MediaFile

Stop SOPA banners might morph in future protests

Getting people to add “STOP SOPA” banners to their Twitter and Facebook profile photos was more than just a message about pending legislation.

The banners, which swept the Internet in recent days, allowed people to quickly signal opposition to the antipiracy bills known as PIPA and SOPA, which many critics say are too broad. They are the brainchild of Greg Hochmuth, an engineer at photo site Instagram, and former Google product manager Hunter Walk, who created the site blackoutsopa.org.

“Profile pictures are becoming more and more omnipresent in our interface-heavy lives,” Hochmuth told Reuters in an email. “We thought: why not let people take more ownership of these pixels?” He envisions people using similar banners in the future, to get out all kinds of messages.

Between the time the site went live Jan. 9 and now, the site has attracted 80,000 users. Yesterday, at the height of the anti-SOPA blackouts that took sites like Wikipedia dark, about 30 people were changing their profile pictures every minute, Hochmuth said.

“BlackoutSOPA was so successful in large part because it took users only a few clicks to join & then spread the message,” he said. ”Changing your profile picture by yourself is a relatively arduous task otherwise. ”

Tech wrap: Kodak files for bankruptcy protection

Eastman Kodak, the photography icon that invented the hand-held camera, filed for bankruptcy protection and planned to shrink significantly after a prolonged plunge for one of America’s best-known companies. The Chapter 11 filing may give Kodak the ability to find buyers for some of its 1,100 digital patents, a major portion of its value. According to papers filed with the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan, Kodak had about $5.1 billion of assets and $6.75 billion of liabilities at the end of September. Kodak now employs 17,000 people, down from 63,900 just nine years ago.

Kodak’s long decline can be traced back to one source: the former king of photography’s failure to reinvent itself in the digital age, writes Ernest Scheyder. Kodak’s film dominated the industry but the company failed to adopt modern technologies quickly enough, such as the digital camera — ironically, a product it invented. ”Kodak was very Rochester-centric and never really developed a presence in centers of the world that were developing new technologies,” said Rosabeth Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. “It’s like they’re living in a museum.”

Apple unveiled a new digital textbook service called iBooks 2, aiming to revitalize the U.S. education market and quicken the adoption of its market-leading iPad in that sector. The move pits Apple against Amazon.com and other content and device makers that have made inroads into the estimated $8 billion market with their electronic textbook offerings. Apple has been working on digital textbooks with publishers Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a trio responsible for 90 percent of textbooks sold in the United States.

Tech wrap: Wikipedia, Google protest anti-piracy bill

The English homepage of Wikipedia went dark and Google’s search page ran the logo “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” in protest of legislation designed to stop copyright piracy but the free online encyclopedia says “could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” Big tech names including Facebook and Twitter declined to participate in protests of the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s PROTECT Intellectual Property Act, despite their opposition to the legislation, unwilling to sacrifice a day’s worth of revenue and risk the ire of users.

European regulators will decide around the end of March whether to file a formal complaint against Google for misuse of its market position, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters. Until this point officials had been playing down expectations of an early conclusion to the informal investigation stage, although there still could be a long way to go. Antitrust investigations typically take several years.

EBay’s fourth-quarter profit jumped as the e-commerce company saw solid growth in its online marketplaces and an increase in transactions processed through its PayPal electronic payments business. The operator of the world’s largest online marketplace reported fourth-quarter net income of $2 billion, or $1.51 a share, compared with $559 million, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 35 percent to $3.38 billion.

Tech wrap: Nokia throne in Samsung’s sights

Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung told reporters in Las Vegas the company overtook Nokia in handset revenue terms in its latest reported quarter and was confident of topping the Finnish group in shipments this year. Samsung’s bullish forecast is in line with some analysts, including Royal Bank of Scotland, but on average analysts have expected Nokia to keep its lead on the market. According to the latest polls by Reuters, Nokia was expected to sell 418 million phones in 2011, versus Samsung’s 320 million, the gap narrowing this year to 388 million versus 359 million.

Google made changes to its search engine, combining content posted by users of Google’s social network Google+ and pic sharing site Picassa with regular search results. Links shared by a Google+ user’s connections are given more weight and will show up in Web search results with a person icon beside them, VentureBeat’s Jolie ‘Odell writes. The changes increase Google+’s prominence online, which is lagging behind Facebook in total number of users.

Sony’s videogaming business, led by its just-launched handheld “Vita”, will prove pivotal in returning the company to profitability, Kazuo Hirai, the executive pegged to succeed Howard Stringer as president, said.

Google customizes search results with a smattering of your own content

Google rolled out a big change to its search engine on Tuesday that will allow people to find private items, such as online family photos, in their search results.

The new search feature, dubbed “Google Search, plus Your World,” essentially creates customized search results for different users, displaying publicly available Web content alongside any relevant personal online content.

Right now that means search results can feature private photos stored within Google’s Picasa service, as well as photos and posts from Google+, the company’s social network.

Tech wrap: Samsung savors smartphone supremacy

Samsung Electronics, the world’s top maker of memory chips and smartphones, reported a record quarterly profit, aided by one-off gains and best-ever sales of high-end phones. The South Korean firm posted 5.2 trillion won ($4.5 billion) in quarterly operating profit, beating a consensus forecast of 4.7 trillion won by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Samsung, which surged past Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker in the third quarter, only entered the smartphone market in earnest in 2010, but its handset division is now its biggest earnings generator.

Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC recorded a worse-than-expected yearly profit decline in the fourth quarter, and the first decline in two years. The former investor darling shocked markets in November by slashing its fourth-quarter revenue guidance, sending its shares down 28 percent in two weeks and 15 percent to date. Investor concerns linger over whether HTC still has the innovative streak that catapulted it from an obscure contract maker to a top brand.

Sony will promote its consumer business chief Kazuo Hirai to the role of president as early as April, taking the title away from Howard Stringer, who is expected to remain chairman and CEO, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Such a move would give Hirai, 51, who made his name in Sony’s PlayStation video game division, more influence over the whole company and its wide range of technology and entertainment businesses, likely cementing expectations he would succeed the 69-year-old Stringer eventually.

Five 2011 tech earthquakes

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

Pick a year: It’s easy to look back and convince yourself That Was The Year That Was in tech, partly because the pace of change is so rapid and partly because we so readily embrace and then quickly depend on things that are completely different. Consider this: When the class of 2012 was applying to college, there was no iPhone. Until those students were just about at the end of their  junior years, there was no iPad. Both of these nascent devices now define the mobile Internet, which is where all the action is.

But 2011 had some pretty remarkable advances that seem to be the start of inexorable things to come, as well as some surprising and sad examples of demise, whose impact will surely be felt for years to come, in ways that are currently near-impossible to predict.

Some may argue that 2011 was the year of the tablet (redux), because of the spritely launch of Amazon’s Fire and Barnes & Noble’s reboot of the Nook color. I say, it was bound to happen, and that the only really interesting thing is that content companies are giving Apple a bit of competition, and not the hardware bigwigs.

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.

Tech wrap: Yahoo to cut Asian stake

Yahoo is considering a plan to unload most of its prized Asian assets in a complex deal valued at roughly $17 billion, sources familiar with the matter said.

The former Internet powerhouse’s increasing difficulty in competing with heavyweights such as Google and Facebook have forced it to explore proposals to revamp its business.

Weakening economies and falling prices of rival smartphones are hurting sales of Apple iPhones across Europe, data from research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech showed on Thursday.

The value of Google’s Firefox browser deal

Google has thrown the creators of the Firefox Web browser a lifeline.

On Tuesday, Firefox-maker Mozilla announced that it had renewed a “mutually beneficial revenue agreement” with Google for at least three more years.

The deal basically means that Google remains the default search engine built-in to the Firefox Web browser, a privilege for which Google pays Mozilla an unspecified fee.

Since Google signed the original deal in 2004, the search giant has introduced its own Web browser, dubbed Google Chrome. And with Chrome now used by one in four Web surfers, speculation had grown that Google might not renew the Firefox licensing deal, depriving the non-profit Mozilla of a vital revenue source (according to AllThingsD, which broke the news of Tuesday’s deal renewal, Google contributed 84 percent of Mozilla’s $123 million in 2010 revenue).