Gadget Nirvana

My latest Slaw post:

Apple announced a new iPad mini yesterday as expected, along with upgrades to several other products. Surprisingly, an iPad 4 is now available, just a few short months after the iPad 3 was introduced. Apple is a master of innovation and marketing, and somehow manages to make evolutionary changes to its products seem revolutionary.

But they are not the only game in town.

Microsoft has an event on Oct 25 to launch its Surface tablet, on Oct 26 to launch Windows 8, and on Oct 29 to launch Windows Phone 8. Early reviews show they are solid products. I find these new Microsoft products interesting. The Surface tablet has a lot of features that will make it easier and more seamless to use than an iPad. Corporate IT departments will love them. But iPad users may be slow to switch, as many of the apps we use with the iPad are not yet available. For example, iPad users using apps like pressreader, newsstand or flipboard won’t switch until those are available for Microsoft products.

Not to be outdone, Google also has an event on Oct 29 where it is expected to launch its next generation Nexus smartphone, new tablets, and an update to its latest Jelly Bean software.

For the record, I use Microsoft PC’s, an iPad, and a Google Nexus phone. They are all good products, even though each one has subtle advantages and disadvantages. Each one also has its fans and detractors to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to know how realistic either positive or negative reviews are. For example, there has been some criticism that the Windows 8 surface RT tablet operating system won’t run full office software – just pared down versions. But that is the nature of the tablet beast – and is the same approach taken by Apple and Google.

Google Project Glass

Today’s Slaw post:  

Google just officially announced that they are working on Project Glass - think of it as augmented reality heads up display glasses that works like a smartphone. This concept has been bandied about for a long time, but may be closer than we think.

I’m sure it will take a while before the mainstream legal software vendors will provide compatible software. And for those of us who have avoided glasses through contacts or laser surgery, the thought of wearing glasses again is not compelling. But the contact lens version might take a while longer.

But think of the possibilities.

Face recognition to remind us how we know that person who just said hello.

When giving presentations it could control slide advance, show us the current slide, and include our talk on a teleprompter that would automatically scroll to the speed we are speaking.

What other uses come to mind?


Tablet Wars

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows. 

Simon’s post earlier today mentioned the Apple vs Samsung patent lawsuits over tablets and smartphones. The reference to 2001 as prior art is amusing – lets not forget the Star Trek PADD as well. There is actually a Star Trek PADD app for the iPad.

Simon linked to a list of the various lawsuits between Apple and Samsung in various countries. Here is a graphic produced by Reuters that shows patent related suits between mobile manufacturers.

There is market share and a lot of money at stake here. A big reason behind the Google aquisition of Motorola was for its patents. The recent purchase of Nortel patents by a consortium including Apple, Microsoft and RIM for billions of dollars also attests to that.

Many (myself included) believe that smartphones and tablets are causing and will continue to cause revolutionary change in the way we work and go about our lives. Consider the following examples:

United Airlines and Apple announced that the airline will deploy 11,000 iPads for its pilots to replace paper flight manuals with electronic flight bags, or EFBs. This is expected to save 16 million sheets of paper and 326,000 gallons of jet fuel a year.

This CNET video lists the top 5 things that the smartphone replaces. MP3 player, personal planner, digital point and shoot camera, portable GPS, alarm clocks. Also video cameras, newspapers, landlines, books.

This All Things D article talks about how iPads are replacing cash registers.


What I’ve learned on Google+ this week

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows.

Google+ is the latest social media tool. It will take some time before we know how it will fit in with twitter, facebook and linkedin. Opinions range from it being a nuisance as it is just another thing we need to follow, to being a superior tool that will supplant other social media. But for now its growth rate has been phenomenal – 20 million users in 24 days.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at what I would have learned so far this week from Google+ if that was my only source of information. These are just a small number of selections based on my following of a relatively small number of people (25 at the moment) and without looking at its “Sparks” topical news feeds.

  • The Globe and Mail is running a series this week on facial recognition and privacy that is well worth looking at. (Including a live chat with David Fraser today at 1:00 Eastern)
  • The privacy mess over cancer screening tests lost in the mail.
  • Dress for the job we want.
  • Universities opting out of Access Copyright.
  • Research discovers sugar doesn’t melt, it decomposes - which is a big deal for food scientists.
  • A Wall Street Journal article entitled “As Criminal Laws Proliferate, More are Ensnared” about the alarming increase in number and complexity of US federal laws that are resulting in people getting charged for innocuous things.


Privacy Commissioner finds Google Street contravened privacy laws

That’s the title of my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows.

There has been a lot of press over the Privacy Commissioner’s decision that the Google Street View collection of information from unprotected wifi signals breached PIPEDA.  See the press release, and the decision.  See examples of press reports by the CBC and  CTV.   The CTV report says that Spanish regulators announced they were filing a lawsuit against Google for the incident, seeking millions in fines.

I know nothing more about this than I read in the press – but I think we need to put Google’s actions in perspective here.  Yes, it should not have collected that data.  And yes, PIPEDA and the privacy laws of other counties were violated.  And yes, it should take steps to ensure something like this won’t happen again.

But when Google realized what it had done, it immediately stopped collecting it, isolated the information, saved it for the sole purpose of allowing investigators to look at it with a promise to destroy it once that was done, alerted the public and privacy authorities, and cooperated freely and frankly with privacy authorities.  Personal information was not released to anyone or used for any improper purpose.  No actual harm occured to anyone.  It was an error, not an intentional flouting of privacy laws.

So despite the fact that inappropriate collection occurred, its reaction was a model of cooperation consistent with its “Do no evil” mantra. 

In my view, attempts by regulators to collect massive fines are misguided.  It in essence punishes for making it public and cooperating, not for the improper collection.  Facing the spectre of fines would make companies want to keep such incidents to themselves – which is not what regulators want.

letter to Google by 10 privacy commissioners

The Canadian Privacy commissioner, and 9 of her colleagues from various countries, sent a joint letter to Google yesterday expressing concern about Google’s rollout of Google Buzz.

The letter says in part:

However, we are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications.  We were disturbed by your recent rollout of the Google Buzz social networking application, which betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws.  Moreover, this was not the first time you have failed to take adequate account of privacy considerations when launching new services. 

Users instantly recognized the threat to their privacy and the security of their personal information, and were understandably outraged. To your credit, Google apologized and moved quickly to stem the damage.

While your company addressed the most privacy-intrusive aspects of Google Buzz in the wake of this public protest and most recently (April 5, 2010) you asked all users to reconfirm their privacy settings, we remain extremely concerned about how a product with such significant privacy issues was launched in the first place.  We would have expected a company of your stature to set a better example.  Launching a product in “beta” form is not a substitute for ensuring that new services comply with fair information principles before they are introduced. 

Ramifications of Google ruling far-reaching

For the London Free Press – March 29, 2010

Read this on Canoe

Three Google executives were convicted of data privacy violations over a video they neither created nor posted.

The international legal community was shocked when four Google executives had criminal charges filed against them in Italy a few years ago. The alleged crime was allowing a video to be posted on Google Video (the precursor to Google acquiring YouTube), which featured kids bullying a boy with Down syndrome.

That shock recently turned to outrage as three of the Google executives were convicted on data privacy violations. Peter Fleischer, David Drummond and George De Los Reyes were acquitted of defamation charges but were given six months suspended jail sentences for the privacy violations. Google product manager Arvind Desikan was acquitted on all charges.

This decision has been highly criticized as it calls into question who ultimately ought to be held accountable for Internet content.

The former information commissioner of the United Kingdom, Richard Thomas, said this case gives privacy laws a “bad name” and that the outcome of the case was “ridiculous.”

David Drummond, one of the convicted executives and chief legal officer at Google, has said he will appeal the decision.

Shortly after Google became aware of the video, the video was taken off the site. The teens from Turin, Italy, who were responsible for creating and posting the video were prosecuted and the video was used as evidence in their criminal proceedings.

Prosecutors in the Google executives’ case claimed Google had “notice” of the video before the police brought it to their attention. The notice was purportedly in the form of comments that had been posted on the website in relation to the video.

Italian prosecutors are pursuing other similar cases against such other huge Internet magnates as eBay, Yahoo, and Facebook.

While the law in Italy has been strictly applied in the Google case, it is still somewhat unclear whether EU law allows for directors of companies to be held personally responsible for what is posted on their websites. Italian laws must comply with EU law.

It does not make sense to have liability for Google on facts such as these, and certainly not findings of personal liability for executives. The company merely provided the forum for the data to be shared – it did not create or share it themselves. And it removed the video once aware of it.

The focus should be on whomever created or posted the video.

The ramifications of this decision are far-reaching. If directors of international companies can be held personally responsible for every last item posted on their websites, this could create a climate of censorship preventing any possibly controversial posts. It is simply impossible to abide by that standard, and impossible for any business to actively monitor or review every post before it goes live.

In addition to taking a critical look at public policy behind Italian privacy laws, EU privacy laws ought to be clarified to explain what constitutes official “notice.” Surely video comments, which would number in the hundreds of thousands a day worldwide, cannot qualify.

Google experimental fiber network

Google just announced that it is looking for some cities to install experimental ultra high speed internet access in.   Unfortunately for those of us in Canada, it seems to be limited to the US.

From their blog post:

We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone. Here are some specific things that we have in mind:

  • Next generation apps: We want to see what developers and users can do with ultra high-speeds, whether it’s creating new bandwidth-intensive “killer apps” and services, or other uses we can’t yet imagine.
  • New deployment techniques: We’ll test new ways to build fiber networks, and to help inform and support deployments elsewhere, we’ll share key lessons learned with the world.
  • Openness and choice: We’ll operate an “open access” network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers. And consistent with our past advocacy, we’ll manage our network in an open, non-discriminatory and transparent way.

Google to China – back off or we are out of here

That’s my Slaw post for today.  It reads as follows:

Privacy – its about informed choices

3 completely different privacy articles taken together illustrate how privacy is really about informed choices.

First, a Techdirt post by Mike Masnick about a musician from Saskatoon that sought out the Google street view car to get his photo taken to promote his band.   The point is that he wanted the publicity and sought it out.   It was his choice.  That’s unlike the pervasive surveillance culture such as in the UK where one does not have a choice.


Second, Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow refers to Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s comment that  privacy isn’t important, and Bruce Schneier’s brilliant response to that as follows:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt says privacy isn’t important, and if you want to keep something private, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” (in other words, “innocent people have nothing to hide.”)

Bruce Schneier calls bullshit with eloquence: “For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.”

(There is a T-shirt or poster waiting for a condensed version of that)

Third, the  EFF posts about the good, the bad, and the ugly about Facebook’s new privacy changes.  I know its a pain to have to take the time to deal with it – but we all need to go to our Facebook accounts and change whatever we need to.   Keep in mind that its our choice how much we want others to see, both by our privacy settings, and what we choose to post in the first place.