September 8, 2006
FTC Fines Xanga $1 Million
The Federal Trade Commission has fined the social networking site Xanga $1 million for violations of the Online Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. Xanga apparently collected, used, and disclosed information from children under 13 without parental permission or notification.
Xanga commented in a press release that some people registered with the birthday of their pet, or their wedding date, and for some born-again religious, the date of their conversion, which would make some people appear younger than they are. The law does impose some requirements on commercial web sites to police their practices, which Xanga seemed to not do well. Xanga is placing safeguards in place to avoid fines in the future as $1 million in fines is money they can't use themselves, and it is pointless to give the government money when it's possible to easily avoid doing so. Xanga should have figured that out as part of the business model before they were sued.
September 6, 2006
Virginia Man Loses Spam Conviction Appeal, Gets 9 Years
CNET is reporting on the case of Jeremy Jaynes, convicted under a Virginia state anti-spam law. Jaynes was found guilty by having sent out bulk messages with origins disguised and had possession of 84 million email addresses of AOL subscribers.
Jaynes appealed on jurisdictional and constitutional grounds. Jaynes sent messages from North Carolina although the servers were in Virginia. The court rejected the First Amendment challenge and said jurisdiction was proper as Virginia has the right to charge people where the damage of crime occurs. Jaynes received 9 years in prison for his spamming activities.
A link to the 26 page opinion is here, thanks to the reporting in CNET.
Google Agrees to Give Data to Brazilian Prosecutors
Google will obey a Brazilian judge's order to give prosecutors there stored data of individual users that could identify them as suspects in criminal activity. Google's Orkut subsidiary is host to a popular but invitation-only social site in Brazil. Authorities there are investigating whether members engaged in pornography, drug-dealing, organized violence, and other crimes. Prosecutors demanded identification information for individuals and other account details. Google had turned over some information but not everything for which prosecutors had asked.
Google had initially wanted the Brazilian government to go through American courts to get the information. They argued that the Brazilian subsidiary was merely a marketing office and did not retain customer information. Google maintains that information in servers located in the United States. The judge rejected that argument noting that the location of the servers was not relevant as the communications in question were made by Brazilians in Brazil through connections in national territory. Google avoided fines of $23,000 per day by agreeing to turn over the data.
September 5, 2006
Patent Office to Get Help from Peer Review Patent Sites
There seems to be some confusion out there about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reaching out to the community for help with patent examinations. As with anything that involves technology, the amount of information to review and analyze is vast compared to what it was even 20 years ago. That has overwhelmed the Patent Office in an era where companies create vast patent libraries as a revenue stream as much as a statement of intellectual property. Some of these are major technology corporations such as Microsoft and IBM. Other entities are holding companies who register, buy, or license patents with the idea of litigating the unwary into huge settlements. Research In Motion was on the receiving end of one of those suits, but ran out of legal options before the accelerated Patent Office review could nullify the questionable patents as a final decision.
Enter the Community Patent Project, which is sponsored by HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Red Hat. which aims to design and pilot an online system of peer review of patents. Conceivably, through peer review, extra eyes and experience could point out prior art or other factors that affect the patent application. More information is at http://dotank.nyls.edu/communitypatent/.
The confusion comes from a series or articles that describe this project as a wiki. That's not so according to the Peer to Patent web site. There is another site, however, that also invites community review of patents and offers researchers and others PDF copies of patents and patent applications. That is WikiPatents.com. The community can use the wiki format to form a collective view of a particular patent. Whether that view is relevant to the application process or litigation remains to be seen. Nonetheless, those with expertise in particular areas of science and technology are available to comment upon suspect patents which could affect the grant process.
The press release from WikiPatents.com explains the site in some detail:
Announcing... WikiPatents.com - Community Patent Review! WikiPatents recently became the first and only web site to enable organized public comment on issued patents and, soon, pending patent applications. WikiPatents was developed to strengthen the U.S. patent system by providing increased visibility into the legal strength, technical merits, and market aspects of each patent through public comment. Through our combined support and participation, WikiPatents will become an indispensable resource to increase certainty for patent Examiners, law firms, future litigants, licensees, potential investors, inventors, and patent owners.
The WikiPatents Community was established largely in response to the USPTO's recent focus on improving patent quality. "The USPTO clearly has a responsibility to do everything it can to improve America's patent system. That is why we are undertaking this collaborative approach – putting forth quality and efficiency proposals for the patent community to give us feedback," said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Jon Dudas. "Applicants and the public deserve certainty. This focus on quality of applications and closure of the examination process will provide more certainty. Everyone agrees that better quality input will result in a better quality end product." (See http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/speeches/06-26.htm ) By adding and voting on overlooked prior art and submitting public comments on the merits of issued patents, the WikiPatents Community provides an invaluable resource to patent Examiners reviewing related pending applications.
Even if this has no effect on the Patent Office directly, it could help lawyers who are trying to litigate away infringement claims. There's nothing wrong with multiple sets of eyes analyzing the viability of claims. Both sites should be welcome in that regard.
Vista Pricing Announced
There has been lots of movement on the upcoming Vista operating system by Microsoft. My guess is that reports from analysts questioning Microsoft's ability to actually get the product out on time, what ever "on time" means, has got them moving into high gear. Hot on the heels of a follow-up build that improved the first general release of betas is the first release candidate, RC1. That's going out to about 5 million testers worldwide. It should be available to the rest of the world later on this week as Beta 2 was earlier in the summer.
Other little signs that Microsoft might just make it by their January target date include software updates that are listed as Vista compatible. Sonic Solution's popular Roxio Suite has been updated to version 9 with as runs-on-Vista as part of the new feature list. Then there was the accidental release of potential prices last week by Microsoft Canada via the web, and Amazon posting prices for pre-order. These moments were either a bunch of goofy missteps by Microsoft and friends, or an attempt to build momentum and excitement for the product. Either way, there was no reason to wait on getting out correct information.
So here it is. Retail pricing for full copies of the various flavors of Vista should be Ultimate at $399, Business at $299, Home Premium at $239, and Home Basic at $199.
Upgrades from XP will be priced at $259 for Ultimate, $199 for Business, $159 for Home Premium, and $99 for Home Basic.
Can't remember the difference between editions? Neither can I, so I consulted the Microsoft Vista page that explained the editions. All I could get out of it was that the Home Basic has less stuff in it than Home Premium, which is different from the features in the other editions, all duly noted in hand-rubbing anticipation. The closest aid to sorting out the details of the editions came in a Microsoft press release from February 26, 2006. Home Basic won't have the Aero interface or the multimedia features that integrates media viewing via the home network among other media related features. The business delineations are also in the press release.
More on Vista pricing is in stories on PC World, MarketWatch, Information Week, and CNET. Oh, and Information Week also has a story about RC1 not being ready for prime time according to individuals who have seen the release. That's just their opinion, of course.