May 21, 2010
Posted: 11:42 AM ET
Pennsylvania's attorney general recently subpoenaed Twitter for the real names of two anonymous bloggers who have been criticizing him. Twitter generally doesn't give out user identities, according to a statement issued to the blog TechCrunch. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania now says it will represent the online critics.
"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says in a prepared statement. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."
The anonymous Twitter users in question - @CasablancaPA and @bfbarbie - continue to use their feeds to criticize Tom Corbett, the current Pennsylvania AG, who also is running for the governorship in that state as a Republican.
According to the subpoena, as posted by TechCrunch, Corbett wants the Twitter users' names, addresses, contact info, IP addresses. This isn't the first time a politician or celebrity has tried to out anonymous dissenters online. Last year, the New York Supreme Court ordered Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, to release the identity of an anonymous online writer who had been ranting about former cover girl Liskula Cohen.
The identity fight in Pennsylvania also comes as the Web in general is becoming less anonymous. Facebook is leading the charge against anonymity, as it encourages its 400 million users to use their Facebook profiles - with photos, real names and background information - to comment on online news stories, music, events and other web content.
May 19, 2010
Posted: 11:26 AM ET
It's unclear how exactly the changes will be implemented. Or when. In a public radio interview posted Tuesday, Facebook's head of public policy, Tim Sparapani, said the settings will be updated in coming weeks.
"We've heard from our users that we're gotten a little bit complex. I think we're going to work on that. I think we're going to be providing options for people who want simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from. And I think we'll see that in the next couple of weeks. Because we do listen to our users," he said in the interview (go to about 26:30 to hear the clip).
He added that Facebook has "built a privacy setting for every type of new communication and sharing that we have," and said that "Facebook should be getting credit here for giving tools in the first place."
Many sites don't have any privacy settings, he said.
The bad press led Facebook's rival MySpace this week to announce simplified privacy controls with only three settings. It will be interesting to see if, in what would be an ironic turn, Facebook follows suit.
May 18, 2010
Posted: 11:27 AM ET
In an e-mail to CNN.com, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded to the growing rancor over the site's privacy settings and policies, which underwent some changes in April.
"With more and more people sharing content online, it’s important that Facebook and other sites provide them with clear control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom," he wrote in the e-mail. "We’re listening to feedback and evaluating the best way to respond to concerns. We understand that maintaining people’s privacy is of paramount importance, not just to them but to the eco-system of the Internet as a whole and we welcome innovative ideas in this space."
Noyes made the comment in reference to rival MySpace's decision this week to make its site more private.
Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts because of concerns over their online privacy. The online social network, which has 400 million members, allows fine-grained controls over privacy settings, but some people complain that the settings are too numerous and complicated to be useful.
And a project called Diaspora has been getting press as the privacy-minded "anti-Facebook." The project, started by four NYU students, so far has raised $180,000 through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.
Posted: 10:13 AM ET
MySpace is not aging well.
But maybe there's a comeback for MySpace yet. This week, as Facebook continues to weather bad press about its non-private privacy settings, MySpace announced its comeback plan: Privacy settings that make sense.
"We respect our users’ desires to balance sharing and privacy, and never push our users to an uncomfortable privacy position," company co-president Mike Jones said in a blog post on Monday.
In coming weeks, MySpace users will be able to choose from three settings that regulate the privacy of their profiles. They are:
"Friends only," meaning only people who you've agreed to be friends with can see your profile.
"Public," meaning anyone can search Google and find everything about you.
"Public to anyone 18 or older," which is pretty self-explanatory.
Even before MySpace's announcement this week, some tech pundits were calling for Facebook to adopt simplified privacy settings. Farhad Manjoo, Slate's technology columnist, suggested 5-level privacy settings:
"You should be able to go to your privacy settings and see one big dial that lets you choose one of five levels between 'private' and 'public.' This setting would govern your entire profile; the more public you set the dial, the more you'll share with more people," he wrote on May 13. "By default, the dial would be somewhere in the middle, but you'd be able to shift it up or down at any time. You'd still be able to adjust more specific controls—you could set your profile to 'public' but allow only close friends to see pictures of your kid—but few of us would ever need to."
Facebook responded to some of these concerns in an e-mail to CNN.
It seems like three things could come of MySpace's new privacy controls. Facebook's faithful might give the site a second try. MySpace's privacy rethink could become contagious with other sites.
Or, maybe no one will notice.
Cast your vote for the most likely scenario in the comments. Also, does this make MySpace a more enticing social network?
May 17, 2010
Posted: 01:03 PM ET
There's lots of news today about a long-awaited study on cell phones and brain tumors.
The study, to be published Tuesday in the International Journal of Epidemiology, turns out to be inconclusive: It found no evidence that making calls with a mobile phone against your ear increases your risk for brain cancer, but it also couldn't prove that no such link exists, according to CNN's report.
"The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation," the study says. Some people, including GQ writer Christopher Ketcham, who recently published an in-depth look at research in this area, are skeptical that such a probe will take place, in part because of the cell phone industry's lobbying influence. Several European countries have issued precautions about mobile phone radiation.
But we'll put the debate aside for now. If you are concerned about mobile phone radiation, here are a few ways to keep these potentially damaging waves away from your brain.
Not all are 100 percent effective, and several carry a significant geek factor. (If a Bluetooth earpiece can make Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt look creepy, what will it do to you?) But who knows. If hipsters latch on, maybe these add-ons will go the way of bike helmets and become socially acceptable.
Let us know what you think of these tips, and please offer up your own in the comments below.
1. Use the speaker phone: This keeps the phone away from your ear and, if your phone has a decent speaker function already, doesn't cost you anything. Downside: Everyone in the office hears your partner yell at you for forgetting to record last night's episode of "Dancing with the Stars."
2. Don't talk. Text: This will win you younger friends and social cachet, as long as your fingers aren't too fat to navigate a QWERTY. If you're new to texting (like omg!), wikiHow has a smart guide to get your started. You probably can't send all of your communiques in 140-character bites, though. Well, unless you're this girl.
3. Buy a lower-radiation phone: CNET and the Environmental Working Group have published guides to radiation by phone model. You can use this information to guide your next cell phone purchase. The downside: This doesn't eliminate exposure. But, as they say, knowledge is power.
4. Use a headset: Some earbuds are wired to the phone; other options, like Bluetooth ear pieces, are wireless. Both put less radiation on the side of your head than a phone, according to EWG. Downside: Since there's no phone in sight, it will look like you're talking to yourself while you're walking down the street. Unexpected bonus: People in music videos do that all the time. And rock stars aren't bothered by onlookers, are they?
5. Talk less: Take this as literally as you will. You could simply limit your phone conversations, choosing to - gasp! - meet up with people in real life instead. Or, according to EWG, simply speaking less during a mobile-phone conversation can reduce your radiation exposure, too. From that group's guide: "Your phone emits radiation when you talk or text, but not when you're receiving messages. Listening more and talking less reduces your exposures." So, moral of story: less Jay, and more Silent Bob.
Posted: 10:47 AM ET
Apple CEO Steve Jobs engaged in a catty e-mail exchange over the weekend with a blogger from the website Gawker, who chided the tech luminary for calling its slate computer a "revolution" in television ads.
Ryan Tate, the blogger, who writes that he was drinking during the digital duel, carries on a conversation that sounds, at turns, like it could have been ripped from the pages of a "Saturday Night Live" script.
Tate's first note, which, according to the posted e-mails, was sent at 9:34 p.m. on Friday, asks Jobs what he thinks a young Bob Dylan would think about Jobs' claim to a computer "revolution."
"Revolutions are about freedom," the blogger asserts (I dare you to read that line without doing a Will-Ferrell-as-George-W.-Bush voice in your head; and keep in mind, we're talking about computers and app formats here, not the War on Terror).
"Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom," Jobs replied at 12:52 a.m. on Saturday, according to the e-mails as posted by Gawker. "The times they are a changin’, and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is."
Jobs sent three more notes to Tate after that one. The duo argued about Apple's aim to control app development and the recent police raid of a Gizmodo blogger's home following that blog's decision to publish details about a prototype iPhone from Apple. Gizmodo, as Tate notes, is owned by Gawker Media, which also publishes the site Gawker.com.
As TechCrunch notes, Apple's CEO is known for occasionally sending brief e-mails to consumers and reporters.
The BBC's Maggie Shiels makes a funny point about the "nocturnal back-and-forth":
"We're all aware of the perils of 'drunk dialing' an ex – but for Ryan Tate at media gossip blog Gawker, e-mailing Apple boss Steve Jobs – with a stinger cocktail on hand late one night while the wife was away – really paid off," she writes.
Despite his apparent resentment over Apple's efforts to control app development for its products, Tate did leave the exchange with a few positive things to say about Apple and its iconic leader.
"Rare is the CEO who will spar one-on-one with customers and bloggers like this," he writes. "Jobs deserves big credit for breaking the mold of the typical American executive, and not just because his company makes such hugely superior products: Jobs not only built and then rebuilt his company around some very strong opinions about digital life, but he's willing to defend them in public. Vigorously. Bluntly. At two in the morning on a weekend."
Check out the full exchange (foul language warning), and let us know who you think came out on top.
May 12, 2010
Posted: 12:36 PM ET
Sick of the barrage of Facebook privacy scandals?
Don't trust a multi-billion-dollar corporation with your photos and personal information?
Well, there may be an online social network for you yet.
It's called Diaspora, and it's an idea from four New York University students who say in a video pitch that big online companies like Facebook shouldn't be allowed to have access to, and to some degree "own," all of the personal data that flows in and out of their social networks.
The solution sounds a little wonky: Diaspora basically enables computers to share updates, photos and videos directly with each other. It eliminates the middleman, i.e. Facebook, Flickr, Google or Twitter, so no one has access to your data but you and your friends.
To set things up this way, each user has to have server space. In Diaspora-speak, these machines are called "seeds."
But, despite the potential technical confusion, the result, the site's founders say, is a fully private and secure network, without cutting down on the "sharing" aspect of the internet, which is such a trend at the moment.
"Social networks have only really existed for 10 years," one of the Diaspora founders says in a video introduction. "We don’t know what’s going to happen to our data. It’s going to exist into the foreseeable future. We need to take control of it."
"Because once you give it away once it’s no longer yours. You cannot stake claim to it," another chimes in.
Diaspora's founders - who look kind of like they jumped out of "Revenge of the Nerds," and, according to NYTimes.com, consider themselves to be pretty nerdy - posted their idea on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to get money for the venture. If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a site where people post information about their projects and ask random members of the internet for funding.
So far, about 900 people have contributed a total of nearly $29,000. That's more than the $10,000 the Diaspora founders said they needed to start the site.
ReadWriteWeb says that the way Diaspora works may confuse some general users. But, the blog notes, Diaspora may offer a paid service that would be simpler to use. Positioning itself as the anti-Facebook may help, too:
"If Diaspora is realized, it will be up to technology advocates to position the turn-key service in a way that will make it sound simple and appealing to precisely those sorts of mainstream users if it is to ever succeed. Taking shots at Facebook's privacy issues may be a good course (Take back control with Diaspora!)," the blog writes.
"We would like to see Diaspora come to be, even if it never goes mainstream, because it would finally offer privacy advocates a real alternative to the increasingly data-hungry Facebook."
Check out Project Diaspora's website and let us know what you think. Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook in 2004 out of his Harvard dorm room; it now has 400 million users worldwide. Is it too late for a challenger? Or do the latest privacy concerns leave it vulnerable?
May 11, 2010
Posted: 12:53 PM ET
Microsoft's Project Natal - a video game system that reads body movement and doesn't require remote controls - will go on sale in October, according to a video interview posted on the website Gametag Radio.
In the short clip, a Microsoft marketing manager named Syed Bilal Tariq appears to tell the site that the body-sensing video game system will go on sale worldwide in October. CNN was not immediately able to confirm the report.
At the E3 gaming conference last year, Microsoft showed off the Natal technology for the first time. The company later confirmed the system would go on sale by the holiday shopping season this year.
Natal is an add-on for the Xbox 360 console. A camera reads players' body movements and then transfers them into the characters in a game. So you might play soccer, for example, by kicking your leg rather than clicking a button on a remote or swinging a controller, as is the case with the Nintendo Wii.
Natal is part of a new wave of "gesture-based" technologies that are coming to market. The underlying idea is that people should be able to use natural body movements and hand gestures to control consumer electronics, rather than clicking buttons or dragging mouse pointers across screens.
Nintendo popularized this idea with the Wii, the casual gaming system where people swing remote controls and balance on boards to control their digital avatars. Sony has another competitor called the PlayStation Move, which is expected out this year, too.
Look for updates on many of these products at the E3 Expo, coming June 15 to 17.
May 10, 2010
Posted: 02:42 PM ET
UPDATE 5:30 p.m. ET: Disney Online spokeswoman Dana Henry Benson says "Toy Story 3" has an iPad-specific website, but a glitch caused some iPad users to hit the Flash site, which wouldn't load. That bug has since been fixed, she said in an e-mail to CNN.
"Toy Story 3" has a nice website.
But, for a brief time, some Apple iPad users were haven't a tough time viewing it on their touch-screen computers.
That Disney website is built in Flash format, which, as screen grabs show, means it didn't work at one point on Apple's iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
Big deal, right? Lots of websites are built in Flash, and many of them don't work on Apple gadgets (there's a workaround for some Flash video). But it's kind of amusing when you consider the fact that Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who has been posting lately about how much of a problem Flash is, was a Pixar co-founder and now serves on Disney's board of directors.
Disney Online says a glitch prevented iPad users from viewing the site, but an iPad-specific website is now working.
The faux pas stirred up some jokes online.
As a Wall Street Journal blog says in a headline, "Whoever Built the 'Toy Story 3' Web Site in Flash, Please Report to HR Immediately–and Bring Everything in Your Desk With You."
Posted: 10:24 AM ET
But in a commencement address at Hampton University in Virginia on Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama said there's a darker side to the technologies that have helped build his image as a hip and digitally enabled public servant.
"With iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations - none of which I know how to work - information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," he said in the address, according to a transcript posted by KTKR. "So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy."
Education is the key to keeping these digital distractions in check, Obama said.
"Class of 2010, this is a period of breathtaking change, like few others in our history," he said. "We can't stop these changes, but we can channel them, we can shape them, we can adapt to them. And education is what can allow us to do so. It can fortify you, as it did earlier generations, to meet the tests of your own time."
Some tech bloggers sympathized with the concerns.
"I worry that some of these students will have been tweeting his words from their cell phones as he spoke them," writes Chris Matyszczyk at CNET.
Others find the comments curious, given Obama's history of promoting digital information.
"Since Obama coordinated his entire campaign on his Blackberry (sic), his comments here border on hypocrisy," writes a commenter called "Camp David" on an AppleInsider forum.
In a 2009 interview with CNBC, Obama sounds rather attached to that BlackBerry:
"I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry," he said, according to an online transcript. "They're going to pry it out of my hands."
Given his apparent tech literacy, I wonder if Obama was kidding about not knowing how to work an iPod, iPad, Xbox or PlayStation. During the 2008 presidential campaign he told Rolling Stone his iPod contained songs by Bob Dylan, Jay-Z and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, among others. Presumably, his staffers didn't turn it on and work it for him.
I watched a YouTube clip of the speech to get more context. Check it out for yourself (the tech comments start at 7:50 on the timeline) and let us know what you think. People did laugh at the remark. (Here's a similar cut on CNN)
Does Obama have a point? He seems to be focused more on criticizing the speed and potential inaccuracy of digital information than these gadgets, in particular. (From the speech: "You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter.")
Or do these comments seem disingenuous? Can the president who gave the Queen an iPod really not know how to use one himself? Let us know in the comments (and try not to ruin democracy while you're at it).
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.