Why does Apple get a free ride?

I really don’t want to get into the usual pissing match that seems to occur whenever someone fails to bow down and worship Steve Jobs’ every move, but I can’t help myself. Why aren’t we seeing more outrage — okay, even a little bit of outrage — about the news that Apple twisted the arm of some guy’s ISP because he was uploading the code embedded in his iPod Touch’s memory.

apple-tstripes.jpgAccording to several reports, this guy was in the process of uploading some of the code stored in his broken iPod’s flash memory, and all of a sudden his Internet provider cuts him off — at the request of Apple. As far as those who have been writing about it can gather, Apple was able to move so quickly because it has been monitoring IRC groups devoted to hacking the Touch.

When DVD Jon hacks the DVD encoding scheme, or the Blue-Ray encoding scheme, or any of the half-dozen other things he has hacked and released into the wild — something that contravenes copyright rules just as much as what the iPod hacker was doing does — everyone cheers because he is fighting The Man, and information wants to be free, etc. etc.

But when The Man happens to be Steve Jobs, all of a sudden people seem to start singing a different tune. Meanwhile, in other Apple=hardass news, there’s this. Now it seems that we all need to add the term “bricking” to our vocabulary.

BudTV gets a reprieve — and maybe that’s good

I must admit, when I read that BudTV had gotten a reprieve and was going to have its lease extended to next year, my first response was: Why? The site, an attempt to create a Funny or Die-style comedy video destination, was so painfully lame — despite the estimated $20-million that went into setting it up and getting various artists to create content for it — that I thought it would be better to euthanize it, and put it out of its (and our) misery.

That was my first reaction. But Chris Albrecht at NewTeeVee has managed to convince me that BudTV should live on to fight another day. He makes a number of points, including the fact that Bud has spent a bunch of money on the site, and should give it a little longer to find its feet — and he also notes that people criticize large companies for not experimenting enough, taking risks, etc., and that we should cut BudTV some slack.

Good points, Chris. I’m going to give BudTV another chance. But at this point, they still mostly suck.

Blogs evade media ban in Myanmar

When the Soviet Union was under Communist rule, dissidents in Soviet countries exchanged information and commented on current events using photocopied newsletter-style publications called “samizdat” that were handed around from person to person. Now, the Internet allows dissidents and protesters of all kinds to get information out of totalitarian countries much more quickly (although there are still restrictions that authoritarian regimes — such as those in North Korea and China — can use to make Internet access difficult or even impossible).

The latest example of this phenomenon in action is the steady flow — or at least trickle — of information that has come out of Myanmar over the past week, as hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks have taken to the streets to protest the totalitarian rule of the military junta that controls the country (formerly known as Burma). Although many of the posts are written in English, some are unreadable because they are written in Burmese, the language spoken by citizens of Myanmar (which is related to languages spoken in Tibet and China).

As a story in The Age notes, posting photos on blogs or even sending them via cellphone can put a Myanmar resident at risk of arrest, or worse. One blogger known as Moezack was posting photos of the protests regularly, according to a Myanmar native who runs a website for ex-patriates in Thailand, but his blog has since gone dark. Another prominent blog that has been posting updates comes from someone called Ko-Htike, who appears to work in the emergency department of a Myanmar hospital. He has been posting his thoughts as well as photos.

Another blogger named Mr. Jade has also been posting photos of the protests, including recent attacks on monks by Myanmar police and members of the army. According to at least one report, the army has been dressing soldiers in local police uniforms to try and disguise the fact that the military is part of the crackdown. One place Myanmar residents and ex-patriates have been getting information about the protests is a newspaper-style website called Mizzima. The site won an award from the International Press Institute earlier this year for its reporting.

Global Voices Online, a blog network spanning dozens of countries that was put together by Rebecca MacKinnon and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, has also been carrying news updates and commentary from bloggers in Southeast Asia related to the Myanmar protests. And so has another site for Myanmar ex-patriates called The Irrawaddy.

A blog called Justice and Injustice has photos pf the protests and a statement from someone named Aung Way that says: “We want three Fs. First we want freedom — we want freedom for our future; second, we want friendship — we want friendship between our army and our people; third, we want food — we want food to live peacefully.”

Seymour Hersh on blogs and journalism

In a recent interview with the Jewish Journal — which I found via Martin Stabe, who wrote about it for the Press Gazette after finding out about it from Mark Hamilton, who got it from the Canadian Journalism Project, who originally got it from Romenesko — Seymour Hersh talks about online journalism. He says:

“There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually — and I hate to tell this to the New York Times or the Washington Post — we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular.

And they are really going to cut into daily journalism. …We have a vibrant, new way of communicating in America. We haven’t come to terms with it.

I don’t think much of a lot of the stuff that is out there. But there are a lot of people doing very, very good stuff.”

An interesting viewpoint from one of the deans of investigative journalism in America. He adds that:

“I’ve been working for The New Yorker recently since ’93. In the beginning, not that long ago, when I had a big story you made a good effort to get the Associated Press and UPI and The New York Times to write little stories about what you are writing about.

Couldn’t care less now. It doesn’t matter, because I’ll write a story, and The New Yorker will get hundreds of thousands, if not many more, of hits in the next day. Once it’s online, we just get flooded.”

The full interview is here.

Instant messaging coming to Facebook?

Sam Sethi at Blognation UK has a scoop: apparently, he got a preview of a new instant messaging app for Facebook — and according to his description, it doesn’t require you to download or install anything, or to register, as many Facebook apps do. You just sign in and use it. At the risk of sounding like a Facebook fan-boy, I think this could be huge.

I think it could be good not only for Facebook, which has been missing real-time chat — making do with messages and “wall” posts — but for instant messaging as a whole. Like Sam, I see it as a way of doing an end-run around the fact that you still need multiple IM clients to chat with all of your friends, who might be using Yahoo or AIM or MSN or Skype or GTalk (I’ve used Pidgin and other multi-network apps, but they all lack something).

“The simplest way to stay in touch with all your friends,” says the screenshot on Sam’s blog. “No more MSN, AIM, GTalk, Yahoo chat — one instant messenger for all your friends.” All your friends who are on Facebook, of course. Still, it sounds like a pretty good solution to a Balkanized IM environment. And it could stand to make Facebook even stickier than it already is.

Damn — only got 2 times my money

Mike Arrington has a post up at TechCrunch about Parakey, the embryonic startup that featured Mozilla whiz-kid Blake Ross as a co-founder. According to Mike, some of the VCs who put money into Parakey are miffed that they only got cash after Facebook bought Parakey, while Ross and his co-founder got Facebook stock, which could be worth millions. Says Mike:

The acquisition price, say two sources close to the deal, was paid in cash and was “less than $4 million,” providing investors with just a 2x return on their investment.

This is how bizarre things are in Silicon Valley: Venture capitalists put money into an early-stage startup, and double their money in just six months, while the guy who sells his company gets no money at all — just stock in a company that might someday be bought or go public with a (theoretically) multibillion-dollar valuation. And the VCs are the ones who are pissed.

Google working on Canuck Street View

(This is a story I wrote for globetechnology.com based on an interview with Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy czar — I’m posting it here for those who may have missed it. Click here if you want to listen to the entire interview)

The man in charge of Google’s privacy policy says the Internet giant is working on a version of its controversial Street View service that won’t breach Canadian privacy rules, after federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart raised concerns about the service earlier this month.

Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel, said in an interview from Montreal on Monday the company understands Canada has “struck a different balance” than the U.S. has in terms of what is public and what is private, and that Google is sensitive to those differences.

Street View, which has data available from seven U.S. cities but does not yet include any Canadian sites, is a tool that shows users street-level photographs of the addresses they are searching for. Some of the photos, which are being taken by a fleet of cars belonging to Immersive Media of Calgary, show individuals entering adult-video stores and urinating in public.

In comments earlier this month, Ms. Stoddart said that she had contacted Google and Immersive Media to express her concerns that taking photos of people — even in public — for such a service might violate Canadian privacy laws.

The United States has “a long tradition of saying that it is legal and appropriate to take pictures from public spaces and publish them,” Mr. Fleischer said. “But clearly, we’re aware that different countries around the world strike a different balance between this idea of a public place on the one hand and people’s expectation of privacy.”

Continue reading “Google working on Canuck Street View”

It’s about time someone bought Slingbox

As PaidContent reported last night, satellite broadcaster EchoStar is acquiring SlingBox for $380-million. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Slingbox makes a gadget that seems so simple — but changes the way you think about TV and video content, in the same way that the TiVo-style personal video recorder does. The box allows you to stream content from your TV to virtually anywhere you have an Internet connection.

social_media1.jpgI remember talking to VOIP pioneer Jeff Pulver at VON Canada a year and a half ago and having him describe how he was sitting in a hotel room in Jerusalem watching TV on his laptop and decided to change the channel — at which point, his wife called him on his cellphone from their home in Long Island and yelled at him for changing the channel, because she was watching TV streamed from the Slingbox on her laptop in their bedroom. That story (along with my pal Stuart MacDonald’s post about watching TV on the train, which got him into the Economist) really helped to crystallize for me just how far TV has come.

According to an interview that founder Blake Krikorian did with PaidContent, the TV-streaming company will remain “platform-agnostic,” and as an update from PaidContent describes, Echostar is considering a split into two separate companies — one handling the satellite end and the other the set-top box technology. It’s worth wondering whether this deal will encourage certain parties (like, say, Hollywood or Major League Baseball) to step up their attacks on the idea. I hope Echostar is prepared.

Will MSFT push Yahoo to buy Facebook?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the software behemoth known as the Beast from Redmond is looking at buying between three and five per cent of Facebook for between $300-million and $500-million. As any math whiz (of which I am not one) could tell you, that would value the company at about $10-billion, which would make Facebook backer Peter Thiel’s wish come true.

I know that there have been plenty of rumours out there about Facebook and Yahoo, Facebook and Google, Facebook and my Aunt Sally — you name it. But while the Journal may be getting a little scrappier now that it’s owned by Rupert “Get in here so I can fire you” Murdoch, it’s still the Journal and so it has to be taken seriously.

Although the WSJ talks about this sparking Google to pony up for Facebook, however, I think the more interesting question is whether it will light a fire under the new regime over at Yahoo. Presumably they got rid of Terry Semel so that they could actually get off their duffs and do something about that “peanut butter” memo and all of the valid criticisms it contained.

Making a big bet on social networking could be just the thing it needs to fire a shot across Microsoft and Google’s bows. And my friend Paul Kedrosky thinks Yahoo is a likely bidder too.


I realize — as Joe Duck points out in the comments below — that $10-billion is almost a third of Yahoo’s market capitalization. As 24/7 Wall Street puts it, that’s because “Facebook is growing and Yahoo! is not.” That doesn’t put it out of Yahoo’s reach, however, thanks to the magic of stock-and-debt offerings. Whether it would be wise or not is a different question. Kara Swisher at All Things D has a skeptical look at whether the Facebook hype is getting a little too rich.

Leah Culver pownces on Digg

I realize that the headline on this post will make no sense whatsoever to 99 per cent of the population, but I’m not about to let that stop me 🙂 It appears that Leah Culver of Pownce took a shot at the folks behind Digg over a new social-networking feature that she suggests was copied from Pownce — and to add insult to injury, she used a Digg post to do it.

665437087_4e09a2b1d4.jpgWhat makes this story so odd, as Valleywag and TechCrunch point out, is that Leah is part of (or was part of) the Digg inner circle, and helped create Pownce with Digg founder Kevin Rose. She also reportedly used to be in a relationship with Daniel Burka, a (Canadian) UI designer who has worked on both Digg and Pownce. I realize that all of this strays into the Perez Hilton, celebrity-gossip end of the spectrum, but I still find it fascinating. Was it an inside joke? A 3 a.m. post that shouldn’t have been published?

More importantly for fans of Digg and Pownce, does this imply that there is tension between Kevin and Digg co-founder Jay Adelson? The picture Leah refers to in the Digg post (which I assume was a screenshot of the feature she mentions) has vanished from Flickr, which implies that she may have changed her mind — or been talked into taking it down. As we all know, however, nothing on the Internet is ever really gone.