MediaFile

Tech wrap: Google bypassed Safari privacy settings

Google landed in hot water over revelations that the search giant and ad companies had bypassed the privacy settings of millions of people using Apple’s Safari Web browser, using special computer code that tracked their movements online. Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered the code. Subsequently, a technical adviser to the Wall Street Journal found that ads on 22 of the top 100 websites installed the Google tracking code on a test computer, and ads on 23 sites installed it on an iPhone browser. Google disabled the code after being contacted by the Journal, the newspaper said, and Google issued a statement, saying: “The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

Apple’s share of China’s booming smartphone market slipped for a second straight quarter in October-December, as it lost ground to cheaper local brands and as some shoppers held off until after the iPhone 4S launch last month. While Apple regained its top spot as the world’s largest smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter and for last year as a whole, it slipped to 5th place in China. In the last quarter, Samsung knocked Nokia off the top slot, taking 24.3 percent of the market, more than three times Apple’s share, data from research firm Gartner showed.

A British student, who hacked into Facebook’s internal network risking “disastrous” consequences for the website, was jailed for eight months in what prosecutors described as the most serious case of its kind they had seen. Glenn Mangham, 26, a software development student, admitted infiltrating Facebook from his bedroom at his parents’ house in York in northern England last year, sparking fears at the company that it was dealing with major industrial espionage.

Foxconn, the top maker of Apple’s iPhones and iPads whose factories are under scrutiny over labor practices, has raised wages of its Chinese workers by 16-25 percent from this month, the third rise since 2010. In a statement, Taiwan-based Foxconn said the pay of a junior level worker in Shenzhen, southern China, had risen to 1,800 yuan ($290) per month and could be further raised above 2,200 yuan if the worker passed a technical examination.

Facebook’s Timeline: A catalog of nothing

We have seen the past, and it doesn’t work.

Over the past few weeks, Facebook has been rolling out Timeline, its effort to remake its members’ profile pages into scrapbooks that, like nearly everything published on the social web, is told in a reverse chronology. While redesigns always inspire grumbling, the discontent seems particularly strong this time — 70 percent of users surveyed say they just don’t like it, and Facebook’s own blog page announcing Timeline is filled with complaints in the comments.

At first glance, Timeline looks interesting — a retrospective of an online life. But soon enough, there’s plenty not to like. And the biggest problem isn’t that Facebook scrapped the elegant sparseness of the old profile page for a cluttered interface, or that many users will — yet again — need to reset their privacy settings, or even that, once you switch to Timeline, you can never go back to the old page.

No, the biggest problem with Timeline is that it feels like a mean prank Facebook is playing on its users. It confronts them with the unpleasant reality that the sum total of lives preserved by social media is not just mundane but inauthentic, devoid of what gives meaning to the very thing it’s meant to catalog: life.

Microsoft’s msnNOW targets hot news, gossip

Microsoft’s MSN portal, like Yahoo’s, is finding it tough to compete with Facebook and Twitter as people’s first port of call on the Internet.

The software giant is looking to grab back some buzz and appeal to younger users with a new service that delivers a snapshot at any minute of the day on news stories, people and topics that are most popular on the web.

The product, branded ‘msnNOW’, launches on Thursday at now.msn.com, and will be integrated into items on Microsft’s main MSN site.

OpenX opens kimono to reveal financials – prepwork for an IPO?

It’s the season for getting a peek at private Internet companies’ financial results.

Wall Street is still chewing over Facebook’s recently revealed numbers, and on Monday, OpenX Technologies, a private, venture-backed online ad company, served up some financial gristle of its own.

The company, which provides an online ad exchange as well as ad server technology, said that it is now on track to generate more than $100 million in revenue on an annualized run rate basis and that it became profitable in the fourth quarter of 2011.

from Paul Smalera:

The piracy of online privacy

Online privacy doesn’t exist. It was lost years ago. And not only was it taken, we’ve all already gotten used to it. Loss of privacy is a fundamental tradeoff at the very core of social networking. Our privacy has been taken in service of the social tools we so crave and suddenly cannot live without. If not for the piracy of privacy, Facebook wouldn’t exist. Nor would Twitter. Nor even would Gmail, Foursquare, Groupon, Zynga, etc.

And yet people keep fretting about losing what’s already gone. This week, like most others of the past decade, has brought fresh new outrages for privacy advocates. Google, which a few weeks ago changed its privacy policy to allow the company to share your personal data across as many as 60 of its products, was again castigated this week for the changes. Except this time, the shouts came in the form of a lawsuit. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the FTC to compel it to block Google’s changes, saying they violated a privacy agreement Google signed less than a year ago.

Elsewhere, social photography app Path was caught storing users’ entire iPhone address books on their servers and have issued a red-faced apology. (The lesser-known app Hipster committed the same sin and also offered a mea culpa.) And Facebook’s IPO has brought fresh concerns that Mark Zuckerberg will find creative new ways to leverage user data into ever more desirable revenue-generating products.

Trolling for a tech showdown

The scene: A federal courtroom in Tyler, Texas.

The drama: A lawsuit by a patent troll who said he owned the rights to the “interactive web.” The troll says he’s owed some back rent for owning the Web we all use every day.

Dramatis persona: Tim Berners-Lee. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He invented the World Wide Web.

Oh, to have been in Tyler. It was the stage for a showdown in one of the most bizarre patent troll cases ever, pitting (metaphorically if not in fact) expert witness Berners-Lee against some punk who wanted to make his name by taking out a very, very big gun in a shootout. The plaintiff, Eolas, claimed it owned patents that entitled it to royalties from anyone whose website used “interactive” features, like pictures that the visitor can manipulate, or streaming video. The claim, by Eolas’s owner, Chicago biologist Michael Doyle, was that his was the first computer program enabling an “interactive web.”

All about the Benjamins, or How Mark Zuckerberg cemented control of Facebook $100 at a time

One hundred dollars doesn’t go very far these days.

But for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, a C-Note was the key to cementing his control over the social networking phenomenon.

As we learned last week when Facebook filed its prospectus for a $5 billion initial public offering, Zuckerberg has the voting rights to shares owned by some of Facebook’s biggest stakeholders, including venture capital firm Accel Partners, Digital Sky Technologies and former Facebook President Sean Parker.

In an amended filing on Wednesday, Facebook provided a little more color about the agreements that contributed to Zuck’s controversial control of 57 percent of the company’s voting shares.

How ‘don’t be evil’ became ‘let’s all be evil’

It’s been nearly a decade since the tagline “don’t be evil” was attached to Google in a Wired magazine profile. Google, a little more than four years old, adopted the phrase as a code of conduct as it navigated through a growing list of hard questions, and as it increasingly shaped the Web itself. Since then, the term has been hurled back at its founders again and again — every time a saucy blogger or disgruntled user had a bone to pick with the company.

Google’s executives have long since stopped saying “don’t be evil” in public, and the company has been more willing to make bold moves that court controversy (as long as they lead to changes that will promote further growth). Case in point: Last month, Google altered its search results to favor pages from its Google+ social service over other social sites.

Facebook responded by designing a browser extension called “don’t be evil” that played up results from non-Google+ social sites, like Facebook and Twitter. It was an amusing potshot at Google — but for the wrong reasons. Facebook’s track record at focusing on its users’ needs and preferences is even worse than Google’s. Beyond the privacy snafus that flare up regularly, Facebook has designed its site not to make it easier for us to share content with our friends, but to weave corporate brands and ad campaigns into those friendships.

from Paul Smalera:

Facebook.coop

Facebook shouldn't pay its users. Its users should pay to own Facebook.

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his letter to investors announcing the IPO of his already hugely successful and profitable company. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”

Facebook has succeeded wildly, despite internal admonitions that its “journey” is only 1 percent finished. Journalists have latched onto Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook wants to “rewire” the way the world works. In a world of thousands of self-anointed “social media experts,” only Zuckerberg can claim to have basically invented what the world thinks of as social media. He has etched himself into the timeline of human innovation.

Pity then, that Zuckerberg hasn’t turned his talents or attention toward Facebook’s financial underpinnings. After all, an IPO? How ho-hum can he get? If Mark really wants to accomplish his social mission with Facebook, he should share the company’s ownership with the people who helped him create it. Not just his Harvard contemporaries. Not just the programmers. Not even just the venture capitalists.

Corporate co-dependence: when good partnerships go bad

One of the biggest surprises in Facebook’s IPO filing was that it depended on game-maker Zynga  for 12 percent of its sales last year.

In 2010, the online game company famous for “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends” nearly declared war with the social network over a change in Facebook’s policy involving credits — the currency Zynga players use to buy virtual goods. Facebook wanted to take a 30 percent cut of transactions.

Bing Gordon, a video game veteran, Zynga board member and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, described the standoff during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in May as a Silicon Valley version of the Cuban Missile crisis, where Zynga was at one point prepared to walk away from Facebook.