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     Feb 27, 2010
Partnership buzz
By Martin J Young

HUA HIN, Thailand - This week has been one of partnerships, with deals done between Microsoft and Amazon and between Yahoo and Twitter, while Google continues to devour the rest of the Internet on its own.

Amazon has agreed to pay Microsoft an undisclosed sum as part of a patent cross-licensing agreement that will enable both companies to each others' patent portfolio. The deal covers Amazon's popular e-reader Kindle and company use of Linux-based servers and software, the implementation of which Microsoft claims infringes on many of its patents. Microsoft stated that its licensing program is designed to give other companies access to its research and development efforts and its growing


portfolio of patents. It has entered into more than 600 licensing deals since 2002. Microsoft alone secured 2,906 patents in 2009, according to IFI Patent Intelligence.

The Twitter train keeps gathering momentum with the micro-blogging website now recording a staggering 50 million tweets per day - that's 600 per second. From 5,000 per day in 2007 to 300,000 in 2008 to 2.5 million per day in 2009, the site has shown a phenomenal growth rate. Yahoo wants a slice of this action and has entered into a deal with Twitter in an effort to win back web surfers by sharing content across both websites. Users will be able to update their Twitter status and share content from within Yahoo's portal, and tweets will start appearing in its search results. Similar sharing agreements were made last year between Google, Microsoft and Twitter.

The significance of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter has never been stronger, so traditional players such as Yahoo are vying for an ever increasing slice of this social web traffic.

Google's efforts with its Buzz social networking services got off to a shaky start following a number of privacy concerns. The company made the monumental blunder of automatically linking people's Gmail contacts with Buzz without considering the fact that millions of e-mail users wouldn't dream of sharing the same information with all of the people in their address book.

Buzz also infuriated thousands of parents whose children began inadvertently sharing personal details over the web, which resulted in new "followers" of very questionable intention.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog group, filed a complaint urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google's new social networking tool for violating the company's user privacy agreement.

A number of humble apologies later and the disabling of the "auto-follow" feature and Google's Buzz is just another social networking tool again. Still the Internet Goliath can't have suffered too much, at least everyone using the web now knows more about Buzz than they would have without the adverse media attention otherwise!

Google is currently under siege in Europe where it is facing an onslaught of anti-trust cases, many of which stem from privacy issues such as the recent Buzz fiasco. An Italian court this week dispatched six-month suspended jail sentences to three Google executives over video content that violated privacy protections within the country. The French government is hot on the heels of the Internet giant for its scanning and digitizing of books and Germany is not pleased about the introduction of Google's Street View virtual mapping and ground-level street photographing services.

Google is also under fire from the European Commission following a number of complaints that the company manipulates its search results to favor some companies and punish others (such as its competitors). It came as no surprise that Microsoft was at the front of the queue to file a complaint in Brussels; after the endless court cases filed against Microsoft, the software company clearly felt it was about time that Google had its fair share.

A report released this week by the United Nations Environment Program warned of an alarming increase of hazardous waste from electronic devices in developing countries. E-waste could cause serious environmental and health problems in India and China where it is predicted to rise by up to five times in the next 10 years.

A huge rise in demand for computers and mobile phones has added to the mountain of e-waste in India, where the amount of e-trash is expected to have jumped by 500% this year from 2007 levels. China is also being buried under a pile of circuit boards and components. This year it is expected to produce 2.3 million tonnes of the stuff domestically. Over half of this comes from discarded TVs, with 300,000 tonnes coming from personal computers. Despite having banned e-waste imports China remains a dumping ground for developed countries.

The improper handling of e-waste is a major concern; much of it is incinerated locally in backyards, where small quantities of precious metals such as gold and copper can be recovered. Toxic by-products are often released into the air and water system wreaking havoc on the health of the local environment and population.

The report calls for new urgency in establishing ambitious, formal and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient recycling facilities in China and India.

Apple's decision to get prudish and ban over 5,000 applications from its mobile devices for their inclusion of "objectionable material" could only help rivals such as Google that are still testing the waters of the smart-phone market. The fruity company has also been accused of double standards as apps such as "video strip poker" and the like got the chop last week while saucy offerings from big companies such as Playboy, FHM and Sports Illustrated remain in Apple's App Store.

The company is also notoriously secretive about its policies on what is or is not acceptable for the online mobile applications store, often leaving developers disappointed when their app gets rejected for undisclosed reasons. Many developers have been angered by Apple's recent actions as it directly affects their income; they are likely to start diversifying by writing applications for rival platforms such as Android, which is good news for Google.

In another round of web crackdowns, the Chinese Technology Ministry have introduced a draconian directive that requires individuals to meet with government regulators before launching a website. It also requires webmasters to submit their ID cards and personal photos to the government.

The government claims that the new law has been introduced to curb online pornography, but the rest of the world believes otherwise. Reporters Without Borders stated that the move was a disturbing step backwards for China, which aimed to tighten political control over the Internet.

China has the world's largest online population, with more than 380 million users; it also has the largest prison population of bloggers, with over 70 Internet users and cyber dissidents currently detained.

Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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