MediaFile

Tech wrap: AT&T, Sprint admit using monitoring software

Phone makers RIM and Nokia denied installing on their mobile devices an app which can monitor what users are doing without their knowledge or consent while carriers AT&T and Sprint admitted to using it. The companies responded after a security researcher demonstrated in online videos how the “Carrier IQ” software worked on Google’s Android operating system and said that phones running RIM’s BlackBerry platform and Nokia’s Symbian OS also had the software installed. AT&T and Sprint said they use “Carrier IQ” to monitor network quality.

Blackstone Group and Bain Capital are preparing a bid for all of Yahoo with Asian partners in a deal that could value the Internet company at about $25 billion, a source familiar with the matter said. The potential bid by the consortium, which would include China’s Alibaba and Japan’s Softbank, has not yet been finalized, the source and two other people familiar with the matter said. E-commerce giant Alibaba, whose primary interest is in buying back a 40 percent stake owned by Yahoo, is keeping its options open and said it has not decided whether to participate in a bid for all of Yahoo.

Apple’s iPhone edged past major news events, celebrities and pop stars as the top searched term on the Web in 2011, according to Yahoo. The media company said the smartphone proved more popular than reality television celebrity Kim Kardashian, pop star Katy Perry and singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, who placed in the top five. Casey Anthony, the woman acquitted of the murder of her young daughter after a highly publicized trial, was No. 2.

Best Buy is recalling about 32,000 Rocketfish battery cases for iPhones because of a fire hazard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada said. The Richfield, Minnesota, company and the CPSC have received about 14 reports of the Rocketfish Model RF-KL12 Mobile Battery Case overheating while charging in the United States, the CPSC said.

The European Commission joined forces with major technology firms including Apple, Facebook and Google to improve the protection of children online. The coalition, which includes 28 companies, will develop an age-based online ratings system and aims to strengthen privacy settings. It also plans by the end of next year to make it easier to report inappropriate content. Other measures include improving parental controls and enhancing cooperation among law enforcement and hotline authorities to remove online material showing sexual abuse.

Don’t you dare call us

Remember how we all did the happy dance when the U.S. government created the Do Not Call Registry back in 2003? How we popped the champagne corks because hefty civil penalties could be given to a telemarketer if they called your landline after you had opted-in on the registry? Sure, there are loopholes and enforcement problems but essentially the registry works, and it restored the natural order of things by liberating us from having to drop everything because some faceless, money-grubbing salesperson rang in our living rooms.

A mere eight years later landlines are a dying technology. Cool kids, lower-income people, and savvy middle-agers know there’s really no need for a “home phone.” We’ve never had to worry about mobile phone spam because there is a FCC rule against it. This restriction was premised largely on the fact that, unlike on a landline, receiving a wireless call can cost something to the recipient. Same is true for faxes, for the same reason: unsolicited faxes — i.e., spam — is a civil violation.

But, aside from the practical rationale, this dynamic reflects the fundamental truth that I have a phone to make calls and receive them from whom I choose. I’m not paying all this money to establish a marketing beachhead in my pocket.

Tech wrap: Groupon goes public, super nova

Shares of daily deals site Groupon rose more than 50 percent in their stock market debut, but at least some of the early trading exuberance may have come from limiting the fraction of the company that was sold. The shares rose as high as $31.14, or 55.7 percent above the IPO price, in early trading on the Nasdaq, at one point pushing the market value of the company up to $19.9 billion.  The shares later eased back, closing at $26.11. Despite the early success, there are still lingering questions about Groupon’s business model and about competition from better-funded rivals such as Amazon.com and Google.

Yahoo has signed confidentiality agreements with several parties interested in buying all or part of the company, according to people familiar with the matter. The Internet pioneer said potential buyers had to sign an agreement by Friday to be allowed a close look at Yahoo’s finances. But the Friday deadline could be extended into next week to provide more time for other firms to sign on, the sources said. Some private equity firms have balked at signing Yahoo’s nondisclosure agreement because of restrictions that would prevent them from forming consortiums, sources told Reuters last week.

EU regulators are investigating whether Samsung and Apple may have breached EU antitrust laws with patent infringement claims in their global legal battle over the lucrative smartphone and tablet market. “The (European) Commission has indeed sent requests for information to Apple and Samsung concerning the enforcement of ‘standards-essential’ patents in the mobile telephony sector,” the European Commission said in a statement. Standards-essential patents means they have been incorporated in internationally accepted technology standards, which in the case of Samsung and Apple, means 3G and UMTS technology.

Tech wrap: Yahoo finds interclick, pays $270 million for it

CORRECTION: The original headline falsely stated that Yahoo will pay $240 million for interclick. The correct amount is $270 million.

Yahoo will pay $270 million for interclick as it tries to revive its ailing online advertising business, even as the search and advertising giant continues to scout for potential bidders. Yahoo is paying $9 per share, or about a 22 percent premium, for the online advertising technology firm. “It’s not a transformational acquisition, but it helps Yahoo in a market they are not strong in … they have to take some steps to keep pushing forward,” BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said. Among the parties interested in Yahoo are private equity firms Silver Lake, TPG Capital, Bain Capital, Blackstone, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Providence Equity Partners, Hellman & Friedman, Carlyle Group, and Russian technology investment firm DST Global, apart from rivals Microsoft and Google.

Olympus named six men, including a former Japanese supreme court justice, to investigate past M&A deals at the core of a scandal engulfing the endoscope and camera maker in a bid to stem an exodus of irate investors. None of the six have had any previous association with the company, an Olympus spokeswoman said. As yet, no deadline for the group to report its findings has been set, she added.

Facebook makes us embrace creepy

By Kevin Kelleher
The opinions expressed are his own.

Sean Parker was looking edgy. Maybe it was because he was sitting in for Mark Pincus, who bowed out of this week’s Web 2.0 Summit because of Zynga’s pre-IPO quiet period. Or because this was a chance to show a large gathering of his peers that Justin Timberlake, no matter how smooth, could never be a Sean Parker. Or maybe it was just because he was Sean Parker.

He shifted nervously on a black leather sofa as he was asked about Facebook’s new power, a power that leads many to see the company as fearsome and a little creepy. His posture hunched, his expression murine, his black wardrobe gothic porn, his eyes shifting around the room as he hunted for the precisely evasive word. Parker’s reply finally came in the form of a couple of sentences that might stick with him for some time: “There’s good creepy and there’s bad creepy,” he said. “Today’s creepy is tomorrow’s… necessity?”

It sounds so unpalatable coming from Sean Parker, but it’s true. After all, more people are sharing more information on social networks than they were a few years ago. In a way, Parker was just channeling Zuckerberg, who said in early 2010 that people will grow more comfortable with sharing information about themselves; and more recently that people will want to share more of their lives as each year passes, and that “it’s going to be really, really good.”

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.

Care and feeding of your computer hacker

By Misha Glenny
The opinions expressed are his own.

Under a proposed new law, the Obama Administration is planning to throw the book at hackers convicted of organized criminal activity or endangering national security.

The maximum sentence for these crimes will be raised to 20 years to reflect how hackers have become “a key tool of organized crime,” with many hackers “tied to traditional Asian and Eastern European organized crime organizations.”

But while law enforcement and the criminal justice system seek to impose ever longer sentences on hackers, they are missing a trick – we need hackers. They are an invaluable asset in the fight against cyber crime and cyber espionage at a time when there is a dearth of IT Security professionals able to deal with this threat.

What Rupert did

By John Lloyd
The views expressed are his own.

The crisis at the News of the World broke in July 2011. It had been gathering for five years, since the first public intimations surfaced in 2006 of a culture of using private investigators to hack into the mobile phones of those the newspaper wished to investigate. Two ‘rotten apples’ were thrown out by News International, the parent company: these were Glen Mulcaire, the private investigator employed by a number of papers to find out secrets of the objects of their investigations; and Clive Goodman, the News of the World (NotW ) reporter who covered the royal family and whose stories had used material gleaned by Mulcaire from interceptions of the royal princes’ phones. The rest of the barrel, the paper and the company said, was unblemished: as evidence of purity of soul, the then editor, Andy Coulson, resigned, disavowing all knowledge of the hacking but shouldering responsibility as the one on whose watch this had happened. A few months later, he was employed as director of communications by David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party and of the opposition; when Cameron moved, in May 2010, into Number 10 as prime minister, Coulson retained his post and moved with him. It was reported that several of those who met Cameron at this time warned him against employing Coulson. The latter’s claim, that he had not asked a senior reporter about the source of stories which would be among the most important published in any given week, astonished those who had any acquaintance with journalism. However, Cameron said he accepted his word, that Coulson deserved a ‘second chance’ and that he had skills which the leader of the opposition needed.

From these quite modest beginnings grew a scandal whose revelations have laid bare journalistic practices which were not confined to phone hacking, nor to the NotW, and involved issues even more serious: the assumption by leading journalists working for the most widely read section of the British press that the private lives of anyone in whom they wished to take an interest should be open to their gaze and use; increasing subordination of the political class to tabloid pressure; and the possible (as yet unproven) corruption of officers of the Metropolitan Police.

This is written as the News International scandal, and others associated with it, roll on. The issue is sufficiently mature, however, for there to have appeared a substantial minority of voices which dissent from the chorus of condemnation which has attended these revelations, and assert that, even if the scandal is shocking, it has been grossly overblown – as a Wall Street Journal editorial had it, overblown because of left-wing hostility to right-wing newspapers. These voices point out that more important matters face the world; and that, even if Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation (whose UK subsidiary News International is, and which also owns Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal) presided over an organization in which such things were winked at, he has also been a force for good in the newspaper trade. He smashed the anarchic Fleet Street print unions which were a barrier to development and growth, invested mightily in an industry from which others were and still are exiting, kept alive (among other titles) The Times at a large loss, provided millions of readers in three Anglophone countries – Australia, the UK and to a lesser extent the USA – with newspapers which they freely and often chose to buy, and ran an efficient and entrepreneurial company. More, as Ros Wynne-Jones argued in the Independent, at times his tabloids did revelatory and campaigning journalism on issues that mattered to a working-class readership: ‘holiday rip-offs, the loan shark thugs, the tawdry parasitical underclass that preys on the poor and elderly’. One could add to her list an appetite for exposing racial extremists: the Sun vividly reported on leading members of the British National Party, which had sought to give a more moderate image of itself, giving Nazi salutes and glorying in racial hatred.

Tech wrap: RIM profit tanks

Research In Motion quarterly adjusted net profit fell 47 percent to $419 million, on revenue of $4.2 billion, hurt by an aging lineup of BlackBerry smartphones that was only refreshed very late in the quarter and tepid sales of its PlayBook tablet. RIM shipped 10.6 million smartphones and 200,000 PlayBook tablet computers in the three months to August 27, sharply below the average estimate of analysts.

Fifteen Democratic lawmakers asked the Obama administration to approve AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile USA. Representative Heath Shuler and 14 other Democrats sent a letter to President Obama arguing that the deal would reduce joblessness and encourage investment.

A proposed update of the U.S. online privacy rule for children would revise definitions of personal information and beef up parental consent mechanisms to reflect technological changes. The Federal Trade Commission plan would modify its Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule that gives parents a say over what information websites and other online providers can collect about children under the age of 13.

Tech wrap: Biggest series of cyber attacks exposed

Security company McAfee uncovered the biggest-ever series of attacks on the networks of 72 organizations including the U.N., governments and companies around the world and claimed there was one “state actor” behind them but declined to name it. One security expert who has been briefed on the hacking said the evidence points to China.

Some of the victims in the five-year campaign include the governments of the U.S. and Canada; the International Olympic Committee; the World Anti-Doping Agency; and various companies, from defense contractors to high-tech enterprises.

RIM unveiled two new versions of its touchscreen BlackBerry Torch, including an all-touch model. The three touchscreen phones, running on the new BlackBerry OS 7, boast improved screen displays and pack a 1.2 GHz processor from Qualcomm, the most powerful ever for a BlackBerry phone. They also have a dedicated graphics processor that should make video and gaming sharper and more responsive. The browser is 40 percent faster than the original Torch, RIM’s last major phone launch, which hit shelves almost a year ago. All three devices will be launched by carriers around the world by the end of August, RIM said. The slider Torch will be exclusive to AT&T in the United States, the carrier said.