up to you.’ What else could I say?”
Thanks to the police, they might end up with more than a nice dinner or two — at taxpayer expense.
Italy Police Warn of Skype Threat
Criminals in Italy are increasingly making phone calls over the internet in order to avoid getting caught through mobile phone intercepts, police say.
Officers in Milan say organised crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype in order to frustrate investigators.
The police say Skype's encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities.
Investigators have become increasingly reliant on wiretaps in recent years.
Customs and tax police in Milan have highlighted the Skype issue.
They overheard a suspected cocaine trafficker telling an accomplice to switch to Skype in order to get details of a 2kg (4.4lb) drug consignment.
Investigators say intercepts of telephone calls have become an essential tool of the police, who spend millions of euros each year tracking down crime through wiretaps of landlines and mobile phones.
But the law may be about to change.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government has drawn up a bill which would restrict police wiretaps to only the most serious crimes.
Much crime reporting in the Italian media is based on leaks of wiretaps and leading politicians, including Mr Berlusconi himself, have found to their embarrassment that details of their private telephone conversations have sometimes been leaked to newspapers.
Under the new law reporting of details of criminal investigations obtained through wiretaps would become illegal until a final verdict has been delivered.
Given the extreme slowness of Italian justice, this would mean that details of cases now before the courts might be reported by the press only in 15 years time.
Not only have Italian journalists been protesting at the new draft bill, but a heated debate is also going on about it within the country's highest body for the administration of justice - the supreme council of the magistrature, composed of the country's top judges.
Anonymous Caller? New Service Says, Not Any More
A new service set for launch Tuesday allows cellphone users to unmask the Caller ID on blocked incoming calls, obtaining the phone number, and in some cases the name and address, of the no-longer-anonymous caller.
The service, called TrapCall, is offered by New Jersey's TelTech systems, the company behind the controversial SpoofCard Caller ID spoofing service. The new service is likely to be even more controversial — and popular.
"What’s really interesting is that they’ve totally taken the privacy out of Caller ID," says former hacker Kevin Mitnick, who alpha-tested the service.
TrapCall's basic unmasking service is free, and includes the option of blacklisting unwanted callers by phone number. It also allows you to listen to your voicemail over the web. It's currently available to AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers, with support for the other major carriers due within weeks, says TelTech president Meir Cohen.
"It’s not meant for spies, it’s not meant for geeks, it’s not meant for any specific target audience,” Cohen says. "Everybody hates getting blocked calls, and in this day and age they want to know who’s calling, and they want the option of taking the call or not."
Consumers have had the option of shielding their number from display since Caller ID was introduced in the early 1990s, either by dialing *-6-7 before placing a call, or asking their carrier for blanket anonymity for their line. But TrapCall takes advantage of a loophole in Caller ID blocking that’s long benefited corporate phone customers: Namely, calls to toll-free numbers are not blocked, because those calls are paid for by the recipient.
TrapCall instructs new customers to reprogram their cellphones to send all rejected, missed and unanswered calls to TrapCall’s own toll-free number. If the user sees an incoming call with Caller ID blocked, he just presses the button on the phone that would normally send it to voicemail. The call invisibly loops through TelTech’s system, then back to the user’s phone, this time with the caller’s number displayed as the Caller ID.
The caller hears only ringing during this rerouting, which took about six seconds in Wired.com's test with an iPhone on AT&T. Rejecting the call a second time, or failing to answer it, sends it to the user’s standard voicemail.
The service comes as bad news to advocates for domestic violence victims, who fought hard to make free blocking an option in the early days of Caller ID. "I have huge concerns about that,” says Cindy Southworth, director of technology at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in Washington, D.C. Southworth fears that abusers will use the new service to locate partners fleeing a violent relationship.
In a notable case in 1995, a Texas man named Kevin Roberson shot his ex-girlfriend to death after locating her through the Caller ID device on her roommate's phone line.
The problem is serious, because domestic violence victims who've fled an abusive relationship often have to stay in contact with their abuser by phone, particularly in situations where the former couple share custody of their children,” Southworth says.
"The judge will require that the victim contact the offender to discuss where they’re dropping the children off, for example," says Southworth. "And there’s often court-mandated phone contact between the abusive partner and the victim." In those cases the victims often rely on Caller ID blocking to keep their former partner from knowing where they’re living.
Cohen dismisses that concern, arguing that Caller ID blocking was never secure to begin with. "It’s very simple for somebody to forward a phone to an 800 number in their office, and right there, they’re picking up the phone number of the person who is calling," he says. At least now the false illusion of Caller ID privacy will be dispelled by TrapCall, he adds.
In addition to the free service, branded Fly Trap, a $10-per-month upgrade called Mouse Trap provides human-created transcripts of voicemail messages, and in some cases uses text messaging to send you the name of the caller — information not normally available to wireless customers. Mouse Trap will also send you text messages with the numbers of people who call while your phone was powered off, even if they don’t leave a message.
With the $25-a-month Bear Trap upgrade, you can also automatically record your incoming calls, and get text messages with the billing name and street address of some of your callers, which TelTech says is derived from commercial databases.
TelTech is no stranger to controversy. Its Spoofcard product lets customers send any phone number they want as their Caller ID. Among other things, the spoofing service has been used by thieves to activate stolen credit cards, by hackers to access celebrities’ voicemail boxes, and by telephone hoaxsters to stage a dangerous prank called "swatting," in which they spoof an enemy’s phone number while calling the police with a fake hostage situation. The goal of swatting — realized in hundreds of cases around the country — is to send armed cops bursting into the victim's home.
Cohen’s company has cooperated in law enforcement investigations of Spoofcard abuse, which have led to several prosecutions and convictions. Despite the spoofing-linked crimes, he insists that most Spoofcard users are just privacy-conscious consumers, including celebrities, government officials, private investigators and even spousal abuse victims and shelters.
He also expects his new business will be good for his old one.
“The only way to block your number after this is released is to use Spoofcard,” he says with a laugh.
U.S. Trial of Montreal Teacher on More than 230 Child Porn Charges Set to Begin
Don't ever try to tell Det. John Chapman he's out of his jurisdiction.
The straight-talking cop from small-town Virginia has been regularly trolling the web, hunting down cyber predators and child-porn peddlers from different corners of the United States.
Last year, after posing online for months as a 13-year-old boy, Chapman nabbed his first foreigner - Montreal private-school teacher Richard Doucet.
Doucet, who taught English and math at the esteemed prep school Selwyn House, will stand trial in Fredericksburg, Va., on Tuesday on more than 230 charges related to child pornography.
The detective said each crime carries a five-year mandatory prison term, which, because they would be served consecutively, means Doucet could be sentenced to more than 1,000 years in jail if convicted on all counts.
For Chapman, a father of three, his police work sees no state - or international - boundaries.
"It doesn't make a difference to me if they come from Canada, Mexico, Sweden, England," said Chapman, who works out of the police detachment in Dumfries, a town 50 kilometres southwest of Washington, D.C.
"I just want to catch the bad guys."
Over the last two-and-a-half years, he has made some 20 arrests as a member of the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
While working his online beat, Chapman, usually portraying a minor, has engaged in sexually explicit chats, received emails containing child pornography and watched men pleasure themselves on webcams.
But when it comes time to make the bust, he said it doesn't matter where the suspect lives.
"He turns on that cam and once he starts to masturbate he's committed a felony in Virginia," he said.
Chapman, who has travelled as far as Phoenix to make an arrest, has netted people of all backgrounds, including a NASA employee and a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staffer.
The 43-year-old said Virginia is a conservative state and wields some of the toughest laws against child-porn and child-computer crimes in the United States.
Since joining the task force in 2006, Chapman's work has helped his tiny police force in the town of 5,000 make headlines and rise to national prominence.
"We're a small little dot, but we're pumping out some great cases," he said.
"I think it's great, it's great publicity for the town, it's great publicity for the police department.
"I'm not in it for me, I just want our department to shine and I'd like to save some kids if I can."
To date, all of his suspects have opted for the plea-bargain.
"Everyone's been pleading guilty so far," the 20-year police veteran said. "I haven't had one go to trial yet."
Chapman, while acting online as a 13-year-old boy, alleges he had several sexually explicit Internet conversations with Doucet between December 2007 and May 2008.
Because of the operation, Doucet has also been indicted on several counts of attempting to take indecent liberties with a child and using electronic devices to solicit a child. He faces those charges in two other Virginia courts, including a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The detective alleges that they chatted online about playing a game of miniature golf, where the loser would perform a sex act on the winner. He also says Doucet emailed him nude photos of boys, some of whom appeared to be as young as 12.
Chapman says he set up a rendezvous at a hotel in Fredericksburg, and Doucet allegedly arranged to stop on his return from an education conference in Atlanta.
But instead of connecting with a boy at the Hilton Garden Inn, he met local law enforcement.
The child pornography charges stem from images found on a compact disc police seized from Doucet's hotel room.
Chapman said building and maintaining Internet relationships with suspects is the toughest part of his job.
"Personally, I think it's disgusting," he said of the exchanges. "I just look at it as a job. It's like a homicide detective going to see a homicide. The homicide detective looks at the body, it's disgusting, it's gross, but it's a job we do."
Wikileaks Publishes Secret Donor List
Hoist by its own leaky petard
Whistleblower website Wikileaks faced a dilemma this week when a list of email addresses for the site's donors was submitted as a leaked document.
The issue arose after a fund raising email on Saturday went out with all 58 addresses in the To field (instead of the bcc field). The all too common schoolboy error meant that all the recipients found out the online identities of other donors.
The list was promptly resubmitted as a leaked document which, to its credit, Wikileaks published (http://wikileaks.org/leak/wikileaks-leaks-donors.txt) along with the comment from the leaker that "WikiLeaks leaks its own donors, aww irony. BCC next time kthx".
In a note (http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Wikileaks_...C_14_Feb_2009), Wikileaks described the list as a partial list of its donors, adding its speculation as to the likely motives of the leaker.
"A prankster, apparently connected to one of the donors, then submitted this list to Wikileaks, possibly to test the project's principles of complete impartiality when dealing with whistleblowers," it said.
Enterprisingly, the same page includes a link to make donations.
Some comments on the story try to reassure would-be leakers that the slip-up is unrelated to Wikileaks' procedures for protecting its sources.
"It doesn't reflect anything to do with the wikileaks source protection operations, which are separate to office admin," one comment states. "While the release of these addresses is not optimal, all such donations have bank records and confirmations that travel over plain email."
Other comments highlight concerns that the leaked list might be used to make life difficult for the controversial project. "Hopefully, Scientologists don't go after the people listed here. I wouldn't put it past them," one person notes.
Previous notable leaks that have come through the whistleblower website include Guantánamo Bay procedures, internal documents related to the Church of Scientology, the BNP membership list and a costing plan by Bavarian police related to a project to develop software capable of intercepting Skype traffic.
Digital Music Services Flunk College Test
College campuses were once a prime spawning ground for new digital music services.
Those days appear to be over.
Closing the book on the role of campuses as digital music laboratories is the recent demise of Ruckus -- an ad-supported music download service that was available for free to students at 200 universities through direct content deals, as well as to anyone else with a .edu e-mail account. The closing came after Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment dissolved their Total Music joint venture, which acquired Ruckus last year.
Ruckus joins a list of several other once-promising services, including Napster and Cdigix, that suffered an early death after attempting to offer college students a low-cost, legal alternative to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks. The abrupt closing of Ruckus in early February has left university officials scratching their heads over where to turn next.
Compounding the problem is the U.S. Higher Education Opportunity Act, enacted in August. It requires universities to offer students who use their networks alternatives to popular P2P offerings, along with other measures like implementing technology to block unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.
But the law doesn't state which measures would be considered appropriate as an "alternative." The U.S. Department of Education is currently defining what that means, but the process could take months.
According to the Campus Computing Project (CCP), which studies the use of information technology at U.S. universities, most schools offering students a licensed music service were using Ruckus. Former Ruckus officials say students from more than 1,000 universities were registered in its system.
What's left? The leading remaining alternative is the Choruss initiative, led by industry consultant Jim Griffin and backed by Warner Music Group. Choruss aims to collect a monthly per-student fee from participating universities in return for allowing students to use any P2P network. Universities would have to implement some kind of technology to track which songs are downloaded and how often, so that a nonprofit entity could then distribute the fees to rights holders, much as collecting societies like ASCAP do.
But Choruss isn't yet a fully baked deal. Details like pricing have yet to be resolved, and unconfirmed reports late last year said that only three of the major labels are onboard, with Universal as the sole holdout.
The biggest barrier is cost. The current per-student monthly figure being kicked around is somewhere less than $5, which the university would either have to pay or pass along to students in the form of an activity fee or other line item. But as the fate of past college-focused services has shown, universities and students are reluctant to pony up.
"The challenge with any model like that is finding someone to pay for it," a former Ruckus executive said. "Universities are also challenged by the current economy, and even historically it's been tough to get them to pay for any kind of online service. I don't know anything that's changed that will make it easier for Choruss."
Doing The Math
If the licensing fees needed for Choruss to monetize P2P traffic total less than what universities are already paying to block it, that may change. According to a CCP study, private U.S. universities spend an average of more than $100,000 annually on software designed to block P2P activity on their networks and another $150,000 on hardware and staff salaries for these efforts. Public universities spend less -- about $25,000 for software and $64,000 for hardware and other fees.
For larger colleges like Ohio State University, which has more than 53,000 students, even a monthly $1 Choruss fee per student would quickly exceed these figures if they were required to collect from all students without an opt-in feature. And that's not counting the cost of the technology needed to monitor which songs were downloaded.
Critics of college-focused music plans like CCP director Kenneth Green say it makes more sense to use existing commercial solutions like Hulu or iTunes than to develop customized solutions.
Whatever the answer, the music industry has to come up with something to offer universities soon. Barely 25 percent of public four-year colleges offer any alternatives to P2P services, according to Green's research.
With Ruckus gone and Choruss not yet available, that leaves a huge void to fill.
(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)
Will Obama's DOJ Intervene To Help RIAA?
In SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Cloud, a Pennsylvania case in which the RIAA's statutory damages theory — seeking from 2,200 to 450,000 times the amount of actual damages — is being tested, the US Department of Justice has just filed papers indicating that it is considering intervening in the case to defend the constitutionality of such awards, and requesting an extension of time in which to decide whether such intervention "is appropriate." This is an early test of whether President Obama will make good on his promises (a) not to allow industry insiders to participate in cases affecting the industry they represented (the 2nd and 3rd highest DOJ officials are RIAA lawyers) and (b) to look out for ordinary citizens rather than big corporations.
Danish ISPs Await Pirate Bay Appeal Decision
Danish ISPs are awaiting a decision on a request for appeal at the supreme court regarding a ruling that the ISP Sonofon must block access to the file-sharing site the Pirate Bay.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 16, a Swedish criminal court will begin to hear a case against the four Swedish owners of the Pirate Bay.
Denmark's Eastern high court ruled on Nov. 26, 2008 to uphold an earlier decision made in the bailiff court (aka enforcement court) on Jan. 29, 2008 stating that Sonofon must block access to the Pirate Bay. The original case, filed by the Danish branch of IFPI, the video rights organization FVD, and two publishing houses Gyldendal and Politiken, was against ISP Tele2, which was later acquired by Sonofon.
IFPI and other rights holders contacted all ISPs in Denmark at the start of 2009 and requested that they follow suit. The country's largest ISP, TDC, denied its customers access to the Pirate Bay in January.
The Danish Telecoms Association is supporting Sonofon's request for appeal. The association contends that by blocking sites, ISPs would not be providing a user-friendly service. The core of their argument is that it is not illegal to provide connections to a site that gives access to copyrighted material, rather that the act of consumers downloading such files is what is illegal.
However, the IFPI takes a different view. "There is no doubt in our minds that legislation supports the notion that to give access to illegally copied material is just as illegal as possession of said material," says IFPI Denmark marketing director Jesper Bay.
Maria Fredenslund, an attorney representing IFPI and the other rights holders, believes a decision will be made on the request for appeal within a month.
Mininova Upgrades Layout, Servers and Office
Mininova, one of the largest BitTorrent sites on the Internet has relocated to a new office in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Besides the new office Mininova has also made some changes to the site itself, while adding two more servers to cope with the growing demand from its visitors.
One of the most significant changes for the Mininova staff is the new office, located in the city center of Utrecht. The new office has more space than the temporary one they moved into last year. Aside from the five current employees there is room for another two additional staff in the future.
There are more changes at Mininova though. Niek, co-founder of the site told TorrentFreak that they will add two more servers later this week to keep up with the growing number of visitors. Last month they broke another traffic record raking in 734,300,000 page views and more hardware is needed to keep the site running smoothly.
In a blog post the Mininova crew details further improvements to the site, such as a Google’s new button standard, less ads, highlighted search results and the ability to search within a category.
In addition to these new features, Mininova teamed up with VIPeers for a new upload feature. Users with a VIPeers account can upload files straight from their computer, and the VIPeers service will create and seed the torrent before adding it to Mininova.
“The bridge we created enables Mininova users to get a specific VIPeers upload page. After uploading, torrents can be sent to Mininova with one click,” Louis Choquel of VIPeers told TorrentFreak.
With all the drama that’s going on in Sweden at the moment, it’s good to see that it’s still business as usual at Mininova. At least for now.
This is What a File Sharer Looks Like
You cannot outlaw the future
File-sharing is good, allowing people to share music, movies and culture. Today four of the pioneers of file-sharing are on trial in Sweden, in yet another attempt by the movie and music industries to stop technological innovation and development by force.
But it is not the people behind the Pirate Bay who have shared files. It is us, the millions who use their site. They've got the wrong people. We won't go away even if the prosecution should win this case, nor will the technology disappear that lets us share the music and films we love.
Let the music and movie industry know who the file-sharers are.
Upload a picture of yourself and show them what a criminal looks like!
Pirate Bay Trial Day 3 - The Pirate Bay’s ‘King Kong’ Defense
The Pirate Bay trial is moving forward rapidly and again the day in court has ended early. On the third day the prosecution presented the amended charges. The defendants all called for acquittal while Carl Lundström’s lawyer scored points with the already legendary ‘King Kong’ defense.
The third day of the trial started with prosecutor Håkan Roswall who presented his updated/amended charges to the Court, taking into consideration the developments of yesterday (50% charges removed). He characterized these amendments as a “small change”.
The defense lawyers responded saying, “We don’t agree that this is just a small adjustment of the claims, but we’ll return to the matter later.”
According to IFPI’s Peter Danowsky, the damages claimed from The Pirate Bay are the same as if the site had ‘legally’ obtained licenses to distribute the music world-wide, regardless of whether all the downloaders had later decided to buy the music or not. Effectively, they are trying to say that one download=one lost sale. They are talking about imposing the costs of a “global distribution license” on TPB.
For the song “Let it Be” by The Beatles, IFPI is asking for 10 times the damages, since the band’s music isn’t officially available online. Interesting logic here - perhaps if The Beatles music was made officially available, people wouldn’t even need to pirate it. The same 10X multiplier is used for all material ‘made available’ before official release, referring to this charge as a special “preview license.”
Peter Danowsky disputes the claims of the defense that they have no funds and cannot pay damages. He called TPB “organized crime on a grand scale,” which netted “significant revenues.”
“If I have all this money they claim, someone has apparently stolen it from me,” Peter Sunde twittered in a reponse.
“Maybe [they are not able to pay] the whole of the claimed damages, but a lot anyway,” said Danowsky. The total damages being claimed against the four total some 117 million kronor ($13 million).
Sony complained in court that The Pirate Bay never remove torrents on copyright holders request, but that they have the ability to do so since they remove torrents that are named in a way that doesn’t reflect the material they link to. They note that The Pirate Bay has a bad attitude to complaints and ridicules the complainer. Sony says they have suffered many lost sales, suffered damage to their goodwill and other damages to their market.
Henrik Pontén from Svenska Antipiratbyrån (Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau) said that their position is very similar to that of the IFPI. Their claim for damages is based on what it would’ve cost for The Pirate Bay to have acquired a global distribution license. This value was doubled to account for an alleged “loss of goodwill”.
Next up, Monique Wadsted for the movie industry. She talked about various alleged infringements, including those on the TV show ‘Prison Break’. Again, she feels that since the infringements took place before an official launch of the media, the damages are calculated based on the cost of a special “global preview license”.
During the second half of the morning session the defense lawyers had the chance to respond. Due to the reduction in the charges, the four defendants say they have no responsibility for the charges that remain.
The lawyers representing all four called on the court for the acquittal of their clients.
Fredrik Neij’s lawyer pointed out that the download figures as reported by the site were far from accurate, and that they should therefore not be used as evidence. It was further argued that uploading a torrent does not mean that the copyrighted files are also ‘available’, since it then has to be seeded. The torrent files, on the other had, are not exclusively on The Pirate Bay, and can also be found through other search engines such as Google.
Gottfrid Svartholm’s lawyer stated that users generate the content on The Pirate Bay, and that his defendant has no control over it. Peter Sunde’s lawyer pointed out that his client was merely the spokesperson of the site, and said that Peter was not responsible for anything else. It was further argued that the correlation between the number of downloads and damages suffered by the copyright holders is non-existent.
As Carl Lundström’s lawyer, Per E Samuelsson took the floor and pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. The defense argued that prosecutors have failed to prove that Lundström has been involved in any transfer of any copyrighted material. He played the King Kong defense.
“EU directive 2000/31/EG says that he who provides an information service is not responsible for the information that is being transferred. In order to be responsible, the service provider must initiate the transfer. But the admins of The Pirate Bay don’t initiate transfers. It’s the users that do and they are physically identifiable people. They call themselves names like King Kong,” Samuelsson told the court.
“According to legal procedure, the accusations must be against an individual and there must be a close tie between the perpetrators of a crime and those who are assisting. This tie has not been shown. The prosecutor must show that Carl Lundström personally has interacted with the user King Kong, who may very well be found in the jungles of Cambodia,” the lawyer added.
After the King Kong defense the court decided to adjourn the court case, which will continue tomorrow on day 4. Thus far, the trial is ahead of schedule.
Peter said that after today’s proceedings they all went for some pizza, where they met the whole opposing side. He asked if they could pick up the check. “They refused,” he said. http://torrentfreak.com/g-defense-090218/
Day 4 - Pirate Bay Defense Calls Foul Over Evidence
Day 4 of The Pirate Bay trial has seen the focus on Fredrik who was questioned at length. When it was movie industry lawyer Monique Wadsted’s turn, she wasted no time in unexpectedly introducing new evidence. Both the defense and the court complained at this point, with Wadsted choosing to shout down the judge.
Prosecutor Håkan Roswall began the day by again referencing the case in Finland against the administrators of Finreactor. Fredrik’s lawyer Jonas Nilsson requested a copy of the case notes for the defense. It seems comparisons of the two cases will be drawn by the prosecution later in the trial.
Carl Lundström’s lawyer Per E Samuelsson continued with his client’s defense, reiterating the weakness of the links between him and the other defendants, and The Pirate Bay operation as a whole. Samuelsson also pointed to Lundström’s email correspondence in 2005 with Gottfrid and Fredrik, where they discussed the possibility of having to move the site to another country. This, he said, was an indication that the defendants kept an eye on the changes in the law and were mindful that they should operate legally within it.
In the meantime, it came to the court’s attention that Tobias Andersson, a future witness in the case, was sitting in the court. He was asked to leave the room, with permission to continue listening on the audio feed next door. He will testify later on.
After a break, the court’s attention switched to Fredrik Neij (TiAMO). The court heard that Fredrik was never a member of Piratbyran and he had no ideological motivation to join TPB. Instead, Fredrik was attracted to the site by the BitTorrent technology. He joined to “..play with The Pirate Bay, just as I wanted,” he said.
The defense said that Fredrik was always mindful of the law and had a desire to operate within it, consulting lawyers to ensure his activities were legal.
In a reference to companies like MediaDefender, Fredrik noted that “anti-p2p companies access our tracker and manipulate our statistics.” He said that although a torrent may have only been uploaded once, these anti-p2p activities inflate the stats on the tracker to indicate that more transfers took place than in reality.
Fredrik was then questioned about his relationship with advertiser Oded Daniel. When the prosecution asked if Oded was involved in the technical aspects of TPB, Fredrik replied.. “No, he’s not good at that. He uses Windows, so…” There was laughter heard on the live audio feed after that remark, not from the court room, but from the listening lounge next door where the bloggers are situated.
Fredrik was asked about the significance of the site’s name, but shrugged and repeated that his interest is merely in the technology.
Fredrik was further questioned by Håkan Roswall, with the Prosecutor pointing out that during his police interview, Fredrik admitted that there may be links to copyright works on TPB. Fredrik said he knew about these due to the legal complaints the site received, noting that the complaints referred only to inapplicable US laws. He went on to deny having received any of these personally, but while he admitted he seen them, he denied creating any of the infamous responses.
Roswall asked Fredrik if he had ever been a seeder on the site. Fredrik admitted to seeding torrents but noted that he only did this with copyright-free material.
When questioned about the situation of some torrents being removed from the site due to bad labeling, the court heard from the defense that TPB site is uncensored, with thousands of new torrents added every day and it is an impossible task to review them all. The tracker is completely open and anyone can and does add to it regularly, completely without any input or correspondence with TPB staff.
Just before lunch, Monique Wadsted for the movie companies took over questioning Fredrik. After a discussion over the way emails are handled at The Pirate Bay, out of the blue she began to introduce new evidence which had not previously been disclosed to the defense, in what is being viewed as an attempt to unsettle Fredrik.
She asked about Fredrik’s connections to other torrent sites, namely OscarTorrents and EurovisionTorrents and he denied being personally connected to them. Noting the breach of protocol, the judge asked if it was acceptable for the court to be considering evidence that was not already presented pre-trial. Monique Wadsted tried to shout down the judge, but that didn’t really help much. The court then took a break.
After the lunch break IFPI’s lawyer Peter Danowsky continued with Fredrik’s questioning. He tried to pin something on him, but Fredrik pointed out that the email he’s referring to is a reply, and that the quotes mean that he didn’t write that part of the email.
Fredrik’s lawyer is next up to ask questions, and the prosecution was educated on the subject of open BitTorrent trackers, BitTorrent swarms and the fact that torrent files can be distributed through means other than the TPB, like email or FTP.
Then the Prosecutor handed over a printed page from TPB and said: “This is a printout from a part of your web page. You call this a screenshot?” Fredrik answered: “This isn’t a screenshot, just a printed page.” Fredrik then explains what’s on the print (a Pink Panther torrent), and how the upload process on TPB works.
Next it’s Gottfrid’s turn to answer questions. The prosecution emphasizes the financial issues, and specifically the link with Oded. When asked if Gottfrid was in charge of ad sales he answered: “No, I tried to get away from that because of time issues. I had a business to run before you came and took it all away.”
The prosecution further questioned Gottfrid about moderation issues, replies to copyright holders and his involvement in developing the site. The prosecutor pushed hard on whether Peter Sunde had worked on the layout and graphics for the site. “To my knowledge, he is neither designer nor graphic artist,” Gottfried replied.
Wadsted later asked Gottfrid how they handle torrents that (allegedly) link to child porn. He said that in such a case they would inform the police. She then asked if they removed those torrents. He said “some”. “Not all?” was Wadsted’s reply. Gottfrid explained that it is not up to them to investigate crimes, but that they do inform the police. “We can’t do investigations of our own. And if the police say we should remove a torrent, we will,” he said.
Gottfrid further said that Peter Sunde has nothing to do with technical administration, design, layout, ad sales or any hands-on stuff with the site. He’s just been a spokesperson for The Pirate Bay. “Neither me or Neij work well in furnished rooms. Peter was better on the verbal issues and media,” he said.
Around 4 PM the Prosecutor announced that he wanted to bring in additional evidence, some actual torrent files on a diskette (he probably meant CD). The Prosecutor demanded a statement on it at 9 in the morning tomorrow. The defense wasn’t too happy about this, and Gottfrid demanded all torrents instead of four.
This is a developing story, check back for updates
Update:Just a passing thought…..While Wadsted may have thought she was being clever mentioning possible child porn tracked by The Pirate Bay earlier, it’s not beyond reason that when Gottfrid said that they don’t remove all such torrents, this could be on the instruction of the police - presumably so they can track any offenders. In this situation, the police must understand that Pirate Bay neither committed any offense, nor encouraged it, nor know the people involved. Is there something important here? I guess the court will decide. http://torrentfreak.com/day-4-pirate...idence-090219/
Day 5: Peter’s “Political Trial”
It’s Day 5 at The Pirate Bay trial. Will colorful site spokesman Peter Sunde stand up to the pressure? There seems little doubt of that, but the Prosecution are trying to make it as difficult as possible by introducing yet more uncleared evidence. Peter demands of the Prosecution, “Is this a political trial?”
Friday, the fifth day of the trial and Peter Sunde, aka brokep, is being questioned by the Prosecution. Håkan Roswall started off by asking Peter if he ever had dealings with The Pirate Bay’s (TPB) computer systems - Peter said he did, but in a limited fashion.
Roswall then inquired about Peter’s involvement in TPB’s advertising deals, in particular one with ad company Random Media which Peter signed up to as a ‘Founder’ of the site. Peter said that this was connected with new website project which would draw funds from TPB’s adverttising revenue.
Roswall then brought up Piratbyran - the Swedish Bureau of Piracy - and asked Peter if this organization is critical of copyright. “Not critical directly,” Peter replied. “There are many differing views.”
Roswall then turned to Peter’s stance toward copyright. “This is a difficult question to answer,” Peter said. “I like things that are not protected by copyright, this is a non-issue.”
Peter was asked if he knew of TPB’s “legal” page. He said he was aware of it. Roswall, presumably trying to speak the same ‘language’ as the somewhat techie defendants, got tied up a little;
“When did you meet [Gottfrid] for the first time IRL?” asked the Prosecutor. “We do not use the expression IRL,” said Peter, “We use AFK.” “IRL?” questioned the judge. “In Real Life,” the Prosecutor explained to the judge.
“We do not use that expression,” Peter noted. “Everything is in real life. We use AFK - Away From Keyboard.” “Well,” said Roswall. “It seems I am a little bit out of date.”
One of the themes so far is how the Prosecutor is struggling to come to terms with the somewhat chaotic structure of the TPB’s operations. Trying to pin down Peter’s role, he asked about his position as TPB spokesman - Peter said he took the unofficial position since no-one else in the team wanted to do it. A request from a journalist or someone else for a comment on something came in, said Peter, and he simply took it in hand.
Then the attention turned to Peter’s relationship with advertiser Oded Daniel and whether or not Peter has handled money from him. “Have you never wondered why you got these earnings reports? Isn’t this type of thing a little beyond your role of spokesman?” asked Roswall.
“I think it is his [Oded Daniel's] way of trying to motivate people. He sends so much weird email, I don’t read half of it. He could have been using me to get more contact with Fredrik and Gottfrid,” said Peter. The Prosecutor continued to struggle with the apparent lack of a formal decision-making structure at TPB, continually referring to TPB as a “company”.
It was revealed that Peter and Gottfrid met Oded Daniel in 2005/2006. Carl Lundström and Peter Sunde met just a handful of times.
“Is it true you went to Israel to meet Oded in 2006?” said Roswall. “Yes,” responded Peter.
“Why did you go to meet him?” questioned Roswall. “Because he asked me to go there as his guest,” said Peter. “Did you not go there to go to the beach?” “Yes, I did, very often.”
Roswall then questioned Peter on many emails back and forth from Oded Daniel to TPB, many centered on the proposed TPB YouTube-like side-project for streaming video called VideoBay. Referring to development of the search capability on TPB, the Prosecutor appeared to be suggesting that Peter worked on TPB on technical issues in a response to mails from Oded Daniel, but Peter said that others carried out the work.
At one stage Peter said he came up with the idea of selling statistics from TPB, believing people would be interested to read them in newspapers etc. When Roswall asked Peter if he ever expected to receive money from TPB, the answer was “no”.
After the break, it was IFPI’s Peter Danowsky turn to start questioning Peter, beginning with his education. Peter says he dropped out of school but later learned English and computer programming from the Internet. Danowsky then turned his attention to ad-company Random Media, again referring to emails from TPB.
Then, in a repeat of yesterday’s performance, the Prosecution started again to introduce more evidence that had not been cleared pre-trial. Danowsky continued to present new evidence in the form of some newspaper articles to try to contradict what Peter had said.
According to multiple reports, not only was the defense annoyed at the Prosecution’s unacceptable actions, but the judge was too. The judge reprimanded Danowsky and the defense told him to cut out this American-style trial strategy. The Court then adjourned for 10 minutes to discuss the situation.
Upon restart, the judge said the decision is that any new material the Prosecution is planning to bring up needs to be submitted before the questioning has started, as is proper. The Prosecution then claimed to hand over all their surprise material they were holding and the Court took another break so that Peter could read through everything. This was later confirmed to be 9 new documents.
After the break Danowsky’s questioning of Peter resumed. “Did you hold a lecture called “How to dismantle a billion dollar industry?” “Yes I did,” replied Peter.
Danowsky started to quote some of Peter’s comments from his blog at Brokep.com. Peter says that everything he writes on his blog isn’t about TPB even if prosecutors would like it to be the case.
Pressed further on his opinions on copyright, Peter asked Danowsky, “That is a political issue. Is this a political trial or a legal trial?” Danowsky continued, ignoring the question but Peter pulled him back. “I want an answer from the lawyer Danowsky. Is this a political trial? Can I get a reply?”
“How can copyright law be a political issue?” said Danowsky, but had no follow up questions. Peter was surprised, “No follow-ups? Ok, let me elaborate…” and he went on at length about the context of Danowsky’s various questions.
Danowsky asked Peter about a time when he said that rights holders had acted illegally. Peter said this was a reference to Warner Brothers that had attacked file-sharing sites with hacking, aka anti-p2p activity.
Danowsky asked Peter what the purpose of TPB was. “It is to enable users to share their material with others,” said Peter. “Even though it is copyrighted?” questioned Danowsky. “That can sometimes be the sad consequences,” Peter replied.
After a brief appearance by movie company lawyer Wadsted, the court stopped for lunch.
On return, Peter Altin questioned his client, Peter Sunde. He asked him if he was responsible for TPB or if he felt responsible due to his comments for the site. On both, the reply was negative.
Altin put it to Peter that he could’ve made lots of money from TPB. “No, I don’t have a million sitting around somewhere. That would be nice, though.”
When Altin asked about the amount of copyright material tracked by TPB, Peter explained that he carried out a survey of a random 1000 torrents from the tracker and 80% of the content linked by the site was not copyrighted, noting that there is much more illegal material on YouTube.
Then Altin’s interview with Carl Lundström began. He told the court how he met Fredrik at an event called Dreamhack in Jönköping, Sweden during 2004. The Court heard that Lundström always believed that TPB operated within the law but they needed resources. This situation led to him signing an agreement with Fredrik that they could have two computers at Rix Telecom in Gothenburg, along with him being a technician there. The deal would allow TPB to develop with a little financial support from Lundström, and then when the site grew and became a success, TPB would stay with Rix and pay their way as a regular customer.
Next it was Roswall’s turn to interview Lundström. Lundström admitted that he knew that there was piracy connected with TPB, and that he understood that TPB is a “file-sharing site, a torrent site”.
Speaking of the advertising he took responsibility for the plan believing it was a way the site could pay for itself in the future. He went on to say that he had no idea of any political motivations of the site and what interested him was the desire of the other defendants to make the biggest BitTorrent site in the world. “And I liked that,” he said.
“I can understand that,” replied Roswall.
Then followed discussion about the equipment given to TPB by Lundström. The cost of the equipment was 18,000 kronor and the bill was paid by Lundström. Lundström made clear that he didn’t want to become a partner, but that he did continue to be interested in the project, and that he gave some advise to the TPB team a few times.
After a short break Lundström was further questioned by the prosecution. They asked him about his contact with Oded Daniel, who handles advertisement on TPB. Lundström admitted to know Oded very well.
When movie industry lawyer Wadsted asked Lundström why an 48 year old businessman hangs out with people from TPB his lawyer jumped in and told his client not to respond.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the hearings ended, after discussing next week’s schedule. http://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-t...-trial-090220/
Pirate Bay Plea: Stop Hacking the Music Industry!
Indicating support for The Pirate Bay team, hackers have attacked several of the IFPI’s websites, defacing one of them with a message for the trial prosecution. However, Peter Sunde feels the attack is misguided and says such actions don’t help their cause. He is pleading with the hackers to stop.
There can be no doubt. This week has seen a level of support for The Pirate Bay that has taken almost everyone by surprise. Sure, everyone knows it is the biggest BitTorrrent site and sure, the people who run it are some of the biggest characters in the scene, but the interest has been over and above what most people expected.
Some are showing support by getting up in the middle of the night and translating the case for others. Some have been outside the court in the cold, while others have released a documentary. Many millions have been following every development online and posting words of support feverishly to blog and forum.
A few individuals took more direct action yesterday, much to the dislike of The Pirate Bay. They attacked the website of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in Sweden yesterday, defacing it, and leaving a message there for the trial prosecutor;
“Our case is going quite well as most of you have noticed. In the light of that it feels very bad that people are hacking web sites which actually puts us in a worse light than we need to be in,” he said.
The defacement included a note saying “To be Continued..” and Peter reports that he has heard rumors that there could be further attacks against the international page of the IFPI and the domain previously owned by Peter, IFPI.com.
Indeed, at the time of writing, both sites are unavailable, in addition to the Swedish site. There are no messages (possibly indicating a DDoS) but they are both down.
While all this might be a great distraction for those who believe the music industry only gets what it deserves and deserves what it gets, Peter is calling for calm;
“If anyone involved in the acts going on is reading this - please stop, for our sake. We don’t need that kind of support.”
The IFPI site currently carries this message; “Welcome to the IFPI Svenska group. This page is temporarily taken out of service.”
Update: IFPI.se, .org and .com are back online.
Pirate Bay Ends First Trial Week Partying
As the first week of the trial came to an end, hundreds of supporters gathered Friday evening for a Spectrial Kopimi Party at a night club in central Stockholm. The party was thrown by the Swedish Pirate Bureau and saw live performances by several artists, a DJ set from Brokep and video art made from the movies featured in the trial.
It has been a long and exhausting week for all participants of the spectrial. To end it in style, Pirate Bureau threw a party last night, which turned out to be a huge success. Tickets were sold out just an hour after they started selling, and as the party got underway the optimistic kopimistic atmosphere among the participants couldn’t be mistaken.
“Right now, society is developing at a fantastic pace. That is immensely wonderful and everyone involved is having fun. Let us try and make it a good development,” said Johan Allgoth of the Pirate Bureau.
The cheerful spirit was not only due to the events in the first week of the trial (where the prosecution repeatedly failed to present any evidence) but also down to a supply of free champagne for all pirates in attendance.
“The Pirate Bureau operated for many years without economic resources and that was a very good way for us to work. Lately, we’ve had some money coming into the organization and we needed to put it to good use. Buying champagne for great people is definitely a good way to channel our resources, paying the poor artist another way,” Johan Allgoth told us.
The Pirate Bureau has had a busy week in Stockholm, doing their part in the performance of the Spectrial theater. Their headquarters have been located in the S23K bus, parked outside the court. From the bus they created audio visual art, published op-eds and streamed impromptu parties with everyone welcome to participate.
Anyone with an instrument could come by the bus and add their piece to a composition called “Düsseldorf versus Bochum“, a recording which was premiered at yesterday’s party. Support for the pirate movement has never been so massive as it has this week, even coming from the Stockholm police.
“Late Wednesday night, we had some problems with the police because there had been complaints about the electrical generator outside the bus being noisy. The situation was resolved in 2 seconds and the police actually said they support us. Even the very people who are to uphold law and order love The Pirate Bay, doesn’t that tell something about the absurdity of the trial?” Allgoth said.
There was also political support for the defendants. During yesterday’s party The Pirate Bay was given the Freedom Prize by Swedish Moderate Party’s youth organization. Most importantly, however, the party offered some time to relax after hours in court, or listening to and translating the trial’s audio streams for days.
Brokep accepts the award while TiAMO drinks some more beer
Last night, artists Ollibolli, Tobias Bernstrup and Goto80 played live. On the walls were projections of the IRC channel so party-goers could see The Pirate Bay torrents being posted real-time. There was also video art made of the movies whose supposed sharing is cause for the prosecution in the trial.
As evening turned into night, brokep entered the DJ booth to keep the pirates dancing. Whether or not an anti-pirate party from the opposing side would have been successful is doubtful.
“I do not think the anti-pirates are partying tonight, I believe they are sweating. But we’d welcome them with open arms here. I think especially Henrik Pontén and Monique Wadstedt would make great additions to the party. Some of the more aggressive copyright-coterists wouldn’t fit here.”
“There are rules on how to behave, in nightclubs as well as on the Internet, and the way some of them behave they would probably be thrown out by the bouncers from the nightclub. And from the Internet.”
All in all it has been an exiting week for all the spectrial followers, most of who also actively participated. The party (more pics) was well deserved and turned out to be a great success. On Tuesday the trial will continue, and we will make sure to keep you updated on the latest developments.
Until next week,
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"The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public." - Hugo Black
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|Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - February 14th, '09||JackSpratts||Peer to Peer||2||15-02-09 09:54 AM|
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