MediaFile

from Paul Smalera:

Twitter’s censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter

Twitter’s announcement this week that it was going to enable country-specific censorship of posts is arousing fury around the Internet. Commentators, activists, protesters and netizens have said it’s “very bad news” and claim to be “#outraged”. Bianca Jagger, for one, asked how to go about boycotting Twitter, on Twitter, according to the New York Times. (Step one might be... well, never mind.) The critics have settled on #TwitterBlackout: all day on Saturday the 28th, they promised to not tweet, as a show of protest and solidarity with those who might be censored.

Here’s the thing: Like Twitter itself, it’s time for the Internet, and its chirping classes, to grow up. Twitter’s policy and its transparency pledge with the censorship watchdog Chilling Effects is the most thoughtful, honest and realistic policy to come out of a technology company in a long time. Even an unsympathetic reading of the new censorship policy bears that out.

To understand why, let’s unpack the policy a bit: First, Twitter has strongly implied it will not remove content under this policy. If that doesn’t sound like a crucial distinction from outright censorship, it is. Taking the new policy with existing ones, the only time Twitter says it will ever remove a tweet altogether is in response to a DMCA request. The DMCA may have its own flaws, but it is a form of censorship that lives separately from the process Twitter has outlined in this recent announcement. Where the DMCA process demands a deletion of copyright-infringing content, Twitter’s censorship policy promises no such takedown: it promises instead only to withhold censored content from the country where the content has been censored. Nothing else.

To be sure, that’s censorship of a kind, but compared to the industry censorship even Americans have long lived with -- take the Motion Picture Association of America, which still censors films based on dubious standards of taste and morality -- it’s positively enlightened. And it never permanently destroys or pre-empts content, the way the MPAA does.

Further, for a country to censor content, it has to make a “valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity” to Twitter, which will then decide what to do with the request. Twitter will also make an effort to notify users whose content is censored about what happened and why, and even give them a method to challenge the request. According to Twitter’s post, a record of the action will also be filed to the Chilling Effects website. The end result of a successful request is that the tweet or user in question is replaced by a gray box that notifies other readers inside the censoring country that the Tweet has been censored:

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.

Why are cheap startups so expensive?

Starting up a Web company is never easy, but at least it’s not as expensive as it used to be. Instead of buying and maintaining an IT infrastructure, as they had to do in the dotcom boom, startups now turn to cloud server services like Amazon’s. Instead of costly proprietary software, OpenOffice and Google offer cheaper (or free) options. Instead of paying office rent, employees can work from home. And the viral power of social media can bring new customers with little marketing. Open-source projects and the durability of Moore’s Law promise to lower costs even further.

But if it’s cheaper than ever to fund a startup’s growth, why are some Web companies receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in financing? And why are valuations rising quarter after quarter, to the point where some venture capitalists are complaining that certain startups have simply gotten too expensive to invest in? How is it that Web companies are becoming both cheaper and more expensive? Are VCs valuing companies on fundamentals, or following the market’s momentum?

Such questions might seem academic, except that the gap between startup costs and valuations keeps widening. The last six months alone have seen a surprising number of nine-digit venture rounds. In July, Airbnb, a home-sharing startup that had 130 employees, raised $112 million in a round that valued the company at $1.3 billion. A week later, Twitter, which had 600 employees, raised $800 million (half going to cash out early investors), valuing it at $8.4 billion. In October, online-storage company Dropbox, another small company of 70 employees, said it raised $250 million in a round valuing the company at $4 billion. And just last month, group-buying company LivingSocial closed a $176 million round, vowing to raise an even larger amount in the coming months.

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: 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.

How long can Murdoch keep it up on Twitter?

You can say what you like about Rupert Murdoch, and most people have, but he doesn’t do things halfway. His decision to join Twitter on New Year’s eve has set the Twitterati and blogosphere alight not just because the 80-year old media baron joined but because unlike every other CEO or executive who’s joined Twitter, he’s actually expressed some real opinions — some of which are controversial given who he is. When Reuters asked CEOs at its Global Media Summit last fall most felt tweeting wasn’t for them.

In Murdoch’s first 24 hours he started off relatively gently praising an op-ed on Ron Paul in his Wall Street Journal, extolled the benefits of vacation, praised the founder of original founder of his New York Post and championed two of his Fox studios’ movies ‘The Descendants’ and ‘We bought a Zoo’.

He seemed to stick to some sort of neutral script for his first 24 hours but by Monday (Jan 2nd) he had praised President Obama for being “very courageous – and dead right” for his decision on terrorist detention, taken a poke at Glenn Beck’s old Fox News show and effectively endorsed Republican presidential candidate hopeful Rick Santorum: “Only candidate with genuine big vision for the country”. He also called on the “courageous” Obama to address what Murdoch sees as the United States’ biggest crisis, its education policy.

White House’s #40dollars campaign is a hit

This is politics in 2011: Newt Gingrich is campaigning for Iowa caucus votes in bookstores that aren’t even in the first-to-vote state, Mitt Romney is burnishing his national lead over everyone but Gingrich with a self-deprecating “Top 10 List” on Late Night with David Letterman — and the White House is burning up Twitter in a showdown with House Republicans.

Read elsewhere for the ins and outs of the brinkmanship on the legislation whose primary purpose is to extend a so-called “payroll tax holiday” past Dec. 31.  Inaction will result in the end of a sweet tax break for workers that’s not quite as sweet for the federal coffers. Depending on which side of the debate you are on, you can find plenty of spin to try to seize the high ground. The Obama administration has been fond of saying that the end of the holiday will cost 160 million U.S. taxpayers an average of $1,000 in 2012 — by pure coincidence, a presidential election year.

But the president’s communications team has become even fonder of crafting its message for the social media generation by breaking up that $1,000 into a more bite-sized $40 pieces, per bi-weekly paycheck. Through that massaging of the message, they have created a Twitter trending topic called #40dollars. It’s not surprising that Obama’s team has been particularly adroit at the whole internet thing. Their man was a candidate who famously sought a meeting with Mark Andreessen — the two had never met — to talk about how social media might be leveraged in the 2008 election he won against considerable odds.

Tech wrap: AT&T, T-Mobile pull plug on mega-merger

AT&T said it had agreed with Deutsche Telekom to drop its $39 billion bid to buy the German company’s U.S. wireless unit amid increasing regulatory obstacles to the planned deal. AT&T said in a statement on Monday that it will enter a roaming agreement with Deutsche Telekom. AT&T’s plan to buy T-Mobile USA, first announced in March, has met with opposition from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

The upstart wireless company that is being bankrolled by Philip Falcone’s $5 billion Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund could run out of money during the second quarter of 2012, according to the company’s financial statement. LightSquared, which registered a $427 million net loss during the first nine months of this year, may not be able to “continue as a going concern” unless it can raise additional capital and financing, the statement reviewed by Reuters said.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Saudi billionaire and an investor in some of the world’s top companies, has bought a stake in microblogging site Twitter for $300 million, gaining another foothold in the global media industry. The Twitter stake, bought jointly by Alwaleed and his Kingdom Holding Co investment firm, was a secondary market transaction, meaning that Alwaleed and Kingdom bought the Twitter shares from existing shareholders, rather than making a direct investment, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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.

A more controlled stumbling with StumbleUpon channels

It’s been two-and-half years since online social media service StumbleUpon hit the eject button from eBay, its one-time corporate parent.

Since then, the company has grown its users and its staff. The San Francisco-based company now has 100 employees (25 percent of whom are former Googlers, the company says), up from 30 employees at the time of the eBay spin-off.

And the service, which lets users discover interesting Web content that has been flagged by friends and people with similar interests, now counts 20 million registered users, compared to 10 million about one year ago.