February 6, 2009
Google Attacked on Latitude Introduction
Google introduced Latitude earlier this week. It's a service that lets people track each other through enabled devices, typically a cell phone, with real time location hits through Google Maps.Computerworld has a FAQ on how it works. The service was immediately attacked by Google nemesis Privacy International. PI has rated Google low in the past because of its data retention policies. Those have changed due to European Union directives and newer data analysis techniques which do not require as long a stay on Google servers.
Here PI complains that there is a major flaw in that unsuspecting people may be tracked by malcontents who have access to their phones. Here are the scenarios as described on the PI web site:
- An employer provides staff with Latitude-enabled phones on which a reciprocal sharing agreement has been enabled, but does not inform staff of this action or that their movements will be tracked.
- A parent gifts a mobile phone to a child without disclosing that the phone has been Latitude-enabled.
- A partner, friend or other person gains access to an unattended phone (left on a bar on in the house) and enables Latitude without the other person’s knowledge.
- A Latitude-enabled phone is given as a gift.
- A phone left unattended, for example with security personnel or a repair shop, is covertly enabled.
In the case of the child, I suspect that a parent could force a Latitude enabled phone on the child with or without consent of the child. A company that provides and pays for cell phones for its employees may be within its rights to track its employees much like a company may monitor a company email account. It is possible that all of these situations could occur, but they sound a bit too paranoid for real life. I suggest that anyone with a Latitude enabled check their cell phone from time to time to see if the service is enabled without knowledge. If that is the situation, go ahead and start asking the messy questions. If people cheerfully turn this service on, then they should cheerfully accept the consequences.
Shiny Things Are Fun
February 4, 2009
GPO Debuts New Document Delivery System
GPO is presenting a new interface for finding and authenticating federal government documents. The system is currently in beta but may be accessed here.
From the web site's description of itself:
GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) is an advanced digital system that will enable GPO to manage Government information in a digital form. FDsys will enable GPO to manage information from all three branches of the U.S. Government. As a state-of-the-art digital content management system, FDsys will contain information gathered through three methods:
- Files submitted by Congress and Federal agencies;
- Information gathered from Federal agencies’ web sites (often referred to as “harvesting” information);
- Digital files created by scanning previously printed publications.
Some of the main functions of the system include:
- Publishing -- The U.S. Congress and Federal agencies will be able to submit files and orders electronically to GPO for printing and publishing services, electronic distribution, and inclusion in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP);
- Searching for information -- Government information will reach a wider audience by providing authentic; published Government information to the public through an internet based system;
- Preserving information -- The preservation function of FDsys will ensure public access to government information even as technology changes;
- Version control -- Multiple versions of published information are common; FDsys will provide version control for government information.
February 3, 2009
Tuesday In The News
AT&T is in trouble with local officials in Illinois over public access programming. AT&T dumps all of it on Channel 99, requiring a download to sort out programming for each community. The arrangement precludes anyone from recording the programming via DVR. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan questions whether this violates Illinois law.
Rambus may be headed to another defeat in its quest to extract money from every memory maker in the world in a patent dispute. Last month a Delaware court tossed a Rambus action against Micron due to spoliation. Rambus shredded evidence. A similar case in California is likely to get tossed based on that ruling. However, cases remain in that court against Hynix, Samsung, and Nanya Technology. The Court is likely to hold hearings to see if spoliation is a factor in the actions against those defendants. More details are here and here.
Microsoft has been kind enough to allow network administrators to block service pack upgrades to Vista and XP. These blocks will expire on April 28 for Vista SP1 and on May 19 for XP SP3. More from Information Week. Microsoft plans to stop access to the Windows 7 beta on February 10.
Comcast defends itself from accusation by the FCC that it favors its own VoIP service compared to others that may be degraded in times of heavy network use. Comcast says the service does not run over its high speed lines and can be ordered without an Internet subscription. Somehow this smacks of semantics getting in the way of reality. Comcast may discover that this isn't Kevin Martin's FCC anymore, not that he was Comcast's friend. The new FCC may have a chillier response to these claims. More in Ars Technica.
No source code for the defense in a Minnesota case involving the Intoxilyzer 5000EN breathalyzer. More from CNET.
February 2, 2009
Google Makes A Mistake, Scares Pundits
Google had an error on Saturday morning that flagged every website in search results as being malicious. Google caught the error and everything was back to normal after about 40 minutes. The cause was a stray slash in a definition file for malicious sites. The slash translated into essentially a root and everything that flowed from it.
The fact that Google (or anyone else, for that matter) could make a mistake made for much hand wringing over whether Google is too powerful a company whose every move affects the entire web population. Google apps may have a downtime of about 15 minutes and all of a sudden the world is ending. No company wants to perform badly when providing essential services. Google employees are human. Regrettable as these events may be, we should come to expect them from time to time.