MediaFile

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.

This is the way we’re private now. It’s ludicrous for anyone who loves the Internet to expect otherwise. How else are these services supposed to exist -- let alone make any money? Theft or misuse of private user data is a crime, certainly. But no social web app -- not one -- can work without intense analytics performed on the huge data sets that users provide to them voluntarily (you did read the terms of service agreement...right?).

And the issue compounds when people connect one site to another. By linking their Twitter to their Facebook to their Google+ to their Foursquare to their Zynga to their Instagram to their iOS, users are consolidating their lives, and in the process making them more attractive to marketers. While Facebook, Twitter and other services have made attempts to warn users about hitting the “connect” button, many of us hit that button with reckless abandon, without a thought of who’s slavering on the other side.

Tech wrap: Earnings hit as Apple reigns

Quarterly earnings suffered at major technology and telecoms companies in part because of demand for gadgets made by Apple, one day after core suppliers to Apple savored strong earnings results posted by the iPhone and iPad maker on Tuesday.

AT&T posted a $6.7 billion quarterly loss as it was weighed down by a hefty break-up fee for its failed T-Mobile USA merger and other big charges on top of costly subsidies for smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone. While the wireless provider beat analysts’ expectations for subscriber additions, the growth came at a massive cost as its wireless service margins plummeted. On top of the $4 billion break-up package charge, AT&T also took a big impairment charge for its telephone directory business, which it said it was considering selling.

Nokia reported a 73 percent fall in fourth-quarter earnings as sales of its new Windows Phones failed to dent the dominance of Apple’s iPhone or compensate for diving sales of its own old smartphones. Apple reported earlier this week sales of 37 million iPhones for the December quarter. Nokia has sold over 1 million Windows “Lumia” smartphones since its launch in mid-November. Nokia said it expected its phone business’ underlying earnings to be around breakeven in the first quarter, well below analysts’ forecasts, with sales falling more than usual in the seasonally weaker quarter.

Tech wrap: Netflix gets subscribers back

Netflix’s fourth-quarter revenue outpaced Wall Street’s expectations as the video rental website reversed subscriber losses to sign up more than 600,000 new U.S. customers in the period, pushing its shares up. Netflix posted a 47 percent leap in fourth-quarter revenue to $876 million, outpacing an average forecast for $857.9 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Symantec took the rare step of advising customers to stop using one of its products, saying its pcAnywhere software for accessing remote PCs is at increased risk of getting hacked after blueprints of that software were stolen. The announcement is the company’s most direct acknowledgement to date that a 2006 theft of its source code put customers at risk of attack. Also on Wednesday, Symantec reported a higher quarterly profit and issued an outlook in line with Wall Street estimates.

Europe proposed strict new data privacy rules, putting greater responsibility on companies such as Facebook to protect users’ information, and threatening those who breach the code with hefty fines. But the move, which legislators say is designed to better defend children against predators, has rattled major technology and Internet-based companies, with executives concerned the legislation will be almost impossible to implement in full or will do serious damage to their business models.

Tech wrap: New RIM CEO says no drastic change needed

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer, said during a conference call that he would hone the current strategy rather than abandon it. “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving … but this is not a seismic change,” Heins said. RIM’s U.S.-traded shares tumbled as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse the BlackBerry maker’s decline, closing the day down 8.5 percent.

The founder of file-sharing website Megaupload was ordered to be held in custody by a New Zealand court, as he denied charges of Internet piracy and money laundering and said authorities were trying to portray the blackest picture of him. U.S. authorities want to extradite Kim Dotcom, a German national also known as Kim Schmitz, on charges he masterminded a scheme that made more than $175 million in a few short years by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. Megaupload’s lawyer has said the company simply offered online storage.

The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect’s car to track his movements without a warrant. The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle’s movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence. “A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cellphone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives,” Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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: 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.

Tech wrap: Microsoft presses pause on Web TV

Microsoft has put its talks with media companies about an online subscription service for TV shows and movies on hold, according to people familiar with the discussions. The company had been in intense talks with potential programming partners for over a year and was hoping to roll out the service in the next few months. But it pulled back after deciding that the licensing costs were too high for the business model Microsoft envisaged, the sources said.  Microsoft is still working to distribute TV shows over the Web, focusing on delivering programming via its Xbox gaming system to existing cable subscribers.

Dell intends to launch its first consumer tablet computer in late 2012, marking its entry into a hotly contested arena that has already claimed arch-foe HP. The Texas company had dipped its toe in the waters with an enterprise-focused, “Streak” tablet. Chief commercial officer Steve Felice was coy about which operating system Dell might adopt — Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 or Google’s Android — saying both were viable options. But Felice did say he liked the feel of Microsoft’s touch-enabled OS, which would be well-timed when it emerges later this year.

According to an Ipsos/Reuters poll, more than 10 percent of parents around the world say their child has been cyberbullied and nearly one-fourth know a youngster who has been a victim. The online poll of more than 18,000 adults in 24 countries, 6,500 of whom were parents, showed the most widely reported vehicle for cyberbullying was social networking sites likes Facebook, which were cited by 60 percent. Mobile devices and online chat rooms were a distant second and third.

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.

Tech wrap: Twitter sings about new site

Twitter revamped its website to make the microblogging service easier to use and to help companies better showcase their brands. The new version of Twitter features a redesigned look that the company hopes will make it easier to find interesting content on the service, as well as technological improvements that it said will speed up the service. It also features a revamped profile page, in which a company can highlight specific feature, such as videos or photos. Previously, the profile pages displayed a chronological list of the company’s most recent Tweets.

Apple’s next iPad will be available in February, Business Insider’s Jay Yarrow writes, citing Citi analyst Richard Gardner. The new iPad will feature a screen with twice the resolution of the current model, Yarrow adds.

Verizon Wireless blamed technical problems for an outage on its recently launched high-speed, 4G network, which prevented some U.S. customers from accessing the Internet for about 24 hours. It is at least the second outage since Verizon launched its 4G data service. Trade publication FierceWireless said the company had a major service disruption in April.

Tech wrap: Verizon feeds hunger for cable spectrum

Verizon Wireless plans to pay $3.6 billion for wireless airwaves from a venture of cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Comcast said that the deal represented a 64 percent premium over the $2.2 billion price the cable consortium paid in 2006 for the wireless spectrum being sold to Verizon Wireless.

U.S. Representative Edward Markey asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether software maker Carrier IQ violated millions of mobile phone users’ privacy rights. Carrier IQ makes software that companies including AT&T and Sprint install in mobile devices. It runs in the background, transmitting data that the software maker says its customer companies use to better understand their devices and networks.

Zynga, which plans to go public in two weeks, slashed its value by more than 30 percent to $9 billion, hoping to avoid the fate of other recent Internet IPOs that have disappointed after stock market debuts. Just two weeks ago a filing listed the Facebook game maker’s value, based on a third party assessment, at $14.05 billion. CEO Mark Pincus, a serial entrepreneur before he founded Zynga, will hold a class of shares with 70 times more voting power than the common stock that will be sold in the offering.