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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Web giants' consumer privacy strategy faces hard sell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Emboldened by their victory in quashing online piracy legislation, U.S. Internet companies are gearing up for a battle over whether consumers should be able to restrict efforts to gather personal data.

Google Inc , Facebook, Apple Inc and other tech companies have lobbied against congressional and federal agency proposals that would let Internet users press "do not track" buttons on their browsers to block targeted advertising. Consumers could also edit personal information that has been stored about them.

With the privacy issue, the multibillion-dollar Internet industry faces a challenge larger than potentially harmful legislation or regulations that could limit their advertising and corporate growth. Their efforts to self-regulate continue to suffer setbacks amidst accusations of privacy violations and last year's Federal Trade Commission findings that Facebook and Google engaged in deceptive privacy practices.

The FTC is expected to issue new privacy recommendations in the coming days, and companies are watching several legislative proposals on Capitol Hill.

Privacy advocates are pushing to give consumers greater control over data collection. The companies must convince consumers that they benefit by allowing personal data to be collected and shared.

Their pitch - in efforts like Google's current "Good to Know" advertising campaign - argues that data collection lets companies offer faster, smarter products, like better search results and customized mapping.

Internet companies successfully fought legislation to limit Internet piracy. Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva said Web companies may feel confident that they can tackle other government intervention.

"I think the lesson they've learned is if they don't like a certain bill, they can organize and create a lot of static and pushback," Silva said.


Internet data collection allows advertisers to target users in a demographic who are more likely to buy their product. These ads often subsidize Web content.

Google, for example, has come under fire for a new policy that took effect March 1 that treats information from most of its products, including Gmail, YouTube and Google+, as a single trove of data for advertisers.

Google contends the change will benefit customers. The company would be able to spot a signed-on user looking for recipes and seamlessly direct them to YouTube cooking videos.

"When we talk about how the Internet will improve and grow for consumers, that's coming from online behavioral advertising," said Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Strict privacy rules could lead to substantial cuts in online advertising dollars and an even larger hit to growth over the next five to 10 years, Castro said.

A 2010 study by University of Toronto professor Avi Goldfarb and MIT professor Catherine Tucker revealed a 65 percent decrease in ad effectiveness after European countries implemented data collection rules for targeted advertising.

Around 96 percent of Google's $37.9 billion revenue comes from advertising, financial statements showed.

Filings ahead of Facebook's much-discussed initial public offering revealed 85 percent of its $3.71 billion in revenue last year came from advertising.

Nearly two-thirds of Apple's fiscal year 2011 net sales came from its iPhone, iPad and related products and services that rely on tracking a user's exact location.

New government data collection policies could have huge implications. "If Google got 65 percent less revenue than it got last year, that would be a big upset to a company like that," Castro said.


The industry got a break last month when the White House released a blueprint "privacy bill of rights" giving consumers more data control, but relying heavily on voluntary compliance by Internet companies.

The FTC's expected recommendations are causing more anxiety.

Analysts and privacy advocates predict that the FTC report will have more teeth, in part because FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz recently described Google's new privacy policy as a "somewhat brutal choice" for consumers.

The FTC report may call for strict enforcement to ensure firms adhere to their privacy policies, according to sources familiar with the agency's thinking.

It may also try to accelerate firms' adoption of the "do not track" technology, which could work like the "do not call" registry that caused telemarketing industry havoc.

Silva said the FTC recommendations come from "people that live and breathe privacy policy and have a greater knowledge of the law, companies' practices and an institutional knowledge of what's happened before. They probably have a better feel for the degree to which self-regulation works or doesn't."

As for legislation, numerous privacy bills are winding their way through Congress.

A notable one is a bipartisan privacy framework from Senators John Kerry and John McCain. It would require companies to reassess their privacy practices for both personally identifiable information and online behavioral advertising profiles.

Critics say it could force more companies to start charging for services like e-mail, social networks and other content currently subsidized by advertising.

"I'm talking about American companies having rules that control their own destiny, before Europe or other trading partners impose their policies on all our companies," Kerry said. "Hell, establishing minimum privacy protections in law can help build consumer trust in the marketplace and in turn increase economic activity."

Tech companies have argued that government regulations could cut its revenues, reduce job growth and hurt the broader economy.

Lawmakers are looking for the "sweet spot" between too much regulation and none at all, Representative Mary Bono Mack, chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade, said.

"Any knee-jerk reactions could have a chilling impact on innovation and e-commerce in the United States and threaten our economic recovery," she said.


Internet companies are well-positioned in Washington to push back against regulatory proposals.

With the piracy debate, they came together to argue that bills designed to shut down access to overseas websites trafficking in stolen content or counterfeit goods were too broad. They argued that they could undermine innovation and free speech and compromise the Internet's functioning.

What followed was an unprecedented online protest that saw Wikipedia and other sites go dark while bigger players like Google and Facebook displayed censorship bars and arguments against the bills on their sites.

The effort was supported with 3.9 million tweets, 2,000 people a second trying to call their elected representatives and more than 5,000 people a minute signing petitions opposing the legislation.

Privacy regulations are a harder sell, said privacy expert Amy Mushahwar, an attorney with Reed Smith.

"Consumers might not be able to immediately recognize that increased privacy obligations could lead to a lesser amount of content on the Web, which is really what the advertising industry is concerned about," said Mushahwar, a registered lobbyist for the Association of National Advertisers.

Internet companies have tried to get ahead of mandatory reforms by adopting their own policies.

The Digital Advertising Alliance rolled out new data collection principles that take effect this year. They explicitly prohibit collection and use of a person's Internet surfing data for determining their eligibility for employment, credit, insurance and medical treatment.

The industry is also using old-school lobbying tactics. It has ramped up its political activities dramatically, spending $1.2 billion between 1998 and 2011.

Google spent $9.68 million and Microsoft Corp $7.34 million on federal lobbying in 2011, according to lobbying disclosure reports.

Facebook, a latecomer to Washington, has beefed up its lobbying team, adding Joel Kaplan, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and Myriah Jordan, also a Bush aide and former general counsel to Republican Senator Richard Burr.

Facebook's lobbying expenditures skyrocketed from $351,000 in 2010 to $1.35 million in 2011, reports show.

Winning lawmaker support is only part of the battle. The sector also may benefit from the views of average people, said Linda Woolley, executive vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association.

Despite recent controversies over Google's privacy policies, "you didn't hear of people cancelling their Gmail accounts."

"From where I sit, I do not see hordes of Americans running to Capitol Hill saying we need to do something about this," she said.

(Additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Marilyn Thompson; Desking by Stacey Joyce)



UK privacy watchdog slams Google's new privacy policy as too vague

Washington, Mar 10(ANI): Britain's privacy watchdog has slammed Google's new privacy policy as being "too vague" and claimed it does not comply with the Data Protection Act.

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith criticized Google at a conference in Westminster.

"Google's privacy policy is too vague.The requirement under the UK Data Protection Act is for a company to tell people what it actually intends to do with their data, not just what it might do at some unspecified point in future," The Telegraph quoted Smith, as saying.

"Being vague does not help in giving users effective control about how their information is shared. It's their information at the end of the day," he added.

His comments echo those of the French privacy watchdog, CNIL, which had called on Google to delay the unveiling of new policy.

European Commissioner Viviane Reding had earlier accused the firm of "sneaking away" citizens' privacy and warned that "we aren't playing games here".

But Google argued that its new privacy policy is easier to understand than over 60 policies it has replaced.

The new policy gives Google powers to pool personal information from search Gmail Maps, YouTube and dozens of other services to create a single profile of a user's interests to target advertising. (ANI)



Friday, March 9, 2012

Retweets from celebs latest form of autographs now

London, Mar 9 (ANI): A retweet on your Twitter account from your favorite athlete or star has replaced autographs and signed balls and bats as souvenirs.

Fans have turned Twitter into a digital version of the autograph session, asking - sometimes begging stars from every sport for a shout-out.

Some requests are designed to raise the profile of a charitable cause. But most fans are simply looking for a little love from their favorite athletes.

"It's almost like capturing a photo of yourself with that person," the Daily Mail quoted Chris Abraham, senior vice president at Social Ally, a social media firm as saying.

"For a second there, you've breached their celebrity.

"They've actually allowed you to come over and take a camera shot of you two together, and you can share it with all your friends," he said.

Still, a retweet might not sound all that thrilling. You can't frame it and hang it on a wall [though you could do a screen grab and print it out], and it can't be passed down to your kids and grandkids.

You can't collect retweets in a book and show it off to your friends, and no one's going to pay six figures for a retweet, as someone once did for a baseball signed by Babe Ruth.

But that's the old-school way of thinking. An autograph is going to be seen by 15, maybe 20 people.

Get a retweet from Shaquille O'Neal, and you're now the coolest thing ever with the 5 million-plus people who follow the Big Tweeter.

To say nothing of the bragging rights you'll get when the folks who follow you see it.

"You can tweet that to your boys. Or if they're following you, they see it," O'Neal, now an analyst for TNT said.

"You have 15 minutes of fame," he said.

Sometimes you get even more than that.

A few weeks ago, New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, perhaps the most prolific athlete on Twitter, showed up on the doorstep of a follower who invited him to come over after Ochocinco tweeted that he was driving around Miami.

When Ochocinco posted photos of their meeting, the follower's timeline was flooded with so many messages he'd need until next month's NFL draft to respond to them all.

For the last three semesters, David Gerzof Richard has given his social media and marketing class at Emerson College the assignment of making contact with a Boston-area celebrity through social media.

The class picked Ochocinco last semester and, not only did he respond, he took the entire class to dinner, spending more than three hours talking about social media and why he considers it important.

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was this semester's quest, and the class got a response almost immediately.

"We've connected with two out of the three. ... If they had to sit down and call the agent or publicist, I'm pretty sure our success rate would be zero," Richard said.

"I would never have imagined that the course that took me into academia would, in a million years, have me connecting with athletes.

"That's the wonderful thing about social media, it literally opens doors that people could never imagine," he added. (ANI)



Ex Microsoft visionary Ozzie admits We are in a post-PC world

Washington, Mar 9(ANI): Former Microsoft's tech visionary Ray Ozzie has reckoned that the world has moved past the personal computer, potentially leaving behind the world's largest software company.

He added that the PC, which was Microsoft's handiwork, and still determines the company's financial performance, has been nudged aside by powerful phones and tablets running Apple and Google software.

"People argue about 'are we in a post-PC world?'. Why are we arguing? Of course we are in a post-PC world. That doesn't mean the PC dies, that just means that the scenarios that we use them in, we stop referring to them as PCs, we refer to them as other things," The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Ozzie, as saying at a technology conference in Seattle.

"I feel very good about a number of things that did change. The company's a lot different now, it's come a long way and I'm happy about some things and I'm impatient about other things," he added.

Ozzie was making his first public statement on Microsoft since quitting the company in 2010.

His speech came after Microsoft's arch-rival Apple's Chief Executive stressed the emergence of the "post-PC world" forged by the iPad.

Ozzie, who developed email application, Lotus Notes, was hand-picked by Gates to take over his role of chief software architect in 2006.

Ozzie said the fate of Windows 8 would determine Microsoft's future.

"If Windows 8 shifts in a form that people really want to buy the product, the company will have a great future. In any industry, if people look at their own needs, and look at the products and say, 'I understand why I had it then, and I want something different', they will not have as good a future. It's too soon to tell," he added. (ANI)



Monday, March 5, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone to be unveiled in UK in April

London, Mar 5(ANI): Samsung's new smartphone, the Galaxy S III, is likely to be launched in Britain in April.

The new Samsung handset will supersede the Galaxy S II, which is widely seen as the top Android smartphone.

ZDNet Korea claimed to have confirmed the launch with Samsung's advertising agency.

Samsung has not officially released Galaxy S III features but according to a technology blog, Boy Genius Report, it boasts of 1.5ghz quad-core processor, a 4.8-inch 1080p resolution display, 2GB RAM, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera. BGR said the handset would run Android 4.0.

The gadget blog also said that its own sources were predicting the launch for the new smartphone in April, The Telegraph reports.

It was earlier believed that Samsung would unveil the S III at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona but the firm had rejected such claims before the event saying: "the successor to the Galaxy SII smartphone will be unveiled at a separate Samsung-hosted event in the first half of the year, closer to commercial availability of the product". (ANI)



Hackers winning security war - executives

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Technology security professionals seeking wisdom from industry leaders in San Francisco this week saw more of the dark side than they had expected: a procession of CEO speakers whose companies have been hacked.

"It's pretty discouraging," said Gregory Roll, who came for advice and to consider buying security software for his employer, a large bank which he declined to name because he was not authorized to speak on its behalf. "It's a constant battle, and we're losing."

The annual RSA Conference, which draws to a close on Friday, brought a record crowd of more than 20,000 as Congress weighs new legislation aimed at better protecting U.S. companies from cyber attacks by spies, criminals and activists.

If the bills suggest that hackers are so far having their way with all manner of companies, the procession of speakers brought it home in a personal way.

The opening presentation by Art Coviello, executive chairman of conference sponsor and recent hacking victim RSA, set the tone with the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

RSA, owned by data storage maker EMC Corp, is the largest provider of password-generating tokens used by government agencies, banks and others to authenticate employees or customers who log on away from the office. Not long after last year's RSA conference, the company said an email with a poisoned attachment had been opened by an employee.

That gave hackers access to the corporate network and they emerged with information about how RSA calculates the numbers displayed on SecurID tokens, which was in turn used in an attack on Lockheed Martin that the defence contractor said it foiled.

Coviello said he hoped his company's misfortune would help foster a sense of urgency in the face of formidable opponents, especially foreign governments, who are being aided by the blurring of personal and professional online activities. Some 70 percent of employees in one survey he cited admitted to subverting corporate rules in order to use social networks or smartphones or get access to other resources, making security that much harder.

"Our networks will be penetrated. People will still make mistakes," Coviello said. He argued that with better monitoring and analysis of traffic inside company networks, "we can manage risk to acceptable levels."

If that didn't inspire enough enthusiasm after the worst year for corporate security in history - including the rise of activist hacks by Anonymous, numerous breaches at Sony Corp <6758.T>, and attacks on Nasdaq software used by corporate boards - there was more to come.

Next onstage was James Bidzos, CEO of core Internet infrastructure company VeriSign, which disclosed in an October securities filing that it had lost unknown data to hackers in 2010. He was followed by Enrique Salem, CEO of the largest security company, Symantec, which recently admitted that source code from the 2006 version of its program for gaining remote access to desktop computers had been stolen and published.

FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke on Thursday, warning that he expected cyber threats to pass terrorism as the country's top threat.

Though all sounded an upbeat call to arms, some watching grumbled that vendors with little credibility were trying to use their own shortcomings to peddle more expensive and unproven technology.

"There's some panic" among the buyers, said a security official with ING Groep NV who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press. Banks are very sensitive to questions about security breaches and often deny they have any significant problems in this area.

That panic contributed to vigorous panel discussions and hallway debates about who should be in charge of safeguarding defense companies, banks and utilities - private industry itself, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the National Security Agency, which has the greatest capability but a legacy of civil liberties issues.

A pending bill backed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would put DHS in the lead, with assistance from NSA. Former NSA chief Michael Hayden said in an interview at the conference that should suffice.

"The Net is inherently insecure," Hayden said. "We need to quit admiring the problem and move out. No position could be worse than the one we're in now."

Coviello said one of the few pieces of good news was that the country as a whole is now realizing the gravity of the loss of its trade and government secrets, along with the difficulty of reversing the trend.

"People have definitely talked more seriously after our breach," he said in an interview. "Maybe a sense of realism has settled in."

(Reporting By Joseph Menn; Editing by Richard Chang)



App gives runners a boost with flesh-eating zombies

TORONTO (Reuters) - If your standard running routine needs an adrenaline boost, maybe flesh-eating zombies will do the trick.

An app called Zombies, Run!, is a narrated game where real-world runners must out run zombies and collect supplies to keep themselves and their fellow humans alive -- and the only way to do that, is to hit the pavement.

"When you're out running, you'll occasionally get chased by zombies and you'll need to speed up in response over the next minute," said the app's co-creator Adrian Hon.

"That's very much like interval training, which is one of the best ways to get fit and to improve cardio. But it's incredibly hard to make yourself do it because it's painful. But when you're being chased by zombies, well that's another thing," he said.

The story, performed by professional actors, plays out in one to two minute acts interspersed between the music runners already have on their devices. As players progress throughout the game, they start uncovering the mystery of how this futuristic world came to be filled with zombies.

Each mission that players embark on is approximately half an hour and there are currently 13 missions available, with 17 more in development. Players advance in the game by automatically collecting supplies like medicine, batteries and water for fellow humans back at their base.

"You hear the sound of the gates of the base you live in going up and someone says, 'The gates are broken -- we've got an emergency' and suddenly the megaphone goes on and tells you to report to the gate immediately 'Go, go, go!'", said Hon about the beginning of mission three.

"Every time I hear it, I still speed up. And it puts a smile on my face because I think 'OK, let's go for it'" he said.

Created in conjunction with award-winning novelist Naomi Alderman, the motivation for the app was to use the power of storytelling to make running more entertaining and motivating.

"For a lot of people who want to get into running it's been a great motivational tool. But we also have people who are running for an hour or two hours just because they want something more interesting than music or a podcast," she said.

Hon, who started running a few years ago, said that while apps that provide badges or points for running are motivating, they lack the engagement factor that he believes many runners need.

"They don't make the act of running anymore fun. You might be running and thinking 'I can't wait to get home to add five more points to my running log' but it's not really any greater when you're out there," he said.

An upcoming update to the app will track metrics such as speed, distance, time and calories burned. The company is also working on two add-on packs: one for beginners to ease them into running, and the other for interval training, for which Alderman said the app is particularly useful.

"We have all the built-in instincts in our brains to run away from predators. So it's a really powerful motivation to use," she said.

The app is available for iPhone and Android devices.

(Reporting by Natasha Baker; editing by Patricia Reaney)



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mozilla's new add-on enables users to track who is 'spying' on them

London. Mar 3 (ANI): Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, has unveiled a new add-on for the popular web browser that gives web users an instant view of which companies are "watching" them as they browse.

The move comes the same week that Google pushed ahead with its controversial new privacy policy, built to provide even more data for Google's 28-billion-dollar advertising business, despite concerns that the massive harvesting of private data might be illegal in many countries.

According to Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs, the Collusion add-on will allow users to "pull back the curtain" on web advertising firms and other third parties that track people's online movements.

Mozilla's Firefox is the world's second most popular web browser, a position under threat from Google's own Chrome browser.

The Collusion add-on is an official Mozilla product, and was unveiled at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference this week by Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs.

"Collusion is an experimental add-on for Firefox and allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web," the Daily Mail quoted Mozilla as saying.

"It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers," it said.

Mozilla aims to build up a database of the worst offenders and make the data available to privacy campaigners.

"When we launch the full version of Collusion, it will allow you to opt-in to sharing your anonymous data in a global database of web tracker data.

"We'll combine all that information and make it available to help researchers, journalists, and others analyze and explain how data is tracked on the web," it added. (ANI)



Zynga to set up its own gaming service outside Facebook

London, Mar 3 (ANI): American game maker company Zynga, which has made games like FarmVille and CityVille is setting up its own gaming service.

It means people will be able to play on a platform outside Facebook, Google+ and Myspace.

Zynga makes its money through advertising and from the sale of virtual items such as tools paid for with real cash.

Most of the company's games have to be played through Facebook, which takes a 30 percent cut from each sale.

Zynga, whose titles have more than 200 million active monthly users, makes 95 percent of its money through Facebook.

It publishes four of the top five games played on the social networking site.

UK games editor at IGN.com Keza MacDonald has said that moving away from Facebook could have significant effects down the line.

"If Facebook game powerhouses like Zynga launch their own platforms rather than hosting games exclusively on Facebook itself, it undermines Facebook's credibility as a gaming platform, which could shift the emphasis on social gaming," the BBC quoted MacDonald as saying.

"The money in social gaming could shift further towards mobile platforms," the games editor said.

The San Francisco-based firm says its re-designed website, which will be launched later this month, will make it easier to play games more quickly with access to live chatting and message board features.

Five of Zynga's top games will be on the new Zynga.com, including CastleVille, CityVille and Words with Friends.

Users will still need to log in using their Facebook IDs and sales from virtual goods in games, such as houses, coffee or other items, will be traded using Facebook Credits, the social website's payment system.

Manuel Bronstein, general manager of Zynga.com, said that the new website did not intend to move users away from Facebook.

"It will help users keep their Facebook profiles separate from their gaming habits while bringing Zynga closer to users," he said.

"If they want to play on Facebook, if they play on mobile, if they play on the web, I want them to be connected to Zynga and it cannot be constrained to one single destination," he added. (ANI)



Thursday, March 1, 2012

Microsoft hires ex-FTC Google expert as lobbyist

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp hired as one of its lobbyists a former Federal Trade Commission lawyer who had access to "thousands" of confidential Google Inc documents, according to a source close to the situation.

The software maker took on Randall Long, who led the FTC's investigation into Google's acquisition of AdMob, to be a lobbyist in its Washington office, according to both Google and Microsoft.

The hiring, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is the latest salvo in Microsoft's ongoing battle with Google for dominance of the high-tech world.

During his work on Google mergers, Long, who was a deputy assistant director of an FTC section that assessed mergers for antitrust violations, read thousands of confidential documents ranging from sales figures and emails to internal strategy memos, the source said.

The FTC is currently looking into complaints that Google's search results favor the company's other services.

An FTC spokesperson said that agency rules would prohibit Long from appearing before the agency to discuss any matter that he worked on "personally and substantially."

He would have to obtain clearance from the FTC to discuss any Google matter that was pending when he still worked for the agency. But Long had not worked on the current antitrust probe of Google's business practices, according to an FTC source.

The problem for Long will be to ensure that he never discusses confidential Google data as part of his new job, which could be difficult because he has seen so much, said a Washington antitrust attorney who asked not to be named because he practices before the FTC.

"It smacks of ethical problems all over. It smells bad," he said.

But another attorney said lawyers often work for different companies, sometimes rivals, and are trained to not use confidential information from one case in another.

The head of Microsoft's Washington, D.C. office, Fred Humphries, said that Microsoft was looking forward to Long's arrival.

"His deep legal experience will provide important perspective on a range of issues that affect both consumers and the broader technology industry," he said in an email statement.

(Reporting By Diane Bartz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)



Frenchman sues over Google Views urination photo

NANTES, France (Reuters) - A Frenchman took Google to court on Thursday over a photo published online by its Street View application showing him urinating in his front yard which he believes has made him the laughing stock of his village in rural northwest France.

The man, who is aged around 50 and lives in a village of some 3,000 people in the Maine-et-Loire region, is demanding the removal of the photo, in which locals have recognised him despite his face being blurred out.

He also wants 10,000 euros in damages.

"Everyone has the right to a degree of secrecy," his lawyer, Jean-Noel Bouillard, told Reuters. "In this particular case, it's more amusing than serious. But if he'd been caught kissing a woman other than his wife, he would have had the same issue."

Google Inc.'s Street View, covering some 30 countries and available in France since 2008, enables users of Google Maps to also view photos of streets taken by its camera cars, which have cameras hoisted on frames on their roofs.

The man thought he was hidden from view by his closed gate as he relieved himself in November 2010. But Google's lens caught him from above his gate as it passed by. Bouillard did not explain why the man chose to urinate outside.

Google's lawyer in the case, named by local daily Ouest France as Christophe Bigot, was not immediately reachable, but the newspaper said he was pleading that the case should be declared null and void.

The court, in the nearby city of Angers, is due to give its verdict on March 15.

(Reporting by Guillaume Frouin; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Myra MacDonald)



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Apple's Chinese legal woes over iPad surface at home

(Reuters) - The Asian firm trying to stop Apple Inc from using the iPad name has now launched an attack on the consumer electronics giant's home turf, filing a lawsuit in California that accuses the iPhone-maker of employing deception when it bought the "iPad" trademark.

Proview International Holdings Ltd <0334.HK>, a major computer monitor maker that fell on hard times during the economic crisis, is already suing the U.S. company in multiple Chinese jurisdictions and requesting that sales of iPads be suspended across the country.

Last week, it filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County that brings their legal dispute to Silicon Valley as well. Proview accuses Apple of creating a "special purpose" entity - IP Application Development Ltd, or IPAD - to buy the iPad name from it, concealing Apple's role in the matter.

In its filing, Proview outlined how lawyers for IPAD repeatedly said it would not be competing with the Chinese firm, and refused to say why they needed the trademark.

Those representations were made "with the intent to defraud and induce the plaintiffs to enter into the agreement," Proview said in the filing dated February 17, requesting an unspecified amount of damages.

Apple, which has said Proview is refusing to honor a years-old agreement, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The battle between a little-known Asian company and the world's most valuable technology corporation dates back to a disagreement over precisely what was covered in a deal for the transfer of the iPad trademark to Apple in 2009.

Authorities in several Chinese cities have already seized iPads, citing the legal dispute.

Proview, which maintains it holds the iPad trademark in China, has been suing Apple in various jurisdictions in the country for trademark infringement, while also using the courts to get retailers in some smaller cities to stop selling the tablet PCs.

China is becoming an increasingly pivotal market for Apple, which sold more than 15 million iPads worldwide in the last quarter alone and is trying to expand its business in the world's No. 2 economy to sustain its rip-roaring pace of growth.

The country is also where the majority of its iPhones and iPads are now assembled, in partnership with Foxconn.

A Shanghai court this week threw out Proview's request to halt iPad sales in the city, averting an embarrassing suspension at its own flagship stores. But the outcome of the broader dispute hinges on a hearing of the higher court in Guangdong, which earlier ruled in Proview's favor.

The next hearing in that case is set for February 29.

(Reporting By Edwin Chan; Editing by Gary Hill)



Apple's China legal battle over iPad spreads to U.S

REUTERS - The Asian firm trying to stop Apple Inc from using the iPad name in China has launched an attack on the consumer electronics giant's home turf, filing a lawsuit in California that accuses the iPhone-maker of employing deception when it bought the "iPad" trademark.

A unit of Proview International Holdings Ltd, a major computer monitor maker that fell on hard times during the economic crisis, is already suing the U.S. company in multiple Chinese jurisdictions and requesting that sales of iPads be suspended across the country.

Last week, units Proview Electronics Co Ltd and Proview Technology Co filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County that brings their legal dispute to Silicon Valley.

Proview accuses Apple of creating a "special purpose" entity - IP Application Development Ltd, or IPAD - to buy the iPad name from it, concealing Apple's role in the matter.

In its filing, Proview alleged lawyers for IPAD repeatedly said it would not be competing with the Chinese firm, and refused to say why they needed the trademark.

Those representations were made "with the intent to defraud and induce the plaintiffs to enter into the agreement," Proview said in the filing dated February 17, requesting an unspecified amount of damages.

Apple, which has said Proview is refusing to honor a years-old agreement, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The battle between a little-known Asian company and the world's most valuable technology corporation dates back to a disagreement over precisely what was covered in a deal for the transfer of the iPad trademark to Apple in 2009.

Authorities in several Chinese cities have already seized iPads, citing the legal dispute.

Proview, which maintains it holds the iPad trademark in China, has been suing Apple in various jurisdictions in the country for trademark infringement, while also using the courts to get retailers in some smaller cities to stop selling the tablet PCs.

China is becoming an increasingly pivotal market for Apple, which sold more than 15 million iPads worldwide in the last quarter alone and is trying to expand its business in the world's No. 2 economy to sustain its rip-roaring pace of growth.

The country is also where the majority of its iPhones and iPads are now assembled, in partnership with Foxconn.

A Shanghai court this week threw out Proview's request to halt iPad sales in the city. But the outcome of the broader dispute hinges on a higher court in Guangdong, which earlier ruled in Proview's favor.

The next hearing in that case is set for February 29.

China's trademark system is a minefield of murky rules and opportunistic "trademark squatters" that even the world's biggest companies and their highly-paid lawyers find hard to navigate.

Legal experts say the onus is on companies looking to do business in China to understand how China's trademark law works, as it differs greatly from that of the United States.

Industry executives have said employing special-purpose entities to acquire trademarks is a frequent tactic in China.

(Reporting By Edwin Chan; Editing by Michael Urquhart)



Samsung says sales of Galaxy S II phones top 20 mln

SEOUL (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co Ltd<005930.KS>, which emerged as the world's top smartphone maker last year, said on Thursday that sales of its flagship Galaxy S II topped 20 million handsets since its launch in April last year.

Sales of predecessor Galaxy S, introduced in 2010 and at the heart of bruising global patent disputes with arch-rival Apple Inc , exceeded 22 million, the company said in a statement.

Apple sold 93 million iPhones last year, nearly doubling sales from a year earlier, while Samsung raised smartphone sales nearly fourfold to 95 million, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.

(Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Chris Lewis)



Facebook's photo guidelines say no to nipples but give nod to gore

London, Feb 23 (ANI): A leaked document has revealed Facebook's secret rule book which includes blocking mild nudity but allowing images of death and disfigurement, as well as racially charged comments.

According to the document, "naked private parts including female nipple bulges and naked butt cracks" are banned, but "male nipples are OK".

The guide also revealed that cartoon nudity is also a no no. Any "obvious" sexual activity understandably can't be uploaded but pictures of "foreplay like kissing and groping are allowed".

"Crushed heads, limbs, etc, are OK as long as no insides are showing," the Sun quoted the guide as saying.

"Deep flesh wounds and excessive blood OK to show," it said,

Facebook, which was created by entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg and is now worth an estimated 65 billion pounds, is less relaxed about drunken antics.

The document outlaws "images of drunk and unconscious people or sleeping people with things drawn on their faces".

Pixilated nudity and "mothers breast feeding without clothes on" are also banned. This caused uproar from a host of aggrieved "lactivists" who are already angry with the social networking site.

Fed-up mums protested outside the firm's offices around the world recently when the site removed snaps of them breast feeding.

Users can also post images of cannabis on their account so long as they are not selling it.

Other pictures to face the cull include genital areas, described as "blatant depiction of camel toes and moose knuckles", "any photoshopped images of people, whether negative, positive or neutral" and maps of Kurdistan, which is a part of Turkey.

As well as ear wax, other bodily fluids prohibited by Facebook include urine, vomit and pus. However, photos of "snot" are allowed.

The website's 845 million users were previously in the dark over picture regulation. But Facebook's vetting system has been made public after a disgruntled ex-employee leaked the company's Abuse Standards Violations (ASV) document.

The manual was used by outsourcing firm oDesk, whose workers trawl through photos on Facebook then delete them if they go against the ASV.

It is not the first time that Facebook's guidelines have caused controversy.

Last year the site deleted a drawing of a naked woman by art student Steven Assael. This caused a furore in the art world.

Last April the site removed an image of a gay kiss screened on BBC1 soap EastEnders. This prompted accusations of homophobia. (ANI)



Google's digital glasses to be revealed soon

London, Feb 23(ANI): Google digital glasses, which use augmented reality technology and Android technology, will be out in the market soon.

The glasses reportedly incorporate augmented reality technology into a new Robocop - style vision of the future, superimposing the screen of the glasses with additional contextual information.

Google's glasses are reportedly similar in appearance to the Oakley Thump design, The Telegraph reports.

Even though Google has itself determinedly refused to give any oxygen to rumors of the project, the New York Times reports that the glasses will use the same operating system as Google's mobile phone, and cost about the same as a top smart phone too.

A digital camera and Internet connectivity is combined with location data, so if you point your phone at Big Ben, because the device knows where you are it's comparatively simple to add information to the image on screen.

And while the obvious uses are for, say, historical information, there's space for advertisers and social services to tell you where to, say, meet up with friends for a drink. (ANI)


Apple, Google, Amazon, smart phone makers sign privacy accord

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Six of the world's top consumer technology firms have agreed to provide greater privacy disclosures before users download applications in order to protect the personal data of millions of consumers, California's attorney general said on Wednesday.

The agreement binds Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Research In Motion, and Hewlett-Packard -- and developers on their platforms -- to disclose how they use private data before an app may be downloaded, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said.

"Your personal privacy should not be the cost of using mobile apps, but all too often it is," said Harris.

Currently 22 of the 30 most downloaded apps do not have privacy notices, said Harris. Some downloaded apps also download a consumer's contact book.

Google said in a statement that under the California agreement, Android users will have "even more ways to make informed decisions when it comes to their privacy".

Apple confirmed the agreement but did not elaborate.

Harris was also among U.S. state lawmakers who on Wednesday signed a letter to Google CEO Larry Page to express "serious concerns" over the web giant's recent decision to consolidate its privacy policy.

The policy change would give Google access to user information across its products, such as GMail and Google Plus, without the proper ability for consumers to opt out, said the 36 U.S. attorneys general in their letter.

EU authorities have asked Google to halt the policy change until regulators can investigate the matter.


California's 2004 Online Privacy Protection Act requires privacy disclosures, but Harris said few mobile developers had paid attention to the law in recent years because of confusion over whether it applied to mobile apps.

"Most mobile apps make no effort to inform users about how personal information is used," Harris said at a press conference in San Francisco. "The consumer should be informed of what they are giving up".

The six companies will meet the attorney general in six months to assess compliance among their developers. But Harris acknowledged "there is no clear timeline" to begin enforcement.

The attorney general repeatedly raised the possibility of litigation at some future time under California's unfair competition and false advertising laws if developers continue to publish apps without privacy notices.

"We can sue and we will sue," she said, adding that she hoped the industry would act "in good faith."

There are nearly 600,000 applications for sale in the Apple App Store and 400,000 for sale in Google's Android Market, and consumers have downloaded more than 35 billion, said Harris.

There are also more than 50,000 individual developers who have created the mobile apps currently available for download on the leading platforms, she said.

These figures are expected to grow. She said an estimated 98 billion mobile applications will be downloaded by 2015, and the $6.8 billion market for mobile applications is expected to grow to $25 billion within four years.

(Reporting By Gerry Shih; Editing by Carol Bishopric and Michael Perry)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Web users make first impressions of website in less than a second

Washington, Feb 19 (ANI): It takes web users less than two-tenths of a second to form a first impression on a website, according to a recent eye-tracking research.

But, according to the research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology, it takes a little longer - about 2.6 seconds - for a user's eyes to land on that area of a website that most influences their first impression.

The finding could help web designers understand which elements of a website's design are most important for users.

"We know first impressions are very important. As more people use the Internet to search for information, a user's first impressions of a website can determine whether that user forms a favorable or unfavorable view of that organization," said Dr. Hong Sheng, assistant professor of business and information technology at Missouri S 'n' T.

For their research, Sheng and Sirjana Dahal, who received her graduate degree from Missouri S 'n' T last December, enlisted 20 students to view screenshots, or static images, of the main websites from 25 law schools in the U.S.

Using eye-tracking software and an infrared camera in Missouri S 'n' T's Laboratory for Information Technology Evaluation, the researchers monitored students' eye movements as they scanned the web pages.

The researchers then analyses the eye-tracking data to determine how long it took for the students to focus on specific sections of a page - such as the menu, logo, images and social media icons - before they moved on to another section.

Sheng and Dahal found that their subjects spent about 2.6 seconds scanning a website before focusing on a particular section. They spent an average of 180 milliseconds focusing, or "fixating," on one particular section before moving on.

After each viewing of a website, Sheng and Dahal asked students to rate sites based on aesthetics, visual appeal and other design factors.

"The longer the participants stayed on the page, the more favorable their impressions were. First impressions are important for keeping people on pages," Sheng stated.

The subjects considered sixteen of the 25 websites reviewed in the study favorable, according to Sheng.

Through this research, Sheng and Dahal found that seven sections of the reviewed websites attracted the most interest from users. The participants spent an average of 20 seconds on each website.

These include - the institution's logo, the main navigation menu, the search box, Social networking links to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the site's main image, the site's written content, and the bottom of a website.

Although use of colour was not part of the eye-tracking study, participants indicated that it did influence their impressions of websites.

"Participants recommended the main colour and background colour be pleasant and attractive, and the contrast of the text colour should be such that it is easier to read," Dahal wrote in her master's thesis.

The use of images was also an important factor in web design, the subjects of the study said. "You must choose your main picture very carefully," Sheng said adding that, "An inappropriate image can lead to an unfavorable response from viewers." (ANI)



Q and A - The complex interplay of social media and privacy

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Living in the world of social networking and mobile smartphones means trading away some of your personal information.

But assessing the price of admission to join the super-networked, digital class is not so simple; even experts on the issue admit that they don't have a full picture of the way personal information is collected and used on the Internet. But here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind.

Q. What information do you have to give up to participate in social media?

A. Social networks such as Facebook and Google+ require at a minimum that you provide them with your name, gender and date of birth. Many people provide additional profile information, and the act of using the services - writing comments or uploading photos or "friending" people - creates additional information about you. Most of that information can be kept hidden from the public if you choose, though the companies themselves have access to it.

If you use your Facebook credentials to log-on to other Web sites, or if you use Facebook apps, you might be granting access to parts of your profile that would otherwise be hidden. Quora, for example, a popular online Q&A site, requires that Facebook users provide it access to their photos, their "Likes" and information that their friends share with them. TripAdvisor, by contrast, requires only access to "basic information" including gender and lists of friends.

Social media apps on smartphones, which have access to personal phone call information and physical location, put even more information at play.

On Apple Inc's iPhone, apps must get user permission to access GPS location coordinates, a procedure that will now be applied to address book access as well after companies including Twitter were found to be downloading iPhone address book information. Beyond those two types of data, Apple locks away personal data stored in other applications, such as notepad and calendar apps, according to Michael Sutton, the vice president of security research at email security service ZScaler.

Google Inc's Android smartphone operating system allows third-party apps to tap into a bonanza of personal data, though only if they get permission. In order to download an app from the Android Market, users must click 'OK' on a pop-up list that catalogues the specific types of information that each particular app has access to.

With both mobile and Facebook apps, often the choice is to provide access to a personal information or not use the app at all.

Q. Should I worry about how my information is being used?

A. Personal information is the basic currency of an Internet economy built around marketing and advertising. Hundreds of companies collect personal information about Web users, slice it up, combine it with other information, and then resell it.

Facebook doesn't provide personal information to outside marketers, but other websites, including sites that access Facebook profile data, may have different policies. Last year, a study by Stanford University graduate student found that profile information on an online dating site, including ethnicity, income and drug use frequency, was somehow being tramsitted to a third-party data firm.

The data that third-parties collect is used mainly by advertisers, but there are concerns that these profiles could be used by insurance companies or banks to help them make decisions about who to do business with.

Q. Are there any restrictions on what information companies can collect from Internet users or what they can do with it?

A. In the United States, the federal law requires websites that know they are being visited by children under 13 to post a privacy policy, get parental approval before collecting personal information on children, and allow parents to bar the spread of that information or demand its deletion. The site operators are not allowed to require more information from the children than is "reasonably necessary" for participating in its activities.

For those who are 13 or older, the United States has no overarching restrictions. Websites are free to collect personal information including real names and addresses, credit card numbers, Internet addresses, the type of software installed, and even what other websites people have visited. Sites can keep the information indefinitely and share most of what they get with just about anyone.

Websites are not required to have privacy policies. Companies have most often been tripped up by saying things in their privacy policies - such as promising that data is kept secure - and then not living up to them. That can get them in trouble under the federal laws against unfair and deceptive practices.

Sites that accept payment card information have to follow industry standards for encrypting and protecting that data. Medical records and some financial information, such as that compiled by rating agencies, are subject to stricter rules.

European privacy laws are more stringent and the European Union is moving to establish a universal right to have personal data removed from a company's database-informally known as the "right to be forgotten." That approach is fervently opposed by companies dependent on Internet advertising.

Q. Is there likely to be new privacy legislation in the United States?

A. The year 2011 saw a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill as U.S. lawmakers introduced a handful of do-not-track bills with even the Obama White House calling for a "privacy bill of rights."

Leading the charge on do-not-track legislation are the unlikely pair of Reps. Edward J. Markey, a Massachussetts Democrat, and Joseph Barton, a Republican from Texas, who have jointly led a "Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus."

Still, with half a dozen privacy laws meandering through Congress, most observers expect it could take a long time before any are passed-and not before they are significantly watered down in the legislative process.



Fujitsu to launch mobile devices in EU market - FT

LONDON (Reuters) - Japan's largest IT services vendor Fujitsu <6702.T> plans to launch a wide range of smartphone and tablet devices for the first time in Europe, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Fujitsu is already a large handset and tablet maker in Japan with about a fifth of the market, but is looking to challenge the dominance of European market leaders such as Apple and Samsung <000830.KS>, the FT said.

The newspaper did not say when Fujitsu would launch the products in Europe's fast-growing and high-margin mobile device market, but said the company is targeting a "double-digit" market share in the next three to five years.

Japanese handset makers have struggled to compete in European markets, in part owing to a focus on technology for the domestic market. But the company's new handsets and tablets use technology it has developed that can be used globally, according to the FT.

"The Japanese market has been in a silo from a technology and design perspective, but Fujitsu is bringing out a global product," Robert Pryke, the company's director for mobile phone business in Europe, was cited as saying in the article.

(Reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by Richard Pullin)