What’s A Kill Switch?

It was reported that Google has been  using code that bypassed the privacy settings of people using the Safari browser on their iPhones. Google did this to track information of users who did not even know that Google was monitoring them, since they were using Safari on their iPhones. When the report came out, Google immediately disabled it.  Wonder how Google disabled the software so quickly.

Ever heard of a kill switch?  Kill switches are technologically unsophisticated administrative programs that run silently in the background. They have long existed in controlled networks, such as at work, where technical staff has power over every machine. They haven’t been widely used on personal computers, whose users are only online sporadically and inconsistently. But since smart-phone users are online all the time and must download applications from tightly controlled stores, they are the perfect target for kill switches.

So, what’s the big deal about the kill switch? While their stated use is for the removal of harmful content, there’s no standard definition of what that means, and companies aren’t required to disclose when and how the tools are employed. The technology could be harnessed by a hacker to unleash a virus, a company to pry into a user’s private information or a government body to repress free speech. The possibilities are without limits. Representatives of Google and Microsoft said they have used kill switches a handful of times, though they declined to provide specifics other than saying that the kill switch is reserved for “really egregious, really obvious cases” of harmful content.

One instance came after a 28-year-old security researcher from Ann Arbor, Mich., duped fans of the Twilight teen vampire movies. A fake app on the Android Market was billed as a preview of the latest film in the series. The software was empty, except for a single screen shot. But the app was downloaded 200 times. This provided an opportunity that might have let its creator introduce malware onto the devices of the 200 users who had downloaded it. So, while a kill switch can be used for a good purpose, the fear is that it could also be used for a destructive one.

Debby Winters

Will The Real Inventor Of The Digital Camera Please Stand Up?

More than a century ago Kodak, the photography pioneer, introduced its $1 Brownie Camera. Last month Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In spite of the fact that Kodak invented digital technology,  a technology that consumers embraced, Kodak failed to successfully commercialize on it. The company, based in Rochester, NY,  listed assets of $5.1 billion and debts of $6.8 billion in the Chapter 11 documents. Since the January 19 bankruptcy filing, a whirlwind of claims and lawsuits have been flying around. Kodak hopes to emerge from this reorganization with cash based off of licensing its technology and selling some of its more valuable patents. The tug of war over these digital imaging patents continues and now Apple is claiming to be the real inventor of the digital camera.

First Kodak  sued Apple, now Apple is claiming that it is the true owner of the image-preview patent that is the subject of infringement claims lodged against it by Kodak. Apple contends that it developed a digital camera in the early 1990s that it shared with Kodak, but that Kodak sought the patent on the technology for itself. Kodak has denied the allegations.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) rejected the ownership arguments in the case that is still pending. Apple has objected to the patent-infringement complaint that Kodak filed last month at the ITC against Apple has also argued that the ITC shouldn’t even investigate the complaint because of the bankruptcy filing and Kodak’s plan to sell its patents and digital camera business.  Apple has said that “It is against the public interest for the commission to expend its resources initiating and prosecuting an investigation when it is known, based on Kodak’s own admissions, that Kodak will be selling the asserted patents and divesting itself of the parts of its business” that are part of the ITC case. Kodak responded that the bankruptcy doesn’t alter the fact that the company has invested in digital imaging technology and continues to seek licenses for its inventions. The commission is scheduled to decide by Feb. 23 whether it will institute the investigation.

“Apple should not be using the bankruptcy to seek to disrupt Kodak’s enforcement of its patents given that infringers like Apple, who continue to violate Kodak’s intellectual property rights and refuse to properly compensate it, have contributed to Kodak’s current circumstances,” Kodak wrote.

The tug of war for these patent rights continues… stay tuned, it is time to tell the truth!

Debby Winters

Mobile Phone Patent Tug of War

Apple has filed another lawsuit accusing Samsung of violating four patents that are distinguishing features of the iPhone. If it is successful, it could block sales of Samsung’s new Galaxy Nexus handset. This lawsuit concentrates on patents covering technical features of its products rather than aspects of their overall design. What do these patents cover? 1-One covers a function known as “slide to unlock,” which gives users access to their phones when they slide an image of a button across the screen. 2- A second one covers technology for searching multiple sources of information at once, an element of a voice-search technology called Siri introduced last year. 3- A third one is for detecting bits of useful information, such as a phone number in an email that users can tap to quickly make a call. In December, the International Trade Commission said it would ban Android phones made by Taiwanese maker HTC Corp. because they violated that patent. 4-The fourth Apple patent covers technology for suggesting an alternative if a user misspells a word while typing on a smartphone. Meanwhile, in other news on mobile phone patents, Google won U.S. antitrust approval to purchase Motorola for $12.5 billion and expand its patents to increase competition with Apple. This acquisition gives Google, the biggest maker of smartphone software, more than 17,000 additional patents in the largest wireless- equipment deal in at least a decade. Google cited reinforcing its defenses in patent litigation as the prime motive for buying Motorola Mobility and its patents. This is big business and the company that comes out with the biggest mobile-phone patent portfolio is no doubt bound to be the winner in this game.

Should 4,000+ Twitter Users Be Sued?

Remember when the giant music companies were suing people, even 12 year olds, for sharing music on popular websites like Kazaa and Limewire? That was almost a decade ago and now we may be faced again with hundreds, even thousands of lawsuits based on copyright infringement that will be once again be initiated by giant music companies. And yes, they could once again sue 12 year olds. What is it this time?

This time it will be people posting on YouTube or Twitter. Over 4,000-odd users have landed themselves on the radar of folks like Universal Music Group, Magnolia Pictures, and Paramount, as well as individual recording artists and other creative types simply by linking to a site where copyrighted material is available. And that was only the count for the year 2011. Sound familiar? These innocent users don’t think they are doing anything illegal, just like the users downloading music from Kazaa and Limewire did not understand why they were being sued in the early 2000s.

If SOPA had not been derailed, these 4,000-odd users would have just broken the law and may have been sued in federal court, just like 12 year olds were in the previous example.  That seems a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it?

If this happens, would Twitter be responsible? Twitter is really just a vehicle for its users to send information, so is it detrimental to free speech to claim Twitter is responsible for the content of this very information? Those that own the copyright or a license to this creative material sure think Twitter is responsible and may be sending cease and desist letters to Twitter and its users in droves. The size of the number of users that would have violated the law is indicative of the initial direct effects SOPA will have on social media censorship if passed.

If Twitter is named as such a rampant violator of copyright law, what will stop the Department of Justice from raiding the homes of these violators, in the same manner they took down Megupload and its founder?  SOPA must be stopped or the internet as we know it will no longer exist. This is censorship at its worst!

Debby Winters

What’s the Buzz about Google’s New Privacy Policy?

If you are a Gmail user you’ve seen Google’s new privacy policy…but what’s all the Buzz about? Remember the Google Buzz social networking service? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s because it didn’t last very long and while it was around, there were charges that it violated privacy laws by exposing Gmail users’ personal information. The resulting settlement put Google on notice that it had to build privacy protection into its products and it could not misrepresent how it handles users’ information. So, last month, Google began alerting users that beginning March 1 it will share data it collects from users across its dozens of services. Google says that only users who are logged into Google will be affected. Google already shared what it knew about its users across most of its services but now it will also include YouTube and Google search history. Google says its new privacy policy does not violate the settlement it reached with the FTC.

However, a consumer watchdog has escalated its efforts to block Google from rolling out the new privacy policy that would allow the Internet search giant to harvest more information about its users. But the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is not suing Google. Instead, it filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with protecting consumers’ privacy on the Web. The watchdog group is asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to compel federal regulators to enforce a settlement they reached with Google last year and protect consumers who will be “left without recourse if the commission fails to enforce its order.”

Google says its new privacy policy will improve Google services and make Google’s privacy policies easier for consumers to understand. A Google spokesman said it does not share users’ personal information outside of Google, just with its own services such as Gmail and Google Maps.

The consumer group charges that Google is hoping to boost its online advertising business, which generated nearly $40 billion in revenue last year. Google will now be able to target ads to people based on the videos they watch on YouTube or their previous Google searches. With rising competition from Facebook, which is on the verge of an initial public offering (IPO) that could bring $10 billion and a valuation that tops $100 billion, Google is looking to increase revenue from ads more closely tailored to its users. Facebook took the lead in U.S. online display ads from Yahoo last year with a 16.3% share of the market, according to research firm EMarketer. Google, the dominant search engine, came in third with 9.3% of the market.

Debby Winters

Do you want to be a Micro-Entity? If you are a single inventor, I think you do.

Micro-Entities

Those of you familiar with the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) category of small entities (companies with less than 500 employees) may be excited that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) now has a category called “micro-entities.”  To be a Micro-Entity, the application must not include any inventor that has been named on 5 or more U.S. non-provisional patent applications.  The application must not be licensed or the inventors must not be legally obligated to license or assign the application to any entity that does not meet the micro-entity requirements.  Additionally, the assignee and each inventor must have an income of less than 3 times the average gross income reported by the Department of Labor for the previous calendar year.

One group that successfully lobbied to be added to this definition is universities and “institutes of higher education.”  Thus, large entities will subsidize not only small or individual inventors, but also enormous universities with operating budgets in the billions of dollars.  This is a big win for them but it might also be a BIG WIN for individuals just getting started and who need to save some money since the advantage of being a small or micro entity is to save money on PTO fees. Small entities save 50% and micro entities will save 75%. That could mean even bigger savings in the future since the filing fees are going up now that the PTO rather than Congress can set the fees.

Debby Winters

Who Wins and Who Loses From The Super Bowl?

It is estimated that over 100 million people watch the Super Bowl each year. What will be different this year when the New York Giants face off with the New England Patriots? Well, for starters, the Super Bowl will be streamed over the internet for the first time. Who can predict the outcome of the game since the Giants beat the Patriots earlier this season and the last time the two played in the Super Bowl 4 years ago? Who can even predict the success of the clever ads that everyone tunes in for? And furthermore, who can predict whether Madonna will regain her gaga from the Lady herself and whether there will be any costume malfunctions?

But the bigger question for internet techies is how much nudging did NBC do over at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to set in motion the shutdown of 16 unauthorized sports event streaming websites and the arrest of the alleged operator of 9 of those sites on February 2, 2012? That’s right, just 3 days before the big game, Yonjo Quiroa, a/k/a “Ronaldo Solano” was arrested in New York for his alleged operation of nine websites, including: www.sports95.netwww.sports95.comwww.sports95.mewww.sportswwe.tv

All of which allegedly operated as indexes and linking sites to other sites which hosted unauthorized copyrighted content belonging to the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and World Wrestling Entertainment, and other professional sports organizations.

Mr. Quiroa has been accused of violating the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §506(a), which makes it a crime to commit copyright infringement “for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain,” and 17 U.S.C. §506(b), under which it is criminal to commit copyright infringement “by the reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000.

If online files do not implicate the exclusive rights of distribution and reproduction, then many of the strategies currently in play by the content industries to shut down online music and movie sites may be in jeopardy. Stay tuned and we’ll see what the outcome of the game, the half-time performance, the ads, and the fate of the internet will be.

Debby Winters