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Friday, April 5, 2013

BlackBerry to End Music Service

BlackBerry will end its BBM Music subscription service, which married its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging to online music downloads, with disappointing results.

Street Art of the Arab World on YouTube

A video report on Palestinian street art in the West Bank, produced by Soraya Morayef for MOCAtv.

The Cairene journalist and blogger Soraya Morayef, who has written extensively about the Egyptian revolution’s graffiti, has produced a series of new video reports on street art of the Arab world, as part of a series for MOCAtv, the YouTube channel of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

A report on Libyan street art produced by Soraya Morayef.

The latest in the series, shot in the West Bank, was posted this week, following earlier reports from Libya and Egypt. A report from Lebanon is scheduled to go live next week.

A report on Egyptian street art produced by Soraya Morayef.

Ms. Morayef, who blogs as Suzee in the City, told The Lede that series was commissioned by the museum based on her work in Egypt.

Luckily, I had been to Beirut and Libya last summer and had met with artists in Beirut and fixers in Tripoli so when they asked me to make these films, I’d already had a good idea of what I wanted to film.

As for Palestine, I’d met a Palestinian woman in morocco last September who turned out to make graffiti and I later on wrote about her on my blog.

It was an incredibly time-consuming project that required hiring fixers/filmmakers in the respective countries as we had a very tight budget that wouldn’t have covered my traveling to the countries.

It’s worth noting that the Egypt video was made on zero budget with several journalists generously donating their footage, and the Libya’s footage was filmed by a fixer.

Fake Twitter Followers Becomes Multimillion-Dollar Business

Far from slowing, the market for fake Twitter followers seems to be taking off.

The fake Twitter follower phenomenon made headlines last summer after Mitt Romney’s Twitter following jumped by 100,000 in a matter of days. That news inspired a number of social media management companies like StatusPeople and SocialBakers to develop Web tools that try to determine what percent of a person’s Twitter followings are fake.

But those sites have hardly deterred people from dealing in the market for fake followers and fake retweets. The market is also becoming more sophisticated. In many cases, high-quality false  Twitter accounts are nearly impossible to discern from the real thing. Those that sell them claim that they can make up to a million dollars in one week.

Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, two Italian security researchers, spent the last several months investigating the underground economy for Twitter followers and said they had found a thriving market.

There are now more than two dozen services that sell fake Twitter accounts, but Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli said they limited themselves to the most popular networks, forums and Web sites, which include Fiverr, SeoClerks, InterTwitter, FanMeNow, LikedSocial, SocialPresence and Viral Media Boost. Based on the number of accounts for sale through those services â€" and eliminating overlapping accounts â€" they estimate that there are now 20 million fake follower accounts. Fake followers are typically sold in batches of one thousand to one million fake followers. The average price for 1,000 fake followers is $18, according to one study by Barracuda Labs. Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli said some sellers bragged that they made $2 and $30 per fake account. A conservative estimate, they said, was that fake Twitter followers offered potential for a $40 million to $360 million business.

Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli explored the underground economy for fake followers and even bought some. The market functions somewhat like eBay in that sellers receive customer feedback. The researchers said they approached sellers with positive feedback and found that fake followers were typically sold in packages ranging from $1 to $1,000 for 1,000 to one million accounts. For instance, Fiverr sells 1,000 Twitter followers for $5.

Those fake accounts can be sold to multiple buyers â€" in fact, buyers prefer that the accounts follow others to make them appear more authentic. Web tools that try to tell fake followers from real ones often look at an account’s inactivity or its following-to-follower ratio. The more people they follow and the more active they are, the more authentic they appear.

“There is now software to create fake accounts,” Mr. De Micheli said in an interview. “It fills in every detail. Some fake accounts look even better than real accounts do.”

The most coveted fake accounts tweet (or retweet) constantly, have profile pictures and complete bios, and some even link to Web sites that they claim belong to them. But in many cases, a close look reveals that some of the accounts were set up purely to retweet material from specific sites.

“Resellers lately haven’t been selling only accounts and followers, but are now getting into the retweet business,” Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli wrote in report. They said prices range between five retweets a day for $9 per month to and 125 daily retweets at $150 a month.

The Twitter account for someone who claims to be Cilia Poon, for example, includes a bio, in Chinese, a link to a Yahoo health blog with Chinese content and has tweeted over 17,000 times â€" but each tweet was simply a retweet of a tweet posted by The Next Web, a technology blog (in English), that wrote about the fake Twitter follower phenomenon last December. Each time The Next Web Tweets its content, the Twitter user Cilia Poon retweets its content right away. Digging further they found several more examples of accounts that appear to exist solely to retweet content for The Next Web. (Some more convincing than others.)

Zee Kane, the chief executive of The Next Web, said the company was aware of the accounts but had never paid for fake followers or retweets. He said a likely explanation was that the company had created a tool, called spread.us, that allows people to automatically tweet its content.  He said the company stopped marketing that tool eight months ago because it did not add quality traffic to the site.

Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli noted that while to Facebook requires that users use a real e-mail address, Twitter does no such thing. To prevent fake accounts, or what are called “bots,” Twitter asks people trying to create multiple accounts from the same I.P. address to answer a “captcha.” Captchas â€" those puzzles used by e-commerce sites that require people to type in a set of distorted letters and numbers â€" are relatively easy for humans to read and retype but difficult for machines to decipher. But the researchers point out that new machine learning technologies can beat captchas, or people can be paid to type them in, in real time, for as little as a penny per captcha, or even less.

The two spoke with one reseller who had written software that could create up to 100,000 new accounts in five days.

“Business is great,” he told them, adding that he had hired a couple of freelance programmers, and “a kid could bypass Twitter’s defenses.”

Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, said the comparison between Facebook’s and Twitter’s authentication processes was not a good fit. “Twitter and Facebook differ on concepts of identity,” Mr. Prosser said. “Facebook ties one person to one account. At Twitter, one individual can have multiple accounts. We have a difference in philosophy.”

Mr. Prosser said Twitter had taken an active role in fighting the biggest sources of malicious and fake content. Last year, the company sued those responsible for five of the most-used spamming tools on the site.

But he also noted the difficulty of telling a fake account from the real thing. “Forty percent of our user base only consumes content,” he said. “What looks like a fake account to one individual could actually be someone who is on Twitter purely to follow people â€" like my mom, who follows me and my brother, doesn’t have a profile bio and has never actually Tweeted herself.”

He added, “It’s a hard problem.”

Discuss Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

University students were among thousands of North Koreans who rallied against the United States in Pyongyang on March 29.Jon Chol Jin/Associated Press University students were among thousands of North Koreans who rallied against the United States in Pyongyang on March 29.

As our colleague Martin Fackler reports, “Despite the steady drum beat of war talk, life seems to go on as usual in most of South Korea,” even near the heavily fortified border that separates the capitalist American ally from the increasingly belligerent North.

To supplement the reporting of our colleagues on the ground, The Lede would like to hear from readers who live on the Korean peninsula or have family members there. Have the increasing tensions affected you What should the South Korean government and the international community do to address the issue Join the discussion by submitting a comment in the thread below, in English or Korean, or post your thoughts on Twitter, with the hashtag #NYTWorld. We will update this post with a selection of views.

For a sample of what is being said in South Korea this week, here is some of what three Seoul residents told Su Hyun Lee of The Times this week. (Their comments were translated and edited for clarity.)

Seong-ki Kim, 71, who is retired:

Nothing has changed in my life because I feel that even though the rhetoric is heightened, I don’t think North Korea will actually do anything because it would mean demise for them as well. I think North Korea is doing this to put its people and South Koreans in constant fear so they can control them.

We have our own defense system, don’t we I think the government is doing well. But I don’t think we should stimulate North Korea too much. I think the press is causing problems because North Korea seems to be triggered by the rowdy press.

Kyu-hyun, 60, who owns a convenience store:

The economy seems to be wobbling. People aren’t buying as much and everything seems a little confused. This is not like the past where we could survive on our own. If I die, we all die. If we live, we will all live.
Nothing has shown to be dangerous so far, but the biggest variable is the Kaesong industrial complex. We can’t cut North Korea off because this would not be good for both Koreas and for North Korea in particular.

Kim Jong-un concerns me, however. His father used to provoke bit by bit but this young leader is making all these outrageous threats just to show something to the world. I am worried that he might actually try to attack on the spur of the moment.

The best course is to calm North Korea down. I think there will be conflict of some sort coming up. But as the proverb goes, ‘Soil hardens after rain.’ I hope upcoming limited conflicts can help us avoid all out war.

Dae-gi Ahn, 32, who works in advertising:

I think Park Geun-hye is handling things very well at the moment and I am very happy with the current defense minister.

I think South Korea should be tougher at this moment and we should not return to engagement policies toward North Korea like the sunshine policy of the past liberal governments. We should be more aggressively firm now that they are trying to close down Kaesong industrial complex and show them that we have strength. We need to show them that with the alliance with the United States, North Korea is nothing.

I have a feeling that something like the Cheonan corvette sinking will happen again soon. I don’t think North Korea will try anything bigger than that kind of provocation though because they know how strong the Korea-U.S. alliance is, particularly with the backing of the U.N. and other members of the international community.

Comparing Italian TV to ‘The Truman Show,’ Italian Blogger Calls for Sweeping Reform

Beppe Grillo, the Italian populist who started the insurgent Five Star Movement online after he was banned from state television channels for his political comedy, plans to press for sweeping reform of Italy’s public broadcaster RAI through new legislation.

In a post on his popular blog, supplemented by a Twitter debate and an online survey with input from more than 90,000 readers, Mr. Grillo argued that the country remained in the grip of politicians from traditional political parties mainly because the state broadcaster is run by a gerontocracy that fails to accurately report widespread discontent and works “to maintain privileges, castes, and social parasites across the board.”

“A lot of people ask me why the parties that have reduced Italy to the status of co-star and have delivered the forthcoming generations into poverty and emigration, still got the majority of votes in the last elections,” he wrote.

The answer is that a part of the Italian population is living in a gigantic ‘Truman show,’ and responsibility for this is entirely due to Italian journalists, with the usual few exceptions and in a country like ours, these exceptions deserve every possible praise. What’s happening is an outright war against reality, a war of mystification, of illusions, in which lies are being spat out by the news suppliers every day. This is regime-supplied information that’s totalitarian.

Citing a remarkable statistic reported last year by the Italian news agency, AGI â€" brought to his attention by the young blogger Luca Rinaldi â€" Mr. Grillo also noted that “RAI has 13,000 employees, and of these, fewer than 50 are people under 30: just 0.37 percent.”

The leader of the Five Star Movement added that, “This plague that touches and pollutes those who have no other sources of information is paid for by the victims themselves, as the government provides (direct and indirect) contributions to the newspapers and through the license fee and the taxes for the RAI (TV and radio) for a disgraceful public service.” As Alberto Nardelli, the co-founder of the global politics Web site Electionista explained in a blog post, in addition to three state television channels, “Most Italian papers are publicly subsidized in one way or another, and the profession (publishers and journalists) is closed.”

Given all this, Mr. Grillo wrote:

RAI has to be reorganized and transformed into a public service following the model of the BBC without any connection to the parties, without advertising, producing quality content that has mainly been produced in-house and not like now, when it’s entrusted to external companies with the building up of one set of costs on top of another.

In Parliament, the M5S, in accordance with its program, will propose the establishment of a single RAI channel, without any connection to the parties and without advertising. It proposes the sale of the other channels. Freedom of information is fundamental for the future of the country and as a way of getting out of “The Matrix.”

Malala Yousafzai Announces Grant for Girls’ Education

Malala Yousafzai announced the Malala Fund’s first grant to provide girls’ education in Pakistan.

Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban in 2012 because of her activism for girls’ education, has announced the first grant in an international fund set up in her name.

The $45,000 grant will go to supporting the education of 40 girls in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, where Ms. Yousafzai grew up, through an organization and a community that is not being named because of security reasons, a press statement said.

Ms. Yousafzai made the announcement through a video message broadcast at the start of the Women in World Summit in New York City:

Announcing the first grant of the Malala Fund is the happiest moment in my life. I invite all of you to support the Malala Fund and let us turn the education of 40 girls into 40 million girls.

Last October, Taliban attackers shot Ms. Yousafzai in the head. The teenager received medical care in Britain and recently resumed her studies there.

After the shooting, the Malala Fund was established by Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-government organization that works for the empowerment of girls and women, as well as other international organizations and individuals.

The fund’s first grant will help to support education for the girls, aged 5 to 12, who would otherwise be forced to work to support their families or who might be at risk of entering the labor force instead of going to school. It will provide uniforms, shoes, learning materials and a stipend for their families, the statement said.

Video showing Ms. Yousafzai announcing the start of the fund

Ms. Yousafzai spoke about the start of the fund in February in a video, and in another she encouraged people to raise their voices for girls’ education.

In what is a sign that girls’ educations is still under attack, a 41-year old female schoolteacher was gunned down late last month in an attack that recalled the one on Ms Yousafzai.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Little Accountability for Directors, Despite Poor Performance

Aficionados of good corporate governance shouldn’t get too excited about the fact that two Hewlett-Packard directors are leaving the board and a third, Raymond J. Lane, is stepping down as chairman.

The reason is that directors are still rarely if ever held responsible for their poor conduct.

The latest evidence comes from a study of bank directors and whether shareholders held them accountable for their - let’s face it - horrific performance after the financial crisis.

The study, co-authored by me, Andrew Lund of Pace University School of Law and Robert Schonlau of Brigham Young University‘s Marriott School of Management, analyzed director turnover at financial institutions in the Standard & Poor’s 1,500-stock index from 2006 to 2010. The idea is that the financial crisis was particularly salient â€" and if anything would ever push directors to act, it was likely the financial crisis.

Financial institutions are also unique; the possibility of shareholder activism is quite limited because Federal Reserve regulations serve to entrench boards of directors and damp activism in this arena. According to Factset Sharkrepellent, only seven national commercial banks in the S.&P. 1,500 were the focus of activist campaigns in the period covered by the study. Not surprisingly, these were the largest institutions, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia and Wells Fargo.

If directors are going to be unseated or pushed out at financial institutions, it is going to have to be because of market pressure and not direct shareholder action. In other words, shareholders will have to express their disapproval of directors by cutting their investments rather than actively seeking to unseat them. Banks are also highly regulated, and the government can urge the firms to overhaul boards in times of trouble, as the government did with Bank of America and Citigroup.

But despite some notable changes, bank directors faced little consequences for their poor decisions, before and after the financial crisis. Director turnover at financial institutions was 5.6 percent a year from 2006 to 2007 and 6.27 percent from 2008 to 2010, the postcrisis period. This means that director turnover increased by less than a percentage point during this time.

Director turnover is also not materially higher if the financial institution performs particularly poorly. For directors at most financial firms, the chance of being replaced is only about 1 percent greater than for their counterparts at better performing firms. This is an almost negligible amount and means that even during the financial crisis, directors faced little penalty for poor performance.

In fact, the biggest determination of director turnover at banks during this time was age. Directors who reached the age of 70 left their positions because of mandatory retirement policies.

The study also examined those financial institutions that received help from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It found that receiving a bailout from the program did not increase director turnover. Again, the biggest driver of turnover at banks in the program was reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

At the same, the compensation of directors in this period â€" an average of $134,000 in cash and incentives a year â€" appeared to be unrelated to the performance of the company. Instead, compensation for directors appeared to be largely a function of the size of the bank. The bigger the bank, the larger the compensation package, regardless of performance.

For those who were hoping that financial institutions were an outlier, the study also examined nonfinancial companies in the S.&P. 1,500. The results were largely the same. For directors at those companies, the chance of being replaced for poor performance was only 0.6 percent, or approximately three-fifths the probability at banks and financial firms. In either case, this is very small. As with banks, the largest driver of director turnover appears to be age.

For those who advocate consequences for poor performance, the results are head-shaking. Last week, James B. Stewart, a columnist for The New York Times, wrote about the few consequences for the Hewlett-Packard directors and the reasoning.

Shareholders did not succeed in ousting the two H.P. directors and demoting Mr. Lane, the chairman, at the shareholder meeting, but were able to exert pressure that eventually led to this outcome. These types of campaigns typically work only in the most egregious and visible circumstances, as happened at Yahoo and H.P. And even then it can take years.

But as this study and the H.P. experience shows, it’s rare that shareholders or chief executives push directors out. Even in the most extreme circumstances - like the financial crisis â€" directors bore little consequence for their poor decisions. As it stands, directors have more to fear about getting old than about doing a lousy job.

For those who ascribe to kindergarten principles, this is disheartening. These principles would say that if you do something wrong, there should be consequences. But these basic rules we all are taught in childhood don’t appear to apply in the boardroom.

Homegrown Efforts to Recruit Women in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is not exactly known for its diversity. So when Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm, wanted to make sure its job postings were reaching the most diverse audience possible, its partners did what most people in Silicon Valley do when they spot a problem. They turned to software.

They used programs that analyze the language in job descriptions to catch phrases that might turn off certain types of applicants. Looking for a candidate who is “off the charts” Chances are, not that many women will apply.

“That’s just not how women talk,” said Margit Wennmachers, a partner at the firm. “They say, ‘Must be highly competent.’ ”

It is an example of many homegrown efforts across the Valley to change the face of the tech industry. There have always been big organizations hosting conferences and networking events for women. But newer efforts are springing up from inside companies.

There are programs to teach girls to code, like Girls Who Code, for which companies like Twitter and Google lend office space and teachers. CodeChix, started by engineers at companies like VMware, hosts coding workshops that promise to be “non-alpha.”

The Club is an application-only group trying to provide an alternative to golf courses and men’s membership clubs by coaching women leaders in Silicon Valley. It was founded by Annie Rogaski, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend, a Valley law firm.

Rachel Sklar, who started a group called Change the Ratio, is introducing an organization called The List where members who pay have access to other women for advice, financing and conference speaking gigs.

“It’s to achieve the function of the classic old boys’ club, which funnels very easy advice and access and opportunity,” Ms. Sklar said.

At Andreessen Horowitz, the firm asks real people, not just software, to review all job descriptions, too â€" so in addition to the hiring manager, people who are women, African American and from other minority groups in Silicon Valley have input.

The firm also has a partner in charge of diversity who helps acquire a broad set of candidates for the firm’s talent agency, which its 200 portfolio companies tap for engineering and leadership roles. Despite those efforts, all of the firm’s investing partners are men.

“There’s a huge talent war going on, so we are doing a lot of things to try to surface all kinds of diverse talent and bubble that up to our portfolio companies,” Ms. Wennmachers said.

“What I’d like to see is Marla Zuckerberg and Mary Jobs and Joann Bezos.”

Daily Report: H.P. Chairman Steps Down as 2 Resign From Board

In another upheaval for the board of Hewlett-Packard, the company said on Thursday that Raymond J. Lane, its embattled chairman, was stepping down from that post just two weeks after his narrow re-election. Two other directors departed the board entirely, Quentin Hardy reports on Friday in The New York Times.

The move may give Meg Whitman, H.P.’s chief executive, a little more breathing room in her long and painful effort to turn the technology giant around. H.P. is one of the world’s biggest technology companies in terms of sales, but for years it has been marked with financial losses, bungled acquisitions and turbulence in the executive ranks and boardroom.

Ms. Whitman, who took over in September 2011, has said H.P. will return to modest profitability in 2014 and have robust growth in the years after.

“The pressure is on Meg,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Bernstein Research. But, he said, a housecleaning of the board “bought her a year.”

Mr. Lane, who will continue to serve on the board, will be temporarily succeeded by Ralph Whitworth, an activist shareholder who joined the H.P. board in November 2011. He has been a champion of Ms. Whitman.

No successors for the departing board members â€" John H. Hammergren and G. Kennedy Thompson â€" were immediately named. The two, who barely survived re-election to the board at a meeting in late March, are expected to serve until May.