Where Would You Be Without Facebook?
Facebook is in the location-awareness game with its new Places feature that lets users "check in" to wherever they are. Are Foursquare and Gowalla doomed? Facebook's opening its platform to other location services, but it'll be hard to compete with. Also, mind those privacy settings. Meanwhile, Intel swallows McAfee, Oracle bites Google and feds clamp down on an alleged Apple leaker.
Facebook already knows what you like, who your friends are, what you're thinking right now, so what the hell does it matter that it knows where you are too, right? The king of social networks has finally revealed its much-anticipated location-awareness features.
Facebook Places will let users with Facebook apps on their mobile devices "check in" at various locations to let their friends know they've arrived. It sounds very similar to existing networks like FourSquare and Gowalla, except for the small detail that Places is backed by a network with more than half a billion members. Those other two have loyal followings, but it's going to be tough to compete with a rival that big.
But all is not lost for the pioneers of location-aware social networks. In fact, Facebook is actually partnering with FourSquare and Gowalla and prepping an application programming interface so that other location-aware services can create Facebook apps. So FourSquare users might still decide to use FourSquare; they may just prefer to do it while piggybacking on Facebook's platform. Also, these other services can keep differentiating themselves by focusing on things like location-based games. So don't worry, Mayor of the South Park Mall food court Sbarro in Moline, Ill. Your position is not in jeopardy.
The arrival of a Facebook location-based service is a double red-alert for privacy watchdogs -- letting a Web service know where you are at all times sounds fishy, and anything Facebook does comes under suspicion just because it's Facebook. This time, though, the site made its new feature opt-in. You have to make the conscious decision to broadcast your whereabouts before anyone can know where you are. Still, Facebook added a couple of new privacy settings related to Places that let you control who sees that information, so you might want check the defaults and customize those.
Listen to the podcast (13:44 minutes).
After Intel settled its problems with the FTC earlier this month, it decided to treat itself to good old retail therapy, so it went out and bought itself a security vendor. The chipmaker has agreed to pay nearly US$8 billion for McAfee in a deal expected to close as soon as the end of this year. McAfee gets to continue operations as a wholly owned subsidiary.
The deal isn't exactly a no-brainer. Intel makes chips. McAfee roots out malware. That's sort of an odd marriage. It also paid through the nose -- McAfee shares sold at a 60 percent premium of $48 per.
Even if the deal isn't quite a match made in logic heaven, at least it gives Intel a fairly profitable security vendor. It's also gaining a new sort of foothold on the mobile device scene. Makers of ARM-based processors -- Intel's rivals -- have been cleaning up lately in the mobile world, a place where Intel's been more or less sidelined. It has the Atom processor for netbooks, but in tablets and smartphones, it still has a weak position.
As all those mobile devices deliver fast and easy access to the Internet, they might soon find themselves swimming in an open cesspool of malware. If Intel can successfully mate McAfee's security know-how with its chips and mix AV superpowers into the final product's DNA, it may be able to make a move with mobile chips that are less susceptible to Net-borne diseases -- or at least give an impression to that effect.
All My Stepchildren
When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in a deal that was finally closed earlier this year, it acquired the children of the Sun as well: Java, MySQL, OpenSolaris, so forth. So this stuff that the open source community has come to know and mostly love for years had a new stepfather, and there was much uncertainty about how Larry Ellison and everyone else at Oracle would treat their new wards.
At first, the spotlight was on MySQL -- Oracle makes competing products and there was concern Oracle might just kill it and bury in the basement. But the company convinced enough regulators in the U.S. and EU that it would continue to feed and care for the open source database system, so the sale was approved.
But now Oracle's treatment of those other two technologies has further dirtied the company's image in the open source world, which is starting to believe its worst fears about the Oracle/Sun deal are actually coming to life.
First, Oracle decided to use Java as a weapon. It sued Google over how Java is used in the Android mobile operating system, filing seven claims of patent infringement and one of copyright violation. It says Google and some of its partners used Java in ways that don't comply with the license requirements. Google called the suit baseless and added that Java is way bigger than one corporation.
So what are the stakes? Well, Oracle is reportedly asking for damages as well as an injunction against using Java in the mobile operating system Android. That would hurt a lot, and it would probably amuse Ellison's friend Steve Jobs to no end. And just by filing the lawsuit, Oracle may have already sprinkled a little FUD dust on Android and stunk it up a bit for developers.
But it would be pretty bizarre to see a whole platform collapse over a lawsuit like this. Google's rich and it's betting the farm on mobile, so it's going to protect Android like the family jewels. If it happens to lose, it'll probably just settle on a cross-licensing agreement or a great big check.
Regardless of the outcome, though, it looks like Oracle's just told everyone to watch what they're doing with Java from now on.
But despite that blow to Google, Oracle's reputation in the FOSS world could potentially sink further, which is exactly what it did a day later when it decided to lock OpenSolaris out of the house for good. Oracle has apparently disowned the open source operating system -- No more distribution releases, no more development models. Don't count on version 2010.05. It's not coming.
The news arrived by way of a leaked internal email. Oracle wouldn't respond to our request for confirmation, but as of yet, I haven't seen a denial.
The news angered many of those who'd worked on the open source project -- most of them didn't really expect to be lining Oracle's pockets as they generated all that code.
It raises the question, what's the next open source project on Oracle's chopping block? What's the next Sun child that's going to be thrown out onto the street? One guess is that OpenOffice might soon be orphaned too. If that happens, the only reasonable conclusion you can draw is that all these proprietary software billionaires have a running bet to see which one can most enrage the FOSSers.
Leak in the Line
Usually when product information leaks out of Apple headquarters, you can chalk it up to a deliberate ploy by Apple to test the waters by planting a bit of not-quite-accurate intel, or just some renegade Cupertino rank-and-filer amused at seeing his whispers amplified to a million decibels by rabid media outlets. Or a drunk product engineer -- can't count that out.
But according to a federal grand jury, there's enough evidence to believe that one high-ranking company exec's habit of leaking Apple juice may have been part of a criminal operation involving wire fraud, money laundering and kickbacks.
Its 23-count indictment named Paul Shin Devine, a senior operations manager for Apple's iPod division. The charges allege that he handed company secrets over to some of Apple's suppliers in Asia, which allowed the suppliers to negotiate better contracts. In return, Devine allegedly received kickbacks totaling more than $1 million.
Apple does have a reputation for beating its suppliers bloody in negotiations, but that's not illegal, as long as you're speaking figuratively. What is illegal is selling sensitive business secrets and then accepting the kickbacks through foreign bank accounts and front companies, which is what Devine is accused of doing. And this is at a company that handles secret product information like nuclear launch codes. If it's happening there, you can bet it's happening elsewhere too.
Apple's reportedly gearing up to hit Devine with a civil suit, too. An Apple spokesperson said the company has zero tolerance for dishonest behavior, which sounds like a not-so-subtle hint to anyone else out there thinking about leaking info about Apple's Next Big Thing. This incident may stem the tide of surprisingly accurate Apple product leaks coming out of Asia recently. That'd be good for Apple, but the media monster still craves rumors, and it must be fed. I guess accidents can still happen, so keep searching those barroom floors.
The dream is dead. HBO says it's not going to join Netflix's growing list of streaming content providers. Sorry, looks like you won't be able to get "The Wire" over the wire after all.
HBO makes some of the most talked-about and critically acclaimed original series on TV right now, but it's extremely jealous with its content. Did you miss this season of "True Blood"? Too bad; you'll have to wait about a year for the DVDs to come out. Think you're gonna hit up Pirate Bay and swipe it now, for free? Hope you like getting threats from lawyers -- HBO has a reputation for monitoring its own torrents. Don't expect Hulu to save you either.
It seems the thought of streaming unlimited content makes HBO break out into hives. It's not completely averse to digital distribution -- iTunes sells a la carte episodes once they're out on DVD, for instance. The channel just doesn't like the idea of anyone settling in for a streamed "Sopranos" marathon and only paying a flat monthly price to some Web site.
For a long time, there's been talk that maybe Netflix would be a force powerful enough to bring HBO into the streaming world. Netflix already handles HBO DVDs; that's nothing new. But Netflix sees its future in streaming, and many customers even said they'd be willing to pay a few dollars extra per month to get on-demand HBO shows without having to wait for the red envelopes in the mail. That talk gathered steam earlier this month when Netflix inked a deal worth nearly a billion dollars to stream content from Epix's stable.
Landing HBO wouldn't have just been about "Big Love" and "Entourage," though. It also owns the exclusive streaming rights to Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox and Universal movies. That's one reason Netflix's on-demand library is a little holey at present.
But in an interview with Bloomberg, HBO copresident Eric Kessler said it was not to be. No deal with Netflix, at least not at whatever price might have been on the table. But that doesn't mean the channel has ruled out streaming entirely. Instead of partnering, HBO will focus on its own HBO Go, a streaming service you can get only if you already subscribe to the channel through a cable provider -- and only if that provider is Comcast or Verizon Fios.
Perhaps HBO's plan involves setting up its own purely online video-on-demand service, independent of cable providers. That could be interesting to watch. Guess who's providing most of that Internet service?
Nothing to See Here, Folks
It's been clear for a long time that teenagers can expect absolute zero privacy while on school grounds. Car searches, locker searches, bag searches, phone searches, it's all good. Sometimes even strip searches, just as long as it's done by a member of the same gender and they have reason to believe you have something dangerous on you, like an aspirin.
Just kidding -- they don't need a reason.
But when it was revealed earlier this year that officials in the Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania had actually been electronically spying on students while the students were in their own homes and in their own rooms -- and sometimes while they slept or did other things -- some parents got the crazy idea that things had gone too far.
Lower Merion had installed software on school-issued laptops capable of accessing the webcam without the user's knowledge and sending images to a central server monitored by the school. Officials said it was only activated in the event a laptop was reported stolen, but apparently that wasn't exactly true. A few months ago, administrators accused a student of using drugs, and the evidence they hit him with was an image taken from inside his home via the laptop -- which had not been stolen. The kid's parents wasted no time whipping up a lawsuit, and they're seeking class action status, which would allow the families of other spied-upon kids to join in. By the way, the guy wasn't doing drugs at all, he was doing candy. Mike and Ikes, I believe.
Lawsuits are great and all, but isn't spying on people like that also against criminal law? As in prison? Especially when some of the images allegedly showed minors in partial states of undress? Apparently not. The FBI announced this week it's not going to press charges against those responsible, concluding that there wasn't enough evidence that school officials acted with criminal intent. That's more than a TV show -- it's a legal standard.
Strange, isn't it? This is not the America I know. The America that I know buries teachers up to the neck in sand and waits for high tide when there's even a subtle hint that something inappropriate has been going on between a student and a school official. Of all the times to lose that good ol' hyper-reactionary spirit, why now? According to that lawsuit being filed, there are even email exchanges between officials joking about how they loved watching students through these spycams, like it was a mini soap opera.
But even if that's not enough to put anyone on trial, the civil lawsuit's still going strong. It seems pretty reasonable to want to punish someone for spying on your kids while they did who-knows-what in their own rooms. It's just too bad that since federal investigators passed the buck, punishment will have to come by way of suing the pants off a public school, indirectly hurting students and teachers who never had anything to do with any of this.