BlackBerry is facing a tough time in the market and sales figures for its first BB10 device, the Z10, are hardly likely to have the likes of Apple and Samsung worried.
However, the firm is clearly not ready to be walked over by overzealous analysts looking for a headline, after BlackBerry went on the warpath in response to claims Z10 buyers are rushing to return their devices.
According to a report from analyst Detwiler Fenton, quoted by the WSJ, the number of US returns is now outnumbering sales in some cases.
It is something of a first, Detwiler analyst Jeff Johnston told the WSJ. However, the claims have not sat well with those in Canada, and the firm has issued a robust response.
"Return rate statistics show that we are at or below our forecasts and right in line with the industry," fumed BlackBerry boss Thorsten Heins.
"To suggest otherwise is either a gross misreading of the data or a willful manipulation. Such a conclusion is absolutely without basis and BlackBerry will not leave it unchallenged."
BlackBerry got their chief legal officer, Steve Zipperstein, involved, no doubt to underline how seriously they're taking this incident.
"These materially false and misleading comments about device return rates in the United States harm BlackBerry and our shareholders, and we call upon the appropriate authorities in Canada and the United States to conduct an immediate investigation," he said.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the merits of the many competing products in the smartphone industry, but when false statements of material fact are deliberately purveyed for the purpose of influencing the markets a red line has been crossed."
BlackBerry said it would ask the Securities and Exchange Commission and Ontario Securities Commission for a review of the "false and misleading report" as well.
Clearly, BlackBerry is determined to ensure the market knows the firm is here to stay and intends to go on fighting, whether that's against rival manufacturers or the number crunchers.
12 Apr 2013
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.
11 Apr 2013
Time was, any start-up with even the vaguest connection to the 'social' buzzword would have an army of venture capitalists knocking down their doors with the offers of money. Indeed, it's the idea that social ties can provide advertisers with more effective ways to target their message that has seen the likes of Facebook achieve massive valuations.
But what if these social ties aren't as effective as we might assume? That's the conclusion of a group of researchers from Delft University of Technology. Are friends, they wonder, overrated?
Christian Doerr and his colleagues have been studying the impact of social ties on Digg – which may not enjoy the buzz it did in its heyday, but still represents a useful example of how users engage with content on a social network.
Doerr and his group wanted to study what impact friendship had on the popularity of any given story on Digg – and whether friends were a critical component of stories getting promoted to Digg's front page.
Users of the site can vote up content they find interesting, and see what other stories their friends have voted up too. Indeed around 180 stories per day get enough votes to be deemed popular, at which point they're featured on Digg's front page, at which point the can go viral.
In examining which stories went viral, the researchers looked at 10 million stories from two million users over a four-year period, 200,000 of which achieved a critical mass.
"The impact of the friendship relations on the overall functioning and outcome of the social network is actually surprisingly low,” Doerr and his colleagues reported.
So while users with similar interests and physical locations could be seen forming friendships, they showed little sign of following up on what their friends were doing.
“Users with even a nearly identical overlap in interests react on average only with a probability of two percent to information propagated and received from friends,” the researchers note.
Furthermore, of the stories that became popular, friendships were only important in driving popularity in about half of all cases – and even then, they needed a large of random users to vote stories up to the extent they made Digg's front page.
“The importance of friends and the friend network in the propagation of information is less than originally perceived,” they concluded.
Such behaviour is a far cry from the marketing message often pushed out by social networks, who argue that peer group recommendation makes a uniquely powerful way to reach consumers.
The research was published on the ArXiv academic paper [pdf] repository.
11 Apr 2013
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.
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.
Nasa and former Star Trek icon George Takei have both won Shorty awards for their innovative, and often out-of-this-world, use of social media.
Nasa won its second consecutive Shorty award for the best government use of social media, while Takei edged out ever popular "Grumpy Cat" to win a distinguished achievement in internet culture award at the fifth Shorty Awards.
Nasa won the award for its dynamic use of services to share its research findings with the world, sharing things like photos from Mars' surface and explorative satellites to jokes about Pi day.
The agency's policy of encouraging scientists and astronauts to create accounts on Twitter to share their experiences participating in missions was also praised during the ceremony.
The policy means that to date, Nasa uses almost 500 social media accounts with its main @NASA Twitter handle boasting 3.8 million followers.
Web sensation George Takei, the 75-year-old actor and author who first shot into fame as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek TV series, won his award for very different reasons.
Takei's Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr blog to share comic internet memes sent to him by fans and occasional commentary on poignant political issues.
These have included images of his chief competitor for the award, Grumpy Cat, a feline that seems unimpressed with any item brought before her.
His calls for donations for charitable causes have proved very effective. Takei famously used his Twitter to raise money for disaster relief efforts in Japan following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
You can watch the Takei's acceptance speech for the Shorty award in the video below.
The road to privatisation was never going to be an easy one. Michael Dell was going to face a slew of investors wanting top dollar for an under ,,performing company, even if he didn't have other bidders.
Dell intended to pay $24bn for the company he's run since day one. That price just got raised by two other investors with deeper pockets. Blackstone and Carl Ichan have the potential to offer better packages for investors by way of a public equity stub, a way to keep them invested while being a private company.
Following the offers, Michael Dell and his investment group will most likely have to up their bid for Dell. They'll also need to offer a stub, which is something they don't want to do.
Nothing quite worked out like it was suppose to. Dell investors were suppose to take their measly $24bn, so Michael Dell could ride off into the sunset and get his company right. That hasn't yet happened.
Instead, the infighting and business politics have won out. Investors want to get paid and don't care about Dell's future strategies. Yet, despite not caring some investors still want a piece of Dell's future.
One theory is that Dell won't be private forever. Once Dell gets its business in order it's possible that the firm will reopen to Wall Street. Current investors know this and they don't want to be left out in the cold when it happens.
They want to hitch their dollars to the private Dell and let things shake out as they may. They could do it with Michael Dell, Carl Ichan, or Blackstone. It doesn't really matter to investors who has the company, just that they have a piece of the action.
It's the type of motivation that Michael Dell was hoping to avoid by going private. Dell had hoped to get his company doing things that were good for the company. He wanted a brief reprieve from quarterly progress reports so he could allow his company to play the long game.
Unfortunately, for Dell that seems unlikely. With the stub that's expected to be included in any deal for the company, a truly private Dell seems out of reach.
Dell was aiming to go private and turn itself into an enterprise solutions powerhouse. The company knows their options in the PC market are inconsequential and it wanted to get prepped for the future by removing quarter-obsessed investors.
Now, instead of a private Dell, the company will have to answer to some sort of investor. Whether a private or public one.
09 Apr 2013
UK's music industry group the BPI is celebrating the sale of the billionth digital single download, amid what is described as a flourishing market.
According to data from the Official Charts Company, the one billion landmark was reached on late Monday evening.
The figures represent individual tracks sold, not digital albums or streamed music – with the vast majority of sales being made through the UK's biggest music retailer, Apple's iTunes store.
“The digital music revolution has made it easy to buy any song you like, instantly, for half the price of a coffee,” said Geoff Taylor, BPI chief executive.
The top 10 tracks download to date are (you may want to look away now if you actually like music):
The BPI estimates it would take more than 6,600 years to listen to one billion single downloads played back to back. To have finished such a marathon listening session today, a music fan would have needed to start listening around about the same time as the plough was introduced to Europe's nascent farmers.
But the picture – with Brits buying 500,000 tracks every day – is a far cry from the BPI's usual complaints about piracy killing the music industry.
In fact, along with runaway digital sales, streaming services such as Spotify are booming. The UK's music industry has not been crippled by the pirates it seems.
Earlier this year, the NPG Group reported that the number of illegal music downloads fell 17 percent to 21 million worldwide.
That figure is dwarfed by the downloads the BPI claims are being made legally. Nonetheless, the BPI has taken a hard line stance against music pirates, using legal action to force ISPs to block file sharing sites.
As recently as 2010, the BPI estimated that three-quarters of UK music downloads were being made illegally. Still, hitting one billion legal downloads must be music to the ears of record labels.
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.
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.