MediaFile

It’s time for a social network neutrality

By Jake Levine
The opinions expressed are his own.

The network neutrality / common carriage debate is one of the most important debates of our time. At stake is the freedom to innovate, the freedom to listen, and the freedom to speak. To date, arguments for or against common carriage have focused largely on the relationship between Internet service providers and content creators, but a new threat is emerging.

Companies like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have unlocked new ways for people to connect, curate, and consume. They have changed and continue to change how we interact with the web – how content is distributed, discovered, and delivered. But with the emergence of this new social layer comes a threat that rivals that posed by the great information monopolies of the 20th century – AT&T, the Radio Trust and the Motion Picture Patents Company, companies known for price gouging, anti-competitive behavior, and the stifling of innovation.

I recently finished Tim Wu’s “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empire.“ For anyone interested in network neutrality, this book is an incredible primer. Beyond presenting a thoughtful analysis and historical review of the information industry, Wu provides a compelling read – one might even call it a page-turner! If you haven’t yet, go buy it, and read it.

Network Neutrality

If you’re familiar with the basics of network neutrality, feel free to jump to my main argument below. If not, let’s start with Wu’s definition for common carriage:

At the heart of common carriage is the idea that certain businesses are either so intimately connected, even essential, to the public good, or so inherently powerful—imagine the water or electric utilities—that they must be compelled to conduct their affairs in a nondiscriminatory way.

Tech wrap: Apple plugs mobile software hole

Users of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch mobile devices might want to take a minute to do a software update this weekend. Apple rolled out a security fix for its iOS mobile operating software on Friday that plugs a hole that could allow hackers to gain remote access to those devices. The security flaw was discovered last week after a website released code that Apple customers can use to modify the software through a process known as “jail breaking”.

Google said more than 10 million people have now signed up to the company’s new social networking service, Google+. The Internet giant’s CEO Larry Page announced the new user numbers during the company’s second-quarter earnings call on Thursday, remarking that it has been “very well received, because in real life we share different things with different people.” That’s a reference to one of the service’s many features, Circles, which lets users sort friends into different groups (‘circles’)  and share information based on interests or affiliation. The afterglow following Google’s blockbuster results on Thursday extended into Friday, with the company’s shares surging as much as 13.5 percent at one point.

The much-hyped music streaming service Spotify has finally landed on U.S. shores. The UK-based digital music company rolled out its cloud-based service to a limited group in the United States on Thursday. CNN reports that for now the company is only accepting new members to its free service who receive invites from the company, a sponsor or a current user. Spotify has been a huge success with music lovers in Europe for years, but service problems and extended negotiations with record labels have delayed its U.S. launch.  Fortune’s JP Mangalindan explains why he thinks Spotify deserves all the hype.

Tech wrap: Netflix jacks prices, adds DVD-only option

Netflix subscribers could see their monthly bill increase starting this fall. The company announced it is doing away with a combo plan that lets customers watch unlimited movies and TV shows online and get DVDs by mail for $9.99 a month. Starting in September, current subscribers who want both services will have to pay $7.99 per month to rent one DVD plus an added $7.99 for unlimited streaming, for a total of $15.98 a month. That’s an increase of 60 percent. The new pricing begins immediately for new customers. Old-fashioned types who just want DVDs now have the option of an unlimited DVD-only plan that costs $7.99 for one at a time or $9.99 for two at a time. Good or bad news, depending on how you use Netflix.

Changes are afoot in Apple’s legal department. The tech giant’s chief patent lawyer Richard “Chip” Lutton Jr. plans to leave the company soon, sources close to the matter told Reuters. So who will Apple tap to oversee the many legal battles it’s fighting against rival smartphone makers around the world? Apple is mum on the matter, but BJ Watrous, a former deputy general counsel with Hewlett-Packard, is now listed as Apple’s chief intellectual property counsel on Watrous’s LinkedIn Web page.

Would Research in Motion be better off as two companies? That’s an idea that was floated on Tuesday by an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, who argued that the BlackBerry maker could spur innovation by splitting itself up into separate network and handset businesses. The Waterloo, Ontario-based firm has fallen behind rivals in recent months, leaving investors hungry for news about how the company intends to reverse its lackluster performance.

Tech wrap: Apple vs HTC, round two

Apple has kicked its intellectual property dispute with Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC up a notch. The company filed a new complaint against HTC with a U.S. trade panel over some of its portable electronic devices and software, according to the panel’s website.  Apple filed a similar action against the company last year and could be trying to strengthen the case against its rival by adding new patents to its claim this time around, notes AllThingD’s John Paczkowski. “It’s another broad warning to the industry,” he writes.“If you’re bringing a new smartphone to market, you had better make damn sure it doesn’t infringe on Apple’s IP.”

The first e-reader to fully integrate Google’s eBooks platform into its design goes on sale exclusively at Target stores across the U.S. next weekend, Google said in a blog post.  The iRiver Story HD lets users buy and read e-books from the service over Wi-Fi and store their personal collections in the cloud. Google offers more than 3 million free titles for download through its eBooks service, with hundreds of thousands more for sale.

LinkedIn, the online networking website aimed at professionals, surpassed Myspace in June to become the second-most popular social network in the United States, according to a new survey from comScore. Just how much more popular is LinkedIn now? According to the figures, LinkedIn had 33.9 million unique visitors in June, a jump of about a half a million from May. Myspace, on the other hand, saw its traffic decline to 33.5 million American visitors, a drop of about 1.4 million users from the previous month.

HP’s TouchPad tablet: The reviews

Hewlett-Packard’s decision to enlist funnyman Russell Brand to promote its new TouchPad tablet in a series of online videos seems to have been the right one. People love the ads. Whether consumers will warm to the device itself remains to be seen, though.

HP pitches the TouchPad as a workhorse that’s a boon to productivity and a marvel of multitasking, but which can also hold its own as an entertainment device. The Wi-Fi enabled tablet, which hit U.S. shelves on July 1 (at $500 for 16 GB model, $600 for 32 GB), is up against some serious competition from Apple’s standard-bearing iPad models and a stable of well-regarded Android alternatives.

HP is smart to trumpet the TouchPad’s ability to play Web video and multimedia formats such as Adobe Flash, which Apple has refused to support on its devices despite demands from its own customers. But reviews of the 9.7-inch tablet, which runs on Palm’s webOS mobile software, could so far be characterized as tepid at best. Overall, they seem to suggest that while HP should be praised for some of the TouchPad’s features, it falls short on too many other crucial elements. Here’s a sampling of what’s been said so far:

Tech wrap: New effort underway in Internet piracy fight

Can slower Internet speeds convince consumers to stop pirating copyrighted material online? That’s the assumption behind a new anti-piracy effort launched this week by a coalition of Internet service providers and groups representing movie studios and record labels.

Under the new initiative,  AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon have agreed to send customers email or pop-up alerts if it is suspected that their account is being used to download or share copyrighted material illegally. Should suspected illegal activity persist, providers might temporarily slow Internet speeds or redirect their browser to a specific Web page until the customer contacts the company.  Time’s Techland blog calls the effort “fairly reasonable” but points out that “it’s only a matter of time before someone is falsely accused of copyright infringement and throttled accordingly.” Users accused can seek an independent review of whether they acted illegally.

A major hedge fund dumped its stake in Yahoo after an ownership dispute earlier this year cut the value of the Internet giant’s China holdings. Back in May, Yahoo revealed that Alibaba Group, its Chinese unit, had transferred ownership of its valuable online payments business Alipay to a company owned by Jack Ma, Alipay’s CEO. “This isn’t what we signed up for,” Greenlight Capital’s head David Einhorn wrote in a letter to investors. “We exited with a modest loss.”

Verizon Wireless crunches numbers for you — or tries to

Verizon Wireless customers getting stressed out about whether they’d charge past their 2-gigabyte download limit? The company is here to help, at least in theory. 

 Tomorrow the company is eliminating its $30/month, unlimited data plans for new smartphone customers (existing users can keep their plans).

But long before the change, Verizon Wireless had offered something called the data calculator on its website, a handy service that estimates how much data you’d use if you send, say, 250 text-only emails a day (the answer is apparently 73.24 megabyes of data).  That sounds really helpful — but then it gets a little confusing. 

Tech wrap: Facebook zooms into video age

Starting today, Facebook users will have the option of holding one-on-one video calls with their friends directly from their account on the social network. The new Skype-powered video service marks a renewed effort by Facebook to cement itself as the go-to communications hub on the Web and serves as a response to Google’s recently launched Hangouts app, a similar video chatting feature that lets users on its Google+ social network chat with up to 10 people at once.

Facebook’s video chat will be embedded directly into the site’s messaging platform and won’t require users to sign up for Skype separately to use it. Skype stands to see a big boost from the partnership seeing as it could open it up to a whole new set of users.  So how does Facebook’s video chat compare to Google’s? TechCrunch finds there’s little overlap at this point between the two services, arguing the former is well-designed for one-on-one pow-wows whereas the latter is better suited to group chats. In addition, Facebook unveiled a new group-messaging feature that lets users take part in text chats with multiple friends.

Remember that man who was accused early this year of hacking into AT&T’s servers and stealing personal data from 120,000 Apple iPad customers? Well, he was indicted on Wednesday by a Newark, New Jersey grand jury with one count of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers and one count of identity theft. The charges come two weeks after a co-defendant in the case pleaded guilty.

Casey Anthony is OJ’d in the first sensational Twitter era case

Casey Anthony has been acquitted of the most serious charges she faced in the death of her toddler, Caylee. For many, the outcome of the digital age’s equivalent of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995 was just as cringe-inducingly unexpected. 

Word of the verdict spread like wildfire, of course, making a return to a normal life for newly-famous Anthony as unlikely as it was for already-famous Simpson 16 years ago. Simpson was subsequently convicted on unrelated kidnapping and theft charges after essentially dropping out of society as best he could.

Just as some greeted the Simpson verdict with tears and disbelief, there was much the same reaction about the Anthony verdict, including other mothers and daughters who railed against the verdict on the courthouse steps.

Tech wrap: Verizon ditches unlimited data plan

Verizon Wireless customers, say goodbye to the days of  unlimited Web surfing for a set fee on your smartphone. The biggest U.S. mobile provider will stop offering its $30 all-you-can-surf  deal later this week, replacing it with a new tiered approach to data pricing. Customers who keep their smartphone use to 2 gigbytes (GB) of data per month or under won’t see a change to their bill, but those who go over that limit will be slapped with an extra $10 charge per GB. Heavy mobile users will have the option of signing up for a 5 GB or 10 GB plan for $50 or $80 respectively. AT&T made a similar move last year, meaning Sprint is now the last major wireless carrier offering unlimited data use. CNET reports that Verizon will also start charging for access to its mobile hot-spot service, which up until this week has been free and without bandwidth restrictions.

Aspiring cord cutters across Latin America and the Caribbean, rejoice. Netflix is on its way. The company, which offers TV shows and movies over the Internet and DVD rentals through the mail, will be expanding its online video streaming service to 43 countries in the regions later this year. Shows and movies will be available to subscribers in Spanish, Portuguese or English on PCs, Macs and other mobile devices that are able to stream from Netflix, the company said in a blog post. The overseas expansion marks the company’s second foray outside the United States. It began offering its services in Canada last year.

You’ve heard it before and now you’ll hear it again – the next iteration of Apple’s iPhone is on its way this September. Supply-side sources told Asian IT industry newspaper DigiTimes that Taiwan-based notebook maker Pegatron Technology has received an order to make 15 million iPhone 5/iPhone 4 handsets that are set to ship sometime in September.  The iPhone 5 is not expected to differ much from the previous model on the surface, according to the report. As AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski points out, the real differences are expected to be “under the hood” where you’ll find a faster processor and better rear camera among other improvements.