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DfT plans to outlaw Google Glass use in cars are short-sighted

01 Aug 2013

Car crash

It has emerged this week that the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) would be looking into having Google Glass banned from UK roads. The justification for this decision isn't in question (although we'll look at that later), the problem is the manner in which the statement has been made.

Currently, Glass is not on general sale; it's only available through Google's Explorer programme. We have to assume that the DfT didn't gain access to the Explorer campaign for two simple reasons. One: it was only for US citizens. And two: $1,500 is a lot to pay for a concept device, which may have little bearing on a final product. Plus, the public sector is hardly flush with cash.

We did contact the DfT, asking whether any of its staff had indeed tried Glass, but we had received no reply by the time of publishing.

It does seem a little bizarre, therefore, that the DfT says it is "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before it has even tried the product.

But putting that aside, what's the case for and against Glass? Let's look at it in the eyes of the law first of all. The DfT's website states the following about hands-free devices: "You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you're driving or riding." But the crux of the matter is what follows: "But if the police think you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised."

So really, unless the DfT is really going to push through legislation banning wearable tech, it may just be down to interpretation.

The government's Think! road safety site states that crashes are four times more likely for drivers using their mobiles, with reaction times 50 percent slower. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that drivers holding or using hands-free phones make numerous mistakes and makes it clear that it would prefer all devices, hands-free or otherwise, to be banned.

V3 readers seem to agree, too. Stupot commented: "Looking at a GPS display takes the driver's eyes off the road. This in itself is dangerous enough. How can computer displays do anything but add to the number of accidents on the roads?"

Meanwhile, Kemlyn_IT tweeted us, saying: "It's not about the technology, about the effect on driving. Some have been penalised for eating a sandwich for example."

So while there would seem to be absolute justification for the government to say that there is a potential problem, coming out and saying outright that they would look to ban the devices, despite hands-free phones and satnavs being legal, seems a little short-sighted and premature. We suggest Google sends the DfT a sample of the gadget before it proceeds any further.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who's an excellent backseat driver

Apple and Amazon settle App Store spat

10 Jul 2013

Programs for Mac in the App StoreApple and Amazon have agreed to end a prolonged legal feud over the use of the term "App Store".

According to a report from Reuters, the two companies struck a deal to end litigation and drop their case in a US District Court. The deal will avert a full trial, which had been slated to take place later this Summer.

Apple began the dispute in 2011 when it sued Amazon over the company's use of the term “Appstore” to describe its application retail service. Apple, which uses the “App Store” name for its own software store, has sued Amazon over claims of trademark infringement.

Amazon, meanwhile, has countered with a claim that the term “app store” is general and as such is too vague to be patented by one firm. The company had challenged Apple's standing to claim ownership of the name.

Earlier this year, Apple saw its case undercut when Judge Phyllis Hamilton threw out part of the case. The ruling prevented Apple from claiming that Amazon engaged in false and misleading advertising practices by using the Appstore name for its service.

While the deal ends a two-year legal effort for Apple to be the exclusive purveor of the app store, the company's legal team will still have plenty of work to do with its ongoing legal campaigns against Android hardware vendors.

EC helps public fight back against competition breaches

11 Jun 2013

European Union flag

Despite the hefty fines levied against tech industry giants such as Intel and Microsoft, and ongoing investigations into companies such as Apple and Google, the general public has stood to gain very little from competition cases brought by regulators such as the European Commission. Until now, that is.

The EC has begun moves to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to make claims against firms found to have breached European competition laws.

"Infringements of the antitrust rules cause serious harm to European consumers and businesses" said competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, responsible for competition. "We must ensure that all victims of these infringements can obtain redress for the harm they suffered, especially once a competition authority has found and sanctioned such a breach.

According to the EC's figures, only a quarter of antitrust decisions taken in the past seven years resulted in victims getting compensation.

Under the proposals, national courts will get the power to order companies to disclose evidence when victims claim compensation in a separate country. The aim is to make it easier for consumers and businesses to claim compensation without having to launch separate, individual cases against rule-breaking firms.

It remains to be seen whether the proposals will pass as intended – they have to go through the usual ratification by the European Parliament and Council, but it represents an interesting way to tackle breaches of competition law.

The EC has never lacked powers when it comes to dealing with antitrust cases, and can levy fines of up to 10 percent of a firm's global turnover. Competition regulators can also seek for firms to be broken up, if breaches warrant such drastic actions.

But despite such powers, the EC has proven fairly inept at deploying them. Take, for example, the long running investigation into Microsoft. It had numerous run ins with Europe over the bundling of software with its Windows operating system. And while it eventually fined Microsoft and forced it to offer users a choice of browsers, by the time the EC acted, the industry had moved on. By giving consumers more powers to take action, it may be able to address competition concerns more quickly.

Network operators profit from mobile phone theft

14 May 2013

Business man using smartphone as part of bring your own device trend

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently called on mobile phone companies including Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft to create technology that could curb mobile phone theft. Schneiderman sent three separate letters to the firms in a bid to spread awareness about the growing problem of stolen mobiles.

According to a recent report, 160 iPhones were stolen every day in London last year. While it was recently reported that robberies involving a mobile phone were up 36 percent in San Francisco in 2012.

The New York Times has reported that the increase in mobile phone thefts has led some law enforcement officials to call on companies to install a kill switch into their phones. However, the real problem that needs to be addressed is that network operators have little incentive to implement technology like a kill switch.

Whether from warranty plans or new phone purchases, companies in the industry make money when mobiles are stolen. Mobile network carriers especially have the opportunity to make money from theft victims. When a user buys a phone from a carrier they have the opportunity to buy a warranty that covers them in case their phone is stolen.

The warranty gives the firms another avenue for income. If phones had a kill switch, or some other type of technology, the need for a theft protection warranty would go down immensely.

The other side of the coin is a person who doesn't have a warranty at all; these customers who opt to not buy a warranty plan may have to pay for a new phone.

Sometimes, that replaced phone can cost a customer the full retail price of the mobile. The price tag is even more egregious when you consider that most users don't even pay the full retail price of a device when they sign a contract with a mobile network to begin with.

Unfortunately, phone thefts are not something that will be fixed by companies on their own volition. As long as a company can a swing a dime off of a theft, they have no reason to do anything to stop it.

Japanese police demand Tor blocade

22 Apr 2013

japan

Japanese police are reportedly mulling over proposals that could see internet service providers in the country block access to the Tor network, an anonymous communication system.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Japan's National Police Agency wants ISPs to block access to Tor if users are found to have abused it.

The report came following a series of online attacks, where perpetrators used the Tor network to mask their identify. It is unclear from the reports what that abuse would entail – given that users' Tor activities cannot be snooped on, it's difficult to see how police would show abuse. Perhaps using Tor would be enough to constitute abuse.

The police are already expecting a backlash to the proposals. An NPS officer told The Mainichi it would try to assuage ISPs' concerns.

Tor has proven to be an invaluable tool for pro-democracy campaigners in the Middle East while censorious regimes such as the Chinese authorities have attempted to block users from using the system.

But Tor has a darker side too, providing a safe haven for thriving drug markets such as the Silk Road, along with a host of malware and cybercrime forums. Tor - or the onion router - bounces enrypted web traffic through multipe servers, making it impossible for snoopers to see what users are up to.

CISPA rises from the grave

12 Apr 2013

capitol hill

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is back again. Rising from the ashes of a failed Senate vote, the bill has found renewed life thanks to the House Intelligence Committee.

Committee members approved the bill by an 18 to two vote. This go-around includes amendments which supporters say resolve issues with the bill.

Of course, opponents once again disagree. Advocacy groups and the White House continue to express alarm over the bill's failure to address privacy concerns.

Opponents' issues with the bill are the same ones they had last year when the original CISPA bill died on the Senate floor. They fear that a lack of governmental oversight will cause defence agencies to use personal user data for the wrong reasons.

The issues remained unresolved because of proponents of CISPA who say the government needs to be able to handle whatever data they do receive with as little bureaucratic interference as possible.

Both sides have their points and both sides will be fighting for a compromise. CISPA, or something like it, will keep cropping up because both the government and private enterprise have too much riding on some sort of data-sharing initiative.

With reports of state-sponsored cyber-attacks on the rise and the constant threat of local hackers, CISPA is an important piece of legislation for the tech lobby.

Unlike SOPA, which didn't have the support of Silicon Valley, CISPA is technology company approved. SOPA was made for the entertainment industry and its bid to fight piracy. CISPA (and new-CISPA) isn't really about piracy. It's about cyber attacks.

The bill lays the ground work so private industry can share cyber-threat intelligence without the possibility of getting sued. With CISPA, Facebook can send data about a local cyber-attack to the DOD so it can be informed and alert other tech companies of the threat.

In its current form, the DOD can also use that data in broad strokes. For example, it can pick up personal information that was received from a Facebook security data dump and use it for non-cyber threat purposes.

New-CISPA discourages that sort of tactic. However, what exactly constitutes a cyber-threat is currently an expansive definition.

The bill is making its rounds to Congress next week. It may get passed their but will most likely fail in the Senate. From that point it will either revive itself with amendments or its ideas will be reinterpreted in another bill.

Some sort of data-sharing act will keep coming and with the right opponents may come out with stronger privacy protections. How a data-sharing bill turns out will be determined by who ends up fighting for and against it.

Over the course of the coming year it will be interesting to see how bills like CISPA evolve. It will be interesting to see how the public debate grows and changes. Theirs no telling how it's going to turn out, but its becoming obvious that it isn't going away.

Using big data and creativity for social good

11 Apr 2013

Big data illustration from 8 September 2011 Computing

Google just announced its plans to enlist big data in the fight against human trafficking. The search giant will work with three advocacy groups to collect and analyse data from human trafficking hotlines.

The work is aimed to stifle human trafficking by bringing about a shared data platform for anti-trafficking groups. By using big data, advocacy groups can identify trafficking hotspots and create stronger strategies to put an end to traffickers.

Google's work in the field is an illuminating reminder of the types of projects big data can take on. Big data doesn't have to be used just to create the perfect targeted ad or discover the biggest IT bottleneck.

Big data can also be used to solve a variety of the world's ills. The potential big data holds for the greater good can't be underestimated. From being able to project future crime sprees to solving big city traffic jams, big data holds the key to fighting a variety of societal troubles.

That is one of the reasons why the lack of qualified big data analysts is so troubling. We can have all the data in the world but if we don't have qualified analysts it won't mean anything.

Knowledgeable and creative big data scientist will be crucial if the industry ever hopes to create some sort of major social change. The world will need scientists who not only know what they are doing technically, but also have the creativity needed to use data in unique ways.

Last year, Oracle president Mark Hurd made the comment that most big data is "worthless". According to Hurd, 99.9 percent of big data is unusable.

His assessment may hold weight in the sense that most data will not help a business improve its infrastructure. However, the idea that most big data is useless in the greater context of society is off base.

To truly use data to uncover societal truths we need imaginative analysts, who can take seemingly benign data and transform it into real-world solutions.

It's already being done to some extent. Analysts are already finding data links between things like home census data and food shortages or telecommunications and natural disasters.

By now it's become a cliché to say the world needs more Steve Jobs, but it's the truth. Steve Jobs (and the many pioneers of the computing age) took the technology of their time and brought a sense of creative thinking to it.

We need a generation of Steve Jobs. The technology exists to such a point that creative thinking can change the world. Tech like big data can be used to revolutionise how we think about the world's problems.

With creativity and know-how a data analyst can do amazing things. Not just in business, but also for society as a whole.

Now, it's up to clever people to take up an interest in the field. To do that people will need equal parts ingenuity and opportunity. They'll need the opportunity to learn and discover the power of the trade. They'll also need to understand big data is more than just statistics.

Facebook has had a privacy problem for a very long time

09 Apr 2013

facebook-unlike-thumbs-down-symbol

Facebook doesn't make money on hardware, software, or subscriptions. Instead, they make money on the data users put out. They take the data users send out and sell it to advertisers who in turn sell users stuff through the use of targeted ads.

The idea that major corporations sell users data scares a lot of people. These people don't necessarily have anything to hide; they're just ordinary people who like to have a sense of privacy.

These people use Gmail, Facebook, and Google+. Some of them will even probably end up using Facebook Home.

These potential Facebook Home users spoke up about their fears that the app/skin/thing would invade their privacy in a way unheard of previously. So Facebook went on the offensive and dropped a Q&A for Home's privacy policies.

The Q&A basically said Facebook Home doesn't change the way the company handles user data. User's location data won't be collected in anyway that is unique and it won't collect data users create from other apps.

So if nothing changes then what is the end game? Why is Facebook making a free super-app that doesn't do anything new for advertisers? Because by putting itself on your home screen, Facebook can gleam a lot more data using the same policies.

By buying into Facebook Home users will be sort-of using a Facebook ecosystem. Facebook already has an app store which has the potential for growth. It also has a messaging service and a slew of other apps users could use to replace their current Android offerings.

Facebook Home allows Facebook to use the same privacy policy on a much bigger canvas. With Facebook Home, Facebook isn't reinventing the wheel. Instead, it's just the start and it's nothing new. Google's been doing it for years.

The famous Microsoft "Scroogled" campaign derided Google for searching through Gmail messages to serve up sponsored ads. Google uses all of its apps to give advertisers some new kinds of data.

Now Facebook is doing the same thing as its semi-rival Google. It's building out an ecosystem in attempt to better understand how to sell its users stuff. So if you are the type to worry about Facebook Home's privacy policies, you should be less focused on Home and more focused on Facebook as a whole.

Facebook's current privacy policies are the real issue, not the future violations of an unreleased app. If anything is to be done, it should be getting Facebook to update its current policies to better adapt to mobile.

The company has already defined itself as a mobile company so perhaps it should make privacy policies that reflect that. If Facebook really wants to talk up its privacy agenda, it needs to really work to change what its current policies are and not to talk about what its doing with a new app.

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