Palm Pre snoops on users by phoning data home

14/08/2009

Palm Pre users watch out. Palm may know a lot more about you than you would like to share.

Programmer Joey Hess found that Palm Pre’s operating system webOS sends his GPS location back to Palm every day. Hess also found code that sends Palm data on which webOS apps he has used each day, and for how long he used each one.

“I was surprised by this,” Hess, who bought the Pre about a month ago, told Wired.com. “I had location services turned off though I had GPS still on because I wanted it to geotag photos. Still I didn’t expect Palm to collect this level of information.”

In its defense, Palm says the data is used to offer better results to users. For instance, when location-based services are used, the Pre collects information to give users relevant local results in Google Maps, says Palm.

“Palm takes privacy very seriously and offers users ways to turn data collecting services on and off,” says Palm in a statement. “Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience.”

Palm’s actions trigger questions about consumer privacy and the extent to which handset makers and developers are gathering and using data about buyers’ behavior.

Read the full story on the Wired website.


Computer viruses slow African expansion

13/08/2009

Hampered by pirated software and super-slow download times, computer users in Africa are finding PC viruses hard to eradicate.

While western countries have partially learned to neutralise the threat of computer viruses, Africa has become a hive of trojans, worms and exploiters of all stripes. As PC use on the continent has spread in the past decade, viruses have hitched a ride, wreaking havoc on development efforts, government programmes and fledgling businesses.

“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say 80% of all computers you find in Africa will have some nastiness on them,” says Tariq Khokhar, the chief development officer of Aptivate, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on IT. This compares to around 30% in the UK, according to Panda Security.

The cost is hard to measure, but ask IT consultants and development workers about the impact, and the stories pour out. Even the Congress of South African Trade Unions found in May that its website was spreading viruses to visitors.

Viruses spontaneously reboot computers, destroy vital data, and clog already severely pinched internet connection (it is not unusual to wait 10 minutes to access a single web page). The result: funding applications delayed, small businesses hurt, and hours wasted.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.


Tr.im URL shortening service closes its doors

12/08/2009

The popular URL shortening service Tr.im has announced it is shutting down. That means, just as critics of URL shortening services predicted, a whole lot of shortened links are about to disappear in a black hole.

Or maybe not. The developers of Tr.im say that the service will remain running through the end of the year, so your old links will “continue to redirect until at least December 31, 2009.” The post goes on to say, that Tr.im “will not be turning tr.im off for redirections” and the homepage claims that “your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.”

The wording is bit vague, but the way we’re reading it is that while the Tr.im shortening service is dead as of now, the redirections will continue working until the end of the year. At midnight on December 31 all your Tr.im URLs will turn into pumpkins and vanish into the ether. Or perhaps the developers of Tr.im plan to leave the redirect engine going indefinitely, though that seems highly unlikely.

Either way, Tr.im’s saga is pretty much a textbook case of why URL shorteners are a bad idea all around. The most obvious problem is that shortened URLs could lead anywhere – a spam site, a phishing site, a porn site, a malware site, who knows?

Read the full story on the WebMonkey website.


Rivals bid to snatch green domain

11/08/2009

Rival environmental groups are lining up supporters to try to take control of a new net domain aimed at green groups. At least two consortiums are known to be preparing bids to control .eco.

In March this year, former US vice president Al Gore backed a bid by the California group Dot Eco to operate the proposed “top level domain” (TLD). But now a Canadian environmental group known as Big Room has launched a competing bid to manage the TLD, which is similar to .com or .uk.

Both firms plan to apply to Icann – the regulatory body that oversees domain names – for the creation of .eco early in 2010. “We’re two different applicants with two different business ideas,” Minor Childers, co-founder of Dot Eco, told BBC News. “Ours is to sell domain names to raise funds for organisations who can effect change.”

He said the group had already entered into contracts with its supporters – such as the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection – to give away 57% of its profits from sales. “We could be one of the biggest contributors to environmental causes anywhere in the world,” said Mr Childers.

Big Room also plans to generate money from the sale of .eco domain names to fund “sustainability projects around the world”. However, the consortium, which includes WWF International and Green Cross, also believe that .eco could be used as a labelling system to endorse companies with green credentials.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.


Facebook acquires FriendFeed

10/08/2009

The two best websites for connecting with your friends have suddenly connected with each other. Facebook has acquired the life-streaming website FriendFeed, the companies announced Monday. The sites will both continue to operate independently for the time being until the companies can decide the best way to integrate their products.

The integration will be delicate work. While the two sites have much in common, there are several hurdles relating to privacy, feature redundancy and the big question of what to do with all that FriendFeed data that need to be overcome.

“The exact plan for how the integration is going to be handled is something we’re still discussing,” FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit tells Webmonkey. “In the short term, nothing changes.”

Friendfeed and its API will both remain working normally until further notice, the company explained in a blog post Monday. Also, according to the official press release posted at Facebook, FriendFeed’s employees will join Facebook, and the site’s four founders will take on new roles within Facebook’s engineering and product teams.

At this point, details are slim. Both FriendFeed and Facebook folks have made it clear that the long-term plans for merging the products are still being ironed out.

Read the full story on the WebMonkey website.


Firefox passes billion milestone

09/08/2009

The open-source browser Firefox passed its billionth download on Friday, ahead of the release of its fourth iteration. The milestone includes downloads of all versions of the web software since its first release in 2004.

Figures suggest that Firefox now has nearly one third of the browser market worldwide, at 31%. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the field with around 60%, whilst Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Opera are all less than 5%.

Microsoft is currently in talks with the European competition regulators, which ruled in January that pre-bundling Internet Explorer with the company’s Windows operating system hurt competition.

The firm recently made a proposal that would offer European buyers of its new Windows 7 operating system a list of potential browsers when they first install the software. Regulators in Brussels said they “welcomed” the proposal but have yet to make a decision. Firefox would be among the browsers on offer.

The browser, developed by the Mozilla Foundation, has quickly become a favourite with web surfers since its launch in 2004. The billionth download figure includes all versions of Firefox released since 2004 and includes single users downloading multiple copies for different computers.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.


Computer agents take to the web

08/08/2009

Artificial intelligence technology could soon make the internet an even bigger haven for bargain-hunters. Software “agents” that automatically negotiate on behalf of shoppers and sellers are about to be set free on the web for the first time.

The “Negotiation Ninjas”, as they are known, will be trialled on a shopping website called Aroxo in the autumn. The intelligent traders are the culmination of 20 years’ work by scientists at Southampton University.

“Computer agents don’t get bored, they have a lot of time, and they don’t get embarrassed,” Professor Nick Jennings, one of the researchers behind the work, told BBC News. “I have always thought that in an internet environment, negotiation is the way to go.”

The agents use a series of simple rules – known as heuristics – to find the optimal price for both buyer and seller based on information provided by both parties. Heuristics are commonly used in computer science to find an optimal solution to a problem when there is not a single “right answer”.

To use one of the intelligent agents, sellers must answer a series of questions about how much of a discount they are prepared to offer and whether they are prepared to go lower after a certain number of sales, or at a certain time of day.

At the other end, the buyer types in the item they wish to purchase and the price they are willing to pay for it. The agents then act as an intermediary, scouring the lists of sellers who are programmed to accept a price in the region of the one offered.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.