<IT WORLD> Google back the doghouse
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Google is back in the digital doghouse for being naughty
with the service everyone loves to hate. The company's Street View mapping and
ground-level photography vehicles have been caught "inadvertently" harvesting
data from private wireless networks.
Earlier this year, we reported that Google had admitted collecting "fragments
of random data" (see
Big Brother caught out, Asia Times Online, May 22, 2010); this week the
company admitted that full e-mail addresses, passwords and personal information
were all collected by its roving spy vehicles.
Many countries, including Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and South
Korea, have reacted strongly to Google's actions, with
several demanding full access to the data it has taken from their citizens.
Web-privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation also issued a strong
statement: "When you are in the business of collecting and monetizing other
people's personal data - as Google and so many other Internet businesses are -
clear standards and comprehensive auditing are essential to protect against
improper collection, use or leakage of private information."
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt added fuel to the fire by suggesting in an
interview on CNN. "If you're not overly fond of Street View's cameras
photographing your house, you should simply move somewhere else." He later
issued an apology and stated that those worried about images of themselves or
their property being on Street View were welcome to contact the company for a
removal request (see the relevant Google
The US Federal Trade Commission this week said it had ended its investigation
of Google and was satisfied that the company has taken the appropriate steps to
prevent a reoccurrence of the problem. Google remained adamant that it had not
used any of the harvested data and that it would be deleted.
To be on the safe side, it is highly recommended that personal wi-fi systems
are encrypted and secured with a password rather than left open to the prying
eyes of Google or worse.
In its continued efforts to take over the Internet, Google has also been
fighting with a number of irate travel companies following the search giant's
intent to acquire ITA Software for US$700 million. ITA's technology powers 65%
of carrier-direct online flight searches in the US, and the travel companies
fear Google's ownership of ITA will lead to uncompetitive practices such as the
marginalization of competitors and an increase in prices for consumers.
Several companies, including Expedia, Farelogix and Sabre, have joined together
to form Fairseach.org, which states that the takeover "threatens to harm
competition in the industry, limit innovation, expand Google's dominance in
search overall, and could ultimately lead to fewer choices and higher travel
prices for consumers".
The music industry scored a major victory this week when a US federal judge
ordered popular file sharing website and software distributor LimeWire to close
permanently. The court order has been issued six months after the judge found
the company liable for copyright infringement on a massive scale. LimeWire has
been ordered to cease the searching, downloading, uploading, file trading, and
file distribution functionality of its P2P file sharing software.
The injunction also ordered LimeWire to immediately communicate the court's
decision to all of the users of its software and company employees. As of this
week a legal notice replaced the front page of the website.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has over the last few
years made numerous attempts to get the file-sharing service shut down, along
with a number of others. LimeWire may well follow the path of Napster and offer
paid subscription services although it is likely that a number of new
file-sharing alternatives will rapidly appear online to replace it, so the
downloading is not likely to be halted anytime soon.
Apple is looking to tap into the rapidly expanding Chinese market by opening an
online store to take orders for iPhones and iPads. The online China store will
offer free shipping, free personalization, and an app store in simplified
Chinese. Two physical stores were opened recently in Beijing and Shanghai -
where the face fierce competition with China's Lenovo Group and Huawei
Technologies offering rival smart-phones.
China's growing middle class may be attracted by Apple's elegant products,
though whether they are prepared to snap up the pricey gadgets is another
matter - the average urban worker earns US$2,700 a year (the average rural
worker makes only $752. The new iPhone 4 is expected to sell for around $700,
or almost a year's salary for the majority of the population. The burgeoning
black market, which is awash with good imitation iPhones at a fraction of the
cost, will also be a threat, especially considering that the originals are made
in China and Taiwan anyway.
China has taken the bragging rights from the US for putting together the
world's fastest supercomputer. The monstrous machine known as Tianhe-1A was
built by the National University of Defense Technology and is housed at the
National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing.
It has the computing horsepower equivalent to 175,000 laptop computers and is
30% more powerful than the current top supercomputer.
Graphics chip maker Nvidia said the new champion of computers contains 7,000
graphics processing units and performs at 2.5 Petaflops (one Petaflop is a
thousand trillion floating point operations per second). It will be used by
scientists across several fields and be made available to other countries.
30 years Sony is to cease the production in Japan of the Walkman, its iconic
portable cassette-tape machine. The announcement this week heralds the end of
an era for the first mass-marketed portable music player, which more than 220
million people have purchased since its launch in 1979. Over the past three
decades, the device has been slowly eclipsed by the Discman, Mini-Discman,
iPod, thumb drive and now smart-phone.
A company spokesman said there is still demand for the unit in the US and a
number of other countries so sales will only cease in Japan. There is still
time to reminisce, dig out your old cassette collection, slot one in, rewind
and listen to Madonna in fuzzy scratchy stereo through earphones the size of
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.