SciTechBlog
March 22, 2010

Students to face cyberbullying charges

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

A California appeals court has ruled that several Los Angeles high school students who made derogatory and threatening comments on a fellow student's Web site can be charged with hate crimes and defamation.

According to court documents (pdf), a 15-year-old Harvard-Westlake High School Student created a Web site in 2005 to promote his singing and acting career. When fellow students discovered the site, they were reportedly "offended and put off by its ‘I am better than you’ attitude and its blatant bragging and self promotion."

Several of the students began posting threatening remarks such as “Faggot, I’m going to kill you,” and "If I ever see you I‘m . . . going to pound your head in with an ice pick."

In response to the comments, the site was taken down and the victim's father contacted the police. However, a police investigation determined that the remarks did not warrant criminal prosecution. The father then sued six of the posters and their parents, accusing them of hate crimes and defamation.

The appellate court determined that the cyberbullying was not free speech and the students were not protected by First Amendment rights.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt disagrees with the suit:

Now, there's no doubt at all that the comments were over the line and incredibly mean. However, it looks like there was a perfectly reasonable process outside of the courts to handle this. Apparently, the father of one kid who made some of the worst comments made his son apologize, grounded him and took away his internet access.

According to Wired, an attorney for the defendants has said he will appeal the decision to California's supreme court.

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Filed under: online news


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March 3, 2010

Apple sues Google phone manufacturer

Posted: 01:42 PM ET
HTC CEO Peter Chou speaks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
HTC CEO Peter Chou speaks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Apple has filed a lawsuit against Google phone manufacturer HTC, claiming many of the company's popular smartphones infringe on patents related to the iPhone.

Apple alleges HTC violates as many as 20 patents, including multi-touch support, screen rotation, and "unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image."

Ars Technica notes, "Apple is seeking treble damages for willful infringement, punitive damages, interest, and attorney's fees in addition to a permanent injunction barring HTC from making, using, importing and selling devices that infringe on Apple's patents."

Apple's press release includes a brief statement from CEO Steve Jobs:

"We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

The lawsuit does not specifically name Google as a defendant, but Apple's claims against HTC indirectly attack Google's Android operating system and its new Nexus One handset, which is produced by HTC.

In an email to TechCrunch a Google spokesman supports HTC, "We are not a party to this lawsuit. However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it."

Fortune's Philip Elmer DeWitt gathers online reaction to the lawsuit in this post.

The full lawsuit can be read here (pdf).

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone • smartphones


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February 23, 2010

Apple bans most (but not all) sexy apps

Posted: 11:58 AM ET
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.
The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit app is still available in the app store.

Apple has tightened its restrictions on sexy or suggestive apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and many of the most popular programs in the iTunes app store have been removed.

While speaking to the New York Times, Apple executive Phil Schiller explained, "It came to the point where we were getting customer complaints from women who found the content getting too degrading and objectionable, as well as parents who were upset with what their kids were able to see."

Several days ago the developer of the Wobble app posted the results of his discussion with Apple on his blog. The Wobble app, which adds a jelly-like wobble motion to any user supplied photo, was recently removed because advertisements suggested it could be used on photos of breasts.

I have spoken with Apple, and the following are the new rules:

1. No images of women in bikinis (Ice skating tights are not OK either)

2. No images of men in bikinis! (I didn’t ask about Ice Skating tights for men)

3. No skin (he seriously said this) (I asked if a Burqa was OK, and the Apple guy got angry)

4. No silhouettes that indicate that Wobble can be used for wobbling boobs (yes – I am serious, we have to remove the silhouette in this pic)

5. No sexual connotations or innuendo: boobs, babes, booty, sex – all banned

6. Nothing that can be sexually arousing!! (I doubt many people could get aroused with the pic above but those puritanical guys at Apple must get off on pretty mundane things to find Wobble "overtly sexual!")

7. No apps will be approved that in any way imply sexual content (not sure how Playboy is still in the store, but …)

While most apps containing bikini-clad women are threatened, Phil Schiller defended the Sports Illustrated app to the Times. "The difference is this is a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format," he said.

As of this morning, a Playboy app was also still available, suggesting Apple may accept sexual content if the developer is associated with a strong brand.

Apple has struggled to keep the app store clean, but these new policies remove many of the store's most popular programs. Parents can enable the app store's parental controls and adults can simply choose not to download content they do not approve of.

In a blog post today, Fortune.com columnist Philip Elmer DeWitt linked the purge to next month's release of the iPad tablet computer, which will run iTunes apps and which Apple plans to market for home and school use.

How do you feel about Apple's decision? Should material that is so widely accepted be banned because it is objectionable to a relative few?

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Filed under: iPad • iPhone • iPod • mobile phones • smartphones


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February 3, 2010

eBooks get more expensive

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

Amazon has given in to publisher pressure and agreed to abandon their $9.99 price point for eBooks.

Publisher Macmillan felt that the $9.99 price devalued many of its bestsellers, which often sell for $30 in hardcover format. In response to the pricing dispute, Amazon briefly removed all Macmillan books from its store last week. However, the boycott lasted only a few days before Amazon gave in to Macmillan's demands.

In a statement Sunday, Amazon defended its position to customers:

Macmillan, one of the "big six" publishers, has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases.

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books.

Amazon's decision to throw in the towel may be related to Macmillian's recent agreement to sell books in Apple's iBookstore. Amazon has captured an overwhelming share of the eBook market with its Kindle reader, but if the iPad becomes successful publishers may turn to Apple to sell their eBooks.

During a recent News Corp. earnings call, CEO Rupert Murdoch indicated that HarperCollins may follow Macmillan's example. "We don’t like the Amazon model of $9.99," Murdoch told investors, according to a recap in MediaMemo. "We think it really devalues books and hurts all the retailers of hardcover books... Apple in its agreement with us, which has not been disclosed in detail, does allow for a variety of slightly higher prices."

Publishers seem more interested in protecting the value of their hardcover books than competing in a digital format. Will higher eBook prices convince you to purchase a physical copy of your next novel, or will accept a modest price increase given that eBooks are typically cheaper?

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Filed under: Amazon • Apple • books • e-readers • iPad


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January 26, 2010

Hacker says he's unlocked the PS3

Posted: 03:35 PM ET

More than three years after its initial release, the PlayStation 3 has allegedly been hacked.

George Hotz, aka "GeoHot," recently announced the feat on his blog. "I have read/write access to the entire system memory, and HV level access to the processor. In other words, I have hacked the PS3."

The practice of hacking or "modding" a video game console is fairly common. Directions to modify the Xbox and Xbox 360, and even instructional videos, can be found online. But the PS3 has remained largely secure.

"It's supposed to be unhackable - but nothing is unhackable," Hotz told BBC News.

Hotz, a 20-year-old American who is famous for his iPhone jailbreaking and unlocking software, has not yet released the PS3 exploit, but claims updates are coming.

Unlike cell-phone unlocking (which receives an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), bypassing the DRM security of a video game system can be considered a violation of the DMCA, and "modders" have been arrested for circumventing anti-piracy measures in the past.

While speaking with BBC news, Hotz admitted the hack could allow people to run pirated games or homemade software, but says his motivation was primarily curiosity at "opening up the system."

"To tell you the truth, I've never really played a PS3," he said. "I have one game, but I've never really played it."

Update (1/27/10):

Hotz has decided to release the PS3 exploit on his blog: http://geohotps3.blogspot.com/

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Filed under: DRM • Gaming • iPhone • piracy


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January 21, 2010

Data mining can help you get a date

Posted: 04:58 PM ET

If you think online dating profiles with self-shot camera-phone pictures that scream "Check out my MySpace!" look ridiculous, well, you are probably right, but, according to a statistical study by the dating site OKCupid, these comical self-portraits work.

My impromptu attempt at a 'MySpace pic.' Note: Works better with women.

My impromptu attempt at a 'MySpace pic.' Note: Works better with women.

OKCupid analyzed over 7,000 profiles of "average-looking people" to determine which pictures most successfully attracted other users.

In looking closely at the astonishingly wide variety of ways our users have chosen to represent themselves, we discovered much of the collective wisdom about profile pictures was wrong.

According to OKCupid, the statistical data reveals four myths about successful profile pictures. Perhaps most surprising of these myths is the discovery that "the universally maligned 'MySpace Shot,' taken by holding your camera above your head and being just so darn coy" actually works.

Christian of OKCupid writes:

We were sure that everyone thought these pictures were kinda lame. In fact, the prospect of producing hard data on just how lame got us all excited. But we were so wrong.

In terms of getting new messages, the MySpace Shot is the single most effective photo type for women.

Before you break out the camera phone for your personal glamor shoot, recognize that OKCupid did not rate the type of attention these images received, only the frequency of communication between users.

For a full description of the data analysis and the four myths check out The 4 Big Myths of Profile Pictures.

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Filed under: computers • Facebook • Internet • mobile phones • MySpace • online dating


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January 13, 2010

Conan vs. NBC online: I'm with Coco

Posted: 12:33 PM ET
Artwork by Mike Mitchell

Artwork by Mike Mitchell

Conan O'Brien issued a statement Tuesday criticizing NBC's decision to move his show back to 12:05 a.m. ET. The move, which will free up the 11:35 time slot for a half hour of Jay Leno, is seen as a slap in the face to O'Brien who took the reins of "The Tonight Show" just seven months ago, and his fans are responding online.

Earlier this week, O'Brien joked he may be performing "the show live every night from Zanies Comedy Club" where the audience would receive 1/2 price drinks if "you tell 'em "Coco" sent ya!" The sketch became a hit and spawned the Internet meme "I'm with Coco."

Pro-Conan artwork by Mike Mitchell is appearing on personal blogs and social news aggregators like Digg. #teamconan is topping Twitter's trending topics. Woot.com has incorporated Conan's image into its ads. And the Reddit alien has been given Conan's signature gravity-defying haircut.

O'Brien can probably thank his younger audience and their proficiency with social media for his vocal online support, but Jay Leno reached a larger audience when he hosted "The Tonight Show."

Where do your loyalties lie?

Are you a die-hard Leno fan, or does NBC's decision to move "The Tonight Show" have you shouting "I'm with Coco!"

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Filed under: Digg • Internet • online news • pop culture


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January 12, 2010

Wi-Fi 'allergies' leave man homeless

Posted: 11:31 AM ET

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a man claiming to suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity is suing his neighbor for refusing to disconnect her electronic devices.

Santa Fe, New Mexico resident Arthur Firstenberg claims that his neighbor Raphaela Monribot's use of electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, compact fluorescent lights and dimmer rheostats is aggravating his "electromagnetic sensitivity" and causing him to get sick.

"Within a day of [Monribot] moving in, I began to feel sick when I was in my house," Firstenberg writes in his affidavit. "The electric meter for my house is mounted on [Monribot's] house. Electromagnetic fields emitted in [Monribot's] house are transmitted by wire directly into my house."

A request for preliminary injunction claims Fristenberg's condition has left him homeless. Fristenberg "cannot stay in a hotel, because hotels and motels all employ wi-fi connections, which trigger a severe illness. If [Firstenberg] cannot obtain preliminary relief, he will be forced to continue to sleep in his car, enduring winter cold and discomfort, until this case can be heard."

The Santa Fe New Mexican notes "Firstenberg's motion is accompanied by dozens of notes from doctors, some dating back more than a decade, about his sensitivities."

However, scientific studies such as this 2005 trial at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Germany suggest electromagnetic sensitivity is strictly a psychosomatic disorder.

The major study endpoint was the ability of the subjects to differentiate between real magnetic stimulation and a sham condition. There were no significant differences between groups in the thresholds, neither of detecting the real magnetic stimulus nor in motor response.

We found no objective correlate of the self perception of being "electrosensitive." Overall, our experiment does not support the hypothesis that subjectively electrosensitive patients suffer from a physiological hypersensitivity to EMFs or stimuli.

Do you acknowledge Fristenberg, and others claiming electronic sensitivity, may be suffering real physiological effects and should be allowed to live free from electronic devices? Or should treatment be strictly psychological?

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Filed under: cell phones • computers • Medicine • mobile phones • online news • science


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December 23, 2009

Court bars Microsoft from selling Office 2007

Posted: 10:23 AM ET

A federal appeals court has ordered Microsoft to strip custom XML support from Word 2007 by January 11, effectively banning the sale of Microsoft Word and Office (which includes the Word software) in their current form.

Microsoft may be forced to stop selling Word 2007.

Microsoft may be forced to stop selling Word 2007.

The injunction stems from a patent infringement lawsuit filed by the small Canadian firm i4i in 2007. The suit claims i4i owns the custom XML editing technology that is included in Microsoft Word.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas agreed, slapping Microsoft with a $290 million fine and ordering it to remove custom XML capabilities or stop selling the infringing software.

Microsoft appealed, but the lower court's ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. And now the software giant has precious little time to re-release Word and Office 2007 before being barred from selling the profitable office software.

In a statement issued yesterday, Microsoft's Director of Public Affairs Kevin Kutz expressed confidence in the company's ability to meet the injunction date.

With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products. Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date. In addition, the beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010, which are available now for downloading, do not contain the technology covered by the injunction.

While speaking with Stuart J. Johnston at Datamation Microsoft analyst Rob Enderle admits the ruling "shows the increasing hostility of this market," before adding, "For Microsoft, I think it's going to be an increasingly expensive way to do business, with a lot more patent vetting."

Regardless of whether new versions of Office 2007 will appear in time to meet demand, this significant legal decision will only further the cutthroat approach technology companies apply to protect their patents.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • Microsoft Office • online news


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December 21, 2009

Young kids searching Web for 'porn'

Posted: 11:44 AM ET

Yikes. According to Symantec, the fourth most popular search term for children 7 and under is "porn" - just ahead of kids' networking site Club Penguin.

Symantec's top searches for 2009 arranged by age group

Symantec's top searches for 2009 arranged by age group

Symantec recently released the anonymous results of 14.7 million searches run by users of its OnlineFamily.Norton service in 2009. The service allows parents to monitor web activities and supposedly blocks questionable sites, so let's hope the toddlers searching for "porn" were unsuccessful.

It's understandable that "sex" is one of the top searches for teens, but I was surprised to see that children as young as 7 were familiar with "porn." While services like OnlineFamily.Norton may filter most inappropriate content, they are not perfect - and are no substitute for parental supervision.

Other search terms popular with children included social-networking sites, celebrities and online games.

Interestingly, "Google" was also a top search term, which leads me to believe a lot of kids don't really understand how search engines work.

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Filed under: browsers • Google • Internet • online news


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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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