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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today\'s Scuttlebot: Personal Drones, and Age Bias in Silicon Valley


A Netflix for Luxury Nail Polish Gives Cosmetics Rental a Try

The first time you hear about Lacquerous, a company that bills itself as the “Netflix of nail polish,” you're bound to raise an eyebrow, or two, in disbelief.

After all, although many people have become quite comfortable sharing cars, DVDs and even their spare bedrooms with strangers, the practice of sharing beauty products with them seems less appealing.

But Ashlene Nand and Liza Kindred, the two founders behind Lacquerous, a subscription-based service that lets members rent several bottles of high-end nail polishes for up to a month, say that the practice is identical to what most people experience in a traditional nail salon, where nail technicians share polish among clients who are getting manicures and pedicures.

“Once people realize that, it tends to set them at ease,” said Ms. Kindred.

She also said the company takes precautions between rentals, such as inspecting each bottle for impurities and unsanitary condition, before sending one to the next client. “Bacteria can't live for long in a bottle of nail polish. You are probably more likely to get an infection in the salon itself,” she added. (Many nail polishes contain toluene and formaldehyde, which will do a number on germs inside a bottle.)

The idea behind Lacquerous came from Ms. Nand, who said she had become obsessed with nail art while she was running an online consignment business.

“I started to acquire a nail polish addiction, especially Chanel polish,” she said. “But I couldn't afford to keep buying $30 bottles, so I Googled ‘rent nail polish' and nothing came up. That's when I started working on a deck to present the idea,” referring to a slide presentation.

She approached Ms. Kindred, whom she knew as a consultant for fashion companies and start-ups, with her idea at a party this year and the two decided to go into business together.

Each month, members pay $18 for the service, which lets them choose three polishes from a selection of 70 colors, including colors by designers like Dolce and Gabanna, Chanel and Dior, the popular makeup company Mac and special limited edition collections. After 30y days, members return their colors using a prepaid envelope and select three more.

The two woman, who have an office in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, say that they're banking on finding customers like themselves, women who like to keep their nails fresh and as a match for their outfits, adorned with chic designs and patterns and as interchangeable as a pair of shoes or earrings. Eventually, they hope to work with nail polish companies and sell full bottles to customers who tried a color and loved it.

The founders say early interest has been high: Although they are currently testing out the service in a small group of about 100 people, roughly 2,000 have requested access to the service and 10,000 in total have signed up for updates about the company's products.

The two are financing their business with their own money and a small round of capital raised from family and friends, although they are hoping to raise a round of angel investment to expand their business by early next year.

Ms. Kindred and Ms. Nand are keeping the service limited to a small group of users to determine how best to maintain quality control, manage member expectations and handle bad customer behavior. They anticipate that, like other companies built on the idea of collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer sharing or “recommerce,” as Ms. Nand describes it, including Rent the Runway, Getaround and Zipcar, they will have to decide how to deal with people who keep bottles too long, try to siphon out polish or commit other misdeeds.

“We don't want bad behavior to hurt our members that are using the system correctly,” she said. “But people seem to want this service; there is a demand for it.”

Apple Fires Maps Manager

Apple continues to clean house after it stumbled badly with its mobile mapping service, firing a manager who oversaw it.

Eddy Cue, the senior vice president for Internet software and services at Apple, fired the manager, Richard Williamson, according to two people briefed on the matter who did not want to be named to avoid Apple's ire. Mr. Cue dismissed Mr. Williamson shortly before Thanksgiving, according to one of these people.

Bloomberg News first reported Mr. Williams's firing.

Several Apple representatives didn't respond to inquiries about Mr. Williamson, and he did not respond to a message sent to him through the business networking site LinkedIn, which as of Tuesday afternoon had a profile listing him as presently employed at Apple as senior director of iOS platform services.

The firing of Mr. Williamson follows a management shakeup at Apple in late October, when Timothy D. Cook, Apple's chief executive, fired Scott Forstall, the former hea d of Apple's mobile software development. Mr. Cook made that change after months of simmering tensions between Mr. Forstall and other executives, which were exacerbated by the disappointing release of Apple's maps.

As part of that shakeup, Mr. Cook gave Mr. Cue oversight of Apple Maps, along with Siri, the company's sometimes ridiculed voice-activated assistant technology in the iPhone.

The maps service has been widely criticized for offering incorrect addresses, misplaced landmarks and misleading driving directions. Mr. Cook, in a rare move, publicly apologized for the deficiencies of the service and recommended that disappointed customers use mapping services from Apple's rivals while the company worked out the kinks.

Apple and Google\'s Tax on Developers

Before Apple sent its iPhone out into the world, anyone with a great idea for a cellphone app had to deal with the carriers - a difficult and time-consuming proposition. Apple simplified the process so a bright high school student could bring an app to market.

What's a fair price for offering that platform? Apple concluded that it was 30 percent of the price of the app. If the app generates additional revenue, Apple wants some of that, too. “Our philosophy is simple,” Steve Jobs said in February 2011. “When Apple brings a new subscriber to the app, Apple earns a 30 percent share.”

The subscription announcement generated controversy, including assertions that Apple was being shortsighted as well as greedy. James McQuivey, a Forrester analyst, noted at the time that nearly all the cost in an app was in its creation - distribution is close to being free. Selling an app, he argued, was more like processing a credit card payment. The charge for that is only 2 or 3 percent.

George Colony, the chief executive of Forrester, picked up Mr. McQuivey's point and said Apple was “blowing it” by charging so much. Apple “risks replaying the PC wars of the early 1980s when Microsoft welcomed everyone into their development world while Apple stayed ‘pure' and scared away its allies,” he wrote.

This time, he concluded, we might easily end up with a situation in 2014 where Apple would have only 10 percent of the apps market and Google's competing Android system would have nearly all the rest.

In some respects, this forecast has come true. Android has indeed become a formidable competitor in terms of the number of devices using that platform. According to new numbers from Gartner, over the last year sales of Android devices doubled to 120 million. Apple's iOS system, meanwhile, grew 36 percent to 24 million units.

In other ways, however â€" number of downloads, percentage of paid versus free apps - Apple is st ill the system of choice.

That certainly strengthens its hand. But there is another reason why Apple has not reduced its cut: Google is charging the same 30 percent. (Neither Apple nor Google was willing to discuss their app pricing policies in any depth.)

“The surprise here is not that Apple hasn't changed yet. It's that Google hasn't done it first,” Mr. McQuivey says now. “Apple has no reason to contemplate changing its model until it is forced to. Google is the only player that could make a pricing change like this that Apple would be intimidated by, and even that is a bit of a stretch because Apple's position - at least with its customers - is so strong.”

Nevertheless, both he and Mr. Colony still say it will happen.

“Google will eventually want to drive deeper developer commitment to its platform screens, including phones, tablets, and TV. The best way to do that is to make those developers some money. Then Apple will be left with a dil emma in which it will pretend not to be intimidated right up until the time that it changes its pricing model,” Mr. McQuivey said.

It's a bit like Apple saying that 10 inches was the only size for its tablets right up until the moment it introduced the 7-inch iPad Mini.

Autonomy\'s Ex-Chief Calls on H.P. Board to Defend Allegations

The former head of Autonomy, the British software maker that Hewlett-Packard acquired last year, isn't happy about the technology giant's accusations of accounting fraud at his former company.

So he's calling on H.P. to defend its $8.8 billion write-down tied to the takeover.

In a public letter released on Tuesday, the executive, Mike Lynch, again rejected H.P.'s claims about Autonomy. (He hasn't been accused of wrongdoing.) Instead, he argued that the Silicon Valley pioneer botched its takeover of the British company and mishandled its integration.

“Having no details beyond the limited public information provided last week, and still with no further contact from you, I am writing today to ask you, the board of H.P., for immediate and specific explanations for the allegations H.P. is making,” he wrote in the letter.

Mr. Lynch has been exceptionally vocal about defending his reputation and that of Autonomy, which grew over 16 years to become one of Britain's most successful tech start-ups. He stressed that nothing improper had taken place at the company, and that it followed all the rules set forth under British accounting guidelines. Possible discrepancies over how Autonomy recognized revenue from sales, he said, might be attributable to differences between British and American accounting rules.

In his letter, Mr. Lynch outlined a number of concerns about the $8.8 billion charge. Some of those questions were thinly veiled jabs at H.P., which fired him as the head of Autonomy in May after missing sales estimates. (He doesn't dispute that characterization, but has said that he was hamstrung by a number of obstacles and a string of poor management decisions.)

Among his questions:

  • In order to justify a $5 billion accounting write down, a significant amount of revenue must be involved. Please explain how such issues could possibly have gone undetected during the extensive acquisition due diligenc e process and HP's financial oversight of Autonomy for a year from acquisition until October 2012 (a period during which all of the Autonomy finance reported to HP's CFO Cathie Lesjak).
  • Can H.P. really state that no part of the $5 billion write down was, or should be, attributed to H.P.'s operational and financial mismanagement of Autonomy since the acquisition?
  • Why did HP senior management apparently wait six months to inform its shareholders of the possibility of a material event related to Autonomy?

An H.P. representative wasn't immediately available for comment.

Open Letter to the Board of Hp Final

Putting a 13-Year-Old Child Safely on Facebook

An e-mail in my inbox Monday morning from my editor had a scary subject line:  “Help!”

When I opened the message, I read this: “My daughter is 13-years-old today and so, as promised, I let her sign up for Facebook. YIKES. Now I am freaking out over her privacy settings!”

Even for an adult, Facebook's privacy settings are as daunting as trying to do your taxes with an abacus. For teenagers, unaware of the consequences of their online actions, using Facebook incorrectly could potentially leave a digital trail that might follow them all the way through high school, college and into the real world. What's more, there are also creepy people out there on social networks.

Here's what I told my editor.

First, you should sit down with children and explain that anything - stress the word anything â€"they post can and will be used against them on the Internet. This includes private messages and photos they believe are visible only to friends and comme nts they leave on people's pictures or status updates. Although all of these things can be set to private, a friend-turned-enemy could take a screenshot of something your teenager has shared, then send it around school for all to jeer at.

Teenagers should assume that there is no such thing as private on Facebook. The company has repeatedly changed settings that were once private, to public, and there is nothing to say Facebook will not do this again. Even so, you will want to go through your child's Facebook settings to make them as private as possible.

To begin, click on the arrow in the top right and then scroll down to Privacy Settings. Once inside, the first thing you will want to do is ensure that anything your child posts on Facebook is only visible to Friends, not the Public.

Once you have done this, methodically go through every setting - be aware, there are dozens of them - and change your child's account to only be visible to Friends.

I wou ld recommend leaving the “Who can send you friend requests?” tab open to Everyone for the first week or so. Like a child's first few days in school, let him corral friends on the social network, then you can go back into this option and change it to only allow Friends of Friends later.

To prevent an excerpt from your child's Facebook page from showing up in public search engines, including Google and Bing, be sure to go to the Apps tab in the privacy settings and click on “Public search.” Then make sure you disable “Enable public search.”

One of the most important privacy settings is how personal information is used in ads. This is where Facebook uses you, or your likes, in advertisements on the Web site. For example, if you like Coca-Cola, Facebook will show your friends ads for Coke using your name as part of the advertisement. (A bit creepy, I know.)

To change this, click on the Facebook Ads tab. Then click on the two links that say “Edit third party ad settings” and “Edit social ads setting” and change these options to “No one.”

When I talked to my editor later in the day, she mentioned that her child had logged into the new Facebook account on a friend's iPhone that day. This, you should stress, is a very bad idea. If your child forgets to log out, the person can now see everything on their Facebook page, including private chats and messages.

Just like teaching a teenager how to park a car until they get it right, I would recommend sitting over a child's shoulder and watching them log in and then log out of his or her Facebook account in a way that doesn't save the password.

You can see other tips from Facebook on the site's Teen Safety Area.

Oh, and one last thing: Friend your teenager on Facebook.

Israeli Military\'s Twitter Warrior Forced to Retreat After \'Obama Style\' Blackface Joke

A screenshot of an image uploaded to the Israeli soldier Sacha Dratwa's Facebook account in September. A screenshot of an image uploaded to the Israeli soldier Sacha Dratwa's Facebook account in September.

Updated | Tuesday, 9:09 a.m. The young Israeli officer who leads the campaign to cast his nation's military in a positive light on social networks restricted access to his own Facebook account on Sunday, after a Lebanese blogger discovered that the soldier had uploaded an image of himself with mud or dark paint on his face captioned, “Obama style.”

The officer, Lt. Sacha Dratwa, a 26-year-old who emigrated to Israel from Belgium eight years ago, was identified last week by Table t and Gawker as the man marshaling Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest to support and celebrate the actions of the Israel Defense Forces.

After Lieutenant Dratwa blocked access to the photograph on Sunday, he defended himself on Twitter, writing, “I'm not racist.” In a statement posted on Facebook he insisted that he had “nothing to hide,” but was merely trying to stop what he called the “cynical use” of “private photos from my Facebook profile in order to publicly misrepresent my opinions.” The photographs of himself posted on the social network, he added, “do not reflect my beliefs and have no bearing whatsoever on my position in the IDF.”

Another copy of the photograph, with the same caption, remained in a public gallery of Lieutenant Dratwa's Instagram photographs on Monday.

In a comment to an Israeli news site, the officer's superiors said that because the image was posted on th e soldier's personal Facebook account, it had no bearing on his official role.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, the Lebanese writer who drew attention to a screenshot of the photograph on Friday, mocked the Israeli soldier on Monday, writing:

So this is what the Zionists call social media war? An IDF spokesman who is so moronic as to keep a rabidly racist photo like brown-face on his FB profile on PUBLIC settings, so that a half-asleep Zionist-hater like myself could discover it on Friday morning within seconds of flicking through his pics? He made it too easy.

Sad to see that Americans on Twitter and elsewhere will only understand Zionist racism when viewed through their own cultural lens and lose sight of it when it is practiced in institutionalized form and in a most brutal fashion against Palestinians. But at least this is a start.

As several bloggers and journalists have pointed out, the officer's photograph appears to be a fairly rou tine snapshot of the kind often taken by visitors to the Dead Sea, posing while covered in mud. Even so, that does not explain the soldier's choice of caption, which clearly invokes blackface.

Writing on the Tel Aviv news blog +972, an Israeli critic of Lieutenant Dratwa, Yossi Gurvitz, asked: “Why does mud remind Dratwa specifically of Obama?” He continued:

The simplest answer is that Dratwa was caught expressing soft racism towards blacks, which is pretty common in Israel; it is reflected in the attitude towards asylum seekers, and even in the attitude towards Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia. Israel is one of the few countries in the world where a large segment of the population believes Obama is a secret Muslim. One wonders whether the hostility of the Israeli media towards Obama â€" which was expressed even before he was elected in 2008 â€" would reach such heights if he were a white man.

But even if this is not racism on Dratwa's part, this is gross stupidity. If you don't know what blackface is, why it is considered offensive, then you are an ignoramus who has no business being in the media business. Particularly when your target audience is largely American.

As the Lebanese news site Al Akhbar reported, Lieutenant Dratwa did find some support from fellow Israelis online. Miriam Young, a 20-year-old video blogger who recently moved to Israel from Los Angeles, wrote that, as an American, she was not insulted by the image.

Ms. Young's credentials as an objective observer, however, were undermined by the fact that she posted a snapshot of herself with Lieutenant Dratwa on Twitter two hours before she defended him. She also works with the pro-Israel adv ocacy group Stand With Us.

A second screenshot of the image on the officer's Facebook page, posted on the American blog Your Black World under the headline, “Israeli Army's Social Media Director Poses as Obama in Blackface,” showed some of the replies it garnered when Lieutenant Dratwa first uploaded it in late September.

Among the positive responses was one from David Saranga, an Israeli diplomat who seemed to signal his approval of the joke with a smiley face emoticon and a lighthearted reply. Mr. Saranga also teaches the use of viral marketing techniques at Israel's Asper Institute for New Media Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. According to the part of his Facebook profile that is still public, Lieutenant Dratwa is a graduate of the center who was working last year on a Web site, nocamels.com, set up by the Asper Institute.

Mr. Saranga, as The Lede reported last year, was one of the first Israeli officials to help publicize a ho ax in which an actor pretending to be a liberal Israeli video blogger recounted what turned out to be a fictional encounter with the organizers of the Gaza flotilla movement. He did not reply to a request for comment on Monday.

Although Israeli soldiers are not supposed to express political opinions, Lieutenant Dratwa's other social media accounts offer clues as to his ideological leanings. The most recent post on his personal blog, written in October, explained his view that Mitt Romney was likely to win the American presidential election. Barack Obama “sold a dream” in 2008, Lieutenant Dratwa wrote. “But with dreams no one can fill his fridge or feed his children.” He added: “Americans today need a father who is able to lead the country with a strong hand, not a dreamer.”

Several of the officer's older blog posts appear to have been removed from his site, including one featuring a video described as a “comic caricature of Islam,” and another tha t recounted “the true story of an arrest in the Palestinian territories.”

Lieutenant Dratwa's YouTube channel includes video of Geert Wilders, the anti-immigrant Dutch politician, praising Israelis for “defending their country against the Islamic jihad,” in an interview with the far-right, Islamophobic German site Politically Incorrect. “Their fight is our fight,” Mr. Wilders told the German site, “so at the end of the day, we are all Israel.” As The Lede explained in 2010, Mr. Wilders expressed strong support for Israeli settlements built on West Bank land occupied militarily since 1967 during a visit to Tel Aviv that year.

Another clip on Lieutenant Dratwa's YouTube channel is a satirical sketch mocking pro-Palestinian activists produced by Latma, a group of conservative Israeli comedians who mock liberal attitudes. One Latma sketch produced in 2010 was a fake news report on “Kazabubu the Jewish Cannibal,” an African tribesman who claimed to be Jewish, played by an actor in blackface.

It remains unclear what the substance on Lieutenant Dratwa's face was, but one quirk of the @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account under his control is that it so often draws attention to photographs of female Israeli soldiers applying mud or camouflage paint to their faces. Apparently part of a continuing campaign to soften the image of the Israeli Army by showing smiling women in its ranks, the I.D.F. Photo of the Day features such images again and again.

Female Infantry Instructors Prepare for a Combat Exercise, Nov 2010

Female Soldiers Apply Camouflage Face Paint

Female Combat Soldiers Applying Camouf   lage

Field Training Week for Ground Forces

Strangely, Lieutenant Dratwa appears to have been well aware of the risks inherent in using Facebook to document one's own life. In a comment posted on the Web site of France 24 three years ago, he wrote:

Facebook is basically an enormous avenue on which every user opens a shop with a window display on their private life. With all the information you upload onto the platform - photos, interests, occupation, hobbies, favourite books, films and music, marital status, political leanings, dress sense - you're handing over your electronic DNA….

We no longer have a private life. We've reached a stage where our bosses can find out what we do at home, where our children can follow our adult relationships, our colleagues can spy on us and advertisers can find out exactly what makes us tick. We've lost our freedom and the ability to do the things we like without anybody's knowing about it.

Daily Report: Police Are Amassing Trove of Cellphone Logs

When a cellphone is reported stolen in New York, the Police Department routinely subpoenas the phone's call records, from the day of the theft onward. The logic is simple: if a thief uses the phone, a list of incoming and outgoing calls could lead to the suspect.

But in the process, the Police Department has quietly amassed a trove of telephone logs, all obtained without a court order, that could conceivably be used for any investigative purpose, reports Joseph Goldstein in The New York Times.

The subpoenas not only cover the records of the thief's calls, but also encompass calls to and from the victim on the day of the theft. In some cases the records can include calls made to and from a victim's new cellphone, if the stolen phone's number has been transferred, three detectives said in interviews.

Police officials declined to say how many phone records are contained in the database, or how often they might have led to arrests. But police documents sugge st that thousands of subpoenas have been issued each year, with each encompassing anywhere from dozens to hundreds of phone calls.

To date, phone companies have appeared willing to accede to the Police Department's requests for large swaths of call records.

The practice of accumulating the phone numbers in a searchable database is “eye-opening and alarming,” a civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel, said when told of the protocol for subpoenaing phone records. “There is absolutely no legitimate purpose for doing this. If I'm an innocent New Yorker, why should any of my information be in a police database?”

Mr. Siegel also said the Police Department should not be permitted to hold on to phone records indefinitely if the records were not relevant to active criminal investigations.

Nationwide, cellphone carriers reported receiving about 1.5 million requests from law enforcement agencies for various types of subscriber information in 2011.