Technology News

Monday, October 31, 2005

Google Discovers Appeasement Doesn't Work

Back in August, Google announced that, due to various complaints, they were going to stop scanning books from various libraries to try to come up with a way to make authors and publishers feel more comfortable with the project. Since that time, organizations representing both authors and publishers have sued Google -- so apparently the "appeasement" part of the plan isn't working very well. If that's the case, why stop scanning? So, sometime next week, Google plans to get right back to scanning.

[via TechDirt]

Friday, October 28, 2005

Google: If It's Advertising, We Can Sell It

Ok, ok. We get it. Google is an advertising company. All those billions they're making are from advertising. Everything they do, pretty much, is about advertising. So, a couple of months ago, it wasn't that surprising to find out that they were trying to sell ads in magazines and it shouldn't come as a surprise to find out they're looking to sell TV spots as well. Remember when dot coms used to just buy Superbowl TV ads? Now, apparently, they'll be selling them as well. Of course, it still remains to be seen how much efficiency Google can really add to the process. With online advertising they did make it much more efficient and accurate. You could see them trying to add some efficiency by making it easier to upload and manage advertising assets (using Google base, for example, as the platform), but the distribution just doesn't lend itself to the same type of efficiency found online. Still, when it came to print ads, apparently some companies found the association with Google to be worth a premium -- and perhaps they can leverage that in the TV world as well. In the meantime, we await Google's next advertising foray, where they attempt to sell pieces of the sky for your ads. Remember how Larry and Sergey were so interested in space elevators? Of course, if they did that, they'd have to fight for the patent -- because someone already owns the idea of ads in space.

[via TechDirt]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What's The Damage When An Ad Is Copied?

Lots of folks are buzzing over the fact that the latest iPod commercial from Apple starring Eminem looks an awful lot like a commercial for boots from a few years ago. The still shots from each ad certainly do show a striking resemblance. However, while the ads may be similar, is there really grounds for any kind of lawsuit? From the article it sounds like some of the parties are angry about it, but the only discussion of suing is hinted at in the last line of the article where an exec at the company behind the first ad says that they're going to "take all the steps... to protect our rights." Just what rights are those? Is there really any confusion caused by the ads? Are people going to start thinking that Apple is endorsing the boots, or the boot company is endorsing Apple? If anything, Apple has a much stronger brand name than the boot company -- so this whole thing is probably giving the boot company a lot more publicity than any "harm" to their brand. It seems like yet another case where someone feels they need to protect their "intellectual property" because they can, rather than because it makes good business sense. Unless, of course, the company is counting on the fact that by stirring up the pot with lawsuit threats they're increasing the publicity, without having to actually having to file any lawsuit. Either way, if a lawsuit is filed, it may be quite difficult for the boot company to show any kind of damages. As a random aside, last we heard, Eminem was suing Apple over their use of one of his songs in a commercial. Apparently that situation was resolved.

[via TechDirt]

Between The Gadgets And Breakfast, Who Has Time To Watch The Road?

When it comes to drive distractions, the one most people talk about is talking on a mobile phone. It's become politically popular to ban talking on a phone -- and there is plenty of evidence that it is quite distracting. However, it raises questions about specifically targeting certain behaviors rather than simply targeting bad or dangerous driving. While one approach is to ban driving distractions one by one, it looks like that list is only going to get much longer over time. The NY Times is running a series of articles on cars and car culture, including one that looks at how gadgets in cars are on the rise, including just fancier, more distracting dashboards, and another on how common it is for people to eat and drive, leading to a whole business in providing in-car eating accessories. What becomes clear very quickly is that it's just part of the way we view driving -- and everyone's willing to help out, from automakers who add new flashing gizmos and gadgets along with special in-car spaces for fast food containers to the fast food restaurants who hand out driver placemats and study their meals to make sure they're less likely to drip on drivers' laps. While lawmakers may start trying to cut down on each of these, there are always going to be some new form of driver distractions, and focusing on bad or dangerous driving still seems to make a lot more sense.

[via TechDirt]

Apple Took All The Chips, Creative Says

MP3 player manufacturer Creative says there's an industry-wide shortage of flash memory that will make it hard to deliver 1GB flash players. It's a shortage that's affecting everybody but Apple -- and Creative blames it on Apple's "special deal" with Samsung to buy up a large amount of its quarterly flash-memory production. It also sounds like Creative's CEO is blaming Apple for putting price pressure on the industry that a lot of companies can't handle. His response? Raise prices. Sounds like that should work, because if people favor a rival's product, raising the price of your own will certainly make it more attractive. Maybe the real problem is that a Creative MP3 player never made anybody king of the Internet.

[via TechDirt]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Boston Airport WiFi Spat Now A "Security" Issue

Massport, which runs Boston's Logan Airport, has for some time been trying to force airlines to use its paid-access WiFi network in the airport instead of operating their own. This clearly usurps the authority of the FCC to regulate unlicensed spectrum -- authority the FCC has made clear belongs to it alone. Now, Massport is attempting to paint the issue as one of security, which American Airlines says masks the real reason the airport wants everyone to use its network -- money. Massport says that every airline running its own network "could jam radio frequencies used by the State Police and Transportation Security Administration", since apparently the TSA is testing using the airport network. Glenn Fleishman rightly wonders why critical emergency or security communications would use an unlicensed band, rather than dedicated public safety spectrum. Massport's security argument is bunk, and American's lawyer says that throughout talks about WiFi stretching back to last May, the airport's concerns were strictly commercial in nature. The bottom line is, whatever Massport believes, its authority doesn't supercede that of the FCC.

[via TechDirt]

Tracking Traffic Via Cell Phones

There are plenty of companies around that want to send traffic data to mobile phones so people can avoid jams. But some are also working to get traffic data from cell phones, by monitoring their movements along roads and highways to get an idea of how well traffic is flowing. The idea's been around for a while and was tested in Finland a few years ago, and now the state of Missouri has awarded a contract for a company to track phones across the entire state. While the Department of Transportation promises all the information will be anonymous and won't be used for any other purpose, privacy advocates are concerned that the next step will be to track speeders or to monitor people's movements surreptitiously. But the system seems like it would suffer from many of the same pitfalls as the earlier Finnish one, and inaccuracy could cause it more problems than invasions of privacy. For instance, how can it differentiate between 30 cars with just a driver and a bus with 30 passengers, or be able to distinguish between a number of people near a road, but not moving and stopped traffic? There are a lot of unanswered questions about how the system will work, and indeed, how well it will work. And for less than $3 million a year to monitor 5,500 miles of roads, it almost sounds too good to be true.

[via TechDirt]

States Still Looking At Laws Requiring eBay Users To Talk Fast

Perhaps we've found the real reason eBay overpaid for Skype: eBay users need some practice talking really fast. Earlier this year, we wrote about a series of obsolete state laws on auctions that failed to anticipate the internet and would technically require many eBay-based businesses to get an auctioneer's license including lots of training and classes in how to speak fast. Apparently, nothing has changed. Many states are still exploring what their laws mean for eBay sellers -- mainly for those in the consignment business, rather than the person next door selling their old stereo or whatever. Still, it's interesting that these states seem to be focusing on deciding whether or not existing state laws apply to eBay sellers, rather than whether or not it makes any sense at all -- and if, it doesn't, about changing the laws to actually apply to today's world.

[via TechDirt]

Monday, October 10, 2005

The New Obsession With Online Mapping

After the initial burst of online maps from Yahoo and Mapquest, it had seemed like the online map world had settled down, other than an occasional complaint that the maps or driving directions were wrong. That completely changed recently when online maps became "hot" again, as the existing companies started upgrading their mapping features and new entrants like Google and Amazon/A9 entered the space. Now, it seems like everyone is talking about online maps. Both Wired and CNET have stories about online mapping this morning. has a completely random and totally unscientific test comparing a single set of directions across a bunch of the sites (and then comparing it to how a single, randomly chosen, taxi driver would drive the same route). Meanwhile, Wired is running a short piece about how more readily available maps change the way people do things, whether it's where to place new McDonald's franchises to the latest map mashups that are suddenly becoming popular.

[via TechDirt]

HBO Fights Back Against Torrents

Cable network HBO is the latest entertainment company to actively try to stop file-sharing of its content, apparently "poisoning" BitTorrent downloads of episodes of its show Rome. Basically they are alleged to have put up BitTorrent peers that say they have entire episodes available for sharing, then just pass garbage instead of actual pieces of the file. The strategy appears to be ineffective as well as stupid, as most newer BitTorrent clients have features to defeat this type of attack. The demand for downloads of the show indicates there's a demand for it that's not being met by HBO's traditional distribution, but like other companies before, HBO doesn't appear to realize it. Other TV networks are beginning to experiment with making shows available online, illustrating that the right reponse is figuring out a way to monetize downloading, not trying to stop it.

[via TechDirt]

VeriSign Gets In The Middle Of Blogging Too

Apparently it's a good day to have "weblogs" in the name of your company. Following the buyout of Weblogs Inc. today comes the news from Silicon Beat that VeriSign is buying Dave Winer's for a hefty $2 million. This is likely to cause some confusion concerning what VeriSign wants with the site (it's not a company, just a service, basically), but it actually does seem to fit with their overall strategy of being in the "middle" of everything. VeriSign is sort of the antithesis of companies betting on decentralization, preferring to look for ways to manage large or complex systems in the middle. With the growth of "pinging" RSS (and other) feeds, this puts VeriSign right in the middle again. The trick will be how they plan to add value from that central position. The early talk is about adding security feature to blogs, but it could go much further. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back towards centralized services rather than decentralized.

[via TechDirt]

Japanese Recording Industry Wants An iPod Tax

While US recording industry execs have been complaining about how they don't get any revenue from iPod sales (a product they didn't have anything to do with creating, and whose predecessors they fought against, claiming they were illegal), the recording execs in Japan are taking a slightly different approach: demanding the government sets up an "iPod tax" to simply hand over some money any time anyone buys one of the devices. This is similar to what's happened in other countries, though, Canada recently shot down such a law. It's pretty hard to see why the recording industry deserves a share of the profits from a device they worked so hard to kill. It would be interesting to see Japanese giant Sony's position on this one, as they have businesses on both sides of the fence... and part of the reason their early attempts at digital music players have failed where the iPod succeeded was that they were too willing to give in to the demands of the execs at Sony Music.

[via TechDirt]

If You Get Caught Hacking, Don't Lie About It

Earlier this year, we wrote a story about a guy who was apparently arrested for using Lynx to visit a tsunami relief site. The story was very very thinly sourced, so we asked for more info... and no one seemed to have any. Perhaps that's because the story wasn't actually true. It's now come out that while the guy used that excuse originally, he later changed his story pretty drastically. He had donated to the site and when he didn't get a confirmation, he got worried that it was a phishing scam, so he went probing to find out if the site was legit or not. That's a somewhat reasonable defense (though, it doesn't mean you'd get off...), but it wasn't what he said originally, so a judge found him guilty of unauthorized access. From the judge's comments, it certainly sounds like a big reason for finding him guilty is the fact that his story changed so much.

[via TechDirt]

Friday, October 07, 2005

Formula for Coca Cola Leaked Online

We always worried that nuclear bomb-making would make its way to the ‘Net, but who knew that the biggest leak would be America’s most guarded secret: the formula for Coca Cola? Fake or inevitable? Account and formula book belonging to Dr. J.S. Pemberton while a druggist in Columbus While reviewing the book Pendergrast came upon a recipe for “Celery Cola” and quickly realized that this was not an early formulary guide of Pemberton’s. This was…

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Export And Save Your Gmail Address Book Contacts

I’ve become addicted to Gmail thanks to your writeups and based on my intense dissatisfaction with Hotmail. Now, however, I find that I’d like to export my address book from Gmail so I can import it into a different e-mail program as a backup. Is that doable? Actually, you’re in luck. Apparently this capability was just recently added to the Gmail service, and it’s relatively straightforward:…

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How do I target AdWords to specific Web sites?

Dave, I’ve been dabbling with Google AdWords with mixed results, but I have found a few Web sites that I think are just perfect for my ad campaign. What I’d like to do is run ads just on those sites. Is that possible, and if so, how do I do it? Without a huge amount of publicity, Google has indeed rolled out what they call site targeting, which lets you bid on having your advertisement…

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[Via Lockergnome Bytes]

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Australian Supreme Court Wants To Mod-Chip Their Consoles

In an Australian Supreme Court case that has received a fair bit of attention, the justices decided that using mod-chips on a gaming console do not violate anti-circumvention laws. As Michael Geist explains, this is a big deal, because it shows how a country can agree to the stringent WIPO treaty that more or less exports strict intellectual property laws from the US, but still carve out reasonable rulings in the courts. The court specifically discusses how this ruling doesn't violate the treaty. Also, the court points out the important rights that an individual has over any product he or she buys -- which seems to be a right that is disappearing in other parts of the world.

[via TechDirt]

iPod Accessory Market Booming

Analysts have been talking about how Apple is benefiting from a "halo effect" on iPod sales -- people buy an iPod and like it, which leads them to buy an Apple computer. But Apple isn't the only company gaining from iPod sales: the market for accessories is booming, with iPod owners spending an average of more than $150 on them. The whole market is estimated to be worth $2 billion -- so maybe Motorola should try pitching its iTunes phone as an iPod accessory instead of a standalone device.

[via TechDirt]

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sprint Nextel Files VoIP Patent Lawsuit

Sprint Nextel has sued VoIP providers Vonage and VoiceGlo for infringing seven of its patents that have to do with VoIP. The company isn't being specific, just that "The patents protect a series of innovations that enable the processing and delivery of packetized voice and data communications, including Voice over Internet Protocol ("VoIP") communications." The company says it tried to negotiate licensing deals with the VoIP providers, but couldn't come to an agreement, so it turned to the courts. Sounds like another potential problem for Vonage in the runup to its rumored IPO.

[via TechDirt]

Sun Welcomes You To 1999 With Its Google Non-Announcement

The rumor mill's been working overtime the last few days as hype built up surrounding an announcement from Google and Sun. Much of the speculation was that they'd announce some type of collaboration on Sun's OpenOffice productivity suite -- speculation strong enough to be cited as causing Microsoft's share price to drop. The announcement came out this morning, and it conjures up memories of the dot-com days in its pointlessness: Sun will give users the opportunity to download the Google toolbar when they download the Sun Java virtual machine. That's it, apart from more bubble-days rhetoric saying "the companies have agreed to explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies" like OpenOffice. Some people are scrambling to find the meat of the deal, but there really isn't any there -- Google doesn't even think it's big enough to warrant putting out their own press release. This seems like a ploy by Sun to try and gain some attention and good press by latching on to Google, when there's not a lot of underlying substance -- much like the recent Apple/Motorola collaboration. Like Apple, Google seems content to let Sun make a little noise for the time being, until it unleashes its nano to steal all the thunder. Like Steve Jobs saying Apple worked with Motorola as a "learning experience", Google's got something up its sleeve. But when that announcement comes, don't expect Sun to get much mention.

[via TechDirt]

Korea Tries To Build Tomorrowland For Real As A Showcase City

It's already become quite common for Western technologists to head over to South Korea to see what's catching on there. It's often seen as a window into the future of technology in other parts of the world -- once they get a bit more broadband. However, it looks like some in South Korea are realizing they now need to raise the bar. Everyone knows what's been successful there. So rather than just introducing the next generation of technologies (which they are working on), they're actually working on fully planned out cities where high tech is completely ubiquitous. The story reads like a concept from a sci-fi movie, where everything is automated -- and everyone is watched and monitored all the time. As the article notes, while people have talked about such things in the west (and many of the technologies were designed outside of Korea), there are fewer concerns about privacy issues there. It's definitely an interesting idea, and will be worth watching what comes out of it -- but one thing to be worried about is that the entire thing sounds too "planned" from a top-down perspective. While that may work in some areas (building broadband networks, for example), it's tough to successfully understand and predict the perfect set of technologies needed for every aspect of a city's functioning. It's the type of thing where if they get one thing wrong, it could make the entire place undesirable for residents -- and could make it into a costly failure.

[via TechDirt]

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sony PlayStation Wins Emmy

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation video game console has won an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the company said on Thursday.

[via Extremetech]

More Confusion On The Criminality Of Writing Software

In August we wrote about the odd story of a guy who created a keylogging software being indicted, but the news reports were unclear what he was indicted for. They simply seemed to assume that writing a keylogger program was illegal -- but there are legitimate keylogger programs out there, and various legal precedents suggesting that the creator of the software shouldn't be held liable for how people use it. This has started to change ever-so-slightly with the Supreme Court's decision in Grokster that set up an "inducement" standard -- but the timing would hardly make sense for using that standard. Mark Rasch apparently was wondering the same thing and has dug a little deeper into what was so illegal about creating this software, and basically found that there's almost no consistency at all in how the government views this type of situation. Basically, if they don't like what you're doing, they find a way to twist the laws to favor their position. However, in other situations (such as their own investigations and with political allies, such as gunmakers), their reasoning changes completely. Who needs consistency when there's politics?

[via TechDirt]

China's Big Movie Bust Was Really Made For Hollywood

When talk turns to Chinese music and movie copying, it's often said that the Chinese government does almost nothing to help US officials stop it from happening. However, in the last year or so, a few more stories have slipped out about Chinese-American cooperation in fighting counterfeiters. Wired Magazine has a long, but absolutely fascinating, story about one such crackdown. In fact, it reads something like a Hollywood movie plot. Maybe we'll soon be able to buy counterfeit versions of the DVD. However, what becomes very clear on reading it was that this crackdown was mostly convenient for a Chinese government that wants to appear tough on counterfeiting without actually doing much. The story is about a rich and troubled American heir from a famous family who ends up in China selling DVDs online. Taking him down served the Chinese government by making them look tough on the issue, while simultaneously showing that it wasn't just the Chinese behind the process... but "rich Americans." Also, it's unlikely his arrest actually did anything. He wasn't making the DVDs, but was simply the front end person selling them online -- and doing so rather stupidly, making him very easy to track down (he put his address on each DVD mailing) and used his real email address to register his domain. This wasn't a story about "cracking down" on DVD counterfeiting. It was a story about the Chinese government arresting a careless American scammer with a recognizable name.

[via TechDirt]

Is The Pushing Their Luck By Increasing Their Fees Again?

We've written in the past about how the Wall Street Journal risks losing relevance as it has taken itself out of the online discussion, just as more and more readers realize they can do without it, but it appears that some of the decision makers there are trying to push things as far as they can go, by continually raising the prices for access to the, causing more people to wonder whether or not it's still worth paying. It seems that the WSJ is caught in some sort of bind, right now. It wants to experiment more and join back in with the online conversation by doing things like having an occasional free story -- but the business folks are only looking at the bottom line and not the big picture. The reporting is still top notch in most cases, but the value may be decreasing as it doesn't allow itself to be part of the conversation.

[via TechDirt]

Turn Down The TV, Please. We're Trying To Enjoy The Great Outdoors

I went camping a few times this summer and one thing that became clear very quickly is that people are increasingly dragging the great indoors with them to the great outdoors. While we were using tents and left our various gadgets at home, we were certainly in the minority in places we went camping. What's most interesting, though, is the article points out that it's not the younger generation that's driving this trend, but older campers who want to make sure they can email the grandkids while enjoying "the great outdoors," sitting comfortably in their air conditioned RV, complete with satellite television, DVD player and (of course) ubiquitous WiFi. There's nothing wrong with camping however you want to camp, of course (assuming you're not bugging anyone else), but at some point, people may question whether or not it's really "camping" anymore.

[via TechDirt]

Latest Sport: Hiding From Google

Remember back in the days when people who were paranoid about being "watched" were worried about the government spying on them? That seems so last millennium. These days, apparently, the worries are all about being watched by companies... with Google receiving plenty of attention. Witness the latest infatuation: people who try to avoid Google's index entirely. Of course, Wired News had to change their names to keep them out of the index. Obviously, you can understand why people don't want private or personal info appearing on Google (or any other search engine), but to try to avoid being mentioned at all seems to be going a bit far -- especially when it's really something you have little to no control over. Of course, fears like this will keep services like DeleteNow, which we mentioned recently, in business. Even though they actually have no control over search engines or what people put online, the fear of being "found" by Google will probably make some people pay up in an attempt to get erased from various search engines.

[via TechDirt]