5th > June > 2007 Archive

14

Bill Gates nicks Larry Ellison's health center

The Bill Gates-Steve Jobs rivalry may have cooled, but the Microsoft Chairman is still going to toe-to-toe with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. A year after Ellison backed out of his promise to fund a multi-million dollar public health institute at Harvard University, Gates has revived the project at the University of Washington. On Monday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it would donate $105 million to the creation of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, "a new research center that will conduct independent, rigorous evaluations of health programs worldwide." The institute will be run by Dr. Christopher Murray, the same health economist who was slated to run the ill-fated Harvard project. Ellison promised Harvard what would have been its largest ever gift—$115 million—then backed out of the proposed health center last summer. In May, Murray left Harvard to join the new Global Health Department at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. "This generous grant from the Gates Foundation is a milestone for the University of Washington," said university president Mark Emmert in a joint announcement from the university and the foundation. "This is the largest private gift in UW’s history." ®
Cade Metz, 05 Jun 2007
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11

Flaws galore in IE and Firefox

Polish security researcher Michal Zalewski, known for his seemingly unending stream of browser vulnerability discoveries, has struck again. This time he's reported four flaws that are sure to get the attention of bug squashers in both Microsoft and Mozilla camps.
Dan Goodin, 05 Jun 2007
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Flextronics falls for rival Solectron

Flextronics plans to capture rival Solectron for $3.6bn in stock and cash. Flextronics and Solectron construct a diverse range of products from computing systems such as the Xbox and high-end servers to medical devices. So, the proposed tie-up between the two companies means that a wide variety of hardware makers who prefer not to make their own hardware will have one less option. The combined company - say, FlexSol - would bring in more than $30bn per year.
Ashlee Vance, 05 Jun 2007

Amp'd volume fading

Amp'd, the US MVNO launched less than two years ago and targeted at da urban yoof, has filed for Chapter 11 - protecting itself from creditors while trying to sort out its finances. The company has burned through the $360m invested over the last two years, and now owes around $100m to creditors, including Verizon, which carried the network, and Motorola, which provided the handsets. MVNOs are expected to target specific demographics, and Amp'd is focused on the 18 to 35 year old urban early adopters - lots of video content and sponsorship of extreme sporting professionals such as Travis Rice. In April, Amp'd admitted to having only 200,000 customers. Repeated attempts to raise more money have led to a sprawling board membership and power slipping away from founder Peter Adderton, driving battles over company direction. Chapter 11 doesn't mean the company will go under, just that it needs some time to check behind the sofa for loose change and sort out its accounts - companies can recover, assuming their business model isn't fundamentally flawed. But if Amp'd does go down, the exclusive mobile rights for the "Ultimate Fighting Championships", and sponsorship for Ryan Sheckler's "Backyard course with halfpipe, table tops and several grind rails", will be up for grabs. ®
Bill Ray, 05 Jun 2007
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16

Google Checkout downchecked by UK users

Google's new Checkout Service debuted in the UK the month before last to the usual fanfare: "Online shopping will now be faster, easier and more secure with Google Checkout™," said the search colossus.
Lewis Page, 05 Jun 2007
7

Norfolk schools install kid-monitoring software

Norfolk CC is using monitoring software to fight bullying and protect children from internet grooming. It has set up a managed service for primary schools and is encouraging higher schools to use a software developed by Securus to identify threats to children coming through school networks. Andrew White, integrated services officer the council's children's services ICT support unit, said it has helped to reduce bullying in the county's schools. "By implementing Securus it was found that the amount of 'off task' activity decreases rapidly over a short period of time," he said. "Schools using Securus can be confident that their network is constantly being monitored for any infringements of their acceptable use policy and anti-bullying policy." Speaking to GC News on 4 June 2007, White said the software monitors emails coming onto the schools' networks. It searches for inappropriate words and phrases, monitoring potentially harmful activities whether pupils and teachers are using the internet and email, or working offline in other applications such as Word. It also provides screenshots of every violation, along with details of the user, workstation, time, date and nature of the incident, to give teachers evidence in dealing with the problem. New terms can be added to the system when needed, and it can spot insults or threats in text language. "Children come to the school in the knowledge that if they are using the school's system to open emails staff will pick up any threats," White said. Some 30 primary and 20 secondary schools in the region now use the software and the council has reported a marked decrease in bad behaviour online. White said that, while secondary schools are running the system for themselves, the primary schools are using the council's managed service. "Primary schools in particular don't have the time or resources to research and run this type of technology," he said. "So the council does this for them – checking the violations, saving any serious incidents and passing them to the school to decide on what further action to take." He added that the process is permissible under the Data and Telecommunications Act as the schools make people aware that they have it in place. This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.
Kablenet, 05 Jun 2007
1

MPs demand controls on Euro police databases

The Home Affairs Select Committee has advised government to put its weight behind neglected European efforts to hold the rapidly emerging system of police databases answerable to human rights legislation. The committee's proposals, published today in a report on EU police and judicial co-operation, include a bar on agreements like the controversial PNR (Passenger Name Records) and Swift data sharing arrangements that the EU formed with the US in the name of the "war on terror". It also recommends the government seeks to restrain EU efforts to share data between police forces by ensuring decent data protection laws are adhered to. It noted how the EU (and largely the council) had been rushing ahead with plans to link European police databases, while legislation designed to protect citizens' fundamental rights against abuse from such powerful policing tools had been left to flounder. "We consider that in the area of data protection there is evidence of insufficient political appetite for protective measures as compared to law enforcement ones," the report noted. An EU measure to introduce data protection legislation into the third pillar of EU law (where matters regarding the police and judiciary sit) had been more or less abandoned because the council had failed to come to an agreement. Yet in the absence of an agreement, a cabal of EU states went ahead with their own police database plan called the Prüm Treaty, which contained weak data protections. This had subsequently been introduced as an EU framework, the committee noted, "almost as a fait accompli". The committee was concerned about the precedent Prüm had set for European democracy, while noting the lack of scrutiny of these proposals in Westminster. "There is a danger that if [Prüm] is not implemented with sufficiently rigorous safeguards, in particular robust data-protection arrangements, the principle risks the dissemination of personal data of UK citizens without sufficient control over the subsequent use of that data." Experts told the committee how greater police co-operation across Europe could lead to greater abuses of human rights. Professor Steve Peers, of the University of Essex, warned that police would be tempted to use their databases to go on fishing expeditions unless their access was restricted. Dr Valsamis Mitsilegas, from the University of London, said as police standardised their data formats, the sharing would become "quasi-automated", making it difficult for police to make checks that would uphold key data protections. For example, data is supposed only to be used for the purpose for which it was collected, not shared with countries without proper protections, and not taken from sources that might have got the data through coercion or torture. While people have found it easier to shuffle around EU states, police data sharing arrangements have been shoddy. Even the steps taken to improve matters in 2005 where inadequate, it noted. The 2005 legislation only made sure European police forces shared relevant data with one another about suspects and criminals on a weekly basis. It did not hold them to using common formats and ensuring a minimum standard of quality. To illustrate the poor level of co-operation between European forces, the report noted the case of 63-year-old Belgian Michel Fourniret, who was arrested in 2003 for the murder of six French girls and one Belgian girl. Belgian police had no idea he had previously been sentenced for the rape and indecent assault of minors in France. However, Home Office minister Joan Ryan said the UK was seeking to join an EU pilot for a more active police data link than those already being pushed through in legislation. The way the report described the pilot, it sounded as though it was exploring greater levels of integration between police databases than was presently accepted to be within the bounds of data protection. The standard was set on the VIS (Visa Information System) legislation currently being passed through the Brussels legislature: it gave European police forces only limited access to one another's databases and only for good reason. The principles behind these restrictions also prompted the committee to commend Ryan's suggestion that further agreements like the PNR data sharing arrangement with US terror investigators was "an area that the EU should hopefully be able to avoid". The same went for other US data gathering exercises: "We consider that the casual use of data about millions of EU citizens, without adequate safeguards to protect privacy, is an issue of much greater significance than many of the other EU-related matters put to the UK government and Parliament for consideration," said the report. "We recommend that the government and the European Commission should prioritise the question of provision of personal information to countries outside the EU as an issue of the greatest practical concern to its citizens." It added that it was urgent that the government put its weight behind the EU proposal for data protection in police matters and that it ought to listen to the recommendations of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) if it wanted to see it done properly. That should please the EDPS no end, because the headlong merger of police databases without proper regard for data protections is an illustration of just how well the EU Council has listened to the supervisor before now. ®
Mark Ballard, 05 Jun 2007
4

Carphone Warehouse coffers hit by broadband rollout

Carphone Warehouse's faltering entry into the broadband dogfight cost the firm 10 per cent of its profits compared to last year, the company said this morning. Overall pre-tax profit tumbled 9.5 per cent to £123.1m. Group revenue for the financial year rose to £3.99bn, from £3.05bn a year ago. In the 12 months to 31 March, its often criticised TalkTalk "free" broadband venture has burned through £72m, on top of the £370m it coughed for AOL's customer base. On average, the 655,000 customers for "free" broadband pay Carphone £28 per month. It blamed the loss from broadband on an emergency investment in customer service bodies and difficulties with its local loop unbundling programme. CEO Charles Dunstone said: "The success of our unbundling strategy has encouraged us to broaden our exchange footprint for both TalkTalk and AOL customers...we expect the level of investment to fall materially in the following financial year once our exchange build-out is completed." Carphone has admitted its unbundling program has struggled to keep pace with demand for the service, leaving subscribers marooned by delays and technical cockups. Today, the firm reiterated its view that it now has the beast under control. Dunstone said: "The customer service issues which arose from the unprecedented response to our Free Broadband offer have now substantially been addressed. We are now provisioning over 80 per cent of new customers directly onto unbundled lines, which simplifies the process and reduces waiting times to no more than three weeks from sign-up." It now has 2.72 million broadband punters across TalkTalk and AOL, ranking it third overall with about 16 per cent of the total UK market. At the end of March, 700,000 had been unbundled, which is key for Carphone's "free" economics to work. The firm has no plans to integrate AOL with the rest of its broadband base, and will continue to pitch the former Time Warner brand at novices, even lower in the market than TalkTalk, customer and channel development director Chris Collinson told us earlier this year. Carphone's results statement is here. ®
Christopher Williams, 05 Jun 2007
3

MySpace seeks Judge's input on sex offenders purge

MySpace this week asked a Pennsylvania state court for advice on how it could hand over information about registered sex offenders without breaking US data protection and privacy laws. The firm is responding to calls from state attorneys general who last month demanded that the social networking site provide any information it holds to the authorities. The lawyers said the site should reveal how many sex offenders it has found on its website, and hand over contact details and logs of personal communications. Specifically, they want information on subscribers who appear in Sentinel Safe, a database containing names, physical descriptions, and other identifiable characteristics of sex offenders in the United States that MySpace has worked to compile with Sentinel Tech. The aim of the database was to make it easy for the social networking site to remove known offenders. "Sex offenders have no business being on this site," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement at the time. "We believe MySpace has a responsibility to get them off the site." But MySpace refused, arguing that if it were to reveal this kind of information it would be in breach of federal and state privacy laws, as well as its own privacy policies. Two weeks later, after sustained pressure from the legal bigwigs, MySpace did a u-turn and said it would deal with the requests on a state by state basis. The firm says merely being positively identified on the Sentinel Safe database is not enough of a reason for it to hand over a subscriber's information. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, authorities must provide search warrants. According to reports, executive vice president and general counsel Michael Angus issued a statement on Monday this week saying he was "pleased with how this process is working". The firm notes that it wants to hand over the data, but wants to do so in a way that will not compromise any future prosecution. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Jun 2007

Amazon ups spending in China

Online bookseller Amazon is increasing investment in its Chinese business - where sales are growing faster than anywhere else. The Chinese site sells books, watches, CDs, DVDs, and electronic gadgets. Amazon paid $75m for Joyo in 2004. Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com, did not give figures but said he wanted to "double down" investment. Bezos said "double down" was a backgammon term to increase your stake rather than a literal doubling of investment. The site is being rebranded as Joyo Amazon.cn. More from Bloomberg here. ®
John Oates, 05 Jun 2007
34

TV ads too loud, industry watchdog says

Television adverts sometimes sound much louder than surrounding programme material because existing rules on sound levels are ambiguous. The rules should change to minimise annoyance to viewers, says an industry watchdog. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has launched a consultation on the sound levels of TV ads. Its consultation paper includes a proposal for a new rule that would provide more certainty for broadcasters and ensure that no single ad in a commercial break is significantly louder than the others. Between September 2005 and December 2006, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 245 complaints about the perceived noisiness of TV ads. The existing rule states: Advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident. Studio transmission power must not be increased from normal levels during advertising. Note: The peak level of sound at the studio output should not exceed +8dBm. To ensure that the subjective volume is consistent with adjacent programming, whilst also preventing excessive loudness changes, highly compressed commercials should be limited to a Normal Peak of 4 and a Full Range of 2 - 4 (measured on a PPM Type IIa, specified in BS6840: Part 10, Programme Level Meters). A fairly constant average level of sound energy should be maintained in transitions from programmes to advertising breaks and vice versa so that listeners do not need to adjust the volume. A perceived loudness meter may be useful where sound levels might cause problems. According to BCAP, the note to the existing rule is difficult to interpret. Audio compression takes place when minimum sound levels are raised artificially during the production stage in order to make them stand out; but the note does not explain what constitutes a "highly compressed" advertisement. That allows broadcasters to transmit compressed ads and decide for themselves what a suitable peak level would be, up to +8dBm. Even at lower levels, an ad can sound excessively noisy if the TV programme content is quiet. A channel showing old movies "would likely have a quieter loudness profile than a music video channel or a sports channel," explains the BCAP document. The proposed replacement rule states: A consistent subjective loudness must be maintained between individual advertisements and between the advertisements and programme and other junction material. Measurement and balancing of subjective loudness levels should preferably be carried out using a loudness-level meter conforming to ITU recommendations. If a peak-reading meter is used instead, the maximum level of the advertisements must be limited to 6dB less than the maximum level of the programmes to take account of the limited dynamic range exhibited by most advertisements. For editorial reasons, commercial breaks sometimes occur during especially quiet parts of a programme, with the result that advertisements at 'normally acceptable' levels seem loud in comparison. Broadcasters must strive to minimise the annoyance that that perceived imbalance could cause the audience, with the aim that the audience need not adjust the volume of their television sets during programme breaks. BCAP anticipates that the new rule will "reduce the risk of the audience having to adjust the volume in the advertisement breaks because they consider the advertisements to be too loud." Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 05 Jun 2007
Microsoft

Microsoft threatens its Most Valuable Professional

What's the best way to attract a pile of threatening lawyers' letters from Microsoft? Sell pirate copies of Windows? Write a DRM-busting program? Londoner Jamie Cansdale has just discovered a new approach. He had the temerity to make Redmond's software better.
Will Watts, 05 Jun 2007
23

El Reg 'buys' acre of Brazilian rainforest

A new online initiative has come up with a cunningly simple plan to save the world's rainforests - offer them by the acre to concerned netizens whose "purchase" allows swathes of threatened land to be preserved for future generations. UK charity Cool Earth rolled out some high-profile backers for its launch this week. Sir David Attenborough tells today's Sun: "The idea behind Cool Earth is that if we each help pay to conserve an acre, or part of an acre, then we can make a real difference – perhaps the biggest difference we will make in our whole lives. Of course, it is not easy for any of us as individuals to buy areas of rainforest. "But Cool Earth, with its local partners in Brazil and elsewhere, have a system set up, right now, working together with experienced conservation group Fauna & Flora International, of which I am proud to be vice president, with Her Majesty the Queen as its patron." Admitting to a rather less noble motivation for lending their support, comedienne Ruby Wax and TV director Ed Bye explain on Cool Earth's website: "We have always wanted to become friends with Sting and Trudie Styler and we reckon this might improve our chances. That's why we joined Cool Earth." It's simple enough. You "buy" half an acre or an acre - the latter going out at between £70 and £100 - and the 260 tonnes of carbon therein are permantly locked away. Today's Sun has a field report from a hack and a snapper the paper dispatched to Brazil* to see Cool Earth's plan in action. Suitably impressed, El Reg chipped in for an acre close to the Madeira river, and soon got a username and password which enabled us to log in and have a shufti at our new holding on Google Maps: Good stuff. There's more info on the Cool Earth website and its FAQ page. Details on how to do your bit can be found here. ® Bootnote *Yes, we know what you're thinking. The Sun explains: "THE SUN has made a donation to Cool Earth which will compensate for our return flights to Brazil many times over."
Lester Haines, 05 Jun 2007
4

The growing pains of RFID

It is now three years since retailer Wal-Mart announced it would mandate the use of RFID by its suppliers, with the eventual intention of deploying RFID technology throughout its supply chain to improve efficiencies. And it is not the only firm to have taken such a decision, as retailers such as Metro of Germany and Target in the US have introduced such mandates. The US Department of Defense has also leapt onto the rolling bandwagon. When Wal-Mart took the RFID decision, it stated to some skepticism, that the benefits would be felt by all, providing suppliers with a better mechanism for controlling inventory and sales velocity, and giving them more demand signals to help them forecasting demand for their products more effectively. But what do the suppliers really think? Originally applying to just the largest suppliers, mandates from retailers and government agencies have become more widespread over the past couple of years. For the majority of manufacturers supplying these mega retailers, there is simply no place to hide. One of the earliest manufacturers to comply with the Wal-Mart mandate was Procter & Gamble. It claims to have achieved many benefits from complying with the retailer's demands, most notably streamlined processes, improved visibility into shipments and fewer errors in distribution. But that success has come at a price; its investment in RFID technology amounted to many millions of dollars. After all, the company at the beginning of the supply chain pays for all the tags. Hurwitz & Associates recently spoke to manufacturers to gain an insight into the key challenges facing their business. Across the board, all are looking to increase the efficiency of their operations, as well as to reduce operating costs. But a clear pattern emerges - for those manufacturers supplying the large retailers that have imposed RFID mandates on their suppliers, the use of RFID technology is cited as the biggest challenge they face; not only in track and trace functions, but it is seen by some as the biggest overall challenge facing their organisation. Speaking under conditions of confidentiality, manufacturers state they have not seen any business value from the investments they are being forced to make. Rather, it is just a big cost and one that they see as unreasonable. It cuts into their profitability and hampers their ability to streamline their operating costs. For them, RFID does not live up to the Wal-Mart promise. Not only that, they grumble that Wal-Mart itself appears to be overwhelmed by RFID, because it is not providing them with RFID information that was supposed to be so valuable. So they have no additional ability to better plan their operations and improve the level of service that they provide. So what is it that they want? Well, they want more help and support from retailers such as Wal-Mart. Specifically, they want the retailer to bear some of the costs associated with setting up RFID systems. That, by the way, is something that Wal-Mart has expressly refused to do. They want the costs of the tags to be lowered. For one manufacturer, the cost of $0.15 per tag for its low margin products is simply too high. Because of this, its stated strategy is to go as slowly as possible with its RFID implementation, meeting just the minimum requirements possible. Manufacturers interviewed want to see a better business case made for the use of RFID in their operations to give them a better reason for wanting to invest in the technology. According to one, the only way that using RFID would benefit them would be if the costs were lower and its use more widespread. Then they'd have an incentive to deploy RFID right across their operations and maybe some of those elusive benefits would emerge. They are also looking for help in developing systems that will allow them to incorporate RFID into the processes they use throughout their supply chain, such as incorporating checks on RFID tags as orders are being pulled together to ensure that orders are complete, rather than having to go through a separate audit process further down the line. Manufacturers feel that RFID is a fairly new technology that has yet to prove its worth. They feel that they are being press-ganged into using it, but being left out in the cold as far as sharing the burden. They are forced to develop their own technology systems for handling RFID requirements, whereas many of the processes involved in the supply chain are common across manufacturers, especially those operating in the same vertical sector. They are looking for someone to develop technology systems for handling those common processes, rather than just imposing mandates that add extra expense to their business operations. Until that happens, RFID's path to adulthood in the manufacturing sector will continue to be a long, painful journey. Copyright © 2007, IT-Analysis.com
Fran Howarth, 05 Jun 2007
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3

Silicon offsetting - the new green saviour?

IT, on the face of it, is not very sustainable. New products are introduced in rapid development cycles that encourage wasteful frequent upgrade and replacement. Not only do the products consume precious metals and other resources, but the manufacturing processes are energy intensive and systems or components are rarely sourced locally, as cheaper alternatives are often found on the other side of the planet.
Rob Bamforth, 05 Jun 2007
1

Intel power PC platforms: Core 2 Extreme QX6800 and V8

ReviewReview Intel has been dancing all over AMD's financials with its Core 2 processors for the past year and it's keeping up the pressure, most recently with the Core 2 Extreme QX6800 and, more intriguingly, it's product-that-isn't-a-product, the V8 platform.
Leo Waldock, 05 Jun 2007
28

Channel 4 refuses to pull Diana crash pics

Princes William and Harry have made public a letter to Channel 4 asking the broadcaster not to air pictures taken at the scene of their mother's death "depicting the crashed car while the Princess was still in the wreckage, and an image of a medic administering emergency treatment to Diana".
Lester Haines, 05 Jun 2007
11

855,000 new phones end up in the bog

New research from SimplySwitch reveals that while we buy 18 million handsets ever year, we're throwing 855,000 of them down the toilet and leaving 810,000 in the pub - contributing to the 4.1 million we lose or break every year. Twenty-eight per cent of men admit to breaking or losing their phone, compared to 26 per cent of women. Someone is running 116,000 handsets though the wash every year, while over half a million are left on public transport. Dogs chew their way through 58,500 phones. SimplySwitch.com recommends backing up your phone numbers and taking out insurance - though you should check your home cover doesn't already include phones first - and notes that as phones keep getting smaller we're going to get even better at losing them. Of course, the more unscrupulous might be tempted to take less care of their aging handset when a new model catches their eye. As with the figures regarding phone-related crime, a healthy dose of scepticism is advised. ®
Bill Ray, 05 Jun 2007
29

Israel deploys robo-snipers on Gaza border

Israel has begun deploying stationary robot gun-and-sensor installations along its borders with the Gaza Strip, according to reports. Both Jane's Defence Weekly and Defence News reported last week that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have begun deploying automated gun stations in pillboxes along the Gaza border. The robot systems are said to mount cal-fifty (12.7mm) machine guns, protected by "armoured folding shields" until ready to fire. Defence News says the auto-gun network is developed by Rafael, the Israeli state weapons bureau. Given the reported calibre of the weaponry, this suggests that the gun-bots in use are the Mini-Samson type, normally used as a remote-controlled gun turret on light fighting vehicles so as to avoid a gunner having to poke his torso up out of a hatch (top gunner is one of the most dangerous jobs in counter-insurgency vehicle patrolling.) In this case, the automatic guns and their long range electro-optical sensors will be tied in by optic fibre to a command network which will also be able to draw information from existing ground sensors, manned aircraft, and overhead drones. According to Defence News Tel Aviv correspondent Barbara Opall-Rome, "each machine gun-mounted station serves as a type of robotic sniper, capable of enforcing a nearly 1,500-meter-deep no-go zone". "The IDF's Southern Command is also considering adding Gill/Spike anti-tank missiles to extend the no-go zones to several kilometers, defense and industry sources here said." The integrated robo-sniper network has reportedly been dubbed "See-Shoot" by the IDF, suggesting that asking questions isn't on the priority list. "Nobody has any business approaching our border fence," an unnamed Israeli official told Opall-Rome. "It's well-understood that this area is off-limits..." All in all, the Israeli gun-bot force seems distinctly more hardcore than the South Korean one. Not only do the IDF robo-snipers pack a more arse-kicking gun, their automatic armour-shuttered pillboxes seem a lot harder to circumvent than the Korean SGR-A1's "anti-theft alarm". What's more, there seems to be a future plan for the Israeli gun systems to become true killer robots rather than just remote hardened weapon stations. "At least in the initial phases of deployment, we're going to have to keep the man in the loop," an unnamed IDF commander reportedly told Opall-Rome. "We don't want to risk making tragic and politically costly mistakes with such a lethal system." More from Defence News here. ®
Lewis Page, 05 Jun 2007
4

O2 trials one off the wrist for VIP access

O2 is trialling a wristband loaded with a computer chip at this year's Wireless Festival that could act as a credit card, electronic ticket, and Oyster card. Crystal-studded wristbands will be given out to VIPs at the event in London's Hyde Park. Holding the bracelet close to electronic sensors will allow them into a backstage hospitality areas. The firm said it is working closely with the likes of Nokia to build the chips, which use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, into mobile handsets. NFC, which utilises short range wireless technology, is already used by the Transport for London Oyster card system. The telecoms firm hopes that if the trial proves successful festival-goers at future events could use their handsets to pay for purchases, download content, and share information. An O2 spokesperson said: "The potential benefits of NFC technology to music festivals are enormous. "Not only in regard to mobile ticketing but also in terms of saving money through administration, and potentially even the end of cash at festivals." But O2 failed to point out what contingency plan the firm would have in place if a handset is lost or stolen, or indeed if an entire network collapsed at such an event. Any such disaster could leave festival-goers wishing they had packed their tatty old wallet along with their designer wellies after all. ®
Kelly Fiveash, 05 Jun 2007
10

Sony cuts price of Blu-ray player

Sony has cut $100 (£50/€74) off the recommended retail price of its new next-generation DVD player in an attempt to forge ahead in the Format Wars. The BDP-S300 now costs $499 (£250/€370) - half what the company's first dedicated Blu-ray player cost when it was launched six months ago.
Scott Snowden, 05 Jun 2007
13

Boffin debunks Bush's climate claims

As he outlined the US' new plans for tackling climate change, President Bush made the bold claim that the US' carbon emissions are growing more slowly than those in Europe. This was presented not only as evidence to support the States' non-carbon cap approach to tackling emissions, but as something of a rebuke to the noisy climate change lobby in Europe. But now Bush has been accused of cherry-picking his data to present a more favourable picture, as Dr Peter H Gleick of the Pacific Institute re-crunches the numbers. Gleick says Bush and his supporters have deliberately focused on the emission of carbon dioxide to the exclusion of all other greenhouse gases, and that they have chosen particularly favourable time periods over which to do their comparisons. In February this year, Christopher Horner, "a well-known climate skeptic from the Competitive Enterprise Institute", wrote an opinion piece in which he outlined how well the US was doing reducing its carbon emission, the Pacific Institute says. But as well as cherry picking his data, Gleick points out that Horner has "got the math wrong". Horner claims that from 1997 (chosen, he says, since it was the year Kyoto was signed) the US's carbon emissions rose by a third of those in Europe. But Gleick states that the figures actually show a seven per cent and eight per cent rise in CO2 emissions, respectively. And in "absolute terms", the US's emissions rose by more than Europe's. The Whitehouse prefers to focus on emissions since 2000. Again, this is unfairly flattering to the US, Gleick says. He points out that under the terms of Kyoto, the proper base year for comparison is 1990, and when you start there, the picture is very different. He then tackles the question of which gases to measure. Under the terms of the rather beleaguered Kyoto protocol, there are six greenhouse gases that need to be reduced: CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). When any year other than 2000 is selected as the base year, and when all greenhouse gases covered by the UN Framework Convention are included in the analysis, the claims of Horner and the White House that the US is outperforming the EU turn out to be false: the European Union is performing far better than the United States. Over the entire period from 1990 to 2004, the difference is stark. During those 15 years, US greenhouse gas emissions grew more than 15 per cent while emissions from the 15 countries of the European Union (the EU-15) declined by around one per cent. Moreover, calculating the index of emissions for any set of years between 1990 and 2004 other than 2000 to 2004, European greenhouse gas emissions either grew more slowly than US emissions or actually declined. You can read the full analysis here (pdf). This is not the first time the administration has been accused of messing with data to support an energy-hungry economic policy. The administration is also accused of massaging the language of official reports on the impact of climate change to downplay its importance, and of trying to hide the existence of a consensus on the issue within the scientific community. The changing language coming out of the Whitehouse (i.e., acknowledging that there is a need to reduce emissions at all) seemed encouraging. But against this analysis of the raw data, it looks like little more than political hot air. As we head toward the start of the G8 meeting in Germany this week, Saleemul Huq, head of climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development, reminds us what is on the line: "The G8 leaders no longer have any excuse for procrastination. They must agree much stronger measures for reducing their own emissions of greenhouse gases and at the same time must provide substantial funding for adaptation in the poorer countries of the world, which will suffer the unavoidable impacts of climate change in the near term." ®
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Jun 2007
8

Google is Europe's most visited site

A survey of internet usage across Europe reveals that Google is the region's most popular website in every country except Sweden and Norway. The average European spent 24.1 hours online during the month of April. Most visited sites were Google, Microsoft, then Yahoo!. Russia's most visited sites were YANDEX.ru, MAIL.ru, and Rambler Media. Surfers in the US prefer Yahoo!, Time Warner Network, and Google. Although Yahoo! only made the top three in three countries out of 16, it is still the third most popular site across Europe. In the UK the top three were Google, Microsoft, and eBay. The average UK user is online for 34.4 hours a month, the longest in Europe, followed by Swedish surfers who clock up 31.7 hours a month. UK users look at 3,440 pages a month, beaten only by Finland on 3,749 and Sweden with 4,019 pages. eBay made it into third place in Austria, Germany, and the UK. Although 66 per cent of US citizens have internet access at home or at work, compared with 40 per cent of Europeans, there were actually more Europeans online during any day in April. The figures, from comScore, tracked internet use by the over-15s in 16 countries. More figures from comScore here. ®
John Oates, 05 Jun 2007
6

Porton Down bio-terror tech re-used in odour-proof pants

It's well known that military projects can sometimes yield valuable spin-off technologies for civilian markets. For instance, missile programmes played a key role in early integrated-circuit production, laying the foundations for today's digital hardware. Likewise, Pentagon-funded researchers were instrumental in setting up the forerunner to today's internet. But until last week, it was much less common to see undeniably positive, feel-good innovations coming from the nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC)* terror-defence industries. Efforts to repel NBC threats have included the hotly-disputed Missile Defence programme, the oft-maligned Department of Homeland Security, and its various monitoring initiatives, etc etc. Just last weekend, the actual Pentagon itself was involved in a "Urban Shield Biological Attack Test", which simulated "a biological attack in the Pentagon South Parking Lot". Many see defences against this type of outrage as necessary, but few would find such initiatives as personally, immediately useful as computers, say; or the internet. But now all that has changed, as NBC defensive technology has been adapted in a way which could benefit us all. Namely, by removing the evil smells from, erm, personal emissions. The Flat-D™ in-pant flatulence deodorising filter system ("revolutionising the personal hygiene industry around the world") could be the first successful civilian spin-off of NBC defence technology. According to the Flatulence Deodoriser, Inc website, the Flat-D "absorbs the intestinal gas odour right at the source before it gets into the air, and others can smell it". The Flat-D is a "three-ply activated charcoal cloth pad, that is secured inside the underwear...[it] isn't bulgy or detectible". The manufacturers inform us that "activated charcoal cloth was originally developed by the British Chemical Defense Establishment as a highly efficient filter medium for protection against nerve gas and other highly toxic vapors that might be used in chemical warfare. This is the reason for its outstanding advantage as a decontaminating material." And indeed, the Flat-D folks are quite correct: it was good old British boffins at Porton Down who developed the kit which may soon be protecting us all from the enemy within, so to speak. Flat-D points out that its stink-busting kit "is breathable, lightweight, reusable, washable," and - perhaps best of all - "easily installed". The inventor of the Flat-D, Brian Conant, says he came up with the idea while serving in the Hawaii National Guard. According to the company account: "During a simulated Chemical attack, Brian and few other soldiers were tasked to complete their mission, while wearing chemical protective clothing. While wearing the clothing he released gas and noticed that he couldn't smell any odour, nor could anyone else." From there it was a short step to deploying the Porton Down war tech in the service of peace and goodwill among men. (And women. Not that they would ever need such a thing). "Remember you can hide the sound of a fart by making a louder noise, but you cannot hide the odour of flatulence," Flat-D says. Not until now, anyway. ® Bootnote *Or, lately, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN).
Lewis Page, 05 Jun 2007
26

BBC shows Olympic logo the door

It might not be as unpleasantly suggestive as the Goatse-inspired effort offered yesterday by one wag on the BBC's website, but another reader-generated suggestion as to how the new 2012 Olympic logo might be improved just about sums up public reaction to what is now officially known as the "Lisa Simpson bj graphic": According to the Beeb, "Matt Le Gresley sent us this running man". Hmmm, not so much running, but rapidly exiting - hopefully never to return. ® Bootnote The Beeb has a couple more nicely-done comments on the logo fiasco in this second gallery. We particularly like the "cash down the drain" effort. Oh yes, and ta very much to one of our readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, for forwarding what must be the final word on this sorry affair:
Lester Haines, 05 Jun 2007
Symantec
9

Chinese user sues Symantec over dodgy updates

A Chinese user's attempt to sue Symantec for damage caused as a result of dodgy anti-virus signature update files is unlikely to succeed, according to security experts.
John Leyden, 05 Jun 2007
32

Pirate Bay founders host paedophilia site

A Swedish company owned by the founders of controversial torrent tracker site The Pirate Bay is hosting a site that defends paedophilia. PRQ, co-owned and operated by Fredrik Neij and Gottfried Svartholm Warg, has refused to take the web page down, citing the principle of freedom of speech. The company says it doesn't share the ideas of the owners of the site, but defended the decision to host it, which claims: "When it comes to fear of paedophiles most things are set to one side." The controversial site, which was previously hosted by a Danish company, also plans to make space available for individual paedophiles' personal websites. Svartholm Warg told Stockholm morning daily Dagens Nyheter that he disagrees strongly with the content in question, but prefers an open debate. "They have a right to say this." PRQ is the same company that hosts The Pirate Bay. When Stockholm police raided its offices last year almost every server was seized. Ten companies which were also hosted by PRQ immediately demanded compensation from the Chancellor of Justice. ®
Jan Libbenga, 05 Jun 2007
Handshake

Perforce collaborates with open source

Editors' BlogEditors' Blog Subversion is a very popular open source Software Configuration Management (SCM) tool and I've heard someone unkind say "Perforce is good too, but it's just like paying for Subversion when you don't need to".
David Norfolk, 05 Jun 2007
For Sale sign detail
10

UK gov skills shortage jeopardising IT projects

MPs have said poor skills at senior level are jeopardising ICT projects.
Kablenet, 05 Jun 2007

Vendors lining up to meet APACS challenge

As London starts the migration towards country-wide acceptance of contactless payments, vendors are starting to pitch the equipment UK retailers are going to need to get the technology up and running. Last month, APACS (the UK banks clearing house) announced that retailers in central London (City to Canary Wharf) would start accepting contactless payments for amounts less than £10 in September, with the rest of the country following suit in the new year. APACS went on to predict that five million contactless cards (bearing the new logo) would be in circulation by the end of 2008, and 100,000 retailers would have upgraded their equipment to accept them. MasterCard's PayPass and Visa's Contactless systems have both been deployed around the world, so the equipment and technology are pretty well known, but the UK system will ask for a PIN number every few transactions (at random), so readers will need a key-entry system. Companies such as STS have been quick to launch their solutions; which in STS's case is intended to integrate with the Chip 'n PIN equipment the retailer already has deployed, which makes sense as retailers are inevitably going to shoulder much of the expense and will be looking to make the transition as cheaply as possible. While the project has the support of several leading banks (including Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, HSBC, and Halifax) it's hard to find retailers, or consumer groups, endorsing it. Presumably, the faster transaction time will appeal to some high-volume retailers, though it remains to be seen how many decide it's worth the money. ®
Bill Ray, 05 Jun 2007
HTC Touch, touch-screen mobile phone handset
18

HTC jumps on touch-screen phone bandwagon

Today in London, HTC showed off its latest mobile phone handset, simply known to as the Touch - referring to its main feature, the fact that functions are accessed and operated through a touch screen...rather like that much-hyped other touch screen mobile phone soon to hit the shores of the US - Apple's iPhone.
Scott Snowden, 05 Jun 2007
12

Pipex clings on to former customer data

Pipex's new account management website has angered its former customers by revealing that the ISP has retained personal details, including banking information, for up to 11 months after they quit their contract. Mypipex.net opened for business late last week, and users on ISP forum thinkbroadband.com quickly noticed that accounts which were inaccessible on the old site were available again. Some have raised their concerns with data protection watchdogs. Poster "p3x595" wrote (thread here): "I migrated from Pipex about six months ago and I've just managed to login to the new MyPipex using my old username and password. I am appalled that this still works and that they still have my details - including my payment card - still on file." Another forum user, "Rupes", responded: "Felt I had to try this out despite leaving Pipex last July! Logged straight in without problems, and even found some lost messages from friends in the webmail." The Data Protection Act states that retaining data counts as processing, which must be justified. It follows, as the Act specifies, that personal information should be retained for no longer than is needed for the reason it was collected. The Information Commissioner has details of consumers' rights here. Pipex, which currently has about 570,000 broadband customers, had not provided a comment on why it still retained the data at time of writing, but said it was looking into the issue. Its data protection policy is here, although it makes no specific mention of former customers. The mypipex.net login page is here. ®
Christopher Williams, 05 Jun 2007
4

BMA calls for unity amidst MTAS fallout

The new president of the British Medical Association (BMA), Parveen Kumar, has penned an open letter outlining what the organisation will do to try and sort out the mess of the online application system for doctors. Previous president James Johnston resigned after a letter he wrote to The Times failed to reflect the anger felt by many doctors over the problems with the Department of Health's flailing system. Patricia Hewitt was forced to ditch the Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) last month. The letter asked all BMA members to fill in an online survey as to what the new system should look like. The organisation is preparing to give evidence to the Tooke Inquiry, which will look at what went wrong with the system and likely propose an alternative for next year. But many junior doctors feel the BMA has failed to do enough to express doctors' anger. The open letter points out that the BMA has been raising concerns about junior doctors' training since 2004. In the summer of 2006 it called for a delay in moving to the new system. The letter calls for doctors to stand together. It said: "There is a great danger that the profession ends up fighting amongst itself rather than doing everything we can, collectively, to find the best solution to a bad situation." Presumably, this is aimed at organisations like junior doctors' group Remedy UK which has taken a harder line against MTAS. Remedy UK took the Department of Health to the High Court over the project's failure. Some 12,000 doctors are expected to be without jobs or training posts as a result of the project's failure. The BMA letter is here. There's more from NHS Blogger here. ®
John Oates, 05 Jun 2007

High-flying Nokia now dependent on cheapies

ExclusiveExclusive Nokia is one of the world's best known brands, and spends a lot of money keeping it that way. The Finnish giant splashed out £175m ($340m) on advertising alone last year. Much of this advertising is designed to remind us that we're inadequate unless we have one of its latest high-end pieces of gadgetry, which grow ever more sophisticated each year. "It's what computers have become," the latest campaign reminds us. As well as enormous brand advertising, Nokia seeds prototypes of these expensive toys with drooling bloggers in the hope their uncritical enthusiasm will catch on amongst the rest of us. In fact, the conventional wisdom for many years has been that Nokia's high-end, high-margin multimedia devices are the company's future. But the reality that's emerging from the hard numbers tells a remarkably different story, we learn from a research note issued by Dresdner Kleinwort Investment Bank (DKIB), and seen by The Register. Nokia is now "reliant" on sub-€50 budget models, says DKIB Research. And far from being the company's past, cheapo handsets may be Nokia's future. Sub €50 handsets grew to take up 42 per cent of Nokia's sales in 2006, the company's CFO revealed last week. If that's true, DKIB says, "then, one can conclude, the lower priced segment made up all (100 per cent) of Nokia's shipment growth last year". DKIB extrapolates that Nokia's sales of "above €50" remained flat at around 202 million units last year, which is a retreat in what is a growing market. Or as the research note put it, "a volume share attrition to the tune of 200bps [base points] as the market grew by around nine per cent". By contrast, Nokia's thriving low-end added 500bps last year. Shipments doubled to 146 million, and Nokia commands two thirds of this budget market. "If the current trend continues, then parity should soon be attained between the 'above' and 'below' €50 product categories," DKIB warns. "Unless management takes special efforts to kick-start demand for the more luxurious models (N95, E-series, 8600 etc) through dedicated marketing campaigns, we would anticipate the 200m barrier to mark the 'point of cross-over'." It's a remarkable observation. When we posted a piece a year ago entitled Whatever Happened To...The Smartphone?, we didn't expect this to happen, let alone so soon. In 1988, London's Victoria and Albert Museum, with the help of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, began to brand itself as "an ace cafe with quite a nice museum attached". It's going to be hard for us industry-watchers to start thinking of Nokia as a budget phone company with "a nice multimedia division attached" - but perhaps we should. Phones? They're what, er ... phones will become. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 05 Jun 2007
8

Melting glaciers race for Antarctic shores

They are not noted for their speed; quite the reverse. But over the last decade the glaciers in Antarctica, clearly upset by their reputations as laggards, have been accelerating. The boffins at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) say that on average the white continent's glaciers were heading for the sea 12 per cent faster four years ago than they were in 1993. The researchers tracked the acceleration of more than 300 previously unstudied glaciers using the European ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites. They attribute the speed gains to the melting of the lower glaciers, those that flow straight into the sea: as they thin, the remaining ice is more buoyant, meaning it can move over the rock more quickly. Earlier this year, Australian researchers warned that glacial melting was approaching a so-called tipping point, after which it would be irreversible, leading to substantial rises in sea levels. The BAS notes that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) said without more data it was impossible to put an upper figure on the rate of sea level rise that could be caused by glacial melt in Antarctica. This new data should help clarify the situation, the researchers say, leading to more informed policy decisions. The paper, Widespread acceleration of tidewater glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula, by Hamish Pritchard and David Vaughan, is published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Jun 2007

Mobile Comms: 'out of the office' or out of ideas?

Reg Technology PanelReg Technology Panel The continued evolution of the mobile business has made terms like "out of the office" almost feel redundant. Employees have, or at least want, the ability to communicate wherever and whenever the need arises, and if you believe the marketing campaigns that accompany these developments, each step brings us closer to "enhanced productivity levels" and "increased ROI". But is this the reality? Once again, we are calling on readers of The Register to provide opinion and comment on mobile business solutions and their current and planned implementation levels. Is your entire workforce really using email on the move? And if they are, just how much of a pain is it? The survey should only take around 10 minutes of your time and the results will be published on The Register soon. Click here to get started. ®
Team Register, 05 Jun 2007

Lack of database trip-wires gives crooks an easy run

Leaked information from databases is becoming an increasingly serious concern, yet when it comes to plugging the holes many organisations are running so many databases they hardly know where to start.
John Leyden, 05 Jun 2007
triangular warning sign featuring exclamation mark
8

Google shivs server crowd with PeakStream buy

ExclusiveExclusive Google has stunned the server world by acquiring superstar start-up PeakStream, The Register can confirm. PeakStream's website and phone lines mysteriously crashed yesterday, indicating that the software maker was struggling to pay its bill or had been gobbled. As it turns out, Google has purchased the start-up for an undisclosed sum.
Ashlee Vance, 05 Jun 2007

Joost replaces CEO with Cisco veteran

Joost, the internet video start-up, has tapped Mike Volpi, the former Cisco crown prince, to head the company. Volpi succeeds Fredrik de Wahl, who remains at Joost as chief strategy officer. Speculation on the executive shuffle began last week when several sources caught wind of the deal. Joost recently closed a $45m round of funding, giving the company pocket change to shop for a veteran CEO as the video software moves out of beta. Joost is a video service developed by Skype and Kazaa founders, Niklas Zenström and Janus Friis. Having already inked deals with CBS and Viacom, the company hopes to woo more studios with purportedly superior IP protection-friendly than Google's YouTube. ®
Austin Modine, 05 Jun 2007
2

Tribler takes P2P to the ' Web 2.0 generation'

Here comes BitTorrent 2.0. Researchers at the Delft University of Technology and De Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam recently unveiled the latest version of a new-age BitTorrent client known as Tribler, part of an effort to "move P2P to the next generation". Tribler 4.0 lets you search YouTube, as well as offering a revamped interface that borrows a few tricks from both YouTube and the popular music recommendation service, Last.fm. "In the past, P2P was all about file-sharing and key word search," Johan Pouwelse, an assistant professor at Delft University. "We're working towards true content sharing, a system that gives you the sort of visual browsing you have on YouTube and the community feeling you have on FaceBook or MySpace." The new Tribler client recently received a "thumbs-up" from Ernesto, the man behind the P2P weblog TorrentFreak - though he admitted to being "a little biased". Like Tribler, Ernesto was "made in Holland". When pressed, he questions whether the community-based "Web 2.0" ethos makes sense with BitTorrent, whose users receive a fair amount of heat from the major movie studios over the sharing of copyrighted content. "The traditional BitTorrent user doesn't need the whole social aspect," says Ernesto, who refuses to reveal his last name. "I'm pretty sure that most of the existing users don't want others to be able to see what they've downloaded. They tend to value their privacy." Tapping into LiveLeak, as well as BitTorrent and YouTube, Tribler lets you browse for videos via thumbnail images as well as keywords. It offers a Last.fm-esque recommendation engine that suggests videos based on your download habits and shares your tastes with the Web at large. And thanks to a "video on demand" option, you can begin watching clips even as they're downloading. With some added code, you can also search additional video sites. "All you need to do is change a few logical expressions," Pouwelse explains. According to Ernesto, the client is still a bit buggy. "Most functionalities are still in the experimental phase," he says. "If you're concerned about speed and memory use as well as features, I would recommend sticking with a client like utorrent." As of this week, 20 researchers across the two universities are working on the project, and Version 4.1 is due later this summer. In the year since Tribler first hit the Web, according to Pouwelse, the client has been downloaded more than 130,000 times. Tribler is funded in part by the Dutch Freeband Program, a research-centric project under the aegis of The Netherlands' Ministry of Economic Affairs, ®
Cade Metz, 05 Jun 2007
Google

Salesforce bolts on Google ad management utility

Salesforce.com and Google have announced an online ads and CRM alliance that'll have some in Silicon Valley feeling deflated this morning. The result of the tie-in is Salesforce Group Edition featuring Google AdWords. This will combine the creation and management of campaigns using Google AdWords with Salesforce.com's dashboard and customer relationship management (CRM) platform.
Gavin Clarke, 05 Jun 2007

AMD, Cray and reporter in Barcelona caper

An uncomfortable war of speculation over the ship date for AMD's four-core Barcelona processor has broken out between the chipmaker, supercomputer vendor Cray and the Dow Jones newswire. Cray started this mess yesterday by saying that component delays would cause it to miss the planned fourth quarter ship date for a revamped version of its XT4 supercomputer.
Ashlee Vance, 05 Jun 2007
Sharp

Sharp Europe boss resigns

CEO Hans Kleis has resigned from Sharp Europe, citing "personal reasons". He leaves next month. Kleis, a Dutchman, joined Sharp in 1992, starting his career as sales director at Sharp Electronics Benelux. After several management positions he was appointed as CEO Europe in October 2004.
Jan Libbenga, 05 Jun 2007
6

Siemens shows 1Gbit/s over plastic fibre

Siemens researchers have demonstrated a data rate of 1Gbit/s over plastic optical fibre, a speed ten times higher than is possible with current products.
Bryan Betts, 05 Jun 2007
18

Google's Street View could be unlawful in Europe

AnalysisAnalysis Like a trigger-happy tourist, Google has shot almost every street in five US cities and added its pics to what might be the world's biggest holiday album. But if Google ever starts shooting the streets of Europe, courts here could fight back. Google Maps Street View is the latest service from the search giant. Vehicles with multi-lens cameras travelled the streets of San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami and snapped everything in their paths. The images were uploaded to Google Maps and now, when you're looking at a location in Google Maps that has been photographed, you can see the pics. If you live in a featured city and you've been passed by a Google van or a car from its partner, Immersive Media, the cameras probably saw you too. Privacy fears were first raised by New Yorker Mary Kalin-Casey. She told the Boing Boing blog that, when trying out Street View, she recognised her cat, Monty, through the window of her own home. She said that the experience made her shake (though she'd have more cause for alarm if the camera captured her Georgian silverware). I haven't seen anything that has made me shake, at least not yet, though I'm still looking and hoping. I love Google Maps and Street View just makes it better. But if it comes to Europe, there could be complaints that have grounds for litigation. Complaints could be triggered by the images that spread across the internet like wildfire – the celebrity entering rehab or the nude at the window. And complaints could be triggered by the images that have a more personal impact on lives – the malingerer in the park or the husband on his paramour's porch. It does not matter that the pictures were taken in a public place. If you are caught on camera and complain to Google, Google will remove the pics. But that may not be enough for Europe's courts. Our data protection regime lets us take holiday snaps, even of strangers, provided we're doing so for private purposes. But if we're taking snaps for commercial use, where individuals are identifiable, there is no such exemption. We need to notify the subjects, and that's hard for Google to do. Even a loudspeaker on top of the camera cars ("Hi, it's Google here, say 'cheese' everybody!") might not suffice. The law sets extra requirements for so-called sensitive personal data: it demands explicit consent, not just notification. That means when taking pictures of someone leaving a church or sexual health clinic – which could reveal a religious belief or an illness – camera cars might need to pull over and start picking up signatures. The need for individuals to be identifiable is an important one: Monty the cat looked like a blob to me. Cats can't sue, even in Europe, but humans are just as hard to identify in Street View from what I've seen because the resolution is too low. It's not just those who are identifiable and caught in the act that can give Google a tough time. We Europeans could ask Google to ensure that no picture of us appears in Google Maps in the first place. The nature of this rule varies across Europe, but in the UK we have a right to prevent the display of an image that would cause substantial distress. All we have to do is send an email to Google asking that it does not display a picture of us: "Dear Google, I think your camera caught me in Hyde Park this lunch time canoodling with my wife's best friend. Please make sure I can't be seen in Google Maps because this may cause me substantial distress. I've attached a pic of what I look like." If Google refuses or ignores you, you can go to the Information Commissioner and ask him to enforce the right. If there's damage and distress, you can sue. Street View is rather like CCTV and the Information Commissioner has published a CCTV Code of Practice (35-page / 434KB PDF). The guidance is surely impossible for Google to follow: "Signs should be placed so that the public are aware that they are entering a zone which is covered by surveillance equipment … [These signs] should be clearly visible and legible to members of the public". The guidance adds that "individuals sunbathing in their back gardens may have a greater expectation of privacy than individuals mowing the lawn of their front garden". Perhaps the Information Commissioner will take a pragmatic view and say that footage of someone walking down a street is acceptable, but footage of someone entering rehab is not. Maybe a mashup of Google Search and Google Maps could locate abortion clinics etc. and delete the footage. Then there are our human rights. On an evening in August 1995, a 42-year-old called Geoffrey Peck attempted suicide by cutting his wrists with a kitchen knife while on Brentwood High Street in Essex, England. CCTV cameras caught the action, the council's CCTV operator alerted the police and the police intervened. Peck lived. But still images from the CCTV footage were sold by the local council to the media. Peck took his complaint as far as the European Court of Human Rights and won. The court said that the disclosure of the footage was a "disproportionate and unjustified interference" with Peck's private life, in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court considered it significant that "[Peck's] actions were seen to an extent which far exceeded any exposure to a passer-by or to security observation and to a degree surpassing that which [Peck] could possibly have foreseen." Peck won damages of £7,000. There's a qualification here: the Human Rights Act generally applies only to public authorities – and Google is not a public authority. But it does not escape completely. Courts are public authorities, and if someone sues Google for breaching the Data Protection Act in similar circumstances, courts will seek to protect a person's human rights in deciding the case. So human rights enter the case by a back door. You can see Brentwood High Street in Google Maps, but not with Street View. Perhaps you never will. Struan Robertson is Editor of OUT-LAW. These are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pinsent Masons. Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Struan Robertson, 05 Jun 2007