Archive for Tech

Should Google force you to use your real name?

Is it inevitable?

Google may not force people to use their real names now, but it hasn’t had the best track record with this stuff. When it launched Google+ back in 2011, the company made the hugely controversial decision to prevent people from using pseudonyms, a rule it was forced to relax some time afterward.

More recently, Google introduced Google+ login buttons, which people use to sign up for services using their Google+ accounts. Late last year, Google also tied users’ Google Play reviews to their Google+ accounts, preventing them from anonymously reviewing apps.

The two features seem like they targeting different things, but they both tie into one word: trust. By enforcing a system wherein everyone is using their real names, Google says it can more effectively assure users that they’re dealing with real, legitimate, trustworthy people (and websites).

Vint Cerf, a senior Google executive known as a “father of the Internet” thinks it is a bad idea:

When Google+ launched in 2011, its requirement that users display their real names alarmed activists who accused the Web giant of abandoning its “Don’t be evil” corporate mantra to pursue growing rival Facebook. The world’s most popular social network has been the most aggressive in enforcing its policy, with Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg once equating keeping multiple identities with “a lack of integrity.”

In one instance in 2011, Facebook suspended British author Salman Rushdie’s account and, after reviewing his passport, changed his Facebook identity to “Ahmed Rushdie.” The company relented after Rushdie played up the row on Twitter, but it has stood by its policy as a general matter.

“This real name culture leads to greater accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for our users, and we firmly believe that the use of authentic identity helps people get the most value out of the site,” Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens said.

Due to its easy integration, many online messaging boards or third-party apps — like music-streaming service Vevo.com, for instance — increasingly require users to log in with their Facebook credentials. Last week, Google introduced a similar Google+ log-in service for third-party sites.

In response to public outcry, Google in 2012 began allowing nicknames and pseudonyms for a fraction of Google+’s 500 million users, and has since reiterated that it would encourage – but not require – Gmail and YouTube users to sign in with Google+.

VIDEO: Should You Go to Jail for Unlocking Your Phone?

“Who owns your phone at the end of the day?” asks Derek Khanna, a visiting fellow at Yale Law and former staff member at the Republican Study Committee.

Last fall, Khanna earned notoriety – and a pink slip – for a public memo urging GOP members of Congress to rethink their stance on copyright law.

More recently, in a column for The Atlantic, Khanna blasted a new ruling that criminalizes the unlocking of cellphones under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Unlocking the phone simply means that a person could use a phone designed for one carrier on another carrier, assuming they had switched his plan. In addition to civil penalties, breaking this law could land you in prison for up to five years and force you to pay a fine of up to $500,000.

“In 1998 a poorly written statute, the DMCA, was passed and it prohibited a wide swath of commonly used technology in the name of defending copyright,” Khanna explains. “If this is allowed to stand, then the answer is you don’t own your phone.”

A White House petition to change the law recently reached the 100,000 signature threshold, which means the Obama administration will have to give an opinion on the matter.

Khanna sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to discuss the unlocking your cellphone, the flaws in the DMCA, and why he was fired from the Republican Study Committee after writing a paper condemning current copyright law.

Windows 8 Puts Microsoft Back in Game


Tech blogger Robert Scoble on the latest products from the tech giant. Previously FBN’s Shibani Joshi commented on Microsoft’s unveiling of Windows 8 at its developer’s conference.


Streaming Media and Copyright Law

James Grimmelmann walks a layman through the intricacies of copyright law in his article Why Johnny can’t stream: How video copyright went insane:

Suppose I could offer you a choice of two technologies for watching TV online. Behind Door Number One sits a free-to-watch service that uses off-the-shelf technology and that buffers just enough of each show to put the live stream on the Internet. Behind Door Number Two lies a subscription service that requires custom-designed hardware and makes dozens of copies of each show. Which sounds easier to build—and to use? More importantly, which is more likely to be legal?

If you went with Door Number One, then you are a sane person, untainted by the depravity of modern copyright law. But you are also wrong. The company behind Door Number One, iCraveTV, was enjoined out of existence a decade ago. The company behind Door Number Two, Aereo, just survived its first round in court and is still going strong.

The difference between them—and the reason for Aereo’s willfully perverse design—originated in a critical 2008 DVR decision by the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Cartoon Network v. CSC Holdings (which everyone just calls “Cablevision”). The tech at issue in Cablevision was a “DVR in the cloud,” and because of the way the Second Circuit answered the question of whether a DVR “performs” a copyrighted TV show when the user hits “play,” the decision opened a whole range of possibilities for entrepreneurs willing to mash up technologies in ways God never intended.

This is the story of Cablevision, the companies that followed in its wake, and how we got to the strange place where wasting resources on thousands of tiny antennas made you legal—but where using one antenna broke the law.

What follows is a detailed explanation on why deploying 10,000 tiny antennas makes no technical sense—but the law demands it. The column concludes:

Perhaps we can think about the problem of copyright on the Internet another way. Instead of asking which back-end technologies are legal, it might make more sense to ask what it is legal for users to do with computers on the front end. This approach would let people spend less time worrying about the exact definitions of “reproduction” and “performance” and more time thinking about users’ rights, especially under fair use.

Cablevision itself illustrates what might have been. The whole point of the RS-DVR was that it was a perfect substitute for a home DVR. Reasoning by analogy, then, we might say that the two ought to either both be legal or both be illegal. And since home DVRs seem here to stay, it ought to be permissible for Cablevision to offer its customers exactly the same service they could have gotten by buying a gizmo. Call it “noninfringing personal fair use” and we can all go home.

The strangest thing about Cablevision is that the court didn’t even get a chance consider that argument. The parties agreed not to litigate the fair use issue. Yes, you read that right. It was a quid pro quo: Cablevision didn’t invoke users’ fair use rights and the cable networks didn’t try to holdCablevision liable for users’ infringements. That turned a case about users’ uses into a case aboutCablevision‘s technologies, changing a common sense debate over how far viewers can go in storing TV programs and watching them later into an abstruse legal disputation over the minutiae of primary ingest buffers and chains of transmission.

Another way of thinking about the decision is that the court wanted to provide a fair use ruling for viewers but wasn’t given the option, so it settled for much narrower rulings on the technologies involved.

Copyrighted content is the nuclear fuel of the Internet. It powers high-energy innovation, but can cause catastrophic legal meltdown if mishandled. Prolonged exposure has been scientifically proven to cause business-model mutations. Cablevision gave risk-tolerant entrepreneurs an inanimate carbon rod: enough to save the day for some of them, but hardly a long-term solution.

Facts: Apple Patent Ruling against Samsung

Engadget breaks down the ruling:

Apple brought three utility and four design patents to bear against Samsung. Patent number 7,469,381 is for the bounce back that occurs when you scroll beyond the edge of a webpage or document in iOS. Patent number 7,844,915 is for single-finger scrolling and two-finger zooming, while number 7,864,163 claims tap-to-zoom technology. As for the design patents, D618,677 claims the iPhone’s edge-to-edge glass, speaker slot and display border, while D593,087 claims its rounded corners and home button, andD604,305 claims the grid-style icon layout in iOS. The last design patent, D504,889 is for the iPad’s edge-to-edge glass, rounded corners, and thin bezel.

Apple hit a home run with the ’381 bounce-back patent — the jurors found that all 21 Samsung devices at issue infringed and that Samsung Korea induced its subsidiaries to sell those infringing devices as well. As for the the ’915 and ’163 zooming and scrolling patents, team Cupertino was also successful, albeit not completely: the jury found that most, but not all of the devices infringed and that Samsung Korea was, once again, guilty of inducement. Apple enjoyed similar success with its design patents, with the jury finding that every Samsung phone at issue infringed the D’305 iOS icon grid patent. Meanwhile, the D’677 edge-to-edge glass patent was infringed upon by every handset except for the Galaxy Ace, and the D’087 rounded corners patent was infringed by the Galaxy S, Galaxy S 4G, and the Vibrant. The D’889 patent turned out to be Apple’s sole loser, as the jury found that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 WiFi and 4G LTE didn’t infringe the iPad’s design. To top things off, the jury found that all of the infringement was willful except for the infringement of the D’087 patent, and that all of Apple’s patents are valid.

The Verge has an easy and useful itemized product breakdown:

 

Is the iPhone boring?

Is the iPhone boring as of late? This Slate column thinks so.

If you have an irrational loyalty to Apple, you might well demand, What more do you want out of the iPhone? It’s a legitimate question, and I’ll concede that it’s a bit churlish to ding a gadget because it’s already so great that I can’t imagine how it can become any better. The iPhone, like all computers, will get faster and lighter, and it might get longer battery life. Perhaps it will acquire the ability to let you pay for stuff through a near-field communication chip. Meanwhile, Siri will get better, turning from what seems like a marketing gimmick into a truly useful, perhaps transformative way to interact with your phone. Perhaps Apple will make good on Steve Jobs’ promise to make FaceTime an open standard, so that in time, it will work everywhere, not just on Apple devices. (But I bet not.) So if all that happens—if Apple continues to improve the iPhone incrementally—will that be enough for me?

I’m still yawning a little. Consider that every other phone maker is also improving its devices at a breakneck pace. Google’s version of Siri works just as well as Apple’s. Google Now, Android’s artificial-intelligence-based assistant, isn’t matched by anything in the iPhone. Meanwhile Windows Phone’s “live tiles”—the home-screen icons that passively update you on everything going on with your friends and in the rest of your life—offer a better, easier way to navigate your phone than anything Apple has cooked up.

So, sure, Apple’s phone will get better. But as everything else gets better, too, the iPhone will remain with the pack unless Apple does something radically different. What should it do?
At Google’s developer conference last week, the search company spent a lot of time talking up Glass, its still-in-development digital goggles. The device lets you do pretty much everything you can do on your phone—browse your texts and email, take photos, look at your calendar—through a display built into your glasses. It’s a digital feed superimposed upon the real world, sort of like the Terminator’s heads-up display.

While everyone on Twitter made fun of the goggles—does Google really think people will wear those geeky things?—the journalists who got an in-depth briefing (myself included) came away enthusiastic. After speaking to people at Google who are working on the project—and after getting to try on Sergey Brin’s own pair for about 20 seconds—I couldn’t contain myself. Google’s goggles offer the most captivating new digital interface since the iPhone. Google Glass will allow people to experience the digital world without becoming distracted from the real world—you can interact with your digital friends while maintaining eye contact with your real friends. Because you’ll be able to access digital information faster than you can on a cellphone, and then quickly return to the offline world, I have high hopes that these glasses will save us from our tech-addled selves.

I’m not asking for Apple to create augmented-reality glasses. But I do hope that it’s working on something just as ambitious as Google’s spectacles, a product that represents the next wave of mobile computing. I don’t know what that thing should be. But it’s not my job to know. It’s Apple’s—this is a company that has repeatedly wowed us by inventing the future we didn’t know we wanted. The iPhone might have changed everything, but now it’s five years old. It’s time for something new.

MAD Magazine Fold-In on “the only thing unavailable on the internet”

Microsoft Revamps Skydrive

From Microsofts Press release:

One of the challenges in building personal cloud storage for billions of people is scaling capacity and managing costs, while also meeting the needs of both enthusiasts and mainstream users. Different cloud providers take different approaches. Many promise unlimited storage or big referral incentives to attract enthusiasts – but then have lots of strings attached, which can make the service more confusing and less accessible to mainstream users. Do I really have to read multiple pages to understand my storage limits? Why do other people’s files count against my storage limit? Why does my upload speed slow down? Why do I get gobs of free storage but have to pay to sync my desktop files?

Our model for SkyDrive is friendly and accessible to all, and just as importantly, provides a gimmick-free service that strikes the right balance of being free for the vast majority of customers, and low-priced for those who want more.

Starting today, we are now offering:

  • 7GB free for all new SkyDrive users. We chose 7GB as it provides enough space for over 99% of people to store their entire Office document library and share photos for several years, along with room for growth. To put things in perspective, 99.94% of SkyDrive customers today use 7GB or less – and 7GB is enough for over 20,000 Office documents or 7,000 photos. Since the current base of customers using SkyDrive tilts towards enthusiasts, we are confident that, as we expand the range of people using SkyDrive, this 7GB free limit will prove to be more than enough for even more people.

  • 94.94% of users use 7GB or less; only 0.06% use greater than 7GB.

  • Ability to upload large files – up to 2GB – and folders using SkyDrive for the Windows desktop or SkyDrive for OS X Lion.

  • Paid storage plans (+20GB, +50GB, +100GB) so that power users who need more storage can easily add more at competitive prices (US$10/year, US$25/year, US$50/year). Please note that paid-for storage requires the ability to pay by credit card (or via PayPal, in some markets) and a Windows Live ID that can be associated with that credit card or PayPal account.

We know that many of you signed up for a service that offered 25GB, and some are already using more than 7GB of storage. So, starting today, for a limited time, any registered SkyDrive user *who has uploaded files to SkyDrive* as of April 22nd can opt in to keep 25GB of free storage while still getting all of the benefits of the new service. (For users who are already using more than 4GB as of April 1, we’ve automatically opted you in to 25GB of free storage to avoid any issues.) Justsign in here or view our FAQ.

Wind farm graveyards give warning for future attempts

The UK Daily Mail warns their people about America’s wind farm graveyards: How Hawaii’s rusting skeletons are a bleak reminder of the failed ‘wind rush’ folly.

Just a short walk from where endangered monk seals and Hawksbill turtles can be found on an unspoilt sandy beach, a technology that is supposed to be about saving the environment is instead ruining it.

In other parts of the U.S., working wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year, but here the wildlife can perch on the motionless steel blades.
If any spot was tailor-made for a wind farm it would surely be here. The gales are so strong and relentless on the tip of South Point that trees grow almost horizontally.

Yet the 27-year-old Kamaoa Wind Farm remains a relic of the boom and inglorious bust of America’s so-called ‘wind rush’, the world’s first major experiment in wind energy.

The Wind Rush:

Few people were talking about saving the planet back in the early Eighties. The wind rush was a free-for-all in which get-rich-quick companies exploited ridiculously generous tax breaks to pepper the States with thousands of wind turbines.

Environmentalists oppose:

In the U.S., one of the great ironies about wind energy is that the people you might expect to cheer for it most — wildlife conservationists who care about the planet — are its most vociferous critics.
It’s not hard to see why when you glance at the statistics. The American Bird Conservancy estimates wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds each year.

The conservation cause is not the only issue. There are horror stories about turbines falling over, catching fire after being struck by lightning, lethal shards of ice being hurled from the blades, the nerve-racking low frequency noise (like a pulsing disco) and the disorientating strobe effect in sunlight.

While Hawaii has six abandoned wind farms, most of California’s derelict turbines are only now being removed — decades late — after disgusted local authorities threatened to sue.

In Palm Springs, those who campaigned against the turbines included the late singer Sonny Bono, former husband of Cher.

But if a turbine’s owner had walked away from his investment or gone bankrupt, it was sometimes the hapless farmer or rancher who owned the land who had to foot the $1,000-a-tower clean-up bill.
So how many windmills have been abandoned across the U.S.? It is  an intensely sensitive subject for wind enthusiasts, who will quibble that it depends on how you define ‘abandoned’.

They wouldn’t, for instance, count ones that are working again today, even if they were switched off for years. They also argue that many of those that were left to rust were technologically outdated and set for the scrapheap anyway.

Wind power sceptics estimate 14,000 turbines across the U.S. have become derelict since the Eighties, while there are around 38,000 in operation across the country.

Paul Gipe claims the number abandoned in his state of California is around 4,500, of which 500 are still standing.

In Hawaii, which is soon to get a new subsidised wind farm, Andrew Walden argues that whatever turbine makers boast about their machines’ impressive kilowatt per hour output, there remains an intractable problem with any industry that can survive only with government help.

‘The key lesson from history is that when the subsidies go, the wind farms go,’ he told me. ‘It costs too much to maintain them and they just get abandoned.’

How ironic that the British government is pushing through permissions for thousands of new turbines just as the Americans are going cool on the idea.


Update: On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on April 11th, oil magnate T. Boone Pickens boasted of his oil, gas, wind and solar bona fides — and accused the president of not just having a poor national energy policy, but of having no national energy policy at all.

AOL may stop supporting AIM

AOL has laid off over 40 employees and the companies’ AIM product now has an uncertain future.

The AOL Instant Messenger group took the deepest cut so far. A former AOL employee said the group was “eviscerated and now only consists of support staff.” This person, who asked not to be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the company, added that “nearly all of the West Coast tech team has been killed.”

PC Mag noted this as well, pointing out that an anonymous former AOL employee told the Times that AIM has been pared down to just support staff, and that the majority of the West Coast tech team has been eliminated. From the Times:

Two employees familiar with the Instant Messenger group operation said the company now has close to $50 million a year in revenue from the product. Before the layoffs, the cost to keep Instant Messenger running was close to $25 million a year, they said. The company’s goal is to get these costs down to $2 to $3 million a year, generating more than $20 in additional profit.

SlashGear.com pronounces the AIM service, dead:

The original chat program that took hold of what seemed like the entire western world throughout the 1990s and early 2000s will be sorely missed by those inventors of such epic phrases as LOL and LMFAO. Many replacements have popped up since the birth of the AIM platform including Skype and Facebook’s own chat service, these rendering AOL’s version of person to person “instant” chat all but extinct.

These layoffs come amid a few other waves of similar person-cutting from the ranks of AOL in recent months, this leading the public and analysts to predict service cuts (such as these) to occur sooner than later. With the death of AIM comes the movement of the social networking world past the most basic form it took (in a popular sense), and here we move on to the much more dominant social network world of Facebook, Google+, and straight up text messaging with smartphones. Will you miss AOL’s instant messenger platform when it gives its final kiss goodbye?