2nd > February > 2006 Archive
Chris Bell of WildPackets dropped me some feeedback a day or so back: "Here is a challenge. At WildPackets we have spent the last 16 years designing and developing tools to help network engineers isolate problems in application flows. How could you use real-time data from OSI layers 2-7 to improve what you do and gain a head-start on your competition? "Until I spoke to David, it had never occurred to me that our tools might be used by application developers to enhance user experience..."
Net FuturesNet Futures Do Martians pay late fees? And why, in 2006, do Earthlings need to go to Blockbusters in the rain?
Dell announced last week that it is planning to launch embedded Vodafone HSDPA access as a build-to-order option for notebook PCs in France, Germany and the UK. This extended wireless capability should be available in the first half of this year. The news comes hot on the heels of other announcements of HSDPA connectivity based on the usual data card form factor that we are used to seeing with 3G and GPRS. For those unfamiliar with HSDPA, the acronym stands for High-Speed Downlink Packet Access. Essentially, it is an upgrade to existing 3G networks that were originally built out in Europe based on the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) standard. 3G networks upgraded to HSDPA are anticipated to deliver three to four times the data capacity and three to four times the data access rates of UMTS. HSDPA also significantly reduces network latency, the delay associated with response to network requests, which further boosts the performance of "chatty" applications such as Web browsing over HTTP. Together with better in-building coverage and improved quality of service management, the end result should be a dramatically enhanced user experience, and a network that is able to tolerate high network loads at busy times much more effectively. HSDPA rollout is set to gain momentum as we go through the second half of the year, though timescales vary between operators and indications are that it will take some time before 3G networks are fully upgraded. From that point onwards, new cell sites commissioned as the physical 3G networks continue to expand will be HSDPA enabled. In terms of HSDPA coverage, we can expect the kind of rollout schedule we have seen before with 3G - specific cities and major conurbations first, with wider coverage following. In reality though, it is likely to be well into 2007 before we see anything other than relatively restricted HSDPA availability. The obvious question therefore is why anyone would be interested in buying a notebook from Dell with embedded HSDPA as soon as the middle of this year. The answer is to future proof their investment. The modules installed by Dell will support UMTS and GPRS (2.5G) as well as HSDPA. They may therefore be used to connect via the commonly available cellular data standards today, while being ready to take advantage of HSDPA as coverage increases to useful levels, as it undoubtedly will during the lifetime of a new PC bought this year. In physical terms, the UMTS/HSDPA module will be fitted internally with the antenna integrated into the notebook lid, and will generally co-exist alongside a WiFi module. Some might say that embedding support for two high-speed wireless standards into a notebook is overkill. Doesn't Wi-Fi make HSDPA redundant and vice versa? Dell is very clear in its view that WiFi and cellular connectivity options are complimentary, and we are inclined to agree with this. Regardless of increasing Wi-Fi availability, coverage can never be as extensive as a cellular network - the technology simply wasn't designed with this in mind. Connecting to public access Wi-Fi networks is still also far from being a hassle free experience, especially if you don't have a subscription and need to purchase access on a session by session basis. In practical terms, therefore, a significant number of notebook users will, indeed already do, find the cellular option very useful. One way to view mobile wireless connectivity is to think in terms of a step down model. If Wi-Fi is available and can be connected to with relative ease, then that's the first choice. If it is not, then the fastest cellular option is sought, looking for HSDPA, UMTS then GPRS in that order. On some networks, there may also be an EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) option, which if available sits between UMTS and GPRS in order of priority. Early implementations of connectivity 'dashboards' have had a stab at making the step down approach as easy as possible for the user. It will be nice to see this fully automated on notebooks that come off the manufacturing line with all of the wireless options pre-installed, but we'll have to wait and see how well this is implemented. Ironically, if the operators don't do a good job here and the Wi-Fi/cellular interplay remains relatively clunky, it could work in their favour. Authentication via the SIM card mechanism provides an "open the lid and go" experience with cellular, the convenience of which has already made 3G the default for many existing data card users, who only connect to public access Wi-Fi when they are stationary for long enough to justify the added effort. The other consideration, however, is cost, and this is again something that needs to be worked on. Right now, we have different billing models for Wi-Fi and cellular (minutes versus megabytes) and the limitations of Wi-Fi offerings from cellular operators, which often restrict the types of hotspot to which the user may connect, means that early subscribers have usually ended up with two separate contracts or have still had to contend with ad hoc purchase of Wi-Fi sessions. Many still also regard cellular access as being too expensive. How the industry sorts this out is probably not something we should worry too much about. If the cellular players do not get the cost model right, for example, then HSDPA usage will be limited, so it is really up to them how they choose to move forward. Assuming they pitch the cost at a level acceptable to the mainstream, however, once the cellular option is embedded in the same way as Wi-Fi, there is no good reason not to use it. If the operators get it really right, then there is even a chance that we could be seeing cellular connectivity being fitted as standard into business notebooks in the same way as Wi-Fi is today. The ball is very much in the operators' court on this one. Meanwhile, delivering cellular connectivity as an integral part of a notebook PC takes care of a significant pre-requisite for broader mainstream adoption. Dale Vile is Research Director at independent analyst firm Freeform Dynamics Ltd.
Sony has announced its Vaio SZ notebook range in the UK, boasting the laptop's carbon-fibre chassis, biometric security and the ability to flip between two graphics engines to boost either 3D performance or battery life. The SZ series take in Intel's Core Duo dual-core processor line, and ships with 512MB or 1GB of 533MHz DDR 2 SDRAM. All models feature a 13.3in, 1280 x 800 widescreen LCD. The graphics come courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 using up to 128MB of system memory for its frame buffer, but users can switch to the Intel 945GM chipset's graphics engine to conserve power.
Viral marketing is open to abuse. So when a website that emulates Friends Reunited offered a 'tell a friend' service, UK advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decided it was too great a risk to allow emails to be sent to strangers without naming the friend. The adjudication is possibly the first ruling of its kind in the country. Who-Remembers-Me.com was started in 2003 "to provide a complete worldwide service for finding and connecting with old friends", according to the website. Founder Rob Billington was interested in rediscovering people from his past, "but felt frustrated by the limitations of other websites that focused primarily on school friends". "Inevitably it takes time for word to spread, but [Who-Remembers-Me.com] is well on its way to its first million members," the site continues. "And, if we all make the most of the new 'tell a friend' link, it won’t take long to get there…" But the site's 'tell a friend' service is open to abuse. The ASA received a complaint from someone who received an email that stated: "Your email address has been entered into the www.Who-Remembers-Me.com 'tell a friend' link by one of your friends in order for us to send you a short note recommending this website as they feel it may be of interest to you." The complainant challenged whether his email address had genuinely been submitted to the advertiser's website by one of his friends as claimed, and objected that the emails were unsolicited – i.e. spam. Founder Robert Billington said he could not reveal any details about who submitted the complainant's email address because of practical and legal restrictions. But the ASA was concerned that he had not demonstrated that the complainant's email address genuinely was provided by a friend. A test at the website today shows that no name is needed to send an email to anyone: the sender's name can be completed or left blank. If "Bob Smith is entered as the sender's name, an email is sent saying "Bob Smith has recommended we contact you…" If the field is left blank, rather than return an error message, the service proves substitute words: "a friend has recommended we contact you…" The ASA wrote: "We told the advertiser that if he operated a facility which, by allowing anonymity, did nothing to discourage third parties from requesting the sending of direct marketing to other people, he ran the risk either of misuse, or that recipients would think that no such friend existed and the emails were merely spam sent by the website owner." It added that he should consult the CAP Copy Advice team before sending similar emails in future. The email was deemed to breach the CAP Code, the rule book followed by the ASA, which states: "Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of objective substantiation." On the spam argument, Billington pointed out that his email had been sent via the 'tell a friend' link to a business domain name. Generally there is no legal requirement for prior consent (or for 'explicit consent' under the CAP Code) for marketing emails sent to business addresses. But the ASA upheld the complaint nevertheless. It pointed out that the email did not relate to business products, but invited people to register on, and subscribe to, a site full of personal details. "We questioned why a 'friend' would wish to remain anonymous if he or she was confident that the recipient would wish to receive such mailings," wrote the ASA. "We also noted that similar emails could be sent from the website to private email addresses". This could be influential in future ASA spam complaints. The ASA seems to be saying: if spamming a business address, you better be selling business services. The ASA told Billington to ensure his database practice complied with the Code on all occasions. The case highlights a risk of viral marketing. When one person forwards a company's marketing email to a friend, the company is unlikely to receive a complaint, even if the email annoys the friend. But when websites run 'tell a friend' services, as many do, a company is sending an email to a stranger. That can amount to spam, in breach of the CAP Code and also in breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. Struan Robertson, a senior associate with Pinsent Masons and editor of OUT-LAW.COM, said: "There is a risk, but the Information Commissioner has recognised viral marketing as a legitimate practice and has issued guidance on the use of 'tell a friend' services." Robertson said the guidance does not mention the need to forbid anonymous emails. "Perhaps that is taken for granted," he said, "or perhaps the commissioner is acknowledging that it is very difficult to block fictional sender's details." But Robertson says the ASA's ruling does not amount to a recommendation to ban 'tell a friend' services. "It is almost impossible to run a service like this without some risk of upsetting email recipients. That doesn't mean websites should abandon these services. All they need to do is follow some steps to minimise the risk." Many of these are in the commissioner's guidance: do not offer an incentive to visitors to send email, include a consent statement, and tell your visitor you will let his friend know how you got his details. It does not appear that these were followed by Who-Remembers-Me.com. OUT-LAW has published a free guide today that explains these issues in more detail and adds some additional information from the privacy law team at Pinsent Masons. Robertson concludes: "The commercial risk with a 'tell a friend' service is fairly low. In the event of a complaint or new guidance from the commissioner or a court, a website can change or even abandon its 'tell a friend' services without collateral damage. In contrast, a high risk exists with data collection practices - get these wrong and you build a database that it may be unlawful to use, making it potentially worthless." OUT-LAW has published a free guide (registration required) that explains these issues in more detail and adds some additional information from the privacy law team at Pinsent Masons. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The UK went against tradition last year and became a net investor in technology companies, according to a new report. Year-end figures for technology mergers and acquisitions from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Corporate Finance show that UK companies acquired 33 technology businesses worldwide in 2005, while just 24 UK companies were procured by overseas buyers. In 2004, 32 UK technology firms were purchased by international buyers, compared to 25 domestic acquisitions. Overall, PwC said the figures show a trend toward increasing domestic deal activity, with UK deal volumes up 58 per cent. What's more, the numbers showed the UK Alternative Investment Market (AIM) posing a strong challenge to the US NASDAQ as the market of choice for young, fast-growth technology firms, the report said. The junior stock market's straightforward regulatory framework, high liquidity and growing international visibility is proving to be a "fruitful hunting ground" for buyers looking to acquire companies in the middle of their growth curve. "Strategic M&A was firmly back on the boardroom agenda in 2005, and this has had a profoundly positive effect on the technology deal market as a whole," PwC Corporate Finance technology sector leader Andy Morgan said. "The large deals last year helped create the confidence that encouraged M&A in the mid-market where most technology companies are to be found. Looking ahead to 2006, we believe this activity will continue, with the mid-market remaining the heartland for M&A in Europe, in particular." Copyright © 2006,
Russian hardware designer Artemy Lebedev has announced his second OLED-illuminated keyboard, a three-key unit designed to sit alongside a regular keyboard or one of his own picture-key jobs. Lebedev's product, the Optimus Mini, comprises three large buttons, each with its own colour OLED screen. The idea is the buttons show a colour icon, in some cases an animated one, that indicates what will happen when you push the button.
Nvidia will today announce an AGP version of its GeForce 7800 chip featuring 16 pixel-processing pipelines fed by six vertex shaders and clocked to 375MHz. It supports up to 256MB of DDR SDRAM clocked to 600MHz (1.2GHz effective). So claims DailyTech, which notes the GeForce 7800 GS is fabbed at 110nm. It also has a selection of benchmark results comparing a new GeForce 7800 GS AGP-based board to Nvidia's GeForce 6800 GT. It delivered a performance boost to 12.1-19.8 per cent in the tests.
ATI has updated it Catalyst graphics card driver software to improve its GPU's ability to work with Windows Vista Build 5270. Among the products supported by the update, which remains a beta release, are ATI's Radeon Xpress 200 and 200M chips; its Radeon X1000-series, X100-series, 9000-series and FireGL GPUs; and its Mobility Radeon X1000-series, X100-series and 9000-series mobile graphics chips. You can get a full list of supported chips, installation notes and the software itself here. ®
TechscapeTechscape "Sony is like Disney without the devices," Chris Deering told me not long ago.
The Community Broadband Network (CBN) wants to map all the areas in the UK currently unable to access a decent broadband service. The group, which has already helped more than 80 communities set up their own high-speed net services using satellite and wireless services, wants to locate all the broadband "notspots" to see if other technologies could be used to supply net services. According to the latest stats, around 99 per cent of the UK is connected to a brodband-enabled telephone exchange while around half the population can hook up to a cable provider. The roll-out of high speed internet services has been so successful that Northern Ireland and Yorkshire have recently announced that they have 100 per cent broadband coverage. Despite these claims, there are still some homes and businesses that, for whatever reason, still can't get broadband. It is these pockets CBN wants to map so it can obtain a detailed picture of where the notspots are, and then work with public sector, commercial and community partners to tackle the problem. CBN head Malcolm Corbett said: "BT and the other providers have done a great job in rolling out broadband so widely, but there are gaps and we need to find out where they are so solutions can be found to meet community needs." The survey is being carried out by CBN along with satellite outfit Avanti Broadband and the Access to Broadband Campaign. The first results of the survey are due out in early March. ®
More than 20,000 independently produced, user-published videos are now available to be pushed to Sony's PSP portable videogame console and Apple's iPod. They're from Veoh Networks, which claims to be "the first internet television peercasting network". Veoh automatically downloads videos of interest to a PSP owner's device each time the PSP is connected to a user's PC.
Bertelsmann fledgling Arvato is now moving through the gears on a Europe wide assault on legal video delivery using a peer to peer filesharing system. Last week it added EMI music content, now has its first official video partner in Warner Brothers, and has a name for the service, In2Movies. Warner Brothers has contributed recent movie releases as well as TV series' and Arvato will now add local productions and offer a service in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the German language. There is no mention however of its German partner, CE player Medion, who signed up with Arvato in September last year to offer this German film service. Arvato is trying to become the technical engine behind a whole marketplace of separate film and TV services across Europe. It will white label the services and let other brands take on the difficult task of marketing, preferably to their existing customers where they are ISPs. In effect, it wants to act as the trusted agent in the deal, seeing to the DRM and delivery network, and ensuring the movie industry can work with multiple partners without letting each of them get their hands on content which is not encrypted. Arvato will do ingest, encoding, DRM and service delivery for a host of services, a bit like Loudeye that sits behind multiple music services in Europe. This will also give content businesses a single port of call for negotiating complex rights agreements. However, the outcome may well be handing a Europe wide content delivery monopoly to Arvato. The German company uses a P2P delivery mechanism called Gnab, which is somewhat similar to Bit Torrent. It breaks up film files into smaller chunks and once there are many copies of each film out on customer PCs, it schedules the delivery of each of the component parts of the piece of video, from separate locations, in parallel. We understand the new service will use Windows Media formats and Windows Media DRM protection, and Arvato is known to be negotiating similar deals with well known brands in each of the European countries and will provide the start up server power need to seed the files into the marketplace. It will also handle all royalty reconciliation back to the content owners. Last summer, Arvato was quietly warming up the market to receive the likely 500 films that Sony said last January it would release for purchase over the internet, and which have not yet been seen. Presumably the content deals will all roll out over the coming months and then the service will finally launch. At the Medion website that was set up for this service (which was supposed to be back in November), www.medionbox.com, it simply says it is "coming shortly". Presumably Medion is still in the loop, but then again at the In2Movies.de website it says much the same, with a chance to sign up for a free newsletter about the film service. Perhaps Medion is no longer the partner, or perhaps it is, and the two websites could be different personalities of the same beast. No exact detail of film pricing is available yet but it is understood both download to rent and download to buy and burn offerings will be available. With the initial rollout, consumers will be able to download movies and television shows to their personal computers. The second version of the service will expand on consumer download options and enable them to download programs to DVD recorders and portable devices. The release confirms that Germany is only the first stop and that this is expected to be a global operation eventually, certainly Europe-wide. It seems somehow fitting that it is a Bertelsmann subsidiary, long blamed for its investment in Napster and for the downfall of the US music industry, which finds itself in pole position with the same P2P technology now that films are the focus for online delivery. In2Movies is intended to launch in March 2006 and will initially feature more than 80 Warner Brothers new releases, catalogue favorites, and local productions including "Batman Begins," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Friends", and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire". Arvato said in Germany during the first half of 2005, 1.7 million internet users illegally downloaded a total of 11.9 million movies. Research has shown that 20 per cent of illegal downloaders do so on a weekly basis. However, 73 per cent of all illegal downloaders in Germany are interested in a "paid for" movie download service. Copyright © 2006, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
The destructive Kama Sutra worm has begun thrashing files on infected machines with incorrectly set system clocks. Even though the worm is programmed to first delete files on infected machines on Friday (February 3), its deadline is based on the clock of infected Windows PCs. Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure says it has already received two reports from users who've had files on their system overwritten by the worm. The Kama Sutra worm (AKA Nyxem-D or Blackworm) first appeared on January 18, posing as a email message offering a variety of salacious content. Subject lines used in the malicious emails include: The Best Videoclip Ever, Fw: SeX.mpg, Miss Lebanon 2006 and Fuckin Kama Sutra pics. The worm only affects Windows PCs. Windows users who fall for this ruse wind up with an infected machine and disabled security software. Worse still, Nyxem-D is also programmed to overwrite files on Friday February 3, and the third day of every month thereafter. The worm overwrites DOC, XLS, MDB, MDE, PPT, PPS, ZIP, RAR, PDF, PSD and DMP files on all mounted drives. This old-school "trash your Windows PC" worm has infected an estimated 600,000 machines, with the US, India and Peru having the greatest number of infected machines, Security Focus reports. One US firm alone is responsible for around 75,000 infection hits, according to an analysis by security firm LURHQ. Windows users are advised to run scans for infection using up-to-date anti-virus signatures. The worm attempts to disable most anti-virus products, so if you hit trouble on this score it's a good idea to either reinstall software or run web-based anti-virus scanners, such as Trend Micro's free House Call service. Symantec, among other security vendors, has published a free disinfection tool (available here). ®
Some 280 jobs are to be axed following Thus' announcement that it plans to buy Your Communications (YC) and Legend Communications. Yesterday, Thus' spinmeisters were unable to put a figure on job losses although they did admit that cuts were likely. Now, though, it's emerged that 15 per cent of the 1,850-strong workforce of the enlarged group looks set for the chop as Thus clambers aboard the consolidation bandwagon. At the moment the firm can't say whether the cuts will be made at Thus, YC or Legend, although it's likely all three firms will be hit. In a memo issued to staff at Lancaster-based ISP Legend informing them of the deal, they were told that Thus' acquisition would provide "exciting opportunities for members of staff" and "brings an end to the uncertainty that has been hovering over us for the past few months". El Reg is sure staff at Legend, YC and Thus share these sentiments and agree there is not a whiff of "uncertainty" around. ®
O2 has become the latest cellco to offer the Blackberry 8700 - Research in Motion's (RIM) latest offering - in the UK. Like T-Mobile, O2 will offer the device as the 8700g. The machine is the first Blackberry based on an Intel processor, the XScale PXA901, and includes 64MB of Flash memory and 16MB of SDRAM. Crucially, the 8700 supports the EDGE bandwidth-boosting extension to GPRS. It's also a quad-band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) device. It's got a 320 x 240, 65,536-colour LCD, along with Bluetooth to support headset and data-synchronisation connections.
Some enterprising Christians have plugged a gap in the burgeoning online sex emporium market by opening a shop for those whose love of the Lord is matched by their love of rumpy-pumpy. Yes indeed, the Wholly Love blurb declares: "Sex is a great gift from God – we stock products to enhance your sex life with your spouse!" According to Church Times, Wholly Love is the brainchild of Stan and Stella Hagarty - a "happily married young couple with three children" who reckon "Christians needed to be positive about sex and its place in marriage". Mrs Hagarty added: "We are constantly told as Christians what we can’t do, but there is little promotion of what we can." What you can do down at Wholly Love is stock up on Pure Arousal Super Stretch Rings, Colour Me Sexy Crayons and Silver Clitoral Charms. What you can't buy are handcuffs and butt plugs because, as Mrs Hargarty explained, the site "doesn't stock anything to do with pornography or nudity, nor does it sell sado-masochistic or anal items". So, it's a quick rousing chorus of "What a friend we have in Jesus" round the piano, then on with the Valentine Hearts bra and brief set and out with the Snail Trail Vibrating Tickler. Praise be. ®
Researchers have discovered a security vulnerability in a preview version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) browser just days after its release. A denial of service bug in IE 7 beta 2 creates a means for a hacker to crash the software and potentially execute arbitrary malware on PCs running the code, according to security researcher Tom Ferris. Ferris has produced a proof of concept demo to illustrate his concern that IE 7 beta 2 builds are exposed to the "medium risk" flaw. Microsoft has responded in a posting on its official IE development blog to confirm the the bug identified by Ferris does crash IE 7. "However, we did not find that the bug was exploitable by default to elevate privilege and run arbitrary code," it said. Microsoft said it identified the bug itself during a code review and that a fix was already in development. Redmond adds that the bug is difficult to exploit and isn't the subject of current hacker attacks. Other issues with the latest build of the browser have been unearthed during early testing. Compatibility problems with McAfee security software and glitches that cause the browser to crash when visiting certain websites have emerged. Since IE 7 is undergoing beta testing, these kind of bugs are to be expected. ®
Google, Microsoft, Cisco, and Yahoo! were yesterday roundly condemned for "collaborating with China to censor the internet", Reuters reports. During a briefing by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, representative Tim Ryan said: "They should not let profits take precedence over traditional democratic values such as freedom of speech." Google is accused of agreeing to Chinese censorship of search results in the Beijing-friendly version of its search engine. Microsoft has admitted similar acquiescence. Yahoo! was last year blasted for "allegedly providing online information to the government that allowed it to find and jail a Chinese journalist critical of the government". Cisco is also accused of "helping the government track cyber-dissidents". Representative Tom Lantos added: "With all their power and influence, wealth and high visibility, they neglected to commit to the kind of positive action that human rights activists in China take every day. They caved in to Beijing's demands for the sake of profits." None of the four companies attended the briefing, but Microsoft and Yahoo! issued a joint press statement which demanded US government intervention in the matter: "We urge the United States government to take a leadership role in this regard and have initiated a dialogue with relevant US officials to encourage such government-to-government engagement. "We want to assure members of Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the public at large that we do not consider the internet situation in China to be one of 'business-as usual'." Microsoft also announced yesterday that in future it will "only pull content from MSN when it receives official legal notice that content breaks local laws or MSN's terms and conditions". The accused quartet has been "summoned" to a February 16 hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee, by New Jersey Republican and subcommittee chairman Chris Smith. Smith recently said in statement that Google "would enable evil by cooperating with China's censorship policies just to make a buck". ®
Kingston Technology has added Avnet Computing Components Europe (ACCE) to its team of EMEA distributors. ACCE will focus on Kingston's ValueRAM and Flash memory products, pitching them to VARs, system builders and PC manufacturers. Kingston head of European sales and marketing Thomas Marschner said the deal would allow the two partners "to take advantage of new opportunities within the growing System Builder and AMD markets across Europe, the Middle East and Africa". ACCE is the PC components division of the broader enterprise and embedded technology distributor Avnet Technology Solutions, itself part of US-based Avnet inc. ®
AOL is still failing to stop punters from fleeing the service, the monster ISP confirmed yesterday. Publishing the latest set of results, it reported that as of the end of December, it had 19.5m subscribers in the US - down 2.8m on the previous 12 months. The decline in user numbers is also mirrored in Europe. Over the last year 287,000 net users have quit AOL, taking the total user base in the UK, France and Germany to 6m. With fewer people paying for the service, revenues have been hit and fallen five per cent ($409m) on the year to $8.3bn. An increase of 33 per cent in ad revenues failed to make up for 10 per cent drop in subscription revenue. In spite of this, operating income for the year grew 25 per cent $1.2bn. Last week, AOL, part of the Time Warner media empire, announced plans to get more of its dial-up punters in the US to subscribe to broadband. The ISP is to expand its broadband network across the US by hooking up with the likes of BellSouth, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, and backed by an aggressive marketing campaign. "We're starting to let AOL members know about this opportunity now to strongly encourage them to improve their online experience with a better, faster iInternet connection," said Joe Redling, president of AOL's Access business. "We've seen in recent market tests that our members respond very strongly to the ability to more simply combine what they have from AOL with what they want from a broadband connection, and now we?re going to deliver it from coast to coast." Two weeks ago, AOL announced plans to spend £120m to provide broadband and phone services direct to UK punters, in a move that will further erode BT's dominance of the UK telecoms sector. The ISP joins a growing number of companies - including Wanadoo, Sky, Bulldog and the Carphone Warehouse - that are committed to local loop unbundling (LLU). An initial £50m investment in LLU will see AOL install its kit in about 300 exchanges during the first half of this year - enabling the ISP to provide services to about 20 per cent of UK households. The company then plans to spend an extra £70m unbundling another 700 exchanges, giving it the chance to offer broadband and phone services to about half of UK homes. ®
Research in Motion (RIM) appeared to have one less lawsuit in motion today after the English High Court effectively chucked out a patent infringement action brought against the Blackberry maker by Luxembourg-based intellectual property holding company InPro.
Asus has announced its first 19in LCD monitor - pitching its 'zero bright dot' replacement policy and the screen's 90° landscape-to-portrait swivel feature. The screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 1400 x 900. The image is enhanced with Asus' Splendid video technology, the company said, and there are twin 2W speakers on board to boost the host computer's audio output.
Wanadoo, which claims to be the UK's largest VoIP outfit with more than 80,000 users, has apologised to punters after its broadband telephony service went on the blink. Its Wireless & Talk VoIP product went titsup on Tuesday morning resulting in calls from landlines or mobiles being unable to connect to Wanadoo's internet telephony service. The ISP reports that although the glitch would have hit all punters, the service was back on its feet again yesterday afternoon. A brief message on Wanadoo's service status page regarding its Wireless & Talk Service read: "We currently have a problem with the VOICE service. When customers make calls from PSTN (land line or any mobiles) to IP (voice service) they will fail." Last week thousands of BT VoIP users were left fuming after its broadband telephony service went titsup. ®
Kent police and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) seized 100,000 fake DVDs and arrested three men during an operation yesterday, the BBC reports. Two Chinese men were arrested in Burnt Oak, north London, and another in Peckham, south of the river. The raids came at the end of "several months of intelligence and evidence gathering" and busted "one of the largest counterfeit DVD operations we have managed to raid", according to FACT. The haul, which included current release The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, also yielded "computers, seven printers for producing labels and covers, 200 DVD burners, and thousands of blank discs and cases". The BBC reports the estimated value of the counterfiet DVDs as £500,000. ®
ReviewReview Hands-up who remembers AGP? Ah, just the two of you, thought as much. You'd be forgiven for thinking that'd be the way such a conversation with four million geeks would go, given all the coverage of PCI Express graphics cards and platforms since PCI Express became the kind of slot you'd most want to plug stuff into...
Consultation over the government IT strategy was rumoured last month to have been a little lacklustre. Was nobody interested in having their say on such a contentious subject as mending the public sector's broken record on IT? Three months after consultation opened and just a day before it closes, there are signs that responses are being hurried together. Whether they will be worth reading when the eGovernment Unit publishes them next month is another thing. The problem for the consultation is the strategy document itself. The strategy was published in November as the culmination of 18 months' work as head of the eGovernment Unit by Ian Watmore, a former management consultant. The result was mostly harmless. Technology has become an integral means of running and delivering public services, the document says. It can also help government cut costs and jobs. Many existing systems need updating, more money needs to be spent, civil servants need more training, citizens ("customers") need more caring. This is all summed up in one superficial pun: "make IT better". Any quarrelsome quarters of the public sector that might dislike the strategy's proposed increase in control from the centre, or its emphasis on restructuring government, have already been disarmed: the NHS, local authorities and education sectors have been promised their own versions of this strategy. Ian Watmore did such a good job of sweet-talking his way through the job of eGovernment boss that he was quickly promoted to head the Prime Minister's delivery unit, a post that will be in strong need of his slick-suited ways and from which he will retain ultimate responsibility for his replacement downstairs. Just how slick a job Watmore has done was illustrated by the ingratiating statement issued by the Society of IT Managers last month to mark his move. "Well done Ian," it said. "We thought you were a lemon, we thought you wouldn't take a blind bit of notice of us fuddy lieutenants scraping our feet round our punched card computers down in local government, but 'we are delighted you proved us wrong'." The society's consultation response will be only a little less supportive. "With a strategy as general as this, it's difficult to have any problems," says Adrian Hancock, the Socitm policy officer who is drawing it up. Only an idealistic opposition could find any reason for serious criticism of this strategy and only then from a place so far removed from the apolitical job of building computer systems that it would look out of place in this consultation. Its solution to the government's IT woes is greater central government control, which is an irrelevant debate all the while the regions are devolved real power of their own. Interestingly, one of the main points of Socitm's submission will be concern that the efforts of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to give local authorities the flexibility to focus on local priorities is not elbowed out by the IT strategy. Industry should have some serious points of contention about this strategy, which treats suppliers as an afterthought, despite the thorny issues that have made their relations with government so uncomfortable in recent years. But Intellect, the suppliers' trade association is staying schtum. That usually means it is not happy. It rarely has reason to be happy nowadays, but it appears to have kept well in line with the government's desire for important matters (like the way in which billions of pounds of public sector money are spent) to be discussed in private coteries. The government IT strategy, incidentally, proposes that IT projects should come under greater scrutiny from the start. The word public is not mentioned in this context. It will be interesting to see what they make of it. ® The government IT strategy is here.
Samsung has upped the storage capacity of its YP-T8Q and YP-U1Q Flash-based digital music players to 2GB, the company said today. The YP-T8Q has a 1.8in colour display for photos and MPEG 4 videos. It has five games built in, too, some of which are controlled by jiggling the player around in your hand. Ahem. If all these features make it sound like a phone, it looks a bit like one too, which probably suggests where Samsung's thinking lies.
Two of the four major players in enterprise management are teaming up to make it easier for their mutual customers to match IT resources to business needs, so-called IT service management. Building on a existing relationship between IBM Global Services and BMC Software, IBM will integrate its change and configuration management database with the BMC Remedy Help Desk and the BMC Magic Service Desk Suite for enterprises and small to medium-sized businesses. Similarly, the BMC Atrium Configuration Management Database will be furnished with interfaces that will allow it to plug into IBM Tivoli's enterprise software suite. Future integration of IT Service Management offerings from BMC Software and IBM Tivoli will be based on the IGS Infrastructure Resource Management (IRM) Accelerator, a framework for automating service-related business processes in software applications. "This announcement builds upon BMC's Incident and Problem Management solutions, developed to help companies move beyond traditional IT management and manage their business critical services from both an IT and business perspective," explained Lori Cook, vice president of global services, channels, and emerging markets at BMC Software. IBM Tivoli competes with BMC Software, HP OpenView and CA in the highly competitive enterprise management market. By teaming up, BMC and IBM Tivoli hope to boost their respective sales against their two competitors in the area of IT service management, while still competing head-to-head on enterprise suite sales. ®
A New Zealand doctor forced to close his surgery over a funding dispute has bounced back into employment - by converting his medical centre into a "high-class bordello", New Zealand Herald reports. Neil Benson, of the Far North's Coopers Beach, closed his facility last April as a result of a dispute with the local primary health organisation (PHO) over "a GP roster covering after-hours care". He reopened in September, but lack of funding soon did for the renaissance. Dr Benson lamented: "The medical centre was a wonderful facility that should have always stayed as a medical practice. "I did everything humanly possible to keep it open, but it wasn't possible because of the lack of support from the PHO, and lack of collegial and community support." Dr Benson then tried to buy another medical practice, but that fell through. A would-be tenant for his Coopers Beach building noted the place would make a lovely brothel, and the light bulb lit above the good doc's head. He has now been granted a brothel operator's licence* and says he'll be offering sexual healing next month. He said: "Everything I have ever done is high quality. The standards of my medical practice were high and that will cross over to the brothel environment. "It will employ beautiful women who are highly paid in their profession and who know what is expected from them in their line of work." Dr Benson's wife has apparently recognised the good business sense in running a knocking shop, and his four kids have also weighed in with their approval. Some locals, however, are not giving the thumbs-up to Doc Benson's legalised strumpetry. Janet Brennan of nearby Doubtless Bay slammed the plan as "abominable", adding: "I never thought he would go so low. I think he's doing it to get back at the community for not supporting his clinic." The Anglican church, too, is none too happy. Local priest Bob Carr said: "I think it is unfortunate that sex should be sold for money because I think sex is very important in human life and the basis of family - by using it in this way you are corrupting it." Dr Benson replied by acknowleging the brothel was "a contentious issue" but rather marvellously stated that there had been "a lot of support from the men in the community". ® Bootnotes *Yes, yes - we want one of those. Not to use, but so we can drop into a pub conversation with: "Yeah, I've got a licence to run a brothel. And a permit to operate nuclear particle accelerators..."
Two Massachusetts papers - the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette - have apologised after exposing the credit card details of up to 240,000 subscribers. Most of those affected were Globe readers. Information security breaches by major US corporations are becoming an almost weekly event but the breach involving the two papers, both part of the The New England Media Group owned by The New York Times, was especially boneheaded. The Telegram & Gazette (T&G) handles the distributes of both papers in the Worcester area. It recycles paper internally for use in wrapping bundles of paper sent out to retailers, all very environmentally friendly. But last Sunday delivery routing slips for an estimated 9,000 bundles of papers in the Worcester area were printed on the back of financial reports containing credit card details of subscribers to both papers (who share the same computer system). The addresses of an estimated 1,100 T&G subscribers who pay by cheque were also exposed. How this sensitive data turned up in material to be recycled internally instead of been securely destroyed remains unclear, though it seems the material was generated from abandoned credit reporting runs. Richard Gilman, publisher of the Boston Globe said it has taken "increased security" around credit card reporting. The practice of reusing internally recycled material to wrap papers has been dropped. "We regret the disruption and inconvenience that this incident may cause," Gilman said. The T&G publisher issued a similar apology. So far there are no reports of financial loss linked to the breach, but it's still too early to say for sure whether or not anybody will be hit. The Boston Globe has set up a helpline for concerned subscribers on +1 888 665 2644. Globe and T&G staff have also notified major credit card firms over the breach, supplying them data on potentially affected cards on request. ® Related links Subscriber credit data distributed by mistake, from the Boston Globe.
Small form-factor PC pioneer Shuttle is to unveil a new computer casing design next month, the Taiwanese firm said today. It's keeping mum about the design's finer points, but it did claim the new look will shrink its Shuttle XPC range "even smaller and even more quiet" - the better to put them in living rooms.
The All Party Parliamentary Internet Group met today to hear oral evidence to help it prepare a report into Digital Rights Management. Chaired by MP Derek Wyatt, the packed meeting heard evidence from the Society for Computers and Law, the British Library, Open Rights Group, British Music Rights, AIM, the Publishers Association, and the Federation for Information Policy Research. Wyatt thanked those giving evidence and said the committee had received 92 written submissions - a very large number. The group will produce a final report, and publish the evidence, in April. Laurence Kaye and Gillian Cordall, of the Society for Computers and Law, told the committee that existing copyright was good enough, but consumers don’t have enough understanding of it. For instance, in the UK there is no right to make personal copies of CDs - although most consumers believe they do have that right. The law is different in mainland Europe, where consumers do have the right. Next up, representatives from the British Library explained their concerns that DRM technology could stop future generations accessing material the library is obliged to store forever. They suggested either a trusted third party to hold information in an unencrypted form or for DRM to be removed once copyright has expired. The Open Rights Group explained that the debate was not just about publishers and copyright holders, but increasingly about hardware and software manufacturers. Professor Ross Anderson, chairman of the Federation for Information Policy, told the MPs: “There’s been a radical shift in power from the music majors to companies like Apple. A year ago they’d have been 110 per cent behind DRM.” Anderson said Parliament needs to look at the issue more widely. He said we would soon see the technology spread from music to other areas like printer cartridges and eventually car parts. Anderson said it would be better to empower individuals to take court action against companies rather than expecting Parliament to legislate. ®
Summary of the opening speech by Janez POTOČNIK, European Commissioner for Science and Research, at the International Symposium on Climate Change, Brussels, 2 February: There's no ignoring it. There's less ice, more disasters and more dead people. It's our fault for polluting the environ and we had better watch it because it's going to come back and bite us on the proverbial ass. But what do we care? What the hell do we know, anyway? The weather's hotter than it's ever been and angrier too. Yet people are saying, how did this happen? Wasn't me! Show me some proof. We'll get used to it though because it's going to get so hot that the whole of Europe will be on one great siesta for three hours every afternoon. Our economies might collapse, but who gives a shit when the sun is shining? Of course, we must be responsible. It's expected of us. We will at least try and give the appearance that rather than spending all those extra ours in the sack we are giving genuine thought to that little problem about the end of the world. Science will come to the rescue. Like a cunning crime fighter, it always manages to get us out of the frying pan in the last minute before the oil gets too hot. Just to put you at ease, I'll tell you about some of our great scientific hopes. One project we have funded involves watching the ice-caps melt. Just in case anyone else needs any more proof. But also because there's a close correlation between the way we do our scientific research in Europe and the way we formulate our policy. And we are taking a genuine interest in Africa for a change because they might be able to teach us a thing or two about coping with drought and famine. Heck, we may even kill two birds with one stone. So we've got some talking shops and toothless international agreements to do something about this as well. But don't rest on your laurels, because it's all too late. Climate change is coming ready or not. So we're going to fund some more scientific research because that's what George says is the only way we can deal with climate change: keep guzzlin' so the oil companies have money to spend on scientific research. Our next round of research funding is going to find even more innovative ways to monitor the earth's decline. When the funding round is complete in 2010, the scientists have finished their research, the findings have been verified by peer review, and the breakthroughs have been turned into usable technologies, we will be able to tell you to within half a metre just how deep the water is under your houseboat. Enjoy the conference! ® The speech in full can be found here.
The controversial body mooted as a possible tenth planet orbiting our sun is around a third larger than Pluto, German astrophysicists claim. 2003 UB313 - aka Xena - was spotted last January by Caltech's Michael Brown, Chad Trujillo from the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz from Yale University. The German team, led by Professor Frank Bertoldi from the University of Bonn and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, used used a 30 metre (100ft) telescope in southern Spain and a "very sensitive heat sensor" to measure Xena's thermal emission, which was then used to calculate its diameter. The figures state Xena has a diameter of 3,000km (1,864 miles), roughly 700km (435 miles) larger than Pluto. Accordingly, Professor Bertoldi told Reuters: "Since UB313 is decidedly larger than Pluto, it is now increasingly hard to justify calling Pluto a planet if UB313 is not also given this status." Bertoldi was referring to the polemic surrounding Xena's status as planet or otherwise. The International Astronomical Union will rule on the matter at some unspecified time, but the German observations make no contribution to the debate as they do not give any suggestion of Xena's composition. Xena's 560 year orbit round the sun carries it between 5.6bn km (3.5bn miles) and 14.5bn km (9bn miles) from the star. It has a moon, Gabrielle, discovered last autumn, which added weight to the argument that Xena is indeed a planet. ®
Palm's next Palm OS-based Treo smart phone will be called the 800p, sport an new, slim Motorola Q-style design with an "enhanced" bright 320 x 320 display, offer Wi-Fi as an option and EVDO as standard, and ship with 128MB of RAM and a 3.2-megapixel camera. That, at least, is what a poster on a TreoCentral forum would have us believe.
A service has launched in the UK which allows you to track any mobile phone around the globe and follow its movements from your own computer. The Guardian ran a feature on it yesterday called 'How I stalked my girlfriend'. It painted a scary picture. The service is run by World-Tracker, a company based on the Isle of Man. When a mobile number is entered onto the World-Tracker website, a text message is sent to that phone, to ask if the person carrying the phone wishes to be tracked. If consent is given by reply, World-Tracker will show the location of the mobile phone on a map or as a map reading, using a Google Maps-based interface. The accuracy is between 50 and 500 metres. When the phone moves, the movement can be monitored online whenever the phone is turned on. The system can be accessed through either a PC or mobile phone with internet access. It works with mobiles on the Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange networks. World-Tracker is targeting parents who want to keep an eye on their children’s movements; businesses wanting to track their workers; lone workers, who feel more secure if someone else knows where they are; and anyone else who has ever lost a mobile phone – giving reassurance that their phone can be located more easily. But in yesterday's Guardian, freelance writer Dr Ben Goldacre revealed a sinister side to the service. (He didn't name the site in his article; but Dr Goldacre had discussed it previously in a Radio 4 interview in which World-Tracker was also involved). He signed up – for £5 plus VAT – and he provided his girlfriend's phone number. He lives with her and said he needed her phone for just five minutes to initiate the tracking. According to his article, the first message read: "Ben Goldacre has requested to add you to their Buddy List! To accept, simply reply to this message with 'LOCATE'" He replied from her phone as instructed and another text arrived: "WARNING: [this service] allows other people to know where you are. For your own safety make sure that you know who is locating you." He deleted these messages and tracking began. Dr Goldacre has said that he had his girlfriend's consent for his experiment, conducted in the interests of journalism; but his article portrays a system open to abuse – and according to World-Tracker, Dr Goldacre omitted some vital details about its service. OUT-LAW spoke to World-Tracker today. It described a quite different service. A spokesman – who did not wish to be named – said the company follows an industry Code of Practice for the use of location data. He pointed out that a breach of the Ofcom-endorsed Code would result in the mobile networks withdrawing their services from World-Tracker. An important step required by the Code was not mentioned in the Guardian article: it demands that periodic text messages are sent to the phone. According to World-Tracker's spokesman, the company complies with this requirement in the Code. The Code of Practice states "Subsequent to activation, the [location service provider] must send periodic SMS alerts to all locatees to remind them that their mobile phone can be located by other parties. These alerts should be sent at random intervals, not in a set pattern. The suggested text and minimum standard frequency for sending the alerts is set out in Annex D." In fact, Annex D is marked confidential: it is only made known to location service providers like World-Tracker, perhaps to minimise the risk of message interception. Fiona Caskey, an Associate with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, regularly advises companies on data protection issues, including surveillance of employees. She said that if the company is following the code, it is probably doing all that is necessary to comply with the country's privacy laws. But unscrupulous boyfriends are taking a risk if they seek to exploit the service. "If Ben hadn't obtained his girlfriend's consent, he'd be breaking the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, better known as RIPA," said Caskey. It is an offence under RIPA to intercept and delete someone else's text message, she explained. "Such behaviour runs a risk of up to two years' imprisonment and a fine." Perhaps surprisingly, the boyfriend is unlikely to breach the Data Protection Act by his acts. "He could argue that he was doing this for 'domestic purposes' – and he's off the hook," said Caskey. Ben Goldacre replies... * Update, 03/02/2006 18:15: Dr Goldacre contacted OUT-LAW with the following comments: "You quote an accusation by World Tracker that I 'omitted some vital details about its service'. You go on to say that 'An important step required by the Code was not mentioned in the Guardian article: it demands that periodic text messages are sent to the phone.'" Dr Goldacre says he told a World-Tracker representative on last Friday's Radio 4 interview that he had tracked phones through World-Tracker's service for several days, and then deleted them from the World Tracker website – "and they have never received these follow-up warning messages. It is as simple as that. The Radio 4 reporter's phone that we also tracked specifically never received any follow up text messages." When confronted for a response on this matter, Dr Goldacre says the World-Tracker representative replied that he would "look at our system" and "make sure that a text goes out in a sooner period." Dr Goldacre continues: "I explained my concern that once somebody was deleted off the system they would never get a follow-up text, and never know that they were being tracked, and he agreed: 'As things stand at the moment no, but this is something that we should seriously look at.'" He concludes: "The security provisions that World Tracker currently have in place present no barrier whatsoever to somebody tracking a phone undetected, exactly as I described in my piece, and there was no wilful omission of information from my article." OUT-LAW did not listen to the Radio 4 interview and we did not speak with Dr Goldacre before reporting the comments made by World-Tracker. We apologise for any offence caused to Dr Goldacre as a result of these omissions. We have notified World-Tracker that this story has been amended and suggested that they communicate directly on this matter. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.