SciTechBlog
April 23, 2009

Tech trends: eco-data, spam pollution and Apple pulls an app

Posted: 01:28 PM ET

Here are a few stories CNN.com is watching today:

iPhone

ECO-DATA: Wired magazine writer Alexis Madrigal has a must-read piece on how data is the key to making environmentally conscious decisions. My inbox has been flooded lately with companies that claimed they were "going green" for Earth Day. Madrigal writes about how a few data crunchers are actually trying to figure out what works and doesn't (turns out: solar backpacks, not so helpful).

SPAM: An NYT blog raises conflict-of-interest questions about a study that says spam wastes a bunch energy. One strangely phrased statistic stuck out for me: one spam message produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving 3 feet.

IPHONE: You may have thought that nothing could spoil the day for Apple, since the billionth iPhone app likely will be downloaded today. But you're wrong. One iPhone application is diverting attention from that milestone because it let users shake a crying, digital baby until it dies. Apple reportedly decided to pull the Baby Shaker app after parenting groups expressed outrage.

The incident raises questions about Apple's quality control measures for iPhone apps, many of which are developed independently. Here's what some news orgs are saying on that:

From the Telegraph in the UK:

Apple has recently relaxed its rules on applications in the App Store. Bans on applications which made noises simulating breaking wind and allowed users to jiggle womens breasts have been lifted.

From MSNBC:

The company has been criticized by software developers for not allowing other kinds of programs, such as those that pass digital gas, into the App Store.

Such apps ultimately were approved, although the developer of one, "Whoopie Cushion," was first told by Apple that his program did not "comply with Community Standards,” programs that have “any obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, etc.) or other content or materials that in Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable by iPhone or iPod touch users.”

And from Huffington:

Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said "Baby Shaker" went on sale Monday, and confirmed that Apple removed it Wednesday. She would not comment on why the program was initially approved for sale nor about how many people downloaded the game. Apple itself screens each iPhone application, a process some prospective iPhone application developers have complained can take weeks or months. Others have said Apple gives little feedback when it accepts or rejects a program.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has rejected apps that let iPhone users throw virtual shoes at President George W. Bush or watch clips from the "South Park" cartoon. It has accepted numerous programs that simulate flatulence.

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Filed under: Earth Day • environment • Internet • iPhone


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April 22, 2009

iPhone apps near 1 billion mark

Posted: 03:55 PM ET

It seems counting  is all the rage on the Internet these days - particularly when it involves nice, even numbers.

iPhone app counter

Take a look at the recent news:

  • First it was Facebook that made it to 200 million users (and probably has way more than that by now).
  • Then there was the CNN/Ashton Kutcher race to be the first Twitter user with 1 million followers.
  • Now Apple is upping the ante with its quest for 1 billion downloads of applications for the iPhone. Check out Apple.com's rolling counter. It looks like iPhone apps may hit the 1 billion mark by Thursday morning.

What's more interesting, however, is that each event gives observers a chance to weigh in on the state of the Internet, and what this tells us about our culture.

In the case of iPhone apps, there are several angles blogs and news organizations are taking:

NYTimes writes about people who - despite the sunken economy - are making money by selling iPhone apps. (more on that from Flurry)

There's plenty of talk about the most popular iPhone apps. According to ReadWriteWeb, the majority are used for entertainment. News is the next-hottest category. Apple says the Facebook app is the most popular of the free applications, and Crash Bandicoot tops the paid list (at about $6).

TechCruch writes that Apple seems to be estimating its billionth app download off of your computer's clock. At one point, Apple's counter was set to switch to 1 billion at 3:24 a.m. ET, the site says. Now the clock has been set back a bit, according to TechCrunch.

For those of you new to the app world, here's a guide.

In the comments sections, feel free to tell CNN what apps you find interesting, and how you use them. Has the iPhone changed the way you live and interact with other people? What about other phones? Are the apps as good?

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Filed under: iPhone


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Have you seen a "Facebook ghost?"

Posted: 01:12 PM ET

There have been several reports of privacy scams on Facebook, and "Facebook ghosts" have surfaced as a new iteration of the trend.

Earlier this month, Yahoo! Sports created a ton of buzz when it reported one NFL team allegedly uses fake Facebook profiles to tempt recruits into unknowingly handing over their personal information.

One popular Facebook "ghost" was a blond female temptress, the site reports.

The team allegedly would use these fake profiles to get friend-level access to recruits' information on the site. The thinking there is that if a team official spots a player in Facebook photos smoking dope or partying hard, the team might avoid a bad draft pick and a potential public relations problem.

The fake profiles are called "ghosts" because they disappear soon after they surface.

I wonder if this technique exists in other spheres of recruiting? At law firms? At banks? In other sports?

There's no hard evidence the NFL ghost-profile incident is part of a trend, said Justin Smith, editor of the blog Inside Facebook, which tracks the social networking site.

More often, people leak information from their Facebook pages accidentally by posting messages their bosses or colleagues can see.

It would be difficult for Facebook to prevent scams similar to the one allegedly used by NFL teams without requiring users to input personal information when setting up an account, Smith said. That's something that's unlikely to happen, he said, because social network users would move elsewhere.

The best trick, perhaps, is to be leery of strangers who want to be your friend on the site. Here are some other tips for protecting your profile:

From Facebook
From AllFacebook
From Tamar

Do you know of examples of Facebook "ghost" profiles appearing in an effort to access your private information? Is this a concern, and if so, what should be done? Your thoughts could turn into a future CNN.com story.

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Filed under: Facebook


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Wednesday tech trends: is that my face?

Posted: 10:47 AM ET

Today in technology news, CNN.com brings you a few neat - and slightly frightening - Internet trends:

FACES: A company called Polar Rose offers a relatively new service that scans photos and determines who's in them - using  facial-recognition technology. As CNET reports, the service currently exists as an add-on for the photo-sharing site Flickr. It could have future applications for Facebook (which means we'll all just have to wake up earlier to untag ourselves from embarrassing photos).

PROFILE: Google offers a new service that lets you set up a Google profile, which, a Wired blogger writes, soon could be the first search item to pop up with your name is searched on the site. Beware, the blog says, because this gives Google unprecedented power over your online persona.

DATING: Sick of the dating scene? SkyeCandy is a new speed-dating service that lets would-be love birds hold 5-minute video chats online through Skype. Check out this slightly creepy intro video on SkyeCandy's homepage.

BOOKS: For those weary of dusty library shelves (and free public services), BookSwim now offers a Netflix-like service that will ship new books to your home for a monthly fee. That paper-bound service hasn't gotten as much buzz as the e-book scene. Check out this WSJ story. The writer says digital books, an old-ish idea that seems to be catching on more because of Amazon's Kindle reader, will change the way we read and write:

I knew then that the book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them.

What's on your mind today? Found any interesting sites or new online services? Share your thought in the comments section below.

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet • social-networking sites


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April 21, 2009

Tech trends: visualizing the Internet

Posted: 03:40 PM ET

Here are a few fun/interesting tech trends of the day. Making the Internet a more visual experience - and less of a text overload - seems to be on quote a few minds:

SEARCH: Cooliris has a cool tool out that lets you scan through photos and search results on a massive, 3-D wall of images. This spawned a Fortune magazine story about the future of search engines: will they always be text-based? Perhaps not.

BLOGS: There are several stories out about new government data that says there are now more paid bloggers in the country than there are paid lawyers. Not that they make the same kind of cash, although the Wall Street Journal says a blogger with 100,000 unique visitors per month can make $75,000 per year.

MAPS: IRLConnect is trying to make a name for itself with map-based social media. Using the site, you can pull in your Facebook and Twitter accounts to get a visual representation of what your posse is up to.

GOOGLE: Finally, in case you haven't seen it, Google's News Timeline is worth a look. You can pull in RSS feeds to make a weekly news timeline of your own.

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Filed under: Internet


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Green tech ideas for Earth Day

Posted: 11:26 AM ET

Earth Day is tomorrow, and several news sites have ideas about how you can use technology to save energy and help the environment. Here's a sample:

SAVE ENERGY: CNET has a good overview of how technology can gobble up energy, and another story on power-saving green technologies to watch. When it come to computer energy savings, screen savers don't cut it, one story says:

Screen saver software does not save energy. It's much better to turn off your monitor when you take a break. CO2 Saver, a free program for Windows XP and Vista, can help you manage your PC's sleep behavior.

DIY: On the DIY (do it yourself) side of things, NPR has a first-person story about a man who made a solar backpack that charges his iPod while he walks around Manhattan.

SMART GRID: Here's a Chicago Tribune blog about GE's "plug" on Monday of Miami's new smart grid, which an exec says is the largest project of its kind. Smart grids use automated meters to save energy. The technology is a government priority in the U.S. and in Europe these days.

ONLINE NEWS: The New York Times quotes experts who say ditching newspapers for online information may be the sustainable thing to do. The paper notes that Marriott hotels no longer will leave papers on their guests' doorsteps.

FINANCIAL CRUNCH: PC World reports on a survey that says investors are turning away from green technology because of the economic recession. But some still would like to see green tech be a priority, the site says.

AT SCHOOL: If you're a student or a parent, earthday.net has some ideas about greening your school. Among them: talk to administrators about switching to lower-energy LED "Exit" signs. One old-school "Exit" sign costs about $24 per year to operate, according to the EPA.

BICYCLE: Finally, it's worth noting that low-tech solutions can be green, too. The New York Times magazine recently interviewed the nation's energy secretary, Steven Chu (pictured above), who indicates he feels guilty that security officials won't let him ride his bike to work anymore. An excerpt:

Is it true you don’t drive a car?
My wife does, but I no longer own a car. Let me just say that in most of my jobs, I mostly rode my bicycle.

And now?
My security detail didn’t want me to be riding my bicycle or even taking the Metro. I have a security detail that drives me.

How do you feel about adding carbon emissions to the air?
I don’t feel good about it.

What technology helps you be green? Tell us about it in the comments. You also can share your views on local environmental issues on iReport.com.

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Filed under: computers • Earth Day • Energy • environment • Scientists • solar energy • technology


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April 20, 2009

A turning point for online piracy?

Posted: 09:50 AM ET

There was plenty of online chatter this weekend about file sharing and Internet piracy.

This follows Friday's news that four people who ran a popular file-sharing site called Pirate Bay were found guilty of violating copyright law in Sweden.

On Forbes.com, a Harvard professor says Google is the new Pirate Bay. The search engine serves the same function as the piracy sites by enabling people to steal copyrighted content, the professor says. An interesting example from the story:

By searching for pirated music or video, Google users can easily scan a range of lesser-known pirate sites to dig up illicit content. Those looking for the upcoming film X-Men Origins: Wolverine, for instance, can search for "wolverine torrent." The first result is a link to file-sharing site isoHunt, with a torrent tracker file that allows the user to download the full film. In fact, searches for "wolverine torrent" on Google have more than quadrupled since the movie file was first leaked to peer-to-peer networks on April 5, according to Google Trends.

DownloadSquad responded with a counterpoint to Forbes' story.

Ars Technica says the verdict is not surprising given the history of piracy prosecutions:

In the US, Napster was shut down even though it did not host files directly. When services like Grokster sprang up in Napster's wake and tried to make their services more decentralized to avoid even the appearance of control, courts still didn't accept the argument that they had clean hands.

On CNET.com, a writer wonders if we've reached a tipping point. Will illegal file-sharing soon come to an end? Here's the article's evidence of a regulatory crackdown:

Copyright owners around the globe have gone on the attack. They're backing antipiracy legislation in France and Sweden. They're lobbying Internet service providers in the United States to crack down on customers who download files illegally. They're pressuring hardware and software companies to prevent their products from being used as "pirate toolboxes." They're threatening legal action against Google and other sites that aggregate news without permission.

On the BBC, Paul McCartney spoke out in favor of the guilty verdict against Pirate Bay. Here's some of what he told the station:

"Anyone who does something good, particularly if you get really lucky and do a great artistic thing and have a mega hit, I think you should get rewarded for that."

Do you download pirated media? What should governments do about this issue? If you're an artist, what do you think? Feel free to weigh in with comments to this post.

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy


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April 17, 2009

Robot servants, and the end of the Internet?

Posted: 04:59 PM ET

Here are a few technology stories CNN.com is watching today:

ROBOTS: BBC News reports that two (likely unrelated) trends are driving robotics these days: older people and violent conflict. One expert in the story sees it this way: "Even just having robots do lightweight transport of objects from one room to another, whether it's grandma's knitting or a cup of coffee, could be tremendously valuable."

INTERNET: Is there an end to the Internet? Maybe, if your cable company says so. Nielsen Online says Internet service providers and cable companies are putting caps on how much bandwidth their customers can use. That comes as Internet users are downloading more video, particularly from Hulu, the site says.

CLOUD COMPUTING: There's been a bunch of news about cloud computing lately, and a lot of it may be hype, ars technica writes today. The notoriously vague concept generally refers to the process of hosting computer programs online. Many companies are interested, but that may not make financial sense, the site says.

FACEBOOK: Finally, what blog would be complete these days without a Facebook reference. A CNET writer wonders today whether or not the uber-popular social networking site should charge users $1 per month to avoid financial stress. What would you pay?

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Filed under: Facebook • robotics • social-networking sites • technology


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April 16, 2009

Europe goes nuts for Facebook

Posted: 11:31 AM ET

Facebook may have started in the U.S., but its fastest growth is now overseas in places like Europe, where it's spreading like crazy.

According to new data from comScore, Inc., which measures Internet use, Facebook now accounts for more than 4 percent of all minutes spent online in Europe - up from 1.1 percent a year ago.

As of February the social-networking site had almost 100 million users in Europe - a 314-percent increase over February 2008. In Italy alone, Facebook grew by more than 2,700 percent over the past year, suggesting that some Italians may be giving up face-to-face socializing over espressos for networking online instead.

In other news: Back on the other side of the pond, Americans conducted 14.3 billion online searches in March, a 9-percent gain over February, according to new data released Wednesday by comScore.

As usual, Google sites led the way 63.7 percent of the searches conducted in the U.S., followed by Yahoo! sites (20.5 percent), Microsoft sites (8.3 percent), Ask Network (3.8 percent) and AOL (3.7 percent).

Google search sites gained almost half a percentage point since February, while all the others dipped slightly except Microsoft, which gained 0.1 percent.

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Filed under: Internet


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April 15, 2009

AT&T to extend iPhone pact?

Posted: 11:42 AM ET

Are you thinking about buying an iPhone but waiting until the device is available on wireless carriers other than AT&T? You may have to wait a while.

Apple and AT&T met last August and agreed to extend AT&T's contract as exclusive carrier of the iPhone through the end of 2009 - at which time Apple would presumably be allowed to start selling the popular smartphone on other carriers.

Now, AT&T wants to extend that deal another two years, according to a report Tuesday evening in The Wall Street Journal.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment, saying only, "We have a great relationship with AT&T."

Some iPhone users have grumbled about spotty AT&T service - notably during last month's South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, where thousands of iPhone-carrying attendees overloaded AT&T's network.

It'll be interesting to see if Apple agrees to AT&T's request or seeks to broaden the iPhone's popularity by opening the device to Verizon, Sprint and other carriers.

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Filed under: Internet • technology


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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