Where Would You Be Without Facebook?

Facebook already knows what you like, who your friends are, what you’re thinking right now, so what the hell does it matter that it knows where you are too, right? The king of social networks has finally revealed its much-anticipated location-awareness features.

Facebook Places will let users with Facebook apps on their mobile devices “check in” at various locations to let their friends know they’ve arrived. It sounds very similar to existing networks like FourSquare and Gowalla, except for the small detail that Places is backed by a network with more than half a billion members. Those other two have loyal followings, but it’s going to be tough to compete with a rival that big.

But all is not lost for the pioneers of location-aware social networks. In fact, Facebook is actually partnering with FourSquare and Gowalla and prepping an application programming interface so that other location-aware services can create Facebook apps. So FourSquare users might still decide to use FourSquare; they may just prefer to do it while piggybacking on Facebook’s platform. Also, these other services can keep differentiating themselves by focusing on things like location-based games. So don’t worry, Mayor of the South Park Mall food court Sbarro in Moline, Ill. Your position is not in jeopardy.

The arrival of a Facebook location-based service is a double red-alert for privacy watchdogs — letting a Web service know where you are at all times sounds fishy, and anything Facebook does comes under suspicion just because it’s Facebook. This time, though, the site made its new feature opt-in. You have to make the conscious decision to broadcast your whereabouts before anyone can know where you are. Still, Facebook added a couple of new privacy settings related to Places that let you control who sees that information, so you might want check the defaults and customize those.

Listen to the podcast (13:44 minutes).

Silicon Security

After Intel settled its problems with the FTC earlier this month, it decided to treat itself to good old retail therapy, so it went out and bought itself a security vendor. The chipmaker has agreed to pay nearly US$8 billion for McAfee in a deal expected to close as soon as the end of this year. McAfee gets to continue operations as a wholly owned subsidiary.

The deal isn’t exactly a no-brainer. Intel makes chips. McAfee roots out malware. That’s sort of an odd marriage. It also paid through the nose — McAfee shares sold at a 60 percent premium of $48 per.

Even if the deal isn’t quite a match made in logic heaven, at least it gives Intel a fairly profitable security vendor. It’s also gaining a new sort of foothold on the mobile device scene. Makers of ARM-based processors — Intel’s rivals — have been cleaning up lately in the mobile world, a place where Intel’s been more or less sidelined. It has the Atom processor for netbooks, but in tablets and smartphones, it still has a weak position.

As all those mobile devices deliver fast and easy access to the Internet, they might soon find themselves swimming in an open cesspool of malware. If Intel can successfully mate McAfee’s security know-how with its chips and mix AV superpowers into the final product’s DNA, it may be able to make a move with mobile chips that are less susceptible to Net-borne diseases — or at least give an impression to that effect.

All My Stepchildren

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in a deal that was finally closedearlier this year, it acquired the children of the Sun as well: Java,MySQL, OpenSolaris, so forth. So this stuff that the open sourcecommunity has come to know and mostly love for years had a newstepfather, and there was much uncertainty about how Larry Ellison andeveryone else at Oracle would treat their new wards.

At first, the spotlight was on MySQL — Oracle makes competing productsand there was concern Oracle might just kill it and bury in thebasement. But the company convinced enough regulators in the U.S. and EUthat it would continue to feed and care for the open sourcedatabase system, so the sale was approved.

But now Oracle’s treatment of those other two technologies has furtherdirtied the company’s image in the open source world, which isstarting to believe its worst fears about the Oracle/Sun deal areactually coming to life.

First, Oracle decided to use Java as a weapon. It sued Google over howJava is used in the Android mobile operating system, filing sevenclaims of patent infringement and one of copyright violation. It saysGoogle and some of its partners used Java in ways that don’t complywith the license requirements. Google called the suit baseless andadded that Java is way bigger than one corporation.

So what are the stakes? Well, Oracle is reportedly asking for damagesas well as an injunction against using Java in the mobile operating systemAndroid. That would hurt a lot, and it would probably amuse Ellison’sfriend Steve Jobs to no end. And just by filing the lawsuit, Oraclemay have already sprinkled a little FUD dust on Android and stunk itup a bit for developers.

But it would be pretty bizarre to see a whole platform collapse over alawsuit like this. Google’s rich and it’s betting the farm on mobile,so it’s going to protect Android like the family jewels. If it happensto lose, it’ll probably just settle on a cross-licensing agreement ora great big check.

Regardless of the outcome, though, it looks like Oracle’s just toldeveryone to watch what they’re doing with Java from now on.

But despite that blow to Google, Oracle’s reputation in the FOSS worldcould potentially sink further, which is exactly what it did a daylater when it decided to lock OpenSolaris out of the house for good.Oracle has apparently disowned the open source operating system — Nomore distribution releases, no more development models. Don’t count onversion 2010.05. It’s not coming.

The news arrived by way of a leaked internal email. Oracle wouldn’trespond to our request for confirmation, but as of yet, I haven’t seen a denial.

The news angered many of those who’d worked on the open source project– most of them didn’t really expect to be lining Oracle’s pockets asthey generated all that code.

It raises the question, what’s the next open source project onOracle’s chopping block? What’s the next Sun child that’s going to bethrown out onto the street? One guess is that OpenOffice might soon beorphaned too. If that happens, the only reasonable conclusion you candraw is that all these proprietary software billionaires have arunning bet to see which one can most enrage the FOSSers.

Leak in the Line

Usually when product information leaks out of Apple headquarters, youcan chalk it up to a deliberate ploy by Apple to test the waters byplanting a bit of not-quite-accurate intel, or just some renegadeCupertino rank-and-filer amused at seeing his whispers amplified to amillion decibels by rabid media outlets. Or a drunk product engineer– can’t count that out.

But according to a federal grand jury, there’s enough evidence tobelieve that one high-ranking company exec’s habit of leaking Applejuice may have been part of a criminal operation involving wire fraud,money laundering and kickbacks.

Its 23-count indictment named Paul Shin Devine, a senior operationsmanager for Apple’s iPod division. The charges allege that he handedcompany secrets over to some of Apple’s suppliers in Asia, whichallowed the suppliers to negotiate better contracts. In return, Devineallegedly received kickbacks totaling more than $1 million.

Apple does have a reputation for beating its suppliers bloody innegotiations, but that’s not illegal, as long as you’re speakingfiguratively. What is illegal is selling sensitive business secretsand then accepting the kickbacks through foreign bank accounts andfront companies, which is what Devine is accused of doing. And this is ata company that handles secret product information like nuclear launchcodes. If it’s happening there, you can bet it’s happening elsewheretoo.

Apple’s reportedly gearing up to hit Devine with a civil suit, too. AnApple spokesperson said the company has zero tolerance for dishonestbehavior, which sounds like a not-so-subtle hint to anyone else outthere thinking about leaking info about Apple’s Next Big Thing. Thisincident may stem the tide of surprisingly accurate Apple productleaks coming out of Asia recently. That’d be good for Apple, but themedia monster still craves rumors, and it must be fed. I guessaccidents can still happen, so keep searching those barroom floors.

Netflix Nixed

The dream is dead. HBO says it’s not going to join Netflix’s growinglist of streaming content providers. Sorry, looks like you won’t beable to get “The Wire” over the wire after all.

HBO makes some of the most talked-about and critically acclaimedoriginal series on TV right now, but it’s extremely jealous with itscontent. Did you miss this season of “True Blood”? Too bad; you’llhave to wait about a year for the DVDs to come out. Think you’re gonnahit up Pirate Bay and swipe it now, for free? Hope you like gettingthreats from lawyers — HBO has a reputation for monitoring its owntorrents. Don’t expect Hulu to save you either.

It seems the thought of streaming unlimited content makes HBO breakout into hives. It’s not completely averse to digital distribution –iTunes sells a la carte episodes once they’re out on DVD, forinstance. The channel just doesn’t like the idea of anyone settling infor a streamed “Sopranos” marathon and only paying a flat monthlyprice to some Web site.

For a long time, there’s been talk that maybe Netflix would be a forcepowerful enough to bring HBO into the streaming world. Netflix alreadyhandles HBO DVDs; that’s nothing new. But Netflix sees its future instreaming, and many customers even said they’d be willing to pay a fewdollars extra per month to get on-demand HBO shows without having towait for the red envelopes in the mail. That talk gathered steamearlier this month when Netflix inked a deal worth nearly a billiondollars to stream content from Epix’s stable.

Landing HBO wouldn’t have just been about “Big Love” and “Entourage,”though. It also owns the exclusive streaming rights to Warner Bros.,Twentieth Century Fox and Universal movies. That’s one reason Netflix’s on-demand library is a little holey at present.

But in an interview with Bloomberg, HBO copresident Eric Kessler saidit was not to be. No deal with Netflix, at least not at whatever pricemight have been on the table. But that doesn’t mean the channel hasruled out streaming entirely. Instead of partnering, HBO will focus onits own HBO Go, a streaming service you can get only if you alreadysubscribe to the channel through a cable provider — and only if thatprovider is Comcast or Verizon Fios.

Perhaps HBO’s plan involves setting up its own purely online video-on-demand service, independent of cable providers. That could beinteresting to watch. Guess who’s providing most of that Internetservice?

Nothing to See Here, Folks

It’s been clear for a long time that teenagers can expect absolutezero privacy while on school grounds. Car searches, locker searches,bag searches, phone searches, it’s all good. Sometimes even stripsearches, just as long as it’s done by a member of the same gender andthey have reason to believe you have something dangerous on you, likean aspirin.

Just kidding — they don’t need a reason.

But when it was revealed earlier this year that officials in the LowerMerion School District of Pennsylvania had actually beenelectronically spying on students while the students were in their ownhomes and in their own rooms — and sometimes while they slept or didother things — some parents got the crazy idea that things had gonetoo far.

Lower Merion had installed software on school-issued laptops capableof accessing the webcam without the user’s knowledge and sendingimages to a central server monitored by the school. Officials said itwas only activated in the event a laptop was reported stolen, butapparently that wasn’t exactly true. A few months ago, administratorsaccused a student of using drugs, and the evidence they hit him withwas an image taken from inside his home via the laptop — which had notbeen stolen. The kid’s parents wasted no time whipping up a lawsuit,and they’re seeking class action status, which would allow thefamilies of other spied-upon kids to join in. By the way, the guywasn’t doing drugs at all, he was doing candy. Mike and Ikes, Ibelieve.

Lawsuits are great and all, but isn’t spying on people like that alsoagainst criminal law? As in prison? Especially when some of the imagesallegedly showed minors in partial states of undress? Apparently not.The FBI announced this week it’s not going to press charges againstthose responsible, concluding that there wasn’t enough evidence thatschool officials acted with criminal intent. That’s more than a TV show– it’s a legal standard.

Strange, isn’t it? This is not the America I know. The America that Iknow buries teachers up to the neck in sand and waits for high tidewhen there’s even a subtle hint that something inappropriate has beengoing on between a student and a school official. Of all the times tolose that good ol’ hyper-reactionary spirit, why now? According tothat lawsuit being filed, there are even email exchanges betweenofficials joking about how they loved watching students through thesespycams, like it was a mini soap opera.

But even if that’s not enough to put anyone on trial, the civil lawsuit’sstill going strong. It seems pretty reasonable to want to punishsomeone for spying on your kids while they did who-knows-what in theirown rooms. It’s just too bad that since federal investigators passedthe buck, punishment will have to come by way of suing the pants off apublic school, indirectly hurting students and teachers who never hadanything to do with any of this.

1 Comment

  • I’d be perfectly happy if it never existed. I find it incredibly sad and disturbing that so many people feel so dependent on sites like Facebook.

    Frankly, I could care less about what others are doing, where they are going or the feelings they need to express to 500 of their closest "friends". I have a small group of very close friends that I had long before Facebook arrived, and the friendships will persist long after Facebook is abandoned. Why? Because enduring friendships aren’t dependent on the Internet.

    I’d also be perfectly content with no microwave, no cell and no cable television. I have no cable. I carry a cell for the sake of my kids, and I very rarely use a microwave for anything.

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