MediaFile

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.

Suspicion is growing that operatives in China, rather than India, were behind the hacking of emails of an official U.S. commission that monitors relations between the United States and China, U.S. officials said. U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said the roundabout way the commission’s emails were obtained strongly suggests the intrusion originated in China, possibly by amateurs, and not from India’s spy service, as previously thought.

Cellphone makers are set to struggle with slow sales growth this year as a weaker global economy discourages consumers from replacing older handsets. Fourth-quarter results are likely to show the slowdown under way. Apple’s long-awaited iPhone 4S and Samsung’s new, broad offering were likely the exceptions in an otherwise lackluster Christmas holiday season. Vendors are expected to report sales of around 142 million smartphones in the October-December quarter, up 42 percent from a year ago, according to a Reuters poll. But analysts said not everyone benefited. “We expect smartphone demand to have remained robust in the fourth quarter, but price erosion is intensifying. Profitability remains the crucial yardstick and it’s likely Apple and Samsung extended their lead,” said CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber.

Is Scott Thompson the ‘back to basics’ guy Yahoo’s needed all along?

Yahoo has once again gone outside the company to breathe new life into the once-mighty Internet titan: Scott Thompson, most recently the president of eBay’s PayPal division, takes the helm on Monday, January 9th.

The four-month search ends the latest period of uncertainty for Yahoo, which has been struggling to regain its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the digerati — to say nothing of an indifferent Wall Street.

Investors have been sour on Yahoo for a while. The news of Thompson’s hiring was met with boos on NASDAQ, where Yahoo closed Wednesday at $15.78, down 51 cents. With a “fool me twice” attitude, potential will be no substitute for results. And given the spectacular flame out of former CEO Carol Bartz, investor patience must be wearing thin (if, that is, it still exists at all).

Tech wrap: PayPal darling takes Yahoo reigns

Yahoo named PayPal President Scott Thompson CEO as the company plows ahead with a strategic review in which discussions have included the possibility of being sold, taken private or broken up. Thompson, a former Visa payments software platform designer, joins the company five months after the firing of previous CEO Carol Bartz.

Thompson has been credited with driving growth at eBay’s online payments division. After the Yahoo appointment, some questioned if he could replicate his success as CEO of Yahoo. ”The risk element is that his background was in payments. And this is not a payment company, it’s a marketing, technology company,” said Lawrence Haverty, a fund manager with GAMCO investors, which owns Yahoo shares.

Eastman Kodak is working on a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing that could be filed as soon as this month if it cannot sell its digital patents, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources. The newspaper said Kodak is in talks with lenders to secure about $1 billion in debtor-in possession financing to sustain it through any bankruptcy proceedings.

UPDATE-PayPal tries to lure retailers to mobile app

(Updates to explain “secure element” issue. Changes in bold in paragraphs 10, 11)

Online payments firm PayPal is so keen to get mobile payments off the ground it has taken the unusual step of opening a Manhattan dummy store that demos how the app can be used (pictured at right).

It’s  idea is to demonstrate the application to merchants at the “store” between now and February.

Tech wrap: Hackers target PayPal, again

PayPal is once again caught in the crosshairs of prominent hacker collectives Anonymous and LulzSec. The two groups released a joint statement on document-sharing website Pastebin on Wednesday urging their supporters who use the eBay-owned online payment service to close down their accounts in protest at the site’s continued refusal to process donations to whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

The message also criticized PayPal for helping police track down hackers suspected of taking part in an earlier attack on the company’s website in December that was allegedly coordinated by Anonymous. A spokesman for PayPal told Reuters that the company had observed no changes in “normal operations,” including the number of accounts that had been closed overnight.

Separately, a British teenager was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of being a leader of the LulzSec collective, which has boasted of breaking into the networks of the CIA, Sony and many other private and public bodies. The teenager is thought to be a spokesman for both LulzSec and Anonymous and uses the hacker nickname “Topiary,” London’s Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.

Tech wrap: EBay sues Google in mobile payment war

EBay and its online payment unit, PayPal, sued Google and two executives for stealing trade secrets related to mobile payment systems, highlighting the growing battle between companies vying for a major stake in what has been described as a $1 trillion opportunity. The two executives, Osama Bedier and Stephanie Tilenius, were formerly with PayPal and led the launch on Thursday of Google’s own mobile payment system in partnership with MasterCard, Citigroup and Sprint.

The personal information of more than 283,000 customers at Honda Canada was breached, the company confirmed on Friday. The company said the stolen data included names, addresses, vehicle identification numbers and in some cases financing account numbers, but was not the type that would typically be used for identity theft or fraud.

Sony said it will start restoring its PlayStation videogame network in Japan and elsewhere in Asia on Saturday, more than a month after a massive security breach leaked personal details on tens of millions of accounts. Sony also said it plans to testify before U.S. lawmakers at a hearing on data security in Washington on June 2 to address the breech.

How PayPal fumbled in the Wikileaks controversy

A unique feature of the web is that it was designed by idealists and capitalists alike. A hacker sensibility fights for an open, democratic structure, while profit-minded businesses helped shape it into a thriving industry. The more successful companies, like Google and Facebook, understand both ethics equally.

But idealism and commerce often clash as well, and woe to the company that is caught in the crossfire. This week, PayPal is such a company. The eBay online-payments subsidiary suspended the account that Wikileaks used to handle donations, citing a violation of terms that prohibit “activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.”

The business logic seemed clear enough: Avoid the wrath of the U.S. State Department and steer the company away from the Wikileaks controversy. But it quickly backfired. Not everyone agreed Wikileaks was engaging in illegal activity, and many hackers and other idealists not only boycotted PayPal, they hit the company with denial of services attacks.

PayPal sees early promise from mobile experiment

jetpack2The “mobile wallet” concept has been bandied around for years as a promise that one day “soon” we’ll be able to leave our purses at home and pay for everything via the cellphone.
Of course we were also meant to to get to work using Jetpacks and have robots cleaning the house by now too.
However, with credit card companies and banks desperately looking at new avenues for growth, they’re starting to talk up mobile with a vengeance as they all battle  for a dominant place in the fledgling mobile payments industry.
And since they’re doing it, online payments provider PayPal has joined the fray because if consumers really want to move their lives to the cellphone, it can’t limit itself to the desktop.
Interestingly PayPal says it is seeing early signs of mobile success in an area where it looks to make an old fashioned bank service  – check cashing – more convenient.
The unit of eBay says it handled $100,000 in checks from its mobile customers in roughly a day and a half after it kicked off its mobile check cashing service, which allows you to add money to your PayPal account by just taking a cellphone photo of a physical check and using the PayPal mobile app.
Roughly a month later, PayPal says it processed over $1 million worth of checks.
This is a pittance in comparison with what banks handle — U.S. banks processed $30.6 billion of checks in 2006, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, implying $2.55 billion worth of checks every month.
Still PayPal is happy enough with the result that it is already looking for ways to improve the service, specifically by reducing the check-clearing window from six days, where it currently stands.
It  is also experimenting with other services aimed at expanding beyond eBay auctions and other online transactions where it is most popular.   One is allowing consumers to pay for goods in a store by using a mobile PayPal app on their phone, which would require the vendor as well as the consumer to open a PayPal account.
For this service PayPal says it has signed up 200 merchants in just a few weeks. In comparison the credit card industry has convinced retailers to install contactless payment terminals in all of 150,000 locations in about five years.
The idea with contactless payments is that you can wave your phone to pay instead of having to fumble in your wallet for a credit card. Paypal is also trying out this method for size via its partnership with a company called Bling Nation, which lets you spend from your PayPal account by slapping a “Bling” sticker to the outside of your phone and waving at the machine.
“We don’t know which will take off so we’re experimenting,” said Laura Chambers, a senior director for PayPa.l But she noted that “merchants aren’t excited about hardware upgrades.”
At a New York event where the company showcased their mobile services, a bunch of which were launched on October 6, Chambers said that this year would be a year of experiments for her company.
And since mobile operators have a direct relationship with their customers, Chambers said PayPal is also in talks with U.S. operators about how they can work together.  She would not disclose any details but said:  “There’s a great opportunity to replace the wallet and for the mobile phone to become the wallet.”

(Photo: Reuters – of American stuntman Eric Scott hovering over London using a Jetpack)

Yahoo: stick around, we have widgets

Yahoo might not invent the next killer Web product. But the company wants surfers to be able to use  online applications, or “widgets,” without leaving the Yahoo kingdom.

In a blog post on Friday, Yahoo introduced a variety of new widgets from third-party Web developers that can be fused directly into Yahoo products.

The average person in the United States visits 85 sites a month, said Tapan Bhat, Yahoo’s senior vice president of integrated consumer experience in a blog post. “That just sounds exhausting. So we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we can ease the pain of site-hopping to help you do more things at once,” he wrote.

A familiar name in real time search

The Musk name is famous among techies thanks to high-profile companies like PayPal and Tesla Motors, the electric car maker, which were founded or funded by entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Now another Musk-backed start-up is looking to make a splash. Only this time it’s younger brother Kimball at the helm, as CEO for OneRiot.

OneRiot is launching a real time search engine on Tuesday that combs through the flood of messages and Web links that are shared through services Twitter and Digg, as well as in OneRiot’s existing browser toolbar product, to determine the hottest topics on the Internet.