MediaFile

Tech wrap: Zappos hacked

Online shoe retailer Zappos told customers this weekend that it has been the victim of a cyber attack affecting more than 24 million customer accounts in its database. The popular retailer, which is owned by Amazon.com, said customers’ names, email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit card numbers and scrambled passwords were stolen. The company, which is well known for its customer service, said due to the high volume of customer calls it is expecting it will temporarily switch off its phones and direct customers to contact via email.

Hackers disrupted online access to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, El Al Airlines and three banks in what the government described as a cyber-offensive against Israel. The attacks came just days after an unidentified hacker, proclaiming Palestinian sympathies, posted the details of thousands of Israeli credit card holders and other personal information on the Internet in a mass theft. Israel opened an agency to tackle cyber attacks earlier this month.

A hacker who goes by the name of “Yama Tough” threatened Saturday to release the full source code for Symantec’s flagship Norton Antivirus software on Tuesday. Last week, Yama Tough released fragments of source code from Symantec products along with a cache of emails. The hacker said all the data was taken from Indian government servers.

Use of microblogging in China quadrupled in 2011 compared with the previous year, with nearly half of all Chinese Internet users now taking to the near-instant service to gather news and spread views, a government Internet think tank said. Microblogging, or “Weibo” as it is known in China, allows users to send short messages of 140 characters or less to their followers. The total number of Weibo users rose 296 percent to 249.9 million in 2011, data from the China Internet Network Information Center showed.

The long-term approach of major Japanese investors, combined with an aversion to foreign and hostile takeovers and uncertainty over lawsuits stemming from the $1.7 billion accounting scandal, will likely make any change of ownership at Olympus a gradual process, writes Isabel Reynolds. Olympus is expected to stay listed for the time being and sources with the company’s powerful main bankers, who are also shareholders, say they would be prepared to wait for the firm to recover on its own.

Tech wrap: RIM’s “BBM” trademark target of new legal challenge

Research In Motion, still smarting over having to change the name of its yet-to-come operating system, faces a similar trademark challenge to its popular instant-messaging service BlackBerry Messenger. The service, which allows BlackBerry users to send each other text and multimedia files and see when they are delivered and read, is widely known and even promoted by RIM via the shorthand BBM. That has proven an encumbrance to BBM Canada, which measures radio and television audience data and expects its day in a Federal Court against RIM by February.

RIM seems determined to keep using the BBM name and not to pay BBM anything. “We believe that BBM Canada is attempting to obtain trademark protection for the BBM acronym that is well beyond the narrow range of the services it provides and well beyond the scope of rights afforded by Canadian trademark law,” it said in an emailed statement.

Facebook, Google and Yahoo, and other internet firms, have been ordered by two Indian courts to remove material considered religiously offensive, the latest skirmish in a growing battle over website content in the world’s largest democracy. One court in the capital Delhi on Friday issued summons to 19 companies to stand trial for offences relating to distributing obscene material to minors, after being shown images it said were offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians, the PTI news agency said.

If Spotify fails, blame the Internet’s grim economics

If anyone has a serious beef with the music labels, it’s Michael Robertson. Robertson took MP3.com public in 1999, only to later to pay tens of millions of dollars to labels that sued the startup, claiming storing songs on servers infringed their copyrights. Fast forward to today: A new wave of music startups like Spotify, MOG and Rdio stream songs from servers with the labels’ blessings. It might all be above board now, but the labels are still bleeding the digital-music services dry.

That was Robertson’s claim in an detailed and elegant jeremiad against the big labels. He claims that Spotify and its peers will never make a profit because of secret, onerous terms that act as a financial straightjacket for the startups, snoop on their users’ data and border on collision. Others were quick to suggest that it’s the music-streaming services that are being stingy. After all, by some calculations, an artist could have a song streamed 4 million times on Spotify and make just $1,200

So who is right? Both. And that’s bad for everyone. Music labels, being greedy music labels, want a profit. Desperate for a piece of a music-streaming market that isn’t going away, they are asking for everything they can in the name of rewarding artists (and investors). But the digital music services like Spotify need a low subscription fee – usually $10 to $15 a month for an all-you-can-eat plan – to build a critical mass of subscribers.

Tech wrap: RIM under fire ahead of results

Research In Motion faced renewed calls for a change in its leadership on Thursday, hours ahead of the quarterly results that could fuel criticism over the BlackBerry maker’s poor performance and sagging share price.

Jaguar Financial, an activist shareholder that has asked the BlackBerry maker to sell itself in whole or parts, once again called on two of RIM’s independent directors to push for a separation of the roles of chairman and chief executive.

Bloomberg reports that Zynga updated its initial public offering filing to expand on the risks of losing its chief executive officer after Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called him a “a fearsome, strong negotiator.”

Great artists steal, tablet edition

By Aaron Presssman
The opinions expressed are his own.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso via 1994 Steve Jobs

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet seems like the anti-iPad to many. With its chunky design, smaller low resolution screen and occasionally stuttering software interface, the Fire has been blasted by some of the iPad’s biggest fans. And they’ve predicted it too will end up on the growing trash heap of previous iPad competitors that arrived with high expectations only to be found selling on Woot for 75 percent off six months later.

But a lot of people seem to have missed that while this latest creation from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos does not copy the iPad, it flat out steals more than a few of Steve Jobs best ideas. And those pilfered ideas will — pardon the pun — ignite sales of the Fire well past the ranks of the earlier crash and burn crowd and their slavish copies of the iPad’s look and feel.

The bearable lightness of tab-lites

As the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But fixing something seems to be what Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing with new tablets which burnish their stable of e-readers beyond e-ink and into an entirely new arena still dominated by the iPad.

In recent weeks we saw the unveiling of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, a faster/lighter/smarter version of the discounted, year-old Nook Color. With the high-end becoming even higher it’s now possible to pay as little as $80 for Amazon’s entry-level Kindle e-reader and as much as $250 for a Nook Tablet, with plenty of other options in between.

In other words, e-readers have become so widely accepted that there is room for flavors and price points to be all over the map, just like there are a multitude of iPods when there was once only one.

Tech wrap: Can Nook tablet take on Kindle Fire?

Let the low-end tablet wars begin. Barnes & Noble unveiled a Nook-branded tablet on Monday, the company’s answer to Amazon.com’s recently announced Kindle Fire. At $249, the 7-inch Nook tablet is a bit pricier than the $199 Fire, but Barnes & Noble is betting that consumers will pay the extra $50 for the device because it offers faster processing speeds and 16 gigabytes of storage space compared to the Amazon tablet’s 8 gigabytes. Both devices hit shelves next week. Barnes & Noble, which operates a chain of 700 U.S. bookstores, also lowered the price on its Nook e-book devices in an effort to take on Amazon’s line of Kindle e-readers, which were recently reduced in price.

Early reaction to the device was varied. One analyst characterized it to Reuters as a “wow” product, while another said it will keep “Barnes & Noble shoppers loyal.” All Things D’s Peter Kafka called Barnes & Noble’s product pitch “a bit muddled” when it came to explaining how people will access content on the device: “Unlike Amazon and its Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble isn’t marketing its tablet with a proprietary cloud service that will get you access to music, movies and TV shows. Instead, the bookseller is leaving that up to other cloud-based services, like Netflix and Pandora. But make no mistake — these are cloud-based services,” he writes. Why then was the company so eager to play up the Nook Tablet’s extra storage capacity if it expects you’ll be streaming most content, not storing it, wonders Kafka.  Engadget takes the new tablet through its paces in a hands-on video.

Google+ expanded its circles to make room for businesses who are looking to reach out to customers on the social network. Called Google+ Pages, the new service will allow corporate brands and businesses to set up a special page within the social network . Google said that 20 businesses, including Toyota, Pepsi and retailer Macy’s, have set up special pages so far, and that any organization will soon be able to join as well. Until now, only individual users have been able to sign up for Google+. Businesses are increasingly using online social services, such as Facebook, to reach new customers and to cement relationships with loyal customers through special offers and promotions.

Tech wrap: U.S. spies Chinese and Russian cyber spies

China and Russia are using cyber espionage to steal U.S. trade and technology secrets to bolster their own economic development, which poses a threat to U.S. prosperity and security, a U.S. intelligence report titled “Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace,” said. Intelligence services, private companies, academic institutions and citizens of dozens of countries target the United States, the report said. But it only named China and Russia. “Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” the report said.

Online retailer Amazon.com added library to the  list of services it offers. Kindle tablet owners with the Prime membership can choose from thousands of books to borrow for free on a Kindle device, including more than 100 current and former New York Times bestsellers, as frequently as a book a month, the company said. Amazon will initially offer slightly more than 5,000 titles in the library, including more than 100 current and former national bestsellers, such as Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Eastman Kodak warned that it must raise $500 million in new debt or complete a multibillion dollar patent sale to survive the next 12 months. The photography company also posted dismal third-quarter results, with cash holdings down 10 percent from the second quarter, and it projected deeper losses this year as new printers and digital cameras failed to gain traction. Kodak hired investment bank Lazard in July to help it sell more than 1,100 digital imaging patents, which analysts have estimated could be worth as much as $2 billion to $3 billion.

Tech wrap: New Nook Color on the way?

Barnes & Noble sent out invites on Monday to a Nook-related event coming up on November 7. Most tech watchers expect the company to use the occasion to unveil a new version of its Android-powered Nook Color tablet e-reader, which could sport a better screen and upgraded hardware.

As CNet points out, the most anticipated question will be how much Barnes & Noble decides to charge for the new device. “With the Kindle Fire on sale at $199 (it ships November 15), there’s some pressure on B&N to come close to matching that price, though Amazon is allegedly losing money on each Fire it sells (our sources suggest the Fire currently costs around $220 to build). With that being the case, Barnes & Noble is more likely to come out with a faster, more powerful Nook Color that costs $249, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see it at $299,” writes David Carnoy.

Netflix has added a slew of new TV show episodes to its streaming video catalogue through an expanded licensing deal with ABC Television Group, a division of Disney. In addition to extending licensing for popular ABC shows such as “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” that it already offers, Netflix added ABC’s “Switched at Birth,” “Alias” and episodes from past season of Disney Channel’s animated series “Kick Buttowski” to its streaming selection. Amazon.com also unveiled a content agreement with Disney on Monday that will let Amazon Prime subscribers stream shows from ABC studios, Disney Channel, ABC Family and Marvel.

Tech wrap: Apple’s “Siri” spurs iPhone 4S sales

Apple said it sold 4 million iPhone 4S devices in the new smartphone’s first three days on the market, setting up a strong December quarter for the world’s largest technology company. Helped by availability in more countries and on more telecommunications carrier networks, the iPhone 4S, which went on sale last Friday, managed to outshine the iPhone 4, which sold 1.7 million over its first three days. Unveiled just a day before Steve Jobs died, it was initially dubbed a disappointment, partly because it looked identical to its predecessor. But anticipation of its “Siri” voice software helped it set an online record in pre-orders on October 7.

Shares of RIM dropped 6.55 percent in the U.S., closing at $22.40, after the company sought to appease disgruntled BlackBerry customers by offering free apps and technical support to make up for last week’s global smartphone outage. RIM said it will offer premium apps worth more than $100 to customers and a month of technical support for businesses free of charge, hoping to stem fresh defections from the BlackBerry, whose market share was already shrinking before the incident. RIM Co-CEO Jim Balsillie declined to estimate how much the offer would cost RIM and said he was unable to say whether RIM might have to revise its earnings forecast for the current quarter, which ends in late November.

IBM’s third-quarter revenue met expectations as corporate spending on information technology held up in the face of economic worries, and the company bumped up its 2011 earnings outlook. Revenue rose 8 percent from a year earlier to $26.2 billion, in line with the average forecast of $26.26 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.