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Monday, June 10, 2013

Big Data Intelligence Sleuthing, 1960s Style

America’s intelligence agencies have long prodded the frontiers of computing and data analysis as the most demanding of customers, willing to pay whatever it takes for advanced surveillance technology.

An article published in The Times on Sunday shows how the nation’s spy agencies work with the high-tech industry today.

In the old days, the quarry was not some Qaeda operative but Karla, a Soviet agent. Yet while the context may have been different, the institutional impulse was similar more than five decades ago when, in 1962, I.B.M. delivered the top-secret Stretch-Harvest computer to the National Security Agency.

It was the most advanced computer of its day, and a mammoth machine. Stretch-Harvest was made of dozens of refrigerator-sized cabinets, wired together, with the entire system weighing as much as 75,000 pounds, according to Dag Spicer, a senior curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

Technically, the computer was indeed a “stretch” and its mission was to “harvest” intelligence from intercepted communications from spy listening posts around the world.

The computer experts were not allowed to see the output of Stretch-Harvest. The printer was draped in black cloth, accessible only to members of the spy agency.

One efficiency report from the 1960s stated that in one period of 3 hours 50 minutes, the computer scanned more than seven million messages of about 500 characters each, examining them for any of 7,000 different words or phrases of interest to the N.S.A.

Stretch-Harvest labored on behalf of the agency for 14 years before being retired in 1976, a computing workhorse of the cold war.

“For its time, it was very advanced,” Frances Allen, a retired I.B.M. researcher who worked on Stretch-Harvest, recalled.

Stretch-Harvest was custom-built for the N.S.A. with the communications-analysis features and peripherals â€" the “harvesting” capability â€" added on. And the additions were to the Stretch computer, the I.B.M. 7030. Mark Smotherman, a computer scientist at Clemson University, maintains a Web site dedicated to the Stretch computer and its technical achievements.

What Xbox One and Politics Have in Common

Video game consoles have become a bit like political candidates â€" both need to excite their bases to win.

In politics, the base refers to voters who almost always vote for a certain party’s candidate. In games, the base is people who buy consoles mainly or even exclusively to play games, as opposed to watching movies, listening to music or any of the other activities now possible with modern consoles.

Microsoft was definitely catering to its base on Monday.

In an event at the start of the E3 conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft made a barrage of announcements about games that will be available for its new Xbox One console when the system ships this year.

There was Ryse: Son of Rome, a sword-and-sandals battle game. Sunset Overdrive mixes the training discipline parkour, first-person shooters, zombies and the manic zip-line scene from the movie “The Adventures of Tintin.” The racing game Forza Motorsport 5, using the Xbox One’s increase in horsepower, renders the hand-stitched leather of car interiors and brushed aluminum trim in exquisite detail.

“This is air you can taste and texture you can feel,” gushed Dan Greenawalt, one of the developers of Forza.

Microsoft said Xbox One would sell for $500.

The announcements were clearly an attempt to jazz up hard-core gamers, the most enthusiastic consumers of the industry’s products. That was a big contrast from last month, when Microsoft unveiled Xbox One at an event that spent little time on the games people would be able to play on the system and a lot on the other forms of entertainment Microsoft plans to dazzle them with.

Console makers have all decided that the key to getting the biggest possible audiences for their systems is to make them less intimidating to people who aren’t game diehards. That’s the thinking behind the innovations in game controllers in recent years, like the Nintendo Wii’s motion-sensing wand and Microsoft’s Kinect. It’s also a big reason why Microsoft wants to make Xbox One the main way you get television shows and movies.

Still, console makers can’t forget gamers as they position their systems in the market. They are the customers who spend the most money on games and are the most vocal evangelists for a console. At a conference late last month, Sony’s chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, seemed to be responding to Microsoft’s emphasis on the entertainment functions in Xbox One by saying that the PlayStation 4, Sony’s forthcoming console, is designed to please hard-core gamers.

“The most important thing we need to make sure we do, at least initially, is that we all agree and understand that the PS4 is a great video game console that appeals to video gamers,” Mr. Hirai said, according to an account of his comments by All Things D.

With its announcements on Monday, Microsoft seemed to be saying that it, too, values a constituency without which it knows it can’t succeed.

The Stickers on Edward Snowden’s Laptop

For online activists around the world, one thing stood out in a photograph published on Sunday by The Guardian: Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about the scope of United States government surveillance, adorned his laptop with stickers showing support for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project.

John Perry Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, proudly drew attention on Twitter to the Guardian image of Mr. Snowden’s laptop.

The foundation, based in San Francisco, is a longstanding civil liberties group that focuses on rights in the online world. The Tor Project provides anonymity services for people to be able to send and receive information under the cloak of secrecy.

Cindy Cohn, the legal director for the foundation, responded to a reporter’s inquiry by saying that the news had broken while she was on a transcontinental flight from San Francisco to Washington. “Man,” she said. “One should never get in the air these days!”

She said that Mr. Snowden’s identity came as a surprise to her and her colleagues at the organization. “I don’t know him â€" I don’t think anybody at E.F.F. does,” she said, though she added that “I can’t confirm that off the top of my head. But we certainly haven’t been working with this,” meaning the revelations about National Security Agency surveillance first published by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

She did acknowledge, however, that the information that Mr. Snowden had revealed could be very helpful in her organization’s lawsuit over government surveillance, Jewel v. N.S.A., a case that was filed in 2008 over the kinds of electronic monitoring that Mr. Snowden’s documents address. The original filing in the case, which is under consideration in Federal District Court in San Francisco, refers to “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (the ‘N.S.A.’) and other defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies.”

Ms. Cohn predicted that Mr. Snowden was “to be a witness in our wiretapping case, and possibly future cases.” Because the Electronic Frontier Foundation expects now to call him as a witness, she added, “I wouldn’t represent him, anyway â€" I’d send him to the whistleblower center,” meaning the National Whistleblowers Center in Washington.

Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project, said, “We have had no known contact with him.” The Tor Project provides anonymous Internet use and helps people circumvent Internet controls under authoritarian regimes, gets financing from institutions including the State Department, the National Science Foundation and the Knight Foundation. The system was first developed at the United States Naval Research Laboratory to protect government secrets. Mr. Lewman said it was not surprising that he would know nothing of Mr. Snowden. “Many people talk to us anonymously or pseudonymously, so we won’t know their public identity anyway,” he said.

As for the fact that Mr. Snowden’s laptop sported an E.F.F. sticker, Ms. Cohn said, “We don’t do any tracking of who gets our stickers â€" they are freely available.” In fact, the stickers can be seen on the set of “The IT Crowd,” the British comedy about the anarchic tech support staff of a large corporation. And so, Ms. Cohn added, “There’s no direct connection that I’m aware of” between Mr. Snowden and the Electronic Frontier Foundation â€" “other than that perhaps he thinks we’re right about government surveillance being illegal.”

“It appears we completely agree that the government has been acting unconstitutionally,” she said.

The federal government has been trying to keep the Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit over N.S.A. surveillance from going forward under the so-called state secrets privilege, which can be used to keep national security secrets out of the courts. The foundation has fought those attempts, and officials expect that the recent revelations about the surveillance systems and agreements could help move the case forward.

The government, responding to the new revelations about the surveillance systems, replied on Friday with a request to the judge in the case, Jeffrey S. White, for a delay on any decisions about pending motions until it files a new status report “on further proceedings in this case” by July 12.

The filing stated that, “In recent days there have been several media reports concerning alleged surveillance activities,” including those about the order in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Those news reports, the filing said, led the director of national intelligence to order that “certain information related to the ‘business records’ provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be declassified and immediately released to the public.”

The government asked Judge White to “grant the government time to consider the effect on the pending motions of the government’s decision to declassify certain information, and to consult with plaintiffs concerning the matter.”

John Schwartz writes as @jswatz on Twitter.

One Third of Americans Now Own Tablet Computers

Over the last three years, the number of adults owning a tablet computer has jumped sharply. Now, for the first time, a third of American adults own tablet computers, according to a new report released today by the Pew Research Center.

While nearly every demographic group showed an increase in tablet ownership over the last year, the report said, the fastest-growing groups included more affluent households making over $75,000 a year, college graduates as well as adults between the ages of 35 to 44, especially parents.

“One of the things that is especially interesting about tablet adoption compared to some of the patterns of other devices we’ve studied is how these technologies’ growth has played out between different age groups,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, a research analyst for Pew.

“With smartphones, for instance, we’ve seen a very strong correlation with age where most younger adults own smartphones, regardless of income level. But when it comes to tablets, adults in their thirties and forties are now significantly more likely than any other age group to own this device,” she said.

The report showed no differences in tablet adoption between men and women, or specific racial or ethnic groups.

When the Pew Research Center first started tracking tablet ownership in May 2010, only three percent of adults said they had a tablet computer. The continued growth of devices like the Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus and Apple iPad have chipped away at sales figures for laptop computers over this same time period, leading several analysts to predict that tablet sales will surpass laptop sales soon, most likely within in the next two years.

Live Blog: Apple Conference Keynote

SAN FRANCISCO â€" It’s game day at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company’s annual event for app-builders and engineers.

The line to enter the Moscone Center, where the conference is being held, stretched almost two blocks as thousands of Apple faithful waited to enter the convention center.

What will these Apple fans see today? Rumors are swirling of an entirely new design for Apple’s iOS operating system that is both sleek and flat. Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, might unveil a new music service and some MacBook computers. There are even rumblings that Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, will grace the stage.

12:29 P.M. Crowd Filing Into Moscone Center

We’re finally seated in the auditorium. The song “Let’s Go,” by Matt & Kim, is playing on the loudspeakers as thousands of people are rushing to grab their seats. In the hallway outside some large billboards are shrouded in black cloth, presumably hiding some of the new products we will see when the Apple event begins in 30 minutes.

â€" Nick Bilton

Apple Enters Net Radio’s Busy Field

Apple Enters Net Radio’s Busy Field

SAN FRANCISCO â€" Apple is known for making some of the finest hardware in the world, but one of its biggest stumbling blocks has been services that rely on an Internet connection.

Timothy Cook, left, Apple’s chief, and Jony Ive, center, its design head. Apple will unveil a new music service on Monday.

Apple’s iTunes software on a MacBook Air. The program’s 500 million users make Apple No. 1 in paid digital music sales.

Apple’s Maps app for iPhones was initially so bad the company apologized. Ping, Apple’s social network for discovering songs, was killed because hardly anyone used it. And iCloud, its service for synchronizing user data across devices, has been criticized for being unreliable, though it has not had as many glitches as its predecessor MobileMe, which had an e-mail blackout that disconnected thousands of customers for days.

Now, Apple is giving online services another try, in an area where it has long been the leader: music. On Monday, at the opening of its annual developers conference in San Francisco, the company is expected to unveil an Internet radio service that will stream songs over a data connection instead of storing them on a device, according to people briefed on the negotiations. The service is expected to be free, but supported by ads.

With its Internet radio service, Apple will be following other online music services, like Pandora, Spotify and Rdio. But it could spread this type of music consumption further into the mainstream, some analysts say.

“The genius of iTunes 10 years ago was that they made the mainstream consumer understand what digital music was, and how it all worked,” said Russ Crupnik, an analyst at NPD Group who studies the digital music market. He said Pandora was mainstream, with 200 million registered users, but it was not a dominant global player, and that a similar service from Apple would expose more people to online radio.

The company is also expected to introduce new Mac notebooks and a redesign of iOS, its software operating system for iPhones and iPads, at the four-day developers conference. The conference includes seminars where software developers can get training on the latest Apple software development tools so they can start making apps.

The new operating system will be the first mobile software system made under the company’s lead hardware designer, Jony Ive. Mr. Ive was put in charge of software design after the company fired Scott Forstall, the former head of mobile software development, amid the flurry of negative news reports surrounding Apple’s mapping software.

Before taking over software design, Mr. Ive made it known in the company that he did not like some of the visual ornamentation s in Apple’s mobile software, particularly the use of textures representing physical materials. Under his direction, elements like the yellow-notepad inspired Notes app and the leather borders in the Calendar app for the iPad are expected to be removed from the software. The overall look will be smoother and less ostentatious, according to a person briefed on the company’s plans, who asked not to be named.

For Apple, the expansion into streaming music underscores a competitive issue: one of its chief rivals, Google, has long had robust Internet services, like Gmail and Google Apps, while over the years it has gotten better at designing the software and hardware for its phones and tablets.

But while Apple struggles with Internet services, its stock is down about 37 percent after peaking at a little more than $700 in the fall. The company is still selling tens of millions of iPhones and iPads, but investors are concerned about its growth slowing and profit margins getting tighter. A shift into services like Internet radio could present new opportunities to make money.

But James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, says he thinks Apple is too late in this game. The company has to present an Internet radio service that is better than what is out there, he said, or people will continue to just buy its hardware and use other companies’ services.

“It’s going to have to innovate,” Mr. McQuivey said. “It can’t just be Pandora with an ‘i’ in front of it or Spotify with an ‘i’ in front of it.”

In the late 1990s, the music industry was in turmoil because many Internet users quickly learned they could download their favorite songs for free instead of paying for albums. Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s late chief, approached the music labels with the idea of a store offering the ability to download songs a la carte for 99 cents a download.

“When we first approached the labels, the online music business was a disaster,” Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying in the book “The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness.” “Nobody had ever sold a song for 99 cents. Nobody really ever sold a song. And we walked in, and we said: ‘We want to sell songs à la carte. We want to sell albums, too, but we want to sell songs individually.’ They thought that would be the death of the album.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 9, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated how long the Pandora service has been available. It was introduced eight years ago, not 13.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 10, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Apple Enters Net Radio’s Busy Field.

Daily Report: Dismay in Silicon Valley at N.S.A.’s Prism Project

The dreamers, brains and cranks who built the Internet hoped it would be a tool of liberation and knowledge. Last week, an altogether bleaker vision emerged with new revelations of how the United States government is using it as a monitoring and tracking device, David Streitfeld and Quentin Hardy write in The New York Times.

In Silicon Valley, a place not used to second-guessing the bright future it is eternally building, there was a palpable sense of dismay. The first mystifying thing for some here is how the leading companies â€" including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Apple and Facebook â€" apparently made it easier for the National Security Agency to gain access to their data. Only Twitter seems to have declined.

The companies deny directly working with the government on the project, called Prism. But they have not been exactly eager to talk about how they are working indirectly and where they would draw the line.

Entrepreneurs around Silicon Valley are publicly urging more disclosure.

N.S.A. Whistle-Blower Revealed in Video

In a 12-minute video interview recorded last week in Hong Kong and published on Sunday, Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former C.I.A. computer technician who worked until several weeks ago as a private contractor at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, explained why he leaked classified information about the scope of America’s surveillance efforts to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

The Associated Press later distributed excerpts from the video, which is a conversation with Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer and columnist who blogs for The Guardian “On Security and Liberty,” shot by Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker who also took part in The Post’s reporting.

Excerpts from a Guardian interview with Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. whistle-blower behind the past week’s revelations about American surveillance.

After The Guardian published the video and a long article about Mr. Snowden, The Washington Post followed with a first-person account of the reporter Barton Gellman’s interactions with the same source.

According to Mr. Gellman, his source went to Mr. Greenwald only after he grew concerned that The Post might delay publication and put him in danger. The Guardian columnist took issue with the Post reporter’s claims in a barbed note posted on Twitter.

In a discussion of her work on the Web site of the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded her a fellowship in 2012, Ms. Poitras said that her current film, the third part of a trilogy about “the war on terror, Al Qaeda and the choices we’re making,” deals with “N.S.A. surveillance, Wikileaks, the war on whistle-blowers â€" and it will look at how the war on terror comes home.”

The filmmaker Laura Poitras discussed her work in a video posted on the Web site of the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded her a fellowship in 2012.

The filmmaker â€" who also produced a profile of another N.S.A. whistle-blower last year for The Times â€" added: “My work is absolutely completely dependent on the people who open their lives to me and take huge risks in doing so.”

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.