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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Arming Cable Against the Open Internet

Cable television companies are distressed about how quickly Internet and mobile viewing are stealing customers. Now, technology firms want to sell them ways to offer the personal choice of mobile, while justifying the goodies that come to someone who pays for a subscription.

Companies as diverse as Cisco Systems, known for enterprise networking equipment, and Adobe, with its origins in graphics, are working closely with cable companies and other broadcasters to deal with competition from Internet broadcasting. They don’t want people to stop watching video on their phones, or away from their living room boxes, but they do want to control it.

“All the cable companies recognize that there is a fundamental shift in video consumption, driven by device proliferation and broadband over the air,” said Jeremy Helfand, vice president for video at Adobe. “They have gone from a fear of cannibalizing their business to looking for opportunities for revenue growth.”

What the cable providers do not have is a strong background in managing people across many different devices, or creating an Internet experience that is attractive for the extras it offers subscribers.

“Our customers are all contending with the cloud,” said Marthin de Beer, the head of Cisco’s video and collaboration group. “Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Apple TV â€" all of these ‘over the top’ video companies don’t own a network, they ride on top of other people’s networks.”

As a result, he said, the cable companies, which count on subscriber income to sustain their networks, “are stepping up, delivering a lot of new experiences to slow down the cord-cutting.”

Cisco offers connections into the network, through devices like mobile phones or tablets, that enable cable customers to watch shows anywhere, record programs to watch when they return home or get extras not available with standard shows. People will still connect their mobile devices over the Internet, but with a separate log-in that will have access to the benefits.

Later this year Cox, the large cable provider, will offer its subscribers a mobile app with access to 40,000 hours of content from the Cox library. Subscribers to premium services like HBO will be able to open the HBO app within the Cox app, where they can get extras like maps of the lands in “Game of Thrones.” The idea is to keep viewers inside the Cox environment as much as possible. Cisco has to manage all the rights and security through its network.

“We’re interested in what customers are telling us is important,” said Len Barlik, Cox’s chief product officer. “It boils down to making the experience more personal, at home or outside. They view it as their content.”

Cox is also testing a high-speed wireless service over metropolitan areas, available to its Internet subscribers. Cisco hopes eventually to offer premium subscribers faster wireless speeds and better video quality, depending on what they pay.

Much of this is possible now for a number of reasons. Last year Cisco paid $5 billion for NDS, a maker of software for cable systems, which it has incorporated with its network security and authorization products. Perhaps more important, cable companies are feeling the heat like never before; Mr. de Beer said 10 million people watched the most recent Super Bowl on devices like personal computers, phones and tablets.

On Wednesday at the National Association of Broadcasters’ video trade show in Las Vegas, Adobe is introducing Adobe Primetime, a TV platform for programmers and cable companies. Comcast and NBC Sports have been working with Adobe on it.

Adobe entered the online marketing and Web analytics business with its acquisition of Omniture in 2009, and also provides the plumbing for lots of over-the-top video through its flash technology. Primetime is an effort to track online video viewing the way Web surfing is watched, and includes personalized ads.

“Cable proved that people will pay for video and tolerate ads,” Mr. Helfand said. On Internet videos, he said, “the ad experience of prerolls interferes with the experience.”

As with Cisco, Adobe’s most valuable offering to cable providers is management of all the different traffic, since different device configurations and operating systems, like Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, have different requirements. Like Cisco, Adobe offers a subscriber authentication system, as well as ways to segment audiences, and serve different ads in live, on-demand and streaming shows over mobile devices.

T-Mobile USA Sweetens iPhone 5 Deal With Trade-In Program

T-Mobile USA, the struggling phone carrier, really wants you to switch to its network â€" so badly that it will give you a break on a brand-new iPhone in exchange for an old one.

The company said on Wednesday that when it begins selling the iPhone 5 on Friday, it will offer a discount for people who trade in their older iPhones. Customers can trade in an iPhone 4S or iPhone 4, for example, for the iPhone 5 at no cost up front, along with a $120 credit toward the monthly device fee. The offer lasts through mid-June.

Normally, the iPhone 5 would cost $100 on T-Mobile, and a customer would have to pay an additional $20 a month over two years to cover the remaining cost of the device, on top of the phone and data plan. With the trade-in offer, the $120 credit would knock down the monthly device fee to $15.

In other words, if a customer traded in her old iPhone from Verizon to T-Mobile and got an iPhone 5, the least she can pay each month would be $65 (when accounting for the $15 monthly device fee and $50 phone plan that includes 500 megabytes of data).

The company last month introduced its new smartphone plans that do not require signing a traditional two-year contract. Instead, it allows customers to buy a smartphone for less up front and then requires them to pay a monthly device fee for two years.

In an earlier interview, John Legere, T-Mobile’s chief executive, said that one of the company’s main goals would be to take customers away from AT&T because the carrier has been notorious for its network problems, especially when it came to the iPhone. The iPhone trade-in deal is clearly T-Mobile’s hook to lure customers from competing networks. But analysts say that despite T-Mobile’s cheaper and less restrictive phone plans, the company will have to work hard to get a big boost in customers because its network coverage is still not as broad as its competitors.

On Korean Peninsula, South Koreans and Foreigners React to Tensions

A South Korean soldier standing guard in Paju near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse â€" Getty Images A South Korean soldier standing guard in Paju near the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

The North Korean government has hinted at new military provocations in the coming days, testing global leaders and consuming headlines almost everywhere. Last week, we asked readers who live on the Korean Peninsula or have family members there to weigh in on how the escalating tensions affect them and what the South Korean government and the international community should do to address those tensions. You can still 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.

So far, we have heard from readers around the world, including about two dozen with ties to South Korea. Expatriates living in South Korea said that there were few signs of anxiety, but that they would remain cautious. North Korea warned Tuesday that foreigners living in the South should evacuate because the country was on the brink of nuclear war.

“Though the Korean people do take the threats seriously, they are not hiding in bunkers and waiting for the attack,” Angela, an American living in Suwon, South Korea, for almost three years, told us. “They are living day-to-day lives and doing the best that they can while also encouraging expat friends to do the same; so we do, but we are also cautious.”

On Facebook, Tiffany Conner, who lives in Pyeongtaek, said: “If anything, I should be exceptionally preoccupied by the prospect of any attack as I am sandwiched between two U.S. military bases. But again, there’s no palpable sense of urgency or concern to be had.”

Britny Montano, an expat living in Seoul, said on Facebook, “All of my family and friends keep telling me to fly home but until the State Department advises us to evacuate or an attack does occur I don’t foresee myself leaving.”

A few people on Facebook, including Ms. Montano and Jee-hyae Chung, a native South Korean, said that coverage of the North’s bellicose threats was more intense in the news media internationally than in South Korea.

Of the South Korean news media, Ms. Jee said: “Attitudes reflected from conservative media and progressive media may be different, but one thing they have in common is that they do not emphasize any imminent or substantial sense of threat. More attention seems to be given on assessing the performance of the new administration” of President Park Geun-hye.

But for some South Koreans who have faced decades of on-and-off threats from the North, the recent rhetoric and the matching show of military power by the United States and South Korea are becoming hard to ignore.

“All my family, especially my wife, are anxious about the war for weeks now, and I persuade them that it is not plausible since the South have spent far more money for military expenses and South Korean Army is stronger than the North,” wrote a New York Times reader from Seoul.

Another reader, who identified himself as TJ from Seoul, wrote that young Korean men were taking their mandatory military service more seriously.

“This year I also went to my reserve military training, and I saw people, including myself, did their best to get a training, and it was not usual scene before,” TJ said.

Melinda Pangburn Shulz, a teacher at an international school on Jeju Island, said on Facebook that her students “do not know if the current situation is something to worry about or not, but they are worried just the same.”

Few readers commented on the United States’ support for South Korea, but one said that the South should not depend on the United States to defend it and that the time had come for the South to build its own nuclear weapons. Several said they thought China should take a more central role in the dispute, including supporting the imposition of United Nations sanctions on North Korea. But readers also highlighted China’s concern about the United States reasserting itself in Asia.

Angela from Suwon said: “The scariest thing is that Kim Jong-un is a new, young leader and is unpredictable. However, I have to believe that he simply must see the horrible impact it would have on his country if he decided to move forward with any attacks on South Korea or the United States.”

Dutch Reporter Spends Night in Cairo Jail After Citizen’s Arrest

A Dutch reporter in Cairo was forced to spend Monday night in jail after the owner of a cafe detained her on suspicion of “spreading European culture” and endangering Egypt’s national security by looking for subjects to interview for a story about youth unemployment.

The freelance journalist, Rena Netjes, told The Lede in an Internet chat she was handed over to the police after the citizen’s arrest. As she reported on Twitter herself, she was only freed on Tuesday after her country’s ambassador, Gerard Steeghs, intervened with Egypt’s prosecutor general who agreed to drop the charges.

Ms. Netjes was also assisted by the activist lawyer Ragia Omran, who found out about the case through Twitter updates posted on the social network by colleagues of the Dutch reporter.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Netjes told The Lede that the incident began the afternoon before in the Cairo neighborhood where she has lived for more than two years. While shopping, she started speaking to two young men who were hanging around outside the cafe, asking them “if they happen to know anyone who may have lost his job” and “would be willing to speak with me about it.” Then, she said, the cafe owner “interfered and took over (very bossy) and asked me what I was looking for. He said, ‘I will help you to find someone, a good one you could speak to.’” Then, she continued,

he asked for my passport and my press card, and I â€" stupidly enough â€" gave him my passport, and said that I had only my press card from last year with me, because I wasn’t planning on doing an interview that late afternoon, but I just bumped into a group of boys that might be interesting to speak with. (They seemed so bored… a lot of unemployed hide out of shame normally).

So he took both, offered me a drink in the cafe, and then I asked for my passport back and he refused. From then, I knew it was like a trap.

I said, ‘I want it back, really.’ Then he started to say: ‘It is very inappropriate that one makes journalistic stories about Egypt now. If you consider the current circumstances in Egypt, you cannot write about it, you have to stop your work.’

He didn’t want to give me my passport, he said the police will come. But they didn’t show up, so he said we are going to the police â€" him, his wife and me. He and his wife were, by the way, staring at me like crazy, like I was a real spy both of them had just revealed.

It was obvious for me than that he, like many other Egyptians, is so scared for some bad news to be shown to the world â€" after all it is a shame culture. So what he did was to stop me working, and then he made up a whole lot of extra stuff, together with two of the four police officers. One “good guy” officer told me: ‘You should never have given your passport to him, then you would have been at home already.’

As the Associated Press Cairo correspondent Sarah El Deeb reported, “An official in the state prosecutor’s office last month encouraged citizens to arrest lawbreakers and hand them to the police, setting off a political storm at a time when reports of vigilantism were already on the rise.”

Ms. Netjes added that the “scary thing” was that citizens who arrested her seemed so glad to take ob police powers. The cafe owner, she said, “was so excited to cause me trouble, and so proud he handed over a ‘danger.’ He said all the time, ‘I fear for this country.” She said that the fear that foreign powers want to destabilize Egypt, “is a national disease here.”

The incident comes ten months after a series of public service announcements broadcast on Egyptian state television stoked xenophobia. One ad in that campaign specifically warned that foreign visitors who strike up conversations with young Egyptians in cafes about the nation’s problems might be spies seeking to undermine the state by fomenting unrest.

A copy of an ad broadcast on Egyptian television in 2012, subtitled by a video blogger.

As The Lede reported last year, that ad was eventually withdrawn, in part because of fears that demonizing foreign visitors on state television might not be good for the tourist industry the Egyptian economy relies upon so heavily.

Live Updates on the Gun Debate

President Obama made an impassioned plea for gun control measures at a rally in Connecticut. Families who lost loved ones in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School descended on Washington, D.C. to press their case with lawmakers. Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill threaten to prevent gun-control legislation from even coming up for debate as states around the country decide to both strengthen and weaken gun laws.

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A Medical Service Using the Cloud

Practice Fusion is a company that offers doctors cloud-based electronic medical records software for managing relationships with patients and big parts of the health care industry. It also seems like a good place to explore feelings about privacy, and the business of Big Data.

The company, privately held and based in San Francisco, says it has 150,000 health care providers using its free service and medical records on 60 million patients. On Tuesday Practice Fusion announced a new service, called Patient Fusion, which enables people using the system to schedule appointments with any participating doctor.

If enough people use Patient Fusion, it should increase traffic for Practice Fusion’s main business, which is putting advertising on those online health records. The company has relationships with lab testing companies and pharmacies. If a patient’s records indicate, say, high cholesterol, a banner on top of the records may ask the doctor if a test should be scheduled, or a drug supplied. Practice Fusion is paid by labs to connect them to doctors.

Patient Fusion, the new service, is a way for people to book appointments at times that work for them. It combines permission-based access to those patient records, the software’s calendar appointment service for doctors, and Practice Fusion’s collection of patient reviews of their doctors, which it typically solicits after each visit.

“If you want to see a doctor at 3 p.m. and your doctor is booked, I can put you in touch with every other local specialist who is available at that time,” said Ryan Howard, chief executive of Practice Fusion. The doctor would have to be part of the Practice Fusion network, he said. “You’ll be able to see patient reviews of the doctor, and if you book with one of them, that doctor will automatically get your health history from Practice Fusion.”

The company’s ad business may give some pause, though Mr. Howard said that Practice Fusion, which he began as a service in 2007, does not give advertisers patient names or other identifiable information. The intention, he said, is to add efficiency to a system in which drug companies and labs often connect with doctors in clumsier ways, and in which patients often think their doctor is good without much empirical evidence.

To date, 27,000 of the network’s doctors have agreed to participate in Patient Fusion. Even at that level, Mr. Howard said, Practice Fusion can draw off 1.5 million reviews, and offer three million appointments just in the month of April.

Patient reviews of doctors, he said, are an important and lasting part of our health care system. “I can get more information on a restaurant I’m going to than I can about a doctor,” he said. “I think my doctor is good. I think so. But I don’t really know it.”

Whether Yelp-like reviews of doctors are a full and fair picture is not a well-addressed question. On Patient Fusion’s Web site, the doctors have a 98 percent “recommended” rating, which suggests we tend to overvalue the quality of the people ensuring our well-being.

Yelp also has doctor reviews, a nonscientific examination of which shows a tendency to rate doctors highly and, if the experience is not good, the doctor gets just one star, not the two stars of a so-so restaurant.

But there is certain to be even more data. In the future, Mr. Howard said, he would like to add information about which doctors have the best patient outcomes.

As the system grows, and the data it collects grows too, other products are likely to be introduced. “Think about a Bloomberg terminal for health,” Mr. Howard said. “We could have real-time information on what drugs are being prescribed. That is information about market share, and whether you are losing it because patients are having adverse reactions, or doctors are prescribing generics. You can see how that would be interesting to a product manager at a pharmaceutical company. Also to a hedge fund manager.”

Daily Report: Keeping Tabs on Students’ E-Reading

Educators from nine universities are testing technology from a Silicon Valley start-up company, CourseSmart, allowing them to track their students’ progress with digital textbooks, David Streitfeld reports in The New York Times.

Major publishers in higher education have already been collecting data from millions of students who use their digital materials. But CourseSmart goes further by individually packaging for each professor information on all the students in a class â€" a bold effort that is already beginning to affect how teachers present material and how students respond to it, even as critics question how well it measures learning. The plan is to introduce the program broadly this fall.

In the old days, teachers knew if students understood the course from the expressions on their faces. Now some classes are entirely virtual. Engagement information could give the colleges early warning about which students might flunk out, while more broadly letting teachers know if the whole class is falling behind. Eventually, the data will flow back to the publishers to help prepare new editions.

Academic and popular publishers, as well as some authors, have dreamed for years of such feedback to direct sales and editorial efforts more efficiently. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are presumed to be collecting a trove of data from readers, although they decline to say what, if anything, they will do with it.

The predigital era, when writers wrote and publishers published, is seen as an amazingly ignorant time. “Before this, the publisher never knew if Chapter 3 was even looked at,” said Sean Devine, CourseSmart’s chief executive.

More than 3.5 million students and educators use CourseSmart textbooks and are already generating reams of data about Chapter 3. Among the colleges experimenting this semester are Clemson, Central Carolina Technical College and the State University at Stony Brook, as well as Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

In Europe, New Protest Over Google

In Europe, New Protest Over Google

Titus Simoens for The International Herald Tribune

Joaquín Almunia, Europe’s antitrust chief, said Google’s mobile software was being studied.

BRUSSELS â€" European antitrust regulators have received a formal complaint about Google’s Android operating system for mobile devices, even as they move to the final stages of their inquiry into the company’s search practices.

The complaint was filed by Fairsearch Europe, a group of Google’s competitors, including the mobile phone maker Nokia and the software titan Microsoft, and by other companies, like Oracle. It accuses Google of using the Android software “as a deceptive way to build advantages for key Google apps in 70 percent of the smartphones shipped today,” said Thomas Vinje, the lead lawyer for Fairsearch Europe, referring to Android’s share of the smartphone market.

For example, phone makers that agree to use Android â€" and that also want Google applications like YouTube â€" face contractual requirements to place those applications and other Google-branded applications in prominent positions on the mobile device’s desktop, Mr. Vinje said.

In an interview on Monday, the European Union’s antitrust chief, Joaquín Almunia, declined to comment on the new complaint but said officials had been examining the Android operating system independently of the two-year inquiry into whether Google had abused its dominance of Internet search.

When a formal complaint like this is made, the commission must at some point decide whether to take up the case or drop it.

Mr. Almunia also said that he was receiving proposals this week from Google to clear up concerns about its search practices, and that he hoped they would make it easier for Internet users to identify when Google was promoting its own services rather than those of competitors who might offer better results.

“This is a new step in the investigation,” he said.

A Google spokesman, Al Verney, would not specifically discuss either the new complaint or the comments by Mr. Almunia about the search case, saying only that the company continued “to work cooperatively” with the commission.

The European Commission opened its antitrust inquiry into Google’s search practices in November 2010. The investigation has since focused on whether Google might have unfairly taken advantage of its market dominance by giving preference to links to its own services, like Google Maps, when answering queries; whether Google disadvantaged competitors by including material in search results that came from other Web sites; and whether Google conducts its advertising business in accord with European antitrust law.

Last May the commission suggested that Google propose changes in how search results are presented as a way to settle the case. Since then, regulators and Google have been negotiating over those changes and other terms.

In Monday’s interview, Mr. Almunia said Google needed to offer the commission a solution where choices between Google-branded search results and those of its competitors were clearly visible within the search engine both on desktop computers and on mobile devices.

“I don’t know if you should call it labeling, or whatever, but they need to distinguish,” Mr. Almunia said.

“In some cases this can be achieved through the information you will receive through the natural search results,” he said. “In other cases, maybe we will ask Google to signal what are the relevant options, alternative options, in the way they present the results.”

The choice “should be a real one,” he said.

Mr. Almunia said regulators were not requiring Google to make changes to its algorithm, the secret formula that the company uses to determine the best responses to search queries.

In terms of the way Google uses and displays snippets of information from other Web sites in its search results, he said he expected Google to accept that other companies could choose “to allow or not to allow Google to use the content, but this decision cannot have as a consequence the punishment of those who will not allow the use of the content in terms of search results.”

Web sites and some publications have complained in recent years of virtually disappearing from Google’s search engine if they posed a competitive threat or did not comply with Google’s terms.

Mr. Almunia said he would test any changes that Google proposed to make by sending questionnaires to competitors, including the complainants, and to other companies.

Mr. Almunia said in Europe, where Google is especially strong, with more than 90 percent of the search market, compared with about 70 percent in the United States, it is particularly difficult for search engines to establish themselves if they focus on narrow but deep services like online shopping, travel or mapping.

But Mr. Almunia also said his approach in the case was not aimed at “protecting competitors,” as critics of European regulation have long complained.

Mr. Almunia said that he had concerns that Google had abused its dominance to promote its own products but that he would not need to “find a final answer to this question” if Google reached a settlement. “We are concerned by the possibility of an abuse,” he said.

“What is clear in our view is the market dominance of Google,” Mr. Almunia said. “This is obvious.”

He also noted that “it would not be surprising” if Google faced formal charges in a case concerning Motorola Mobility, a mobile phone maker owned by Google. That case follows complaints by Microsoft and Apple that they were victims of unfair licensing conditions and abusive litigation by Motorola Mobility.

The commission has taken a tougher line with Google than has the Federal Trade Commission on the issue of how Google runs its search rankings. The F.T.C. decided in January, after a 19-month inquiry into how the company operated its search engine, that Google had not broken antitrust laws.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 9, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Europe, New Protest Over Google.