Sunday, February 28, 2010

Does that new Windows Activation update really 'phone home'?

This week, Microsoft began rolling out the Windows Activation Technologies update that it promised earlier this month (see my earlier report, Windows 7 activation update aims at high-volume pirates, for details of that earlier announcement. Privacy expert Lauren Weinstein says this update “phones home” to Microsoft as part of its activity, and Gregg Keizer of ComputerWorld uncritically repeated that exact same wording in a news report today.

I disagree with this characterization. My definition of “phoning home” is activity that uploads data to a server (or alternatively, collects information locally and then allows a remote server to collect that data) for the purpose of tracking activity on that system, usually without the user’s knowledge or consent. In the context of PCs, the phrase was popularized nearly a decade ago, when the first widespread spyware programs were discovered. Then as now, “phone home” was a code word for spyware and connoted an invasion of the user’s privacy through collection of personal data. In my opinion, there is no way a reasonable person can characterize this update as anything remotely close to that definition.

You can have strong objections to any anti-piracy scheme that are not tied in any way to privacy issues. and you can argue with the way this update is implemented. Reasonable people can find privacy concerns in any technology, including anti-piracy techniques, and I’m not minimizing Lauren Weinstein’s concerns at all. But I do think everyone involved in the discussion should have a solid grounding in facts before they begin arguing. So, here is a summary of what the KB971033 WAT update does, with all details confirmed by a Microsoft spokesperson today:

The purpose of the KB971033 WAT update is to verify that the Windows system licensing files haven’t been tampered with. It does so by comparing those files against a list of changes associated with known activation exploits. It doesn’t check your product key or the state of your hardware.
You can refuse to install the update when it’s offered. You can hide it so that it is not offered again. You can uninstall it after it is initially installed.
The update runs locally.
After the update runs, it sends a status report back to Microsoft, including information that can be used for aggregate reporting. The report indicates whether the installation was successful. It also includes the result of he validation check, including “information about any activation exploits and any related malicious or unauthorized software found, disabled or removed.”
The status report does not include your name, e-mail address, or any personally identifiable information. It is not tied to your IP address. Any pieces of information that are unique to your computer, including the Windows product key and hard drive volume serial number, are hashed using a one-way algorithm. (A one-way hash produces a consistent result, but the hashed result cannot be converted back to the number it started with. It’s the same principle used to calculate MD5 hashes of executable files, documents, or digital media files. A one-way hash cannot be used to reconstruct the input data, only to verify it.)
Those last two bullets are the ones that have people concerned. But those details are already part of Windows Activation Technologies and have been since the technology was first introduced. Even this month’s update isn’t new. It’s no different from the Windows Vista Activation Exploit Detection update introduced with Vista Service Pack 1 and updated in February 2009.

So what’s new here? The concept of downloadable signatures, mostly, which are updated every 90 days.

In the case of this month’s update, if a known activation exploit is found on your PC, some additional information is sent back to Microsoft. Specifically:

Breach identifiers
The breach’s current state, such as cleaned, quarantined, or removed
The scanning engine version
OEM identification
The breach file name and hash of the file
Here, too, this information is not tied to any record that can uniquely identify you or your PC. Similar information (error codes and file paths that indicate tampered files, for example) have been part of the Windows activation and validation process for years. Collecting that information in aggregate is crucial to tracking down and eliminatin the cause of false positives.

As I noted in my report earlier this month, I was deeply troubled by the activation system that Microsoft introduced as part of the original Windows Genuine Advantage. It was flawed in ways that were almost too numerous to count, including serious disclosure issues and an unacceptable number of false positives. In the past four years, however, Microsoft has done a commendable job of dealing with those issues, especially those related to disclosure and privacy, and it has mostly eliminated the issue of widespread false positives.

This update is no different.

New Windows 7 update to Stop Piracy

f you haven't updated yet maybe its a good thing to look at your Windows 7 Updates List before you try to download or install it of course only if your using illegal software.

Bad News for Pirated Windows 7 users KB971033 WAT update is now released though again this are the things it can do to your PC or some of its purpose in validating your Windows 7 Copy.

The purpose of the KB971033 WAT update is to verify that the Windows system licensing files haven’t been tampered with. It does so by comparing those files against a list of changes associated with known activation exploits. It doesn’t check your product key or the state of your hardware.
You can refuse to install the update when it’s offered. You can hide it so that it is not offered again. You can uninstall it after it is initially installed.
The update runs locally.
After the update runs, it sends a status report back to Microsoft, including information that can be used for aggregate reporting. The report indicates whether the installation was successful. It also includes the result of he validation check, including “information about any activation exploits and any related malicious or unauthorized software found, disabled or removed.”
The status report does not include your name, e-mail address, or any personally identifiable information. It is not tied to your IP address. Any pieces of information that are unique to your computer, including the Windows product key and hard drive volume serial number, are hashed using a one-way algorithm. (A one-way hash produces a consistent result, but the hashed result cannot be converted back to the number it started with. It’s the same principle used to calculate MD5 hashes of executable files, documents, or digital media files. A one-way hash cannot be used to reconstruct the input data, only to verify it.)

Whats New?

Windows Activation will now check your computer every 90 days though unique information will not be look up to (maybe privacy issue).
In the case of this month’s update, if a known activation exploit is found on your PC, some additional information is sent back to Microsoft. Specifically:

Breach identifiers
The breach’s current state, such as cleaned, quarantined, or removed
The scanning engine version
OEM identification
The breach file name and hash of the file

Microsoft uses law to cripple hacker spam network

Microsoft on Thursday said it combined technology with an "extraordinary" legal maneuver to cripple a massive network of hacked computers that had been flooding the Internet with spam.

The software titan's Digital Crime Unit got clearance from a US judge to virtually sever the cyber criminals' command computers from hundreds of thousands of machines worldwide infected with a Waledac virus.

"We decided the best tactic would be to literally build a wall between the bot-herder, the command computer, and all of the other computers -- effectively cutting the umbilical cord," said Microsoft attorney Richard Boscovich.

Microsoft got a US judge to grant an ex parte temporary restraining order that let the firm erect the cyber blockade without warning bot-herders, masters of the "botnet."

"It was of crucial importance that when we went out to sever the connection between the bot herder and the bots, that severing had to be done without him knowing," said Boscovich, who works in the digital crime unit.

Microsoft drafted a complaint that made a case to the court that the damage to computer owners worldwide, and to the software firm, was major enough to warrant "this rather extraordinary order," Boscovich said.

The mission to take down one of the ten largest botnets in the United States was referred to internally at Microsoft as "Operation b49."

Waledac is estimated to have infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide, letting its masters mine machines for information or secretly use them to fire off spam email.

Hackers typically infect computers with malicious codes by tricking owners into clicking on booby-trapped email messages or Internet links that plant viruses.

Bot-herders are then free to hire out botnets for nefarious tasks such as spewing spam or overwhelming legitimate websites with myriad simultaneously requests in what are known as distributed-denial-of-service attacks.

The Waledac botnet was believed to be capable of sending more than 1.5 billion spam email messages daily.

During a three week period in December, Waledac-infected machines sent approximately 651 million spam email messages to users of Microsoft's free Hotmail service, according to the software firm.

The spam included messages pitching online pharmacies, knock-off goods, and penny stocks.

"Three days into the effort, Operation b49 has effectively shut down connections to the vast majority of Waledac-infected computers, and our goal is to make that disruption permanent," a Microsoft lawyer said in a release.

"But the operation hasn't cleaned the infected computers and is not a silver bullet for undoing all the damage we believe Waledac has caused."

Computer users are advised to purge their machines of viruses and make sure their programs and security software are up to date.

US courts allow for hearings to decide whether temporary restraining orders should be made permanent, setting up an unlikely scenario in which bot-herders would argue for their right to reconnect with their machine minions.

Twitter wants users to update their personal info

Twitter is prodding its users to update their personal settings to create more ways for people to connect on its communications service.

The request will pop up when Twitter users log into their accounts. Among other things, Twitter is encouraging people to allow their e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers to be included in the service's search index.

To address privacy concerns, Twitter says it won't publicly display e-mail addresses and mobile numbers even if the service gets permission to use the information as search tools.

Some accountholders have already seen the information boxes, labeled "Be found on Twitter."

A Twitter spokeswoman said Friday that the box is coming soon to all accountholders. More than 73 million people worldwide used Twitter in January, up from 6 million at the same time last year, according to the Internet research firm comScore Inc.

The growth is making it more challenging to find and track friends, family and people with similar interests on the service.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, broadcasts people's messages in bursts of 140 characters or less. Users can choose to have all the posts of specific people delivered to their Twitter pages or sent to a mobile phone. But Twitter users must be found before their messages can be automatically followed.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

60,000 poll machines pass stress tests, ready for polls?Comelec

Over 60,000 poll machines are ready to be used for the first-ever national automated polls in May, Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo announced on Thursday.

Melo made the announcement after his visit to the Comelec warehouse in Laguna. Melo expressed satisfaction over the results of the laboratory stress tests and other operational tests conducted on the machines.

After all 60,000 poll machines passed the operational and security testing, Melo said they are ready to load the machines with the automation software certified by international agency Systest Labs.

About 13,000 precinct count optical scan machines are set to arrive February 26, two days earlier than the delivery deadline. Installing the certified software on the poll machines will continue until March, when all poll machines have been tested.

Asked to rank in a scale of one to 10, with 10 signaling Comelec as most prepared for the May elections, Melo said “nine”, citing the 100 percent passing rate of the poll machines when subjected to several stress and functionality tests.

The poll chief was quoted Wednesday as saying he would quit Comelec “if poll automation fails.”

During the testing, the poll machines are fed with hundreds of marked paper ballots to ensure they can read and scan all the shaded ovals opposite all pre-printed names of candidates and, after scanning, that they can print the Election Returns (ERs), said Smartmatic warehouse manager Louie Campos.

Of the 68,000 machines delivered to the Laguna warehouse, only four percent failed the test on the first run but was able to comply with the requirements when tested for the second time, he said.

“The four percent of the machines which failed the tests are quarantined and are subjected to another testing based on the cause of its non-compliance. For example, if the machine fails in the scanning test, we fed it another batch of papers. So it's not the machine's problem but the paper itself and after we diagnose this, the machines pass the test,” said Campos.

The warehouse official added that no machine was sent for repair at the warehouse despite the four percent failing the test for the first time due to “scanning problems.”

Melo also gave an approval for the printing of the ballots. Presently, six million ballots have been printed at the National Printing Office for use in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the provinces of Bohol, Cagayan, Batanes and Palawan, among others.

Melo also showed the media that the ballots to be shipped per clustered precinct were sealed in vacuum plastics and placed in black plastic box that is finally covered by a stretch plastic film for protection against humidity, high temperature and sunlight that might damage the invisible UV ink, one of the ballot's main security features.

Also present during the site visit, automation law co-author and Makati Representative Teddy Boy Locsin gave the Comelec “two-thumbs up” for its vigilance to continue the project.

“The Comelec did a great job here and it seems we are sure to have the country's first automated elections in May 10,” Locsin told

Friday, February 26, 2010

The future of WiFi: gigabit speeds and beyond

In a couple of years, crossing the 1Gbps threshold with a WiFi access point will be routine. That access point will likely have two radios, one for each major spectrum band, and support a host of older flavors for compatibility. Eventually, WiFi will approach the robustness and speed needed to make it a completely viable replacement for Ethernet for most users.

In today's pipeline are optional enhancements to 802.11n that have been in the works since the standard stabilized at the IEEE engineering group nearly three years ago. These enhancements will increase range and performance by up to a couple orders of magnitude, offering raw data rates of 450 Mbps and 600 Mbps.

The slated improvements will also correct for black holes, where current 802.11n gear's signals don't reach unless an excessive amount of overlapping devices are installed at relatively high expense. Even better, the boosts to 802.11n are just the start. A new IEEE committee is working on fast WiFi that will hit a raw encoding rate of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

All these higher speeds will be eminently affordable and reasonable choices for small-to-medium-sized businesses. It may even be possible to achieve higher performance (both for speed and network consistency) by spending less than a network upgrade would cost today: fewer, more powerful access points with better coverage may wind up saving money.

The need isn't always for speed: it may be better to have a network that works in the worst circumstances, with tons of users moving lots of data, than to move additional raw data. With the popularity of watching video (for business purposes, no less), the growth in the size of standard document files, continuous network backups, and other network loads, network capacity, quality, and support for simultaneous users and heavy-load applications will become increasingly important.

Faster WiFi paradoxically also means that more wired infrastructure is needed. With individual access points able to pump out a dual-band total of several hundreds Mbps, and future dual-band devices topping 1 Gbps, more robust and higher-performance backhaul will also be needed.
From a tiny nut, a great oak

The 802.11n standard has come a long way from its contentious origins, when MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antenna arrays were seen as impractical, expensive, and beside the point of pushing data over the air. Now, in addition to 802.11n, all 3.5G and 4G cellular wireless standards either require or allow the use of MIMO for better coverage and performance.

At a time when 802.11g could only deliver 20 to 30 Mbps of real throughput out of a potential 54Mbps raw data or "symbol" rate, the idea of 150Mbps with 75 to 100 Mbps of actual throughput was pretty stunning.

But it got better. By the time manufacturers coalesced their efforts—after a cantankerous process—around a single approach for 802.11n, it was clear that all access points and adapters would support two radio streams, each of which would be able to handle a raw rate of 150 Mbps, for a combined 300 Mbps.

Each stream is a chain of radio components that share antennas. For sending, each stream transmits uniquely and simultaneously across space, using signal reflection in the environment in the same way that a billiards player uses bumpers to strike a ball. This is called spatial multiplexing: multiple signals encoded using space as a parameter. A receiver decodes the signals across multiple antennas, dumping each stream into a unique radio chain.

A receiver with a like number of radio chains, and often a similar number of antennas, can interpret the directionality of signals, sifting out separate streams to reconstruct the original message.

For instance, a 2x2 (two transmit, two receive) antenna array is often paired with two radio streams, or a 3x3 with three radio streams. Some devices with two radio streams might have 2x3 arrays, in which three receive antennas are used to improve signal differentiation and range.

Two chains is good. But what about three? Or four? These optional enhancements to 802.11n were eminently possible, but with the exception of wireless chipmaker Marvell and startup Quantenna, most firms sat out the dance, waiting for a shoe to drop: interoperable certification from the WiFi Alliance.
Certifiably streamy

The need isn't always for speed: it may be better to have a network that works in the worst circumstances, with tons of users moving lots of data, than to move additional raw data.

The WiFi Alliance is a trade group that popularizes wireless networking as a technology to use while also setting certification testing for companies that want to use the WiFi label and branding on products. Apple, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, and many similar firms sit on the group's board.

WiFi has managed the neat task of herding cats for a decade, even as standards have proliferated into an alphabet soup of a, b, g, e, i, aa, and more—and as the IEEE 802.11n proceedings threatened to scuttle industry-wide compatibility. The group persevered, ultimately offering a Draft N certification that was an interim brand while the 802.11n spec was being finished, and which has now transition to just "N."

With the ratification of 802.11n as a finished spec earlier this year by the IEEE, the WiFi Alliance released an updated certification program designed to standardize several more obscure elements of 802.11n that weren't fixed in stone until near the end.

The most important of these were multi-stream 802.11n devices, starting with three-stream radios. The certification process seems to have taken the brakes off the industry besides Marvell, all of which are now looking to three-stream radios and beyond. For instance, Atheros announced its 2010 series of 3x3 three-stream chips shortly after the WiFi Alliance's certification news. The chips have to exist before the alliance can create a certification standard, which is why these evolutions all come together at once.

Likewise, while four-stream devices are defined in the 802.11n spec, the WiFi Alliance won't be able to approve such devices until chipmakers have them available.

So far, it's difficult to tell what hardware is shipping with 3x3 antenna arrays and three-stream systems installed. Apple's October 2009 update to the AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule access point and network-attached storage device include three-stream radios, but Apple isn't advertising the feature. On its base station pages, the company says only that the latest revision "gives[s] you up to 50 percent better WiFi performance and up to 25 percent better range" than its immediate predecessor. This conforms with 3x3 antenna arrays, which, even with a two-stream radio, carry data further at higher speeds.

However, the device has the capability of higher speed, too, several industry sources confirmed who declined to be identified. Apple didn't respond to multiple requests for clarification.

The three streams in Apple's base stations require 3x3, three-stream adapters to reach higher speeds. This means redesigned WiFi adapters in Apple gear or those made by other companies; so far, only Intel seems to have a three-stream laptop radio available, found in only a few computers.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Intel launches Wi-Di (Wireless Display)

Intel Corp. at Consumer Electronics Show demonstrated its so-called wireless display technology that allows connecting personal computers to displays or HDTV-sets equipped with a special adapter wirelessly via 802.11n network.

Personal computers featuring Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200, Advanced-N +WiMax 6250 or Ultimate N 6300 coupled with Intel My WiFi technology and Intel wireless display software can transfer video information, including high-definition video, to special Netgear adapters that can be connected using HDMI to high-definition televisions. Personal computers equipped with the aforementioned Wi-Fi adapters as well as Intel’s new Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processors compatible with LGA1156 platform will be compatible with Intel’s wireless display tech.

Smart launches SurfTV ? Internet on TV

Smart Broadband, Inc. (SBI), a subsidiary of leading wireless services provider Smart Communications, Inc. (SMART) launched a device that connects to a television set through a quick and easy procedure, to provide Internet access using Smart Bro’s nationwide coverage, its called SurfTV.

Smart Bro SurfTV comes in a boxed set complete with a keyboard, a mouse, a remote control, and a Smart Bro USB stick-type modem with a prepaid SIM, pre-loaded with PhP100 worth of load. The entire kit costs only PhP4,500, and Internet access costs only PhP10 for every 30 minutes. Load for the prepaid Smart Bro SIM is available through any of SMART’s network of over a million Smart Load sellers all over the country.

“Over the last few years we have been steadily advancing our Internet for All advocacy and investing our energies to make wireless Internet more affordable and widely available – whether via mobile phone, the PC, or laptop – anytime, anywhere, so that Filipinos may benefit from it. Offering Smart Bro SurfTV is a natural progression of that strategy, this is a service that will put the Internet right in the homes of Filipino families,” said Orlando B. Vea, Chief Wireless Advisor of SMART.

What is WiDi?

The world is truly becoming wireless, not only between base stations but within components around your personal work area as demonstrated by Intel at CES 2010. It was a solution we had more than a year ago but it was expensive, said Shmuel Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager, PC Client Group at Intel Corporation. “So now we integrated this technology on the client side—you can now stream video from your notebook directly to an external display wirelessly.

This new wireless technology, which Intel dubbed as Wireless Display or WiDi, coincided with the announcement of Intel’s latest line of 32-nanometer “Westmere” processors, namely: Core i7, i5, and i3, launched at the world’s biggest technology showcase held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in January.

Although, at last year’s Computex in Taipei, Intel already announced the availability of My WiFi technology, where consumers can now connect their Intel Core-powered computers with devices such as printers, digital cameras, digital music players and other My WiFi-enabled digital devices wirelessly using the popular WiFi standard.

However, with WiDi, this new technology, which Intel hopes to become another industry standard similar to WiFi, would provide wireless connection between a desktop or notebook computer over HDMI to an HDTV also using the 802.11n wireless standard.

“There will be a lot of innovations in this area,” said Eden. “Imagine, getting rid of thick, heavy and long audio and video cables between these components —it makes good sense.”

Intel WiDi technology is now available from Core-powered computers sold by PC companies including Dell, Sony and Toshiba, together with WiDi adaptor products from Netgear.

“Everything needs to be wireless and we need to establish a standard,” said Eden. “You don’t buy a notebook without WiFi —wireless technology it’s inevitable”

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Internet will make you smarter, say experts

An online survey of 895 Web users and experts found more than three-quarters believe the Internet will make people smarter in the next 10 years, according to results released on Friday.

Most of the respondents also said the Internet would improve reading and writing by 2020, according to the study, conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life project.

"Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge," said study co-author Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center.

But 21 percent said the Internet would have the opposite effect and could even lower the IQs of some who use it a lot.

"There are still many people ... who are critics of the impact of Google, Wikipedia and other online tools," she said.

The Web-based survey gathered opinions from scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers, along with Internet users screened by the authors. Of the 895 people surveyed, 371 were considered "experts."

It was prompted in part by an August 2008 cover story in the Atlantic Monthly by technology writer Nicholas Carr headlined: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Carr suggested in the article that heavy use of the Web was chipping away at users' capacity for concentration and deep thinking. Carr, who participated in the survey, told the authors he still agreed with the piece.

"What the 'Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence," Carr said in a release accompanying the study. "The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking."

But Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said, "People are already using Google as an adjunct to their own memory.

"For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support and Google comes through for me," he said in the release.

The survey also found that 42 percent of experts believed that anonymous online activity would be "sharply curtailed" by 2020, thanks to tighter security and identification systems, while 55 percent thought it would still be relatively easy to browse the Internet anonymously in 10 years.

Mobile phones become pocket banks in poor countries

An Afghan police officer gets his salary in a text message on his mobile phone. A Kenyan worker dials a few numbers to send money to his family.

The rise of banking transactions through mobile phones is giving a whole new meaning to pocket money in parts of the developing world that lack banks or cash machines.

Mobile money applications are emerging as potent financial tools in rural and remote areas of the globe, allowing people with no bank accounts to get paid, send remittances or settle their bills.

"One billion consumers in the world have a mobile phone but no access to a bank account," said Gavin Krugel, the director of mobile banking strategy at GSM Association, an industry group of 800 wireless operators.

"We see it as very big opportunity," he said this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the industry's annual four-day event that ended on Thursday.

Mobile banking began to emerge six years ago in the Philippines and South Africa, where 8.5 million and 4.5 million people, respectively, use such services.

Today, 40 million people worldwide use mobile money, and the industry is growing, according to the GSMA.

"Africa and Asia are the most active regions right now," Krugel said. "We expect Latin America pick up this year."

There are 18,000 new mobile banking users per day in Uganda, 15,000 in Tanzania and 11,000 in Kenya, he said.

Mobile phones can offer a wide range of banking solutions, from sending transfers to a relative to buying goods in a store or putting money aside for a rainy day -- all by dialing a few numbers on one's handset.

Mobile banking can also make life easier for people in parts of Africa where paying a simple bill can be time-consuming, said Reg Swart, regional executive of Fundamo, a company that makes banking applications.

"It takes one day to pay one bill. You have to physically go to the bank, then you must queue, a long queue," he said.

In Afghanistan, the national police has been testing a service from mobile operator Roshan to pay its officers -- a system that helps to limit corruption, the company said.

"We are currently moving from a trial to a full launch in paying the Afghan national police," said Roshan's head of mobile commerce, Zahir Jhoja.

Every month, police officers receive a text message in the language they prefer informing them they have received their salaries, Jhoja said.

A voice message is also left on the phone "because a lot of them are illiterate and cannot read," he said.

The officer can then go get his money from an authorised Roshan agent.

"The benefit is that police and police officers don't have to carry cash anymore: from their post they are able to send their money home, buy items, and take whatever cash they want from an agent, or to store for future," he said.

The system has helped officers who were not receiving their full salaries due to "corruption and skimming.

"The police officers who received the money electronically were very surprised to learn that they earn so much money. When they were getting cash they were receiving 25 to 30 percent less," Johja said.

No security marks on ballots for ARMM

The security of nearly two million ballots for voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) may have been compromised after they were printed without the security markings of the National Printing Office (NPO), the Inquirer has learned.

An NPO source confirmed that the ARMM-bound ballots for the May 10 general elections had no NPO security features. The autonomous region consists of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz and Fr. Joe Dizon of Kontra Daya and sources from two groups the Inquirer interviewed said they had received reports from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the NPO that the ballots for the ARMM did not have the government-mandated markings of the NPO.

“The ARMM ballots have no markings,” said the NPO source, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his work.

The NPO employee said there was a plan to put NPO markings, but the machines encountered problems at the start of the printing for the ARMM batch.

Since Smartmatic-TIM Corp., the supplier of the automated counting machines, was pressed for time, it could not wait to redesign or repair the security marks, the source said.

The NPO employee noted that the ones printed after the ARMM batch, the 8.5-inch by 25-inch ballots that will be used for the rest of the country, were given NPO marks. [The ARMM has 1,731,199 voters, or 3.4 percent of the country’s total of 50,723,734 million registered voters.]

The source explained that all official materials that leave the NPO building [on Edsa and NIA Northside Road in Diliman, Quezon City] should have the agency’s security features so that the NPO would be able to authenticate its own product when it is called into question.

The ballots for the ARMM elections were printed from Feb. 7 to Feb. 15, another source said.

Cruz said he received the same report from a Comelec source. “They proudly announced the printing of 1.7 million ballots for Mindanao in case of early elections in the ARMM. But the ballots lacked security markings. And consequently, they are useless,” he said.

Dizon, who said he had met with NPO sources, confirmed the report. He said the ballots for the ARMM only have the markings of the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM Corp.

NPO chief clueless

But NPO Director General Servando Hizon said he did not know of such reports. According to him, all questions about the printing should be directed to the Comelec.

“Everything about the printing, you should ask the Comelec. That’s the rules given to us,” Hizon said in a phone interview.

Comelec Chair Jose Melo confirmed that there were problems with the placement of NPO marks.

But these were ironed out, he said, when Smartmatic-TIM agreed to put ultraviolet signs on the ballots. Because of alignment problems, however, the marks will not be read by the machines, Melo said.

The Inquirer called Smartmatic-TIM, but company officials could not be reached.

Unlike in past elections, Filipino voters won’t have to write down the names of their chosen candidates in the blank spaces on the ballot paper supplied by the NPO.

Because of the automated balloting, voters will cast their votes for national and local posts by shading the oval space beside the candidate’s name on the ballot. The ballot will be fed into a Precinct Count Optical Scan machine that will record and count the votes.

Another source, a former NPO official who also declined to be identified for security reasons, corroborated the statements of the two prelates.

NPO staff apprehensive

He said NPO employees were apprehensive of the lack of security marks on the ballots for the ARMM.

“Some NPO employees were afraid because of this,” the source added.

Both the source and Cruz noted that Smartmatic-TIM did not factor in the NPO marks in the contract it won from the Comelec.

The company, he noted, wanted the NPO to pay P1 per ballot to have the agency’s marks printed.

The source noted that the ballots for the ARMM had been packed and ready for shipping.

Easy to duplicate

With less than three months before the elections, the poll watchdogs said they were concerned about the news from the NPO, saying it could be used to commit electoral fraud.

The source, a printing expert, said it would be easy to duplicate the ballots, noting that the markings were “weak.”

For one, the paper used did not have embedded security marks of the Smartmatic-TIM and the Comelec. For another, the bar code could not be used as a reliable security tool because it is mostly used for sorting and tracking the ballots.

The former NPO official said that anyone with the right printer and paper could make copies of the ballots. The source also raised the security issue inside the plant.

It would be easy for anyone to pick a ballot, hide it, and sell it to the highest bidder, he said.

Election observers said the Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM should come clean about the fate of the ballots, saying the mistake was a “red flag” and does nothing to assuage fears that the automated elections are geared for failure.

“Where are the ballots now? Were they stored, delivered, or shredded? And what are the security marks? Are these approved by the NPO?” the source said.

“Why was there a mistake in printing? It’s too gross a mistake. There must be a purpose,” Cruz said.

Burned in public

“Those 1.7 million ballots should be burned in public and should be shown in public. They could be used for other purposes,” he added.

The former NPO official said the fraud that he witnessed in Lanao del Sur during the ARMM elections in 2008 could happen again on May 10.

“They photocopied the ballots using high quality paper. This is what they gave to the voters and collected them. The corrupt BEIs [board of election inspectors] hid the real ballots and filled these up and fed them to the machines,” the source said. “They are laying the groundwork for something anomalous.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Student says school webcam spied on him at home

Pennsylvania parents are suing their son's school, alleging it watched him through his laptop's webcam while he was at home and unaware he was being observed.
Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley are suing the Lower Merion School District, its board of directors and the superintendent. The parents allege the district unlawfully used its ability to access a webcam remotely on their son's district-issued laptop computer.
The lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The suit said that on November 11, an assistant principal at Harriton High School told the plaintiffs' son that he was caught engaging in "improper behavior" in his home and it was captured in an image via the webcam.
According to the Robbinses' complaint, neither they nor their son, Blake, were informed of the school's ability to access the webcam remotely at any time. It is unclear what the boy was doing in his room when the webcam was activated or if any punishment was given out.
Doug Young, a spokesman for the Lower Merion School District, said the district would only remotely access a laptop if it were reported to be lost, stolen or missing.
Young said if there were such a report, the district first would have to request access from its technology and security department and receive authorization. Then it would use the built-in security feature to take over the laptop and see whatever was in the webcam's field of vision, potentially allowing it to track down the missing computer.
Young said parents and students were not explicitly told about this built-in security feature.
To receive the laptop, the family had to sign an "acceptable-use" agreement. To take the laptop home, the family also would have to buy insurance for the computer.
In an "acceptable-use" agreement, the families are made aware of the school's ability to "monitor" the hardware, he said, but it stops short of explicitly explaining the security feature. He termed that a mistake.
Young added that mistakes might be made when combining technology and education in a cutting-edge way.
All 2,300 students at the district's two high schools were offered laptops to "enhance opportunities for ongoing collaboration and ensure that all students have 24/7 access to school-based resources," according to a message on the superintendent's Web site, which the suit quoted.
Young said the district is proud of the laptop program and the ability to close the technology gap between students who have computers at home and those who don't. But he acknowledged schools will have to take a step back to re-evaluate the policies and procedures surrounding the program.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania isn't involved in the litigation, but its director, Vic Walczak, criticized the school district's action.
"Neither police nor school officials can enter a private home, physically or electronically, without an invitation or a warrant. The school district's clandestine electronic eavesdropping violates constitutional privacy rights, intrudes on parents' right to raise their children and may even be criminal under state and federal wiretapping laws," Walczak said "... George Orwell's '1984' is an overused metaphor, but it applies here in spades. Part of the school officials' punishment should be to retake ninth-grade civics class."
Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who specializes in electronic privacy, also said the school may have broken federal wire-tapping laws. He called the school district's action "foolish and dangerous," saying the matter could prove to be a warning to other districts.
Multiple requests for further comment from the Robbinses' attorney, Mark Haltzman of Lamm Rubenstone LLC, went unanswered.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sun International MMS is now only P5 per message!

Do you want to send a picture of your graduation to your Dad in Saudi Arabia? Do you want to send a video greeting to your Mom in Hong Kong? Want to send your best friend in Canada a “how are you?” message with her favorite pop music? Send International MMS with Sun! Because Sun’s International MMS is now only P5 per message! At a very affordable price, you can send pictures, music and videos all from your Sun mobile phone. Now that’s real value for money!

With Sun Cellular’s International MMS, you can stay connected with special people in your life anytime – to Grandma in Australia, your nephew in Italy, Kuya in Malaysia, your special someone in the USA, or to your college buddy in Singapore. Imagine the surprise they’ll feel when you send them heart-warming messages, your latest photos and funny videos. You will make them feel closer to home. Indeed, your P5 goes a long way.
This IMMS service is open to all Sun postpaid and prepaid subscribers. International MMS for message content (video/non-video) up to 100kb is P5, while content up to 300kb is P10/iMMS.

Globe: SuperUNLI 125

You might have received an alert message from Globe Incorporated this morning that there SuperUNLI 150 is now SuperUNLI 125. You’ve read that right! Globe is deducting a Php25.00 amount from their previous rate of Php150 / 5-days of unlimited texts and talk.

Here’s the original content of the message:

FREE Globe Customer Advisory: Dahil enjoy ka tumawag, P125 lng ang SUPERUNLI- 5days unli call and txt to Globe/TM para sayo! Txt UNLI125 to 8888 TODAY. NMS02-3

Take note of the changes: The new keyword is UNLI125 and the new gateway number is set to 8888 and not 2824 anymore.


ASTIGTXTALL is Touch Mobile’s newest texting promo. It give’s their subscribers a total of 150-text messages which can be sent to ANY network operator here in the Philippines – meaning: TM, Globe, Smart, Talk N’ Text and Sun Cellular subscribers which is valid for 24-hours.

Here’s how to register: ASTIGTXTALL to 8888.

Microsoft weaving social networks into Office 2010

Microsoft is weaving popular social networking services into its latest generation Outlook email program, to be released with an Office 2010 set of applications later this year.

Software that channels LinkedIn updates to Outlook inboxes was available online Wednesday at for people dabbling with a test version of the popular email program.

Microsoft is working with Facebook and MySpace to do the same with content from those online communities, according to Outlook Office group product manager Dev Balasubramanian.

"It really is about bringing friends, family, and colleagues into your inbox," Balasubramanian said in a video posted at the US software giant's website.

"As you communicate with them you can see their social activities; you can see all of the folks in your social network and it updates as you are reading your email."

The LinkedIn connection to Outlook lets people using the email program stay in tune with any changes in job status, contact information, or affiliations being shared by friends at the career-focused online community.

"LinkedIn is all about your professional network," said Elliot Shmukler, product management director at LinkedIn, which reports having 60 million members.

"Meanwhile, Outlook powers the professional inbox so the match is very clear."

The test version of Outlook is available online at

Microsoft's announcement came shortly after rival Google ran into trouble with a new Buzz social networking tool added to its free email service Gmail.

Google Buzz was launched with a feature that automatically created public social networks based on the Gmail contacts people most frequently sent messages to.

A number of commentators noted that they did not necessarily want their email contacts made public like Facebook friends.

On Friday the service was modified so that Gmail users have to create a Google Buzz public profile and will be notified that "lists of people you follow and the people following you will be displayed on your public profile."

Google Buzz allows Gmail users to get updates about what friends are doing online and offers ways to share video, photos and other digitized snippets.

Google Buzz has been described by some technology analysts as a direct challenge by Google to social networking stars Facebook and Twitter.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center on Wednesday filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into whether the original Buzz wrongly disclosed too much information about people.

Global cyberattacks hit firms, governments?report

Coordinated cyberattacks launched from Europe and China breached computers at firms and government agencies worldwide in the past 18 months, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The Journal quoted computer security firm NetWitness as saying the attacks made mountains of data vulnerable to mining by hackers, although the damage had yet to be fully assessed.

Information bared to hackers ranged from credit card transactions to intellectual property of slightly more than 2,400 victims, including 10 US government agencies, according to the Journal.

The hacking operation began in late 2008 in Germany and has yet to be stopped, NetWitness said.

Workers at companies were tricked into visiting websites or opening email attachments that promised to clean viruses from computers but instead infected machines.

Malicious code used in the attacks allowed hackers to seize control of computers remotely.

Evidence cited by NetWitness indicated the culprits may be Eastern European gangsters.

The report came in the wake of Google revealing it was targeted by a sophisticated cyberattack aimed at the US firm's source code and Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists around the world.

Computer industry specialists subsequently said more than 30 companies were hit by those attackers.

The apparent online espionage prompted Google to vow it would stop bowing to Chinese censors and shut down its China search service if it cannot operate unfettered.

Google continues to filter searches in accordance with Chinese law while trying to negotiate a compromise with officials there.

SMART Bro Prepaid UnliSURF 200 for 5 days

Smart BRO Prepaid Users! Now you can surf unlimited for 5 days!

This promo is open to all Smart BRO Prepaid subscribers. For P200, get unlimited surfing for 5 days (120 hours).

Two ways to register:

SMS Registration:
Type UNLISURF 200 and send to 2200.
After successful registration, you'll get a confirmation message.

Web Connect Registration:
Note: You must have an initial load balance of P210
Log on to Web Connect:
Upon logging in, choose “Bro Packages”, then click on “Data Packages”.
Choose Smart Bro UnliSurf Package, then click “Submit".
You'll get a notification upon successful registration.

Happy Surfing, y'all!

Important Notes:

Maintain P1 airtime to continue using the unlimited internet browsing experience.

Validity is counted in terms of hours vs calendar days from the time you register into the service.

Multiple registrations not be allowed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Facebook tightens privacy on third-party programs

Facebook gave users Wednesday more control over who gets to see video, virtual cards and other digital content shared using third-party programs at the leading social networking website.

Content sharing tools the site launched for profile pages in December are being extended to applications that outside developers make for the online community, according to Facebook engineer Ray He.

"Maybe you don't want all of your friends to see the humorous greeting card you just posted from an application," He said. "Now, you can set that post to be viewable only by certain friends."

In contrast, someone trying to rally support for a charity using a Causes application will be able to adjust privacy settings to spread posts as widely as possible.

"There are now granular privacy options that enable you to personalize the audience for each piece of content you share through applications," He said in a blog post.

Drop-down menus near lock icons in a Publisher tool on profile pages let people select sharing options ranging from "everyone" to "only friends" and "custom."

"These new controls give you the power to determine who sees the content you post to Facebook through any third-party application," He said.

Content posted through outside applications without specified sharing preferences will default to "Posts by Me" settings designated at the social networking service.

"You may also start to see additional prompts in applications asking if you'd like to set privacy for certain pieces of content that differ from your default setting," He explained. "The choice is yours."

Facebook's more than 400 million members are required to dictate settings with a software tool that lets them specify who gets to be privy to each photo, video, update or other piece of content uploaded to the website.

The tool lets Facebook members determine accessibility to posted content, such as status updates or pictures in categories designated "Friends," "Friends of Friends," "Everyone" and "Customized."

Facebook members can select privacy settings for each post by using lock icons next to "share" buttons on profile pages.

New virus infects 75,000 computers

A new type of computer virus is known to have breached almost 75,000 computers in 2,500 organizations around the world, including user accounts of popular social network websites, according Internet security firm NetWitness.

The latest virus -- known as "Kneber botnet" -- gathers login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and email systems from infested computers and reports the information back to hackers, NetWitness said in a statement.

A botnet is an army of infected computers that hackers can control from a central machine."

The company said the attack was first discovered in January during a routine deployment of NetWitness software.

Further investigation by the Herndon, Virginia-based software security firm revealed that many commercial and government systems were compromised, including 68,000 corporate login credentials and access to email systems, online banking sites, Yahoo, Hotmail and social networks such as Facebook.

"Conventional malware protection and signature-based intrusion detection systems are, by definition, inadequate for addressing Kneber or most other advanced threats," Chief Executive Amit Yoran said in a statement.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tablets, smartbooks aim to fill PC-phone gap

If you've got a car and a bicycle, do you need a motorcycle too? Wireless carriers are betting that you do. They're making a big push this year for the motorcycles of the gadget world: devices that are bigger than a phone but smaller than a laptop.

The most famous entrant in the category is Apple Inc.'s iPad, which comes out next month. But many other manufacturers are crowding into the niche, and were planning to do so even before Apple's announcement in January.

Some of them are making keyboard-less "tablet" computers in the vein of the iPad. Others are making small laptop-like things known as "smartbooks" that will sell for a few hundred dollars.

Hewlett-Packard Co. showed its first smartbook this week in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, the world's largest cell phone trade show. At first glance, HP's Compaq AirLife 100 looks just like a netbook — a small laptop — but the inner workings are quite different.

Rather than using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software, the smartbook runs Android, which Google Inc. created for mobile devices and gives away for free. Rather than using a computer processor from Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the AirLife uses a chip from Qualcomm Inc. that has cell phone heritage.

The AirLife works somewhat like a cell phone as well: It's ready to use as soon as you flip the lid open. Like a phone, it receives your e-mail even when it's in standby mode with the lid closed. Because the Qualcomm chip uses a lot less power than a PC chip, HP says the AirLife can be used for 12 hours between charging.

Smartbooks are like cell phones in another way: Wireless carriers will sell them. Spain's Telefonica will sell the AirLife in Europe and Latin America sometime this spring. There are no plans for a US launch, but HP competitor Lenovo Group has revealed a very similar device, the Skylight, which AT&T Inc. will carry in the US (AT&T will also provide wireless broadband service for the iPad.)

The carriers will sell smartbooks because the devices have built-in modems for Internet access on cellular networks. That means they'll usually come with a monthly service fee, in exchange for which carriers will subsidize the purchase prices, perhaps in the $200 to $400 range. (AT&T and Telefonica have not announced their prices yet.)

Dell Inc. is using the same technology — Android software running on a Qualcomm chip — for a tablet computer with a touch screen that is 5 inches on the diagonal. An iPhone screen is 3.5 inches, so the Mini 5 is reminiscent of a big iPhone. It's set to be released in the US later this year.

Freescale Semiconductor Inc. was at the show to demonstrate the types of "in-between" devices that can be made using its chips, including a prototype tablet that slides into a docking station with a keyboard. It also showed the "Qooq," a French tablet designed to show recipes in the kitchen, for things like "les cupcakes."

"There's definitely a space between handsets and laptops, and I think it's great for us that Apple has validated that space, as well as HP," said Freescale spokesman Steve Sperle.

Chip maker Nvidia Corp. brought six tablets and two smartbooks running its chips. They're made by Asian manufacturers that are largely unknown to the public, and the idea is that they'll be sold by wireless carriers, said spokesman Shawn Adamek.

The world's largest maker of PC processors, Intel Corp., doesn't want to be left out of the new market either. It has talked for a few years about getting its chips into "mobile Internet devices," and that ambition seems to be coming to fruition at last. However, cell phone-style chips such as ones made by Nvidia, Freescale and Qualcomm still have the advantage of using less power, yielding longer battery lives.

At the show, OpenPeak Inc., a maker of "white label" devices that are rebranded by other companies, showed off a 7-inch tablet computer running Intel's new "Moorestown" chip. It's expected to ship in the second half of the year.

While there will be a lot of hardware to choose from, the software for smartbooks and tablets needs work. The PC version of Windows doesn't work on cell phone-style chips, and in any case, isn't designed for small screens. So manufacturers are mostly turning to Android. But Google didn't intend Android to run on screens that are bigger than cell phones. Google doesn't allow Android's online library of applications, the equivalent of the iPhone's App Store, to be accessed from smartbooks because it fears the applications won't work well on large screens.

NPD analyst Ross Rubin noted that smartbooks could struggle because it's not clear that consumers will take to devices that look like laptops but don't run Windows. The first generation of netbooks ran the Linux operating system, and the category didn't really take off until they started running Windows. And while smartbooks will be cheap because they'll be subsidized by wireless carriers, the carriers will be selling Windows-based netbooks as well, Rubin said.

When it comes to tablets like Dell's Mini 5, people will have to be enticed to carry a gadget in addition to their cell phone. The concept is reminiscent of the "personal digital assistants" of the '90s and early 2000s. They never became mainstream — until their functions were combined with the phone to create the "smart" phone.

Much likely rides on Apple here. If the iPad is a success, that will probably set the mold for other "motorcycle" devices, much like the iPhone has defined the smart phone.

Google CEO unveils 'magic' apps to hostile crowd

Google woos mobile web sceptics

Google's CEO Eric Schmidt urges the mobile industry to embrace the web instead of seeing Google as the enemy.

People who don't even speak the same language will soon be able to have live conversations and Google phone cameras will translate items like foreign restaurant menus in seconds, the search giant's chief executive said today.

But Google's constant stream of innovations is puzzling analysts and frightening telco reps, who are unsure whether the company is a friend or "frenemy".

In his keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said the company had shifted its focus from desktops to mobiles.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt speaks at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt speaks at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Photo: Reuters

"Now our programmers are doing work on mobile first, and that is in fact a change ... [our] top programmers want to work on those [mobile] apps," he said.

Mobiles become 'your alter ego'

Schmidt said the super-fast built-in chips in modern phones and the ability to share number crunching with powerful servers in the online "cloud" meant "the phone is no longer a phone, it's your alter ego ... it's fundamental to everything that you do".

He noted how Google phones could already perform voice recognition and translate spoken phrases into different languages, "so why can't I just talk on the phone to someone who doesn't speak my language?"

"It's coming," he said, before remarking on other powerful mobile apps such as one that can diagnose a user's cough via the phone's built-in microphone.

Google demonstrated the recently launched Google Goggles app, which lets mobile users take a photo of a building, landmark or other object and then perform a search on it through Google.

He said the company would soon extend this by offering "optical character recognition paired with real-time translation". As an example, Google performed a scenario whereby the user can take a photo of an item on a German restaurant menu and have the text translated within seconds.

"It's like magic - all of a sudden there are things that you can do that it never even occurred to you would be possible," Schmidt said.

He said our mobile phones now know who we are, where we are and could recognise patterns in our behaviour, so an "interesting and maybe worrisome" next step was "applications that not only know where I am but predict where I'm going".

In a dig at Apple, Schmidt unveiled Adobe Flash support for Google's Android platform by demonstrating videos on The New York Times website. Apple was forced to modify its advertisements for the iPad that included the website following revelations that the ads showed Flash content, which isn't supported by the iPad.

Schmidt predicted that in three years, if not sooner, smartphones would pass global PC sales - "a remarkable achievement".

"Mobile web adoption is proceeding at eight times faster than the equivalent point 10 years ago for the desktop," said Schmidt.

"Half the new internet connections are for mobile devices. From a Google perspective, there are more Google searches on mobile than on desktop in emerging countries like Indonesia."

Google reducing telcos to 'dump pipes'

During a question and answer session following the keynote, Schmidt was forced to defend Google against claims by telcos that the company was forcing them to become "dumb pipes" providing little more than bandwidth for Google's appilcations.

It was claimed Google, with its network-intensive applications like YouTube, benefited from operators' networks without contributing anything to building the network infrastructure.

At the same time, Google was increasingly competing with the telcos by releasing apps such as Google Voice, which allows users to bypass the networks to make voice calls. It also sells its Nexus One phone directly to consumers online, bypassing the mobile operators.

The company also announced recently that it was building an experimental fibre-to-the-home network in parts of the US that could potentially offer a blistering 1Gbps bandwidth.

By comparison, the upcoming National Broadband Network is predicted to offer about 100Mbps.

But in an invite-only round-table discussion after the event, Schmidt said Google was purely experimenting in an effort to see what was required to bring networks up to 1Gbps, which could pave the way for more exciting applications and convince telcos to upgrade their networks.

Schmidt said definitively that Google did not intend to compete with the telcos or to build infrastructure. He did not believe Google was a threat to the telcos and in fact said the opposite was true.

"We believe that a lot of the growth that is occurring in the operators is because of the growth of sophisticated applications," Schmidt said.

"Operators want Google to build apps that will drive people to use [their] networks."

Asher Moses travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Samsung.

Samsung to Make Own Tablet PC

Samsung Electronics has announced plans to enter the tablet PC market. At the 2010 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Tuesday, Shin Jong-kyun, president of Samsung's mobile communication division, said, "Apple's iPad will create a new demand in the PC market and Samsung will respond to it."

When the iPad was unveiled last month, Samsung had said that developing a tablet PC was not in its business plans for this year.

Shin also said Samsung aims to bolster its smartphone business. "Our new Wave smartphone, which is equipped with Samsung's own Bada operating system, is drawing good responses in the market," Shin told reporters. "We will start aggressively promoting it when all mobile service providers are ready."

Samsung unveiled the smartphone-tailored Bada and the Wave at the mobile congress. Shin said, "Samsung was not the first to develop full-touch phones, but we have led their popularization. With the Wave, we will lead the popularization of smartphones."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New media can help fight repression

An increase in online journalists and freelancers has made the press more vulnerable to repression, but new media are also helping raise awareness about such attacks, a watchdog group said on Tuesday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report, released at a Tokyo news conference, that freelancers and local reporters faced more risk of attack from dictators, repressive governments and militant groups because they did not have media organizations to back them.

But blogs, social networking sites and other new forms of media have also helped fight censorship, although there were exceptions such as in China.

E-mail alerts, Facebook petitions and blog posts helped raise the visibility of imprisoned journalists in Iran after crackdowns on the media in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election last June, CPJ said.

That international pressure helped in the release of high-profile journalists such as Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari and freelancer Roxana Saberi.

"When you attain a critical mass, when you get the blogosphere buzzing or you get people retweeting, or you get people signing petitions and passing around information on social networking, then you get the mainstream media covering it and you can build a groundswell and you can affect governments," Joel Simon, CPJ executive director, said at the news conference.

But advocates of media freedom faced obstacles in China, where CPJ said tight online censorship hindered access to information on infringements.

"Censorship technology is growing and becoming so sophisticated in China, that makes it even harder for local people who are interested in getting a word out about these imprisonments or about other infringements, to contact us, to contact their counterparts overseas, to contact the media," Madeline Earp, of CPJ's Asia program, told the news conference.

Google Inc., the world's biggest search engine provider, threatened last month to shut its Chinese portal and pull out from China, citing cyber attacks and tightening censorship.

But Earp said bloggers in China had not given up on working around censorship by information authorities.

"It's always a moving target -- what are they going to come up with next to try to stop the conversation," she said.

"But it's the authorities who are ... aggressive. And it's the people on the ground who are then reacting to that and thinking, okay, we still want to get the truth out, what's our next move going to be?"

Smartphones a growing problem for networks

Google must not be allowed to dominate and block cash from flowing more widely through the mobile telecoms system or else the network operators will not be able to invest to cope with the growing demand for data traffic, Vodafone said on Tuesday.

Vittorio Colao, chief executive of the world's largest cellphone networks operator, told the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona that instead new business models needed to be created to cope with the demand for data services.

The comments added to the impression at the annual gathering that while handset makers, chipmakers and service providers are all flourishing from the rapid growth of smartphones such as Apple's iPhone, operators are being left to worry about how they are going to profit when they must also fund the related improvements needed in network capabilities.

However, BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd said it was well aware of the problem, saying that smartphone manufacturers must start developing less bandwidth-guzzling products or risk choking already congested airwaves.

As users abandon traditional cellphones for netbooks, wireless modems and feature-rich smartphones, like Apple's iPhone, wireless data traffic has exploded and is threatening to saturate network capacity, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis told Reuters in Vancouver before setting off for the trade fair in Barcelona.

"Manufacturers had better start building more efficient applications and more efficient services. There is no real way to get around this," Lazaridis said.

"If we don't start conserving that bandwidth, in the next few years we are going to run into a capacity crunch. You are already experiencing the capacity crunch in the United States."

Colao said the industry was at a key point in its development, as it adapts to the new economic realities of the smartphone and the ever-increasing amounts of data that consumers wish to consume.

In order to succeed the industry needs to allow operators, content owners, application developers, search and operating system owners to develop new business models, to enable the operators to continue to invest in new and faster networks.

Colao picked out two areas of concern.

Within the search and advertising market, he said one player, Google, dominated the industry and held around 70 to 80 percent of the market, which he said was something that should be "looked at."

He said there was a also not enough competition in certain fixed line markets in Europe, which could affect the supply of higher data speeds.

Colao said the industry needed to look to alternative business models and urged regulators to give them the opportunity to experiment.

Examples he gave included allowing operators to charge customers more for higher or guaranteed bandwidth and content providers to guarantee the delivery of their content. He also said applications should be transferable between devices.

"Let us work together to deliver truly competitive, truly open and truly sustainable technology," he said.

Drastic measures

Spain's Telefonica said last week it was considering charging search engines and a source at the Spanish firm told Reuters they had previously discussed the proposal with other European operators.

Vodafone's call for a different approach stands in contrast to the makers of operating systems and those involved in the production of the handsets.

Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson unveiled new high-end smartphone models on Sunday aimed at improving their positions in the more lucrative part of the phone market.

On Monday Nokia, Intel and Microsoft unveiled new operating software for the top end smartphones and Texas Instruments told Reuters at the fair on Tuesday it was enjoying strong demand for its wireless chips due to the continuing rise of smartphones.

"Smartphones are absolutely, positively the hotspot," Greg Delagi, the head of TI's mobile operations said. "That's what's driving the industry, it's the place where there's opportunities for differentiation, there's ability to win new customers."

And he also gave an indication that things may only get tougher for the operators, explaining that TI was working on new capabilities such as filming and sharing three-dimensional video on smartphones which are even more data intensive.

Privacy commissioner probing Google Buzz

Google says it will disable the auto-follow function in its new Buzz service to address privacy concerns.Google says it will disable the auto-follow function in its new Buzz service to address privacy concerns.

Concerns around Google's recently unveiled Buzz feature are deepening with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada looking into the social-networking tool.

Valerie Lawton, a spokesperson for the office, said on Tuesday that Buzz is being investigated to see whether it violates Canadian privacy laws.

"We understand the public concern about privacy issues related to Google Buzz," she said. "Our office is looking at the issue."

Lawton added that the office may comment further on Wednesday.

Google has ignited a hailstorm of criticism with Buzz, which adds real-time communication and media-sharing features found on popular social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to its Gmail service.

Buzz users can share status updates, news stories, videos and photos, and they can link in feeds from sites such as Twitter and Picasa.

The company unveiled Buzz last week as a feature inside Gmail. Once launched, Buzz automatically searched the user's most emailed contacts and added them as followers, thereby inadvertently exposing potentially sensitive communications.

One user blogged about how Buzz automatically added her abusive ex-boyfriend as a follower and exposed her communications with a current partner to him. Other bloggers commented that repressive governments in countries such as China or Iran could use Buzz to expose dissidents.

In the United States, the Electronic Privacy Information Center said it plans to lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because Buzz is forcing Gmail users into a social networking service they don't necessarily want.

Over the weekend, Google promised to implement changes, including a disabling of the auto-follow function in favour of suggested followers, to give users more control over their privacy. Buzz product manager Todd Jackson admitted the new service hadn't been properly tested and apologized for the snafu.

"We've been testing Buzz internally at Google for a while. Of course, getting feedback from 20,000 Googlers isn't quite the same as letting Gmail users play with Buzz in the wild," he told BBC News.

Google Canada spokesperson Wendy Rozeluk said the company has been talking with federal and provincial privacy officials, but would not comment on what was discussed.

The company is moving to implement changes as quickly as possible, with some of them taking effect this week, she added.

"We'll be making some significant product improvements over the next few days based on user feedback," she said. "The user always comes first."

Social networking websites have kept Canada's Privacy Commissioner busy recently.

Last summer, the commissioner's office forced Facebook to make sweeping changes to its policies after finding that the site violated Canadians' privacy rights. Last month, assistant privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham said she was again looking into Facebook after receiving complaints that the website has not followed through on its promises.

Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart also last week announced upcoming consultations relating to privacy and cloud computing, another service of which Google is a big proponent. Stoddart said that by storing an increasing number of documents and files on servers hosted by third parties, Canadians are potentially making themselves vulnerable to privacy violations.

Goodbye PC, hello smartphone

The era of the PC's dominance is officially over. We have crossed over into the age of mobile computing.

This transition has been building momentum for a while. Some might argue that the iPhone was the dawn of this era. Others might say it was really the rise of the BlackBerry. Or maybe even Android, Google's mobile operating system. Good cases could be made that any one of these marked the start of the mobile era.

But Microsoft's announcement of its new mobile phone platform this week signals a clear end to the old PC era and an epic shift in computing.

But why Microsoft? The reason has less to do with the details of Windows Phone Series 7 that the company unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday.

I haven't touched it, and it won't be available to consumers for months.

But this isn't about specific features or its design, or whether it will help Microsoft regain lost momentum in the mobile market. Rather, what struck me is how Microsoft did this.

For years, the company took its Windows operating system and created a miniature version for smartphones. While initially good enough for many users, this was the approach of a titan aimed at protecting its turf, rather than a nimble tech firm trying to innovate. It was safe, which is often the enemy of creativity.

Along the way, Windows Mobile was surpassed by the iPhone, Android and Palm's WebOS in terms of elegance and features.

Rapidlylosing market share in this critical space to those competitors, Microsoft eventually decided it was time to reboot. For the new version, Microsoft scrapped the Windows-based version completely. The need to think mobile first was so critical, the company was willing to risk undermining its biggest franchise, Windows, which brings in billions of dollars a year.

Rather than let that fear of change paralyze it, Microsoft built the new operating system for smartphones from the ground up. And it did it for the right reason:

"The phone is not a PC," said Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Windows phone program management as he demonstrated the new platform.

"Well, duh," you say. That sounds obvious. It's not.

The success of the Windows operating system bred complacency. The temptation is to make sure everything you do reinforces the cash cow.

To cast that aside, to start over, is a fearless move.

I chatted with Karen Wong-Duncan, a manager in Microsoft's mobile communications systems, on Tuesday, who said the rapid change and adoption in the smartphone market required more than just incremental changes. This time around, Microsoft was trying to think big.

"If you look at the investment that's been made in this, it's not a 'toe-in-the-water' investment," said Wong-Duncan. "We're going to dive right in."

This comes just months after Microsoft released Windows 7, a well-received update that has helped heal some of the bruises from the ill-fated Windows Vista. Even with all that money and development effort poured into Windows 7, the company still decided to build something separate and different for the mobile market.

Of course, Microsoft's new software is just the latest big announcement in what is shaping up to be the Year of Mobile. Google kicked things off with the debut of its Nexus One smartphone. And Apple nudged things along during its press conference for the iPad, where it took great pains to define itself as a mobile company.

Will Microsoft's mobile restart be enough? And how will the features stack up against the iPhone and Android? While the initial reaction has been positive for Microsoft, I'm not really thinking about that right now. The new platform won't be available for several months, an eternity in the smartphone race.

What matters to me is that the company whose success is so closely associated with the personal computer has made a clean break from the past to take a radical step forward.

I'm not saying we won't still have desktop computers. But if you're looking for the real action, the exciting innovations, it's going to be in mobile from now on.

Wartime Vatican archives to go online

The Vatican will soon make some of its World War II archives available for free on the Internet, the Holy See's daily l'Osservatore Romano said on Monday.

The 8,000 pages of documents to be put online will however not include material directly relating to Pius XII, the wartime pope whose attitude towards the Holocaust has been the subject of controversy.

"We noted that the papacy of Pius XII during World War II has become a major cause of friction ... ," Gary Krupp, the head of the Pave the Way Foundation which led the move to digitalize the archives, was quoted saying.

The Vatican Library has already published the documents that will appear online, following an order from Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Material relating to Pius will not be published for another five or six years, the head of the Vatican secret archives Monsignor Sergio Pagano said last July.

The current pope Benedict XVI's decree in December giving his wartime predecessor the title "venerable" – a step towards sainthood – prompted anger among Jewish communities.

Jewish groups have long criticized Pius' silence as Germany's Nazi regime killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

Five billion people to use mobile phones in 2010: UN

The ranks of cell phone subscribers will swell to five billion people this year thanks to the growth of smartphones in developed nations and mobile services in poor nations, a UN agency said Monday. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) also said the number of mobile broadband subscriptions would exceed one billion this year after reaching 600 million in 2009.

"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure said in a statement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the industry's biggest trade show.

The number of mobile subscribers had reached 4.6 billion people last year.

"I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the Internet," Toure said

In the developing world, the growth has been driven by the use of phones for mobile banking and health services, the ITU said.

"Good examples include sending reminder messages to patient's phones when they have a medical appointment, or need a pre-natal check-up," Toure said.

"Or using SMS messages to deliver instructions on when and how to take complex medication such as anti-retrovirals or vaccines," he said, adding that such uses can save millions of dollars and lives.

People with no bank accounts but mobile subscriptions are also increasingly able to do financial transactions with their phones in developing countries, he said.

new solar-powered phones

Chipset provider unveils three new handsets; plans to bring solar power to PDAs.

As solar-powered mobile phones gain traction in emerging markets, solar technology firm Intivation is increasing its presence with the launch of three new handsets and has plans to extend into the PDA market in future.

Intivation showcased the first handsets equipped with its chipset technology and a solar panel at Mobile World Congress last year, in conjunction with vendors ZTE and Foxconn.

The first handsets on the market launched in Haiti through Digicel in June last year, with Kenya and Uganda following in July. Intivation has sold 500,000 of its chipsets since then, with around 380,000 handsets "actually sold to consumers and in the market today," Intivation CEO Paul Naastepad told Total Telecom.

"[We are working with] 11 operators in eight countries in just six months," he added. And in that time, "we [have] learnt a couple of things."

Naastepad admits that one key feature was missing from the phone it has taken to market in Africa.

"It must have a torch," he said, a vital feature in a market that lacks access to reliable power sources.

As a result, one of the handsets introduced at Mobile World Congress this year is a replacement for that ZTE phone, this time with a torch included.

The firm is also introducing a new handset with video functionality for more advanced markets, and a low-end device geared towards India.

The decision to add video capabilities stemmed from a lesson learned in the Philippines, where Intivation discovered that having a camera on a mobile phone is a must. More than 90% of all mobile phones in the Philippines have cameras, Naastepad explained.

"We are going up-market with the phones," he said.

However, the company is also focusing on mass-markets, with its ultra-low-cost handset aimed at India, where there is still huge price pressure and growth potential. It is also looking at China.

In addition to launching new handsets, Intivation also unveiled two solar-powered phone chargers, primarily to enable operators to offer their existing, non-solar handsets, in areas where grid power is scarce or non-existent.

Intivation has ambitious plans for the coming years.

In the 2010-2011 period "[we will] look at those PDA-type phones. We're also going to solar power those," Naastepad said.

However, these devices will use solar power in addition to standard mains charging. The idea is help users increase their talk and standby time when they have forgotten to charge their phone in the standard way, for example.

Software for phones increasingly competitive

Battle lines drawn at largest trade show

As smart phones increasingly appear alike, with high-end models mostly taking their cues from Apple’s iPhone, more and more it’s the software they run that makes a difference.

A growing number of operating systems are jostling for the attention of phone buyers and manufacturers. The winners will determine what our phones can do, which Web sites we’re steered to, and which manufacturers will survive the next few years.

The battle will be on display as wireless carriers and phonemakers gather this week in Barcelona, Spain, for the industry’s largest trade show, Mobile World Congress. The chief executive officer of Google, suddenly a strong contender in phone software, will address the show. Also hoping to make a splash is Microsoft, which is struggling to revitalize its software.

One in six U. S. adults had a smart phone last year, according to Forrester Research. That share is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years, as consumers warm to mobile devices that can run a wide range of applications and surf the Web nearly as well as computers.

Analysts don’t expect smart phones to settle on one kind of operating software, like the PC industry largely has with Microsoft’s Windows. But analysts do expect the smart phone field to be winnowed down to two to four winners over the next few years.

These are the contenders, starting with the largest worldwide market share:

• Symbian— Nokia Corp.’s use of Symbian software has taken it to the top, but its perch is precarious. It’s down from a 56 percent worldwide share in 2008 to 44 percent in 2009, according to research firm In-Stat. Even though it’s No. 1 in the world, it’s nearly unknown in the United States. One problem is that Nokia and Symbian have failed to keep up with the latest trends in the U. S. market, particularly touch screens. And now the love of touch screens is spreading overseas.

“I think Nokia suffered somewhat in 2009,” says Forrester research analyst Charles Golvin. “They’re clearly struggling to regain their mojo on the high end of the spectrum.”

To power more-capable high-end phones, Nokia is now trying a version of the Linux operating system called Maemo.

Symbian used to be developed by a company of the same name. It charged manufacturers that used the software. In 2008, Nokia decided to upend that, buying the company and setting up a foundation to give the software away for free.

• iPhone — Apple’s phone continues to roil the industry, and its sales more than quadrupled last year. Its features are a model for competitors, and it has by far the most support from application developers, despite complaints about the company’s opaque and slow approval process.

But while Apple is likely to be one of the winners in the smart phone fight of the coming years, its reach will be limited because Apple doesn’t allow any other manufacturer to use the iPhone operating system. Apple’s narrow focus gives it excellent profit margins but also leaves plenty of room for competitors.

Apple won’t be at the Barcelona show, because it prefers to put on its own events.

• BlackBerry — Research in Motion of Canada uses its own software for its BlackBerrys and doesn’t license it to others. Though sales are still growing, they could not keep up with Apple’s growth last year, and the iPhone’s market share at 19.8 percent edged past the BlackBerry’s 19.2 percent, according to In-Stat.

RIM has a nearly impenetrable hold on the market for corporate e-mail phones in North America, so analysts expect it to stay around. However, it has stumbled in trying to expand to the consumer market and in introducing touch screens.

• Windows Mobile — Once a pioneer in smart phones, Microsoft is struggling to keep up. Manufacturers such as Motorola and HTC are shifting away from Windows Mobile toward Google’s Android. Last year, fewer Windows Mobile phones were sold than the year before, even in a market that grew 35 percent.

Microsoft is expected to show off a new version of its mobile software today in Barcelona.

• Android — Google’s software has been on a tear, racking up a lot of support from manufacturers, and favorable reviews. There was just one Android phone out in 2008. At the end of 2009, there were more than a dozen, from Motorola, HTC and Samsung and others.

“I think 2010 is a year when Android share will really expand,” Golvin says.

Android is free for manufacturers as part of Google’s effort to stimulate use of its Web services on cell phones. It’s attracting a lot of attention from application developers.

• webOS — Palm Inc. more or less created the smart phone then limped along for years with aging software that had its roots in the Palm Pilots of the mid-’90s. Last year, it made a clean break, introducing the new webOS, running on two phones, the Pre and the Pixi. It’s the only phone software that does a good job of running several applications at once and letting the user switch between them. It has received very favorable reviews, but sales have been less than stellar. In the United States, the phones were exclusive to Sprint Nextel until January, when Verizon Wireless added two upgraded models. AT&T has said that it will add webOS phones this year.

• LiMo — Short for Linux Mobile, LiMo is a consortium that gives away its software. Its selling point is that it gives wireless carriers and manufacturers the freedom to put their own stamp on their cell phones. It’s also suitable for cheaper, nonsmart phones. But uptake has been minimal, and Android and the free version of Symbian seem to have stolen a lot of LiMo’s thunder.

Globe expands GCash service outside RP

Globe Telecom, a leading mobile operator in the Philippines, is partnering with Boku Inc., a global leader in mobile payments, to expand the acceptance of the Globe GCash service internationally.

The deal opens the Boku mobile payment platform and growing international merchant community to Globe’s GCash subscribers.

By partnering with Boku, GCash extends its reach outside the Philippines to a global community of more than 1,000 Boku merchant partners and a mobile payments community that covers over 190 carriers worldwide, allowing its users to purchase virtual goods from any merchant in the Boku global merchant network.

“The Philippines is one of the richest markets in the world for mobile payments. Since its inception in 2004, GCash has been the widely used mobile payment method for online purchases in the Philippines.

Boku’s focus on mobile payments, specialized team, large merchant base, and tier one investors makes them the perfect partner in providing GCash subscribers with a rich new experience in mobile commerce, that opens up the opportunity to explore and purchase virtual goods from the vast international market,” said Rizza Maniego-Eala, president of Globe’s mobile commerce subsidiary G-Xchange Inc. (GXI).

Meanwhile, Boku CEO Mark Britto noted that this partnership is a perfect meeting of two companies’ visions for the way to pay in the future.

“This is a great model for mobile payments, enabling carriers to reach global merchants through Boku’s network, expanding capabilities for online and physical purchases, while driving increased carrier revenues and reducing subscriber churn,” he explained.

Boku was launched in June 2009 and has seen tremendous growth in the last year.

Over this brief period, the company has developed direct mobile payments service relationships with over 1,000 game and application developers, including almost all of the top applications for virtual goods and currencies purchased on Facebook.

Boku’s mobile payment service, Paymo, is enabled across 190 carriers worldwide in over 60 countries, and reaches a potential 1.8 billion customers.

Execs to travel less with video technology

IN THE NEAR future, the number of businessmen who travel will be reduced significantly because of Internet enabled technology known as video communication.

Video communication, which is a cheaper and better form of communication, is an emerging communication platform that will be utilized more by businesses in the coming years to replace traveling abroad for business meetings, according to Teo Chit Seng, Tandberg sales manager for Southeast Asia.

Seng says video communication, which is easy to deploy, use and maintain, can raise the productivity of organizations by providing efficient and cost-effective communication platforms among the employees.

For example, a high quality video communication technology provided by Tandberg called “Telepresence” is a videoconferencing solution that makes a room become a forum for natural communication between participants who are in different locations with the participants on the video walls appearing almost in 3D.

“Video communication is the next step into the evolution of communication and there should be mass adoption of this technology for companies to experience its many benefits,” says Seng.

Seng says video communication can make businesses collaborate more and make decisions fast.

Tandberg is a Norway-based provider of videoconferencing solutions and is currently under the process of being acquired by Cisco Systems.

Aside from the Telepresence solution, Tandberg offers a portfolio of products that include HD video conferencing solution (Intern MXP HD or Centeric 1700 MXP HD), which is designed for healthcare applications.

Personal video conferencing products include the Video VoIP Solution, a desktop solution, and Movi software that enables PC users with webcam to join an enterprise-wide videoconferencing.

Tandberg’s solutions are different from consumer type of videoconferencing application like Skype.

Tandberg videoconferencing solutions can be integrated with the company’s existing communication systems like PABX, IBM Lotus, office communicator. They also feature encryption (for security) unparalleled video and voice quality, reliability of networks and ease of use.

The power of Tandberg solutions comes from a reliable backbone of networked system containing content servers, video communication servers, and management suites.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yahoo launches Purple Thumb election microsite

Yahoo Philippines is tapping various local news providers and social media for a one-of-a-kind election microsite called Purple Thumb (

Yahoo! Philippines Country General Manager Jack Madrid said the Purple Thumb microsite gives Filipino voters the opportunity to share user generated content, post images, videos and express their views on the 2010 Philippine election.

Madrid said the consumption of news has shifted from discovering "what happened" to finding out "what's happening right now." He noted that news is no longer one-sided but a two-way conversation, which connects online users and invites them to influence the creation of news as it happens.

"We believe that social media serves as an important platform in the coming elections. With the help of our content partners the Purple Thumb microsite will bring Filipino people the most comprehensive election news as it happens," he said during a presentation in Makati City.

He added: "Not only do they receive the most updated news, the microsite also provides a platform to freely discuss opinions, share images, content and up to the minute news."

The Purple Thumb microsite leverages top Yahoo! properties such as Yahoo! Answers and Meme.

Filipino voters can join a real time election conversation from the Purple Thumb microsite; discover more about the Presidential candidates, and share election images on Meme. Additionally Yahoo! Philippines is working with media partners; ABS-CBN,, Manila Bulletin as well as bloggers and local NGOs to deliver balanced coverage of the election on the microsite.

The advent of social media has extended the democratic process to the digital space, allowing people to socialize with one another and at the same time gather news and information. With the help of social media tools, the rules of engagement have changed. Now, with internet access, anyone can be an online researcher, publisher and broadcaster.

Yahoo!, where over 600 million people visit every month, aims to bring together social experiences from across the web in a single place. Communities tied together by services such as Twitter, Facebook and Friendster are changing the way people gather news online.


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