June 3, 2006
Adobe and Microsoft Square Off Over PDF in Vista, Office 2007
Adobe and Microsoft have been negotiating over the ability to save documents in PDF format in Office 2007, and PDF-like features in he upcoming Vista operating system. Microsoft added the ability to save documents in PDF format in Office 2007 but will strip that capability in final versions of the program after negotiations with Adobe broke down. The betas that just recently went into distribution do have the feature. The current plan calls for consumers to download a patch that will reintroduce the feature. News reports indicate that Adobe wants to charge for the patch but that Microsoft does not.
The other sticking point appears to be Microsoft's XPS feature in Vista which is a competitor to PDF. Microsoft uses that format to print documents but will allow OEMs to strip out the software that opens, saves, or views XPS files. The printing capability will still be there.
Microsoft said it expects legal action from Adobe. So far there's no word on whether it will take the form of a legal action in the United States courts or a complain with the European Commission, or both. Microsoft on its part is sensitive to potential legal action that may delay Vista or Office from release and is trying to offer what it can while still playing it safe.
June 2, 2006
AG Asks ISPs to Preserve User Tracking Data for Two Years
CNET reported earlier and now USA Today is reporting on the Justice Department asking Internet providers to keep tabs on all of their user online activity for up to two years to assist in anti-terrorism efforts. The request does not focus on content as much as paths people have taken and who and when they contact through Internet communication. Information such as which IP addresses were assigned to which user, email addresses of sent and received mail, instant messaging session contacts and Internet telephone call logs are all potentially part of the plan. The Attorney General made similar statements about ISP retention practices for child pornography purposes earlier this year. The Justice Department has said that it would still take a subpoena to get access to the data.
What the USA Today story leaves out but CNET leaves in is the legislation that's percolating in congress on the issue. One authored by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) requires permanent retention of all records which can only be discarded a year after an account was closed. The second is authored by House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner but is on hold because of the Committee's crowded agenda. If that bill isn't on the front burner, then Rep. DeGette's bill is probably not going to get much further.
Providers are uneasy about the proposal because of the amount of investment and effort it would take to actually track and record all online habits for such a long period of time. As of now ISPs only keep about 30 days worth of information on each user and mostly information necessary to resolve billing disputes. ISPs generally cooperate with law enforcement on a case by case basis and preserve specific information for a longer period.
CNET points out that the U.s. government switched positions on this after the European Parliament passed legislation essentially mandating a similar data retention scheme in Europe. The Attorney General had said before that the government had serious reservations about data retention laws. Missing from any news reports so far are details of any safeguards in place to protect the privacy of Americans. Not that the Internet is the most private of places. On one hand marketers build exceedingly detailed profiles on our online habits. The better to target products and services to us. On the other hand we do private things such as bank, pay bills and make other financial transactions. We make phone calls, we buy things, we sell things, we look for companionship and can communicate on an intimate level. Does the government really need to know all of this to fight terrorism? If this is the future, we need some rules in place before this gets out of hand.
June 1, 2006
Captcha Programs Snare Handicapped Internet Users
The Wall Street Journal has a good article on how Captchas, the somewhat annoying visual tests designed to tell humans and computer robots apart, also discriminate against handicapped individuals.
Read it here.
Flying J Sued Over Ad Subbing on TV Feed
In one of the more bizarre stories of potential copyright infringement, broadcast and cable stations are suing Flying J because they substitute their own commercials for those being broadcast without - gasp! - compensating said networks. Flying J is a truck stop chain that caters to long haul truckers with supplies, meals, showers, and the occasional group entertainment via the big screen. It's the last one that is the problem. Advertisers pay broadcasters good money to display ads for Ford trucks, cell phone services, upcoming movies, exercise equipment and videos featuring drunk college students in compromising situations. Flying J bought an automated system that detected these and other commercials and flipped the channel to a feed featuring their own advertisers who were more targeted to truckers. When the ads were over, they flipped back to the program.
Is that different when a piece of software displays ads for a rival company on the rival company web site? At least one court found that practice legal. (U-Haul Intern., Inc. v. WhenU.com, Inc., 279 F.Supp.2d 723 E.D. Va 2003)). How about when trademark infringement was alleged when a rival plopped an pop-up ad on the site of a competitor? That was legal as well. (1-800 Contacts, Inc. v. WhenU.Com, Inc., 414 F.3d 400 (CA2 2005)). Of course, these were trademark cases and not copyright cases.
The story on this comes from Wired News, and asks the interesting question as to what liability could or would arise if the process were manual an not automated.
May 31, 2006
Cablevision Sued Over Planned Network DVR Service
Networked digital recorders are back in the news. Most people who have one love them. These are boxes that are part of a satellite or cable connection that record shows to a hard drive for later viewing. They are great little devices, consumer friendly for time shifting but lousy for archiving. The hard drive in these babies fill up over time and something has to go to get more programming.
Enter Cablevision with an idea to replace these home devices with a central networked version of the technology available to subscribers. Someone would record a show and play it back via the cable connection. Sounds great in the abstract. Content providers have a dimmer view of the idea and have filed lawsuits saying as much. They claim that the retransmission of shows violate copyright. Cartoon Network and CNN have filed suit against the practice in a federal court in Manhattan.
20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, the Walt Disney Company, CBS, ABC, and NBC have filed similar suits. They say they were forced to this action because Cablevision refused to seek a license. Cablevision says the suits are without merit, but as usual a judge will have to sort it all out. That is, unless a settlement avoids the ultimate issue of what is legal about this practice and what is not. And of course, any licensing fees required to settle the suit would be paid by the consumer, unless they decide to keep their home DVRs and not pay the fees. That would be something.
Tough Love May Be the Cure for a Sick iPod
Have a bad iPod? Click of doom? Irregular hard drive operation? Smack the darn thing. No, really. There are reports that hitting a dead iPod may cure it. The problem may be a recalcitrant hard drive cable.
See this post in Ars Technica for the weird, weird, details.
May 30, 2006
Symantec Patches Flaw in Antivirus Program
A flaw discovered recently in the corporate editions of Symantec Antivirus has been patched. Consumer editions of the product were never in danger.
Details from the AP are in the San Jose Mercury News and lots of other places.
Microsoft and eBay to Wed?
Will Microsoft buy eBay? That's the question in the news following the announcement of a partnership of sorts between the auction giant and Yahoo!. Is Google that scary?
British Are Major Consumers of Internet Porn
Recently I placed a post on the demise of the .xxx domain and the associated lawsuit to uncover documents about the involvement of the United States government in the decision. I also mentioned the popularity of online porn with some very unscientific information from Google Trends. Since then, The Independent UK is reporting on a survey that shows record numbers of Britons are downloading and viewing Internet porn.
The highlights are that more than 9 million men used porn web sites in the last year compared with 2 million in in 2000. That's 40% of the male population of Britain. Women are also consumers with a 30% rise from 1 million to 1.5 million in the past 6 months. A more shocking statistic is that approximately seven million children have bumped into pornography "while looking for something else." Will the Justice Department use this or comparable U.S. information in the COPA trial?