May 2009 Archives

Not a big thing, just Bing without any Yahoo

Warwick Ashford | No Comments
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Microsoft has finally unveiled it's enhanced search service, but no big announcement about a deal with Yahoo as widely expected.

Rather disappointing really, as is the name, "Bing"...

We will have to wait until the official launch next week for some real fireworks and to see if Bing is really anything to get excited about.

But it seems Bing is expected to be a slow burner, with development towards a full and final version expected only in the next six to twelve months.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on the blogosphere next week to see if users are as bowled over by Bing as Microsoft would lead us to believe.

Western Union users, beware of malicious emails

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Western Union users should be wary of any emails that appear to come from the money transfer firm's support team.

According to security firm, Sophos, its labs are seeing a large number of these fake emails with a malicious attachment.

The emails invite recipients to print an attached invoice to claim money from a failed attempt at making a money transfer.

Clicking on the attachment unleashes a malicious Trojan horse, says Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley in a blog posting.

Western Union users may well fall for the fake emails, so be warned, but it is difficult to understand why anyone who is not a customer would click on the attachment.

As Cluley says, common sense is the end user's best friend, so we should all think twice before clicking on any email attachments.


Microsoft and Yahoo could announce a deal this week

Warwick Ashford | No Comments
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Where there's smoke there's usually fire, and where there is a Microsoft and a Yahoo chief together, most people are predicting an announcement of a search deal.

This week could be the week, according to Microsoft commentator Mary Jo Foley with Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer and Yahoo chief Carol Bartz this week scheduled to attend the official  relaunch of Microsoft's search.

It does all seem to fit.

First, Bartz and Ballmer finally had face to face talks about a search and advertising partnership last month, according to All Things Digital.

Second, all this renewed speculation has been driven by the fact that Microsoft registered a limited liability company (LLC) in Delaware last week.

Organisations like Microsoft typically register LLC's in Delaware just ahead of an acquisition or joint venture, according to the Blogosphere.

Add that all together, and the odds are there will be an Microsoft-Yahoo announcement soon so we can all get on with our lives and stop speculating.

And if you are wondering why Microsoft or any other big company would pick Delaware, the answer is a legal one.

Delaware has 110-year corporate case law history on matters such as shareholder issues, mergers and acquisitions.

That means it is easier for companies to know what they can and cannot do in such cases and what the risks and outcomes are likely to be.

For example, Delaware laws tend to be pro-management when it comes to minority shareholder disputes, according to a US investment site.

New iPhone will have 32GB of memory

Bill Goodwin | No Comments
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The next version of the iPhone will have 32 GB of internal memory, according to the last rumours. The iPhone is expected to be released next month, with the betting being on June 17th. Apple is tight lipped about the latest iPhone incarnation, but according to Top 10 Mobile phones, news about the memory upgrade leaked out on the T-mobile web site in Australia. The new phone is also rumoured to feature a 3.2 megapixel camera with video and editing capabilities.

Red Hat leads protest against Microsoft goverment-supported monopoly

Warwick Ashford | 1 Comment
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Linux supplier Red Hat and 17 other software suppliers have launched a protest against a Swiss government contract awarded to Microsoft without any public bidding process.

According to Red Hat, the contract, worth £8m a year, was issued without a bidding process because the Swiss Federal Bureau for Buildings and Logistics said there was no "sufficient alternative" to Microsoft products.

Does this, as some commentators have suggested, indicate a wider Microsoft monopoly that European governments accept, despite their lip service for open source?

Perhaps the European Commission, which is considering whether to fine Microsoft for abusing its dominance of the operating systems market to promote its Internet Explorer browser, should review a couple of contracts awarded Microsoft by European governments.

The Red Hat group has requested the Swiss Federal Administration Court to reverse the Swiss government agency contract decision and hold a public bidding process.

"This public process will allow for fair consideration of the merits of open source and other non-Microsoft software products," the group said.


Google not going into the newspaper business, claims company chief

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Google chief executive Eric Schmidt has scotched speculation that the internet search company plans to buy a newspaper, according to the Financial Times.

Not surprising, really, considering the hot water Google found itself in late last year over plans to make books available online.

Google reached an agreement in October to create a $125m fund to pay authors to have their work scanned and made available online, but it is still not out the woods.

The agreement is being investigated by the US Justice Department after Consumer Watchdog and the American Antitrust Institute raised concerns.

The official line, according to the Financial Times interview is that Google is trying to "avoid crossing the line" between technology and content.

Schmidt claims Google is instead working with publishers to make their websites "work better" for online advertising.

This makes sense because it would mean Google is sticking to what it knows best, but time will tell if this is just a smokescreen until the heat dies down.


Facebook fingered for retaining deleted user photos

Warwick Ashford | 4 Comments
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First Twitter, now Facebook raising user concerns about privacy.

It will be interesting if the latest revelations by Cambridge University researchers will unleash the same storm of protest as Facebook's attempts to take ownership of user generated content.

So what did the researchers find?

They uploaded photos to 16 websites, noted the location (URL) of each image on the sites, and then "deleted" the image.

The interesting bit is that a month later,  when most users would expect the images to have been removed, the URLs were still working for 7 of the sites, including Facebook and Bebo.

The revelation comes just a day after Twitter users were alerted to the fact that the microblogging service retains postings after users think they have been deleted.

A posting including celebrity Jonathan Ross's email address could still be found using Twitter's advanced search facility after he realised his mistake and thought he had deleted it.

Facebook is insisting that images are removed from its servers "immediately" but a spokesman acknowledged that URLs continue to exist on the content delivery system until they are overwritten, according to the BBC.

This still means that users who believe they have deleted an embarrassing photo, may find that it is still available online.

It will be interesting to see if Facebook is forced to tighten up in this area because of privacy concerns, which led users to force an about turn in February when the social networking site tried to take ownership of user-generated content.


EU privacy rules will harm swine flu tracking capability, says Google

Warwick Ashford | No Comments
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European privacy concerns are all good and well, but EU plans to make Google cut the time it holds user data by a third could hamper it ability to predict pandemics such as swine flu.

The European Commission says user data should not be held longer than six months, but Google's co-founder Larry Page has criticised the idea, according to the BBC

Page says there needs to be more debate around the issue of storing user data because Google's ability to plot and predict potential pandemics will be adversely affected.

Google claims to be able to spot a potential pandemic ahead of government agencies because it uses search data to track flu trends.

Increased searches for terms like 'flu' in combination with searches using flu symptoms are fed in to Google's flu tracking applications.

It is all a question of balancing benefits with risk, as was illustrated at an interesting debate on  government and privacy hosted by the Information Comissioner's Office in London last week.

But who should make those decisions? Who is really qualified? Is anyone in government really able to make that call without involving the electorate?

This really is a tricky one, but personally I would am more concerned about a swine flu pandemic than the risk of someone building a profile of me based on Google search data.

UK jumps on broadband research bandwagon that could change life as we know it

Warwick Ashford | 1 Comment
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splatter.jpgThe UK's Technology Strategy Board (TSB) is to invest £1m to help spur technology to deliver ultra fast internet access of up to 10Gbs to homes and businesses.

The result, says the TSB, could be a major change in the way that businesses operate across the world.

The cash will be used for feasibility projects, which TSB says will help establish European partnerships that will take part in larger EU-funded research and development initiatives.

The ultimate aim is the development of pan-European Ultra Fast Broadband to help enable European companies gain competitive advantage on a global scale.

Mike Biddle, lead technologist at the TSB said the "challenge is to identify ways to address the technical issues facing the introduction of ultra-fast broadband within the next decade and to build European collaborations to exploit the technology, while generating wealth for the UK."

It is a smart idea getting in at the beginning, but like MarkJ at ISP Review, let us hope the feasibility studies include looking at whether the internet could handle anything like 10Gps in millions of homes and businesses.

Think-tank Nemertes warned last month that unless the network infrastructure of the internet is upgraded, users will experience slower and unreliable connections by next year.

Nemertes said as demand for bandwidth potentially doubles, computers will regularly start freezing and dropping offline as early as next year.

Image by jurvetson on Flickr

EC wants you to control your privacy

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As governments and companies find more ways to exploit smart cards, especially the RFID-enabled ones, the easier it is for them to find out all about you, your habits and your movements around the world.

Some (all?) of this may be no-one's business but yours, and the European Commission thinks so too. It has just passed a "strong recommendation" that consumers control what information goes onto the chips and how it is used. Anyone wanting to exploit the undoubted benefits of RFID should take note.

The full text is here.

Who is on Microsoft's shopping list?

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On Monday Microsoft filed its first bond offering with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), The Redmond software house said it would issue five-year, 10-year and 30-year notes for "general purposes". Industry analysts put the value at $3.75bn.

The move comes on top of a board decision last year to raise up to $6bn in debt, and follows the take-on of short term debt worth around $2bn.

Given that Microsoft's latest financial results show it produces $12bn a year in free cash flow and net profit of $22bn, it's no surprise that Moody's the rating agency, classed Microsoft's bond AAA.

What will Microsoft do with the money? The old saw that the time to borrow money is when you don't need it comes to mind. But it has been window shopping. Last year Yahoo turned down a $47bn offer, but with new bosses at the search company, there may be room for fresh talks.

Industry watchers have mentioned SAP, the German enterprise applications software giant, as a possible target. But Microsoft is already in most of SAP's clients, so a takeover would merely consolidate Redmond's grip on the corporate IT throat and prompt a million lawsuits.

What about, and this is purely speculation, something in the cloud space? The area is maturing, firms are starting to make money there, and it plays to what Microsoft has been doing with information security. What about Amazon?

Hackers claim to hold millions of personal records hostage

Warwick Ashford | No Comments
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Hackers have rocked public faith in large databases with claims to have seized millions of records from a prescription drug monitoring programme in the state of Virginia.

In yet another example of rapidly evolving cybercrime, the hackers are threatening to sell the information if they are not paid $10m ransom, according to the Washington Post.

The database, which includes details such as name, address and drugs dispensed, is designed to help doctors and pharmacies track and reduce the abuse and illegal sale of painkillers.

The Virginia Department of Health Professionals (DHP) that maintains the database has acknowledged that programme's website was defaced, but said the database had been shut down and all data backed up securely.

As the FBI investigation continues, is not yet clear whether the threat is a hoax or not.

Despite the Virginia DHP's reassurances, they are recommending that anyone whose details appear on the database to "remain vigilant" over the next 24 months.

Even if the threat is not genuine, the incident is likely to deepen concerns about UK, US and other government plans to create super databases containing personal data.

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