MediaFile

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.

In a web conference in Paris, a PayPal executive was booed by the audience when he tried to explain why it shut down Wikileaks’ account. It later emerged that all it took was a letter from the State Department claiming Wikileaks was illegal. The PayPal executive, VP of Platform Osama Bedier, told the audience, “One of the signs that you’re a successful payments company is that hackers start to target you, this case isn’t anything different.”

That may be true as far as it goes, which isn’t very far. Again, web companies thrive when idealism and profits are in harmony, not when they are opposed. PayPal miscalculated how strongly many of its customers feel about the issue, and caving in under pressure that was no weightier than a letter doesn’t look very good.

In Google-Groupon talks, size matters

“Think small and act small, and we’ll get bigger. Think big and act big, and we’ll get smaller.”

I came across this quote recently from Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines and my namesake (but no relation). I thought of it again this weekend when reports emerged that e-coupon star Groupon had rebuffed Google’s generous $6 billion bid for an acquisition.

In the business of building the web, small companies dream of staying private, suckling the ample teats of venture capital, until a successful IPO makes everyone rich. Big companies have a ton of cash and use it to buy small companies, which then get lost inside the big company’s culture and never really realize their potential.

Forget-me-not: RIM’s half-ready PlayBook vies for attention

www.reuters.comBy Alastair Sharp

Research In Motion’s upcoming PlayBook tablet device made a live guest appearance on home turf today at a Toronto press conference on how these  devices that fall between smartphones and laptops will change life as we know it.

When it comes to real-world uses for tablets, most examples understandably came from Apple’s iPad, the old man on the block at eight months old.

The iPad helps autistic children communicate and helps hospitals manage patients. Corporate software maker SAP has even built an iPad app for business intelligence. The list goes on.

Will Facebook become a force in e-commerce, too?

USA-RETAIL/BLACKFRIDAYThe social graph that Facebook is slowly building has been extending its tentacles into different areas of the web – not just micro-publishing the thoughts of a user’s circle of friends, but also online videos, photos and email. One huge area that Facebook has been quiet in so far is e-commerce. But this holiday season, there are early signs that that is beginning to change.

Coremetrics, a web analytics company owned by IBM, recently looked at new trends in the annual shopping spree stretching from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. Among them, it found a nascent trend it called social shopping:

The growing trend of consumers using their networks on social sites for information about deals and inventory levels continued on Cyber Monday. While the percentage of visitors arriving from social network sites is fairly small relative to all online visitors—nearly 1 percent—it is gaining momentum, with Facebook dominating the space.

Why Web Giants would benefit from a ‘do not track’ policy

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a report recommending that browsers include a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would allow people to surf the web without sites collecting and sharing data about their activities. In the same way that the “Do Not Call” list hampered that ability of some (but alas, not all) telemarketers to interrupt our dinners with unwanted calls, the idea sounds like bad news for web sites that target ads based on such data.

But in the end, such a move could be just what web giants like Google and Facebook need to get their users to opt in to sharing data, rather than opting out.

Opting out of telemarketing calls is a fairly black and white decision. You either hate them or you don’t mind them. But online privacy is a much murkier affair. On the one hand, behavioral data can help sites serve ads or deliver sponsored-search results that are – theoretically, at least – of interest. Increasingly, they are being used to improve the web experiences as well, whether it’s Netflix using your viewing history to recommend new movies, or apps like Foursquare using geolocation.

Time Warner says no advanced degree needed for device management

jeff bewkesTime Warner Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes stopped in at the Reuters Global Media Summit and shared his vision for a future where people will get all their entertainment needs on every device, like smart phones, tablets and computers– but said it must be easy for consumers.

“We don’t want in the future for people to have to have  a Phd in device management,” Bewkes told Reuters journalists, but stressed  that the future of the media business clearly lies on “more and more devices not less,” he said.

Bewkes noted Time Warner was the first company to come up with the idea of putting its network and programming out on demand on all platforms at no extra cost, referring to his TV Everywhere initiative that will offer streaming content free to customers who subscribe to cable.

GlobalMedia-iPad cautionary tale: What not to watch, up close

SINGAPORE/Media executives love to go on about their love of the Apple’s iPad. But the tablet isn’t suited for everything. Walt Disney’s Anne Sweeney relayed her recent experience catching up on an ABC  TV show using the  popular tablet.

Sweeney missed the season finale Grey’s Anatomy and, while traveling, decided to watch the show in her hotel room. The episode was particularly gory — several characters were picked off by a aggrieved man who held the hospital at gunpoint.

“It was a massacre,” Sweeney said at the Reuters Global Media Summit. “There’s nothing like seeing that on your pillow. There are some things you might not want to watch that close on your iPad.”

GlobalMedia-3D? After some thought, News Corp COO likes its future

carey1To our surprise, News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey, whose studio released the highest grossing movie of all time in 3D, hesitated when asked about the future of that technology.

Carey, speaking at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, was asked whether he rated a series of technologies “long” or “short” and raced through most of the list without hesitating until faced with 3D.

“Ummm … (pause) … long, but long with limits,” Carey said of 3D. “I don’t think it’s (high definition), so those who sort of think it’s the second coming of HD, I think it is an event medium that’s for films, for sports events.”

When gamers hit Toys R Us and other tales of Black Friday

Sprinkled among the snaking lines of parents at a Toys R Us in New Jersey on Black Friday were diehard gamers. Many had no children to spoil. Nor were they particularly happy to be in the Toys R Us; but with gaming hardware fast selling out across the region, they followed the scent of the deal.

The Kinect moved especially fast, if early anecdotal evidence is any measure. Brisk sales of  hardware like the PlayStation3, Xbox and Microsoft Kinect on the nation’s biggest annual shopping spree also bode well for software sales, says Mike Hickey, a Janco Partners analyst.

But which games were enticing fans to shell out on Black Friday?

“ We’re seeing strong sales of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (Ubisoft), Just Dance 2 (Ubisoft), Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision Blizzard), Red Dead Redemption (Take-Two Interactive), Fallout: New Vegas (Bethesda), Gran Turismo 5 (Polyphony Digital) and Donkey Kong (Nintendo),” Hickey said.

Berners-Lee: Apple, Facebook are enemies of the web

2010 is a great time for the web. Innovation is thriving as new services and content flourish on smartphones and laptops, thanks in good part to industry leaders like Apple and Facebook.

But according to Tim Berners-Lee, – often called “ the father of the web” – the open and democratic structure of the web is threatened by sinister forces trying to redesign the web in ways that make it more closed for their own personal gain. These enemies of the web don’t just include totalitarian governments. They include industry leaders like Apple and Facebook.

As the web turns 20, Berners-Lee has written a 3,800-word article for Scientific American celebrating its achievements and documenting threats to its future. Most of his words are dedicated to the threats.