California Law is Requiring Smart Phones to Have Anti-theft Features


On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill requiring anti-theft features to be built into new phones and automatically turned on. People who have their phones stolen would be able to remotely lock them and erase their data, making the devices worthless targets.

The law, which goes into effect in July of next year, is a big victory for anti-crime advocates who had complained that smartphone makers like Apple didn’t do enough to help their customers fend off theft. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, had publicly criticized the industry for failing to strengthen security after phone theft became epidemic in San Francisco.

California is the first state to require the technology to be turned on by default. Earlier this year, Minnesota passed a law requiring phone kill switches, but the language did not say that the technology must be automatically enabled. Only when thieves are convinced that stolen phones have no value will they stop swiping them from people walking down the street or on the bus.

The initial kill switch bill, introduced in April by Sen. Mark Leno, of San Francisco, failed to pass in its initial vote. Only after being reintroduced later did it finally pass.

The new law only covers smartphones, and not tablets or laptop computers. Retailers will face a fine of $500 to $2,500 for selling phones without the required technology.

Before the bill signing, major phone manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung along with major carriers had opposed legislation by saying it would hurt consumers and potentially open a new avenue for hackers. Instead, they committed to a voluntary program to include technology that would let customers wipe data from stolen phones and disable them. But the companies were under no legal requirement to carry out the program.

Apple, for example, introduced an initiative last year that let users protect their devices through the iOS 7 iCloud Activation Lock feature. During its first six months, thefts of iPhones fells by 38% in San Francisco. Meanwhile, theft of Samsung devices, which had no similar anti-theft technology, rose 12% during that period.

Microsoft Facing a Tough Challenge from Google’s Chromebook


Those unwilling to believe that Microsoft is not concerned with the competition from Chromebooks better adjust their thinking. The company has been targeting the cheap laptops running Google’s OS since the early days of its Surface tablets. It is now pushing the building of cheap Windows laptops to go head-to-head with the Chromebook.

There’s good reason for Microsoft to be worried about the Chromebook. They are cheap and are making a market for themselves in the vital education market. Selling laptops is important to the industry where they buy in bulk and are training the computer buyer of the future in the systems they will look to down the road.

The education sector may be a target for these cheap Windows laptops. HP will soon launch its Stream Windows laptop that should cost around a couple hundred dollars. HP is including 200GB of cloud storage with the purchase. That’s well and good, but it still falls short of what schools get with Chromebook deployments.

Deploying Chromebooks to schools removes expensive support from the budget equation. School districts with Chromebooks don’t have to worry about supporting the OS and updates are handled automatically without issues. Even though Windows 8 is probably the easiest version of Windows yet, many users still require regular support.

Perhaps most importantly, school personnel don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance. When a Chromebook stops working, whether through rough handling by students or simple failure, Google replaces it with another. This is a tremendous advantage that the Chromebook has over Windows laptops. It makes it easy for school districts to put a fixed cost on the deployment, a crucial component of IT costs in cash-strapped organizations.

Apple had made some headway years ago in the education market by offering schools a huge discount on early computers that retailed for thousands of dollars at the time. This move has kept Apple as a competitor to Google and Microsoft in the classroom due to winning over many early on.

It’s a good thing for Microsoft to get behind cheap laptops to compete with Chromebooks, especially in schools. It’s going to take more than cheap laptops with Windows to do so, however. There will have to be turn-key programs like that from Google with Chromebooks to remove the cost and concerns of hardware and software maintenance. All for a low price schools are able to pay.

Michigan State University Creates a Transparent Solar Panel


Michigan State University researchers have created a solar panel that resembles a typical piece of glass, which can be placed on top of a window to collect solar energy. Clean solar power may be the future of energy. Transparent solar panels that seem just like normal glass may make that future real.

Called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, the panel uses organic molecules made to absorb invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and near infrared light. The material moves this unseen light to the edges of the panel, where strips of photovoltaic solar cells pick it up and convert it to electricity.

There have been past attempts at similar tech, but the results that have been produced were not transparent enough or were tinted. Such colorless transparency would allow these solar panels to have a wide variety of uses.

There are residential and commercial uses of windows using this technology, or gadgets like mobile phones and tablets with these solar cells embedded in the glass, or electronic signs that charge themselves, or even in cars or other vehicles with such windows.

The current version of the transparent solar cells is about one percent efficient, but the research team aims to increase that beyond five percent. Colored luminescent solar concentrators can get efficiency up to seven percent. Opaque solar cells can have an efficiency of 15% or more.

The “Toothbrush” Test


When deciding whether Google should spend millions or even billions of dollars in acquiring a new company, its chief executive, Larry Page, asks whether the acquisition passes the toothbrush test: Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?

This criterion shuns traditional measures of valuing a company like earnings, discounted cash flow or even sales. Instead, Page is looking for usefulness above profitability, and long-term potential over near-term financial gain. Google’s toothbrush test highlights the increasing autonomy of Silicon Valley’s biggest corporate acquirers, and the marginalized role that investment banks are playing in the latest boom in technology deals.

Many of the biggest technology companies are now going at it alone when striking large mergers and acquisitions. Companies like Google, Facebook and Cisco Systems are leaning on their internal corporate development teams to identify targets, conduct due diligence and negotiate terms instead of relying on Wall Street bankers. Deals with unadvised buyers are increasing rapidly. The acquiring company did not use an investment bank in 69% of American technology acquisitions worth more than $100 million this year. That number was 27% ten years ago.

The diminished reliance on investment banks comes as technology deal making is rising rapidly. More than $100 billion in such deals have been announced in the United States this year, the most since 2000. At the center of this disconnect between technology companies and investment banks is the belief among many tech executives that some advisers simply do not know what companies like Google and Facebook are looking for.

Instead of trying to swallow already established Internet brands, Facebook uses acquisitions to make big bets on the future and plug technical holes. And in Silicon Valley’s relatively small circle of elite entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists, connections are easy and ample.

Tech companies emphasize that they maintain good relationships with many banks and use them on big deals when financing or fairness opinions are needed. But often, when big tech companies are looking to grow through acquisitions, it is the culture and vision, not the earnings and revenue that are of the most importance.

Wearable Technology May Soon Have Ability to Collect Data for Parkinson’s Disease


Recent news that Robin Williams had suffered from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease preceding his death has been quite a surprise to many. Other celebrities have suffered from the effects of this dangerous disease for many years: Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, and Michael J. Fox. From these big names, has come widespread media attention, and awareness. This week, a big step has been taken towards finding new data to control the effects of Parkinson’s.

Intel announced on Wednesday its plans to use wearable gadgets such as smart watches to monitor patients with Parkinson’s disease and collect data that can be shared with researchers.

The well-known chip maker said that it is teaming up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, established by the actor and Parkinson’s sufferer in 2000, to conduct a multi-phase research study of the neurodegenerative brain disease. An estimated five million people globally have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the second-most-common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Their initial goal is to determine the feasibility of using wearable devices to monitor patients remotely and store that data in an open system that can be accessed by scientists.

The next phase of the study, which has been said will likely kick off in the fall, the foundation plans to set aside funds to explore how patients are responding to medication. Participants will be monitored via an array of wearable devices.

Clinical trials have been said to be far too “subjective” in the past. For instance, a patient might inform her doctor that she felt a tremor for several minutes, when it actually lasted a matter of seconds. In the future, Intel hopes patients and their doctors will have more precise measurements via wearable devices about the “frequency and severity” of symptoms.

The Michael J. Fox foundation will continue to raise funding to cover the costs of providing wearable devices to patients.

By using such devices, the foundation and other research groups can tap into a broader pool of patients for clinical trials. Today, many people with Parkinson’s disease are unable to participate in clinical trials because they do not live near a research facility. However, wearable devices offer a convenient way to track patients from their work or homes, allowing people in the most rural parts of the country to participate.

As the technology expands beyond the Parkinson’s Research, Intel hopes to capture a share of the growing market for big data analytics and wearable devices in the health sector.

While Intel boasts its own wearable technologies, Intel stressed that the Parkinson’s study is device agnostic, meaning patients can test a variety of wearable gadgets. In March, Intel completed its acquisition of Basis Science, a startup that is best known for its wrist-band that measures the wearer’s heart rate.

A Chilling Effect

china russia flags

We are getting used to thinking of the NSA as listening to our phone calls and reading our emails, and now apparently Google is checking stored attachments for kiddie porn.  However compared to the efforts of Russia and China our lords and masters are slipping up on the job.

Google told the Chinese where to put their strict regulations a few years back and Baidu has taken on the task of being a totalitarian friendly search engine and is making a killing doing that. China keeps a very firm handle on all kinds of political content and traditionally that control has extended to adult content in all of it’s myriad forms.Baidu has recently run foul of the censors by failing to prevent adult images from showing up in their results and being stored in their cloud storage product. Being the good dictator friendly search they are Baidu immediately got on the project deleting the content and shutting down user accounts.

The other dictator du jour Vladimir (The Terrible) Putin has been taking similar steps to keep their people in the dark. As of August 1st Search providers and other sensitive providers like bloggers and social media providers handling Russian traffic are being required to host their content on servers physically in Russia and store that data for six months. While it’s not quite yet as fierce a regimen as the Chinese have managed to establish this is a certainly scary step in the wrong direction.

The stories I heard trafficked by Russian “news” outlets about the recent Malaysia shootdown were both incredibly bizarre and widely circulated.  The old joke of “You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God the British Journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed there’s no occasion to…applies en masse to the entire Russian news media. That without the recent hosting restrictions.

The sad fact is that information is power and governments around the world of all political stripes have recognized that and are getting with the program of monitoring and restricting access to that information.

Verizon’s Throttling Plan is Deemed “Disturbing” by FCC


Recently, FCC boss Tom Wheeler stated that he found Verizon’s efforts to throttle unlimited LTE users unless they move to a metered billing plan “disturbing,” expressing concern that Verizon was using network management to drive profits, not to protect the network. Verizon’s response was effectively saying that everybody is doing it, the company highlighting similar practices by T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint.

That response appears to not have sat well with the FCC boss.

“‘All the kids do it’ was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and it didn’t work with my kids,” Wheeler has said. “My concern in this instance is that it is moving from engineering and technological issues into business issues.”

Verizon does have a legitimate point that Wheeler oddly appears to be singling out Verizon, when other wireless ISPs engage in similar behavior. Then again, it wasn’t all the other carriers that sued the FCC in court to strip away network neutrality protections.

Of course, wireline and wireless carriers have used network congestion as a bogeyman to justify all manner of anti-competitive behavior and profit grabs for most of the decade, leading one to wonder if this realization is new to Wheeler. Using network congestion or fake-technical justifications to justify cash grabs or turf protection is kind of what Verizon does best if you’ve tracked the history of the company.

The cat’s out of the bag


When the EU recently ruled against Google on a person’s “right to be forgotten” and Google complied with the ruling in a reasonable and scalable way it was clear (to me anyway) that all hell was going to break out. It’s taken a few weeks …but it’s happening. The latest example of legal imbroglio comes from Hong Kong where a Movie maker is suing to have Google remove the autocomplete for their name as it links them to triad gang names. I guess it’s a bit like if you typed in 20th Century Fox and Google suggested the rest of the query should be “20th Century Fox Gambino Family” I could see how that would get annoying…whether or not there is any actual linkage.

This isn’t the first time Google has had problems like this, various EU jurisdictions have required they remove various autocomplete such as the one in Germany which linked “Scientology” to “Fraud”. I happen to think that one is perfectly fair comment…but that’s another blog…or see my reviews of some Scientology books on Audible and . In any event Google has always claimed that autocomplete is a purely algorithmic feature which they have no control over and thus no obligation to edit. Now the right to be forgotten precedent has been so clearly established it’s pretty simple to point to it and say if you can edit for that you can edit for this which has pretty much the same end result…in effect a right “not to be suggested”.

The search engines have sheltered behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US for the past 15 years. They have also relied on their enormous political sway to steer clear legal assault in the US. Clearly the rest of the world isn’t buying it and we can expect hundreds of thousands more requests to be forgotten and many other law suits with related issues all based on the right not to be remembered…or suggested.

Mind The Gap


There are certain mysteries in life which are ineffable…like where do all those solo socks go? why do I always end up picking up the tab? in the weird world of online there are several gaps which remain mysterious. Here’s a couple:

Tablets are divided between iPads (25%) and Androids (74%) with the Surface coming in a distant last at about 1%. The androids out number Apple because hundreds of companies make tablets with the Android OS on board whereas only Apple makes the iPad.  What’s weird and (I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for this) is that the bandwidth usage of all kinds is dominated by iPad at about 75% with Android taking the rest.  Given that all devices hook up to Wifi how is it possible that 25% of the users are consuming 75% of Tablet bandwidth.  There are multiple theories out there…maybe iPads are favored by data intensive corporate applications of the devices, others suggest that the dominance of iTunes in movie streaming is a factor…but then Netflix runs on both….any way you look at it, it’s a bit weird.

The other gap which is causing waves in our industry is the search revenue per click conundrum. Most people are reasonably familiar with the concept that when we click on ads in search results somebody (mostly Google) gets paid. As end users have migrated to mobile devices at a rate far greater than anyone could have ever imagined the advertisers haven’t.  Advertising agencies are notoriously conservative and (some might claim) in some ways dumb.  Search delivered on desktops has been around for over a decade and they are comfortable with that medium. A few years back social media exploded on the market and agencies were caught completely off guard. A few years later they are just about starting to catch up with the opportunity.  Mobile devices and delivering ads against those devices has left the industry scratching their heads…even now I am shocked and infuriated by major brands who still don’t have a mobile friendly site…let alone mobile friendly ad campaigns.  The result is that although Google’s revenue continues to head north at a good clip they are achieving that growth with many more cheaper clicks. That steady decline has been happening over the last couple of years with no end in sight.  In public statements Google has pinned their hopes on local advertisers paying a premium for mobile clicks to drive their local businesses. We are certainly seeing some pretty dramatic spikes in click prices for “hyperlocal” searches like “plumber West Oshkosh.”  The problem is that even large numbers of local businesses smart enough to bid online (but often not smart enough to get good ROI for their efforts) don’t compare to the massive spend the big brands can move between platforms. This will no doubt level out over time….but it’s not going to happen overnight.

This is Google: You are under arrest

There can be few things more heinous than kiddy porn…nobody (including myself) could defend any aspect of it. However the recent story where Google tipped off the authorities that a Gmail user had child porn in his Gmail account is a little troubling. What makes it even more interesting is that the offending images were apparently attached to email presumably for storage. To discover the images one would have to open them, obviously it’s easier for Google to open and read. If I wanted to store content without even risking sending them over the net, I could simply attach them to an email and save that mail as draft.

What if I played entirely consensual harmless bondage or kidnap games with my partner and sent her pics of her bound and gagged in the trunk of a car. Those images might be clear evidence of a highly criminal event…or two kinksters sharing legally and consensually generated content. What if I sent a hate filled tirade against a racial or religious group perhaps calling for a mosque or similar to be bombed…I might expect the NSA or the FBI to come knocking at my door…but can I assume that Google will be dropping the dime on me? I’m sure it’s a complex legal area…but it’s also potentially a slippery slope. If I email my dealer and tell him where to drop off the kilo of black tar heroin…should Google be telling the FBI? Google is amazingly great at analysing all things data…even encrypted data…should the FBI be subcontracting them to scan all of our mail and pass along candidates for incarceration. I appreciate that I checked the box which said I allow Google to scan my mail and serve any ads they may feel appropriate but I don’t recall giving them permission to send me to jail as well?