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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Privacy Officials Worldwide Press Google About Glass

Ten government privacy and data protection officials from seven countries have asked Google to address privacy concerns related to its wearable computing device, Glass.

The letter was sent to Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, by 10 commissioners from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel and Switzerland. It comes after a letter sent by eight members of Congress in May raising similar questions abot Glass and privacy.

“We would be very interested in hearing about the privacy implications of this new product and the steps you are taking to ensure that, as you move forward with Google Glass, individuals’ privacy rights are respected around the world,” the officials wrote.

Glass, which is not yet available to the public, tethers to a user’s cellphone and has much of the same functionality, like text messaging and phone calls. It can also take photos and record video hands-free, and apps from news organizations, social networks, Google Maps and others send alerts and updates to a screen above the user’s right eye.

The officials raised fears of “ubiquitous surveillance” and asked about Google’s privacy safeguards, what it plans to do with the data the devices collect and how it is addressing “the broader social and ethical issues” raised by Glass. They lamented that Google has not yet reached out to data protection authorities to discuss the privacy implication! s of Glass.

Mr. Page addressed similar questions at Google’s shareholders meeting this month, where he made his first public comments about the issue. He said that many people already carried cellphone cameras everywhere they go, and that Glass was no different.

“People worry about a lot of things that, when we use the products, don’t turn out to be an actual concern,” Mr. Page said.

Many people at Google wear Glass, he said. “When you go into the bathroom, you don’t collapse in terror that people might be wearing these in the bathroom, just like you don’t collapse in terror that someone will hold up a cellphone in the bathroom.”

“I would encourage you not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s out there and we understand the issues,” Mr. Page said.

Susan Molinari, Google’s vice president for public policy, responded this month to the members of Congress. She wrote that Glass would not include facial recognition, users would be able to wipe data from the device if it was misplaced or stolen and that Google was relying on early users currently testing the device to help the company shape the discussion about it.

In the letter, the privacy commissioners said they wanted a demo of the as-yet-unavailable product.

“Would Google be willing to demonstrate the device to our offices and allow any interested data protection authorities to test it?” they asked.

Tech Moves to the Background as Design Becomes Mainstream

Over the past few decades, the computing industry has passed through several different eras. In the ’90s, the big tech companies were competing for speed in a race for faster and more powerful computers. Then in the ’00s, the industry moved to mobile on a quest for slimmer phones with brighter screens.

Now, the industry is entering the era of design.

As I noted in my column this week, Disruptions: Mobile Competition Shifts to Software Design, tech companies are looking for ways to make sure the user interfaces of their products are unique.

Design experts I spoke with noted that many of the devices we use look almost exactly the same today, hence that emphasis on the software that goes into that interface. Battery life and processing speed is only marginally different within product categories such as smartphones. But the look and feel of the software is what allows a copetitor to leap frog the competition.

Cesar Torres, a former Apple designer who now works for Sidecar, a ride-sharing start-up, said on Twitter: “While I don’t agree with the stylistic choices in iOS 7, it excites me that ‘design’ is a term that shows up in major news site headlines.”

Design, it seems, is becoming a mainstream topic. And for those who have lived and breathed design for decades, it’s a refreshing change.

“In the ’90s when I would meet with investors, there was no return on investment for design. Yet today, 20 years later, every project I do is because design is seen as absolutely central,” said Yves Béhar, the founder of Fuseproject, a San Francisco design agency.

Mr. Béhar said that, now, directors, chief executives and investors often sit in meetings and ask about user interface, overall experience, and the look and feel of a product. Twenty year! s ago? Most investors wouldn’t even know what those terms meant.

What the mainstream and the financiers are now starting to realize is that design is a doorway to something much more important.

“Design, even if you’re talking about Apple and their sexy devices is a promise of quality,” explained James Victore, an award-winning art director, designer, and author. “It’s a promise that the public is not going to be let down.”

Google Asks Secret Court for Permission to Publish National Security Request Data

Google on Tuesday filed a motion with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, asking permission to publish data on national security requests that were made to it and authorized by the court.

The motion is the company’s latest move to control the public relations crisis that has resulted from revelations of government Internet surveillance. It is an escalation of Google’s efforts to publish the data. Last week, it sent a letter to the director of the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence, asking for the same thing.

By law, recipients of national security requests are not allowed to acknowledge their existence. But with the permission of the government, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple have in the last few days published aggregate numbers of national security and criminal requests, including those authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Survillance Act. Google has not, because it said that would be less transparent than what it had already published. Its transparency report has since 2010 broken out requests by type, and if it agreed to the same terms the other companies did, it would not be able to publish the report that way in the future.

In the motion, Google argued that it had a First Amendment right to publish a range of the total number of requests and the number of users or accounts they cover.

Google said that its executives had responded to allegations â€" that it cooperated with the government in Internet surveillance â€" as best they could, given the government’s restraints on discussing them. But the company said that it wanted to do more for the sake of its reputation, business and users, and for the sake of public debate.

“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” the motion said. “Go! ogle must respond to such claims with more than generalities.”

The tech companies have been pressing to be able to publish the number of government requests largely to prove that the requests cover a tiny fraction of users. Though the other companies said they were also pushing the government for permission to publish more detailed data, they said the aggregate numbers were useful to control speculation by setting a ceiling on the number of requests.

Other tech companies affected by the government’s surveillance program, called Prism, have considered going to the secret court, an option that is still on the table, according to two people briefed on the discussions. So far, the companies have been individually negotiating with the government instead of acting in concert.

Still, even if they are allowed to publish more detailed numbers, it would leave many questions unanswered, including details of how Prism works. Also, the number of people affected by FISA requests could be much largerthan the number of requests, because once the government makes a broad request, it can add individuals and additional search queries for a year.

Google’s motion also revealed that two of its top lawyers, Kent Walker and Richard Salgado, have security clearance, which FISA requires for handling classified legal orders and materials. It was filed on behalf of the company by Albert Gidari, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie who has earned a reputation in tech and legal circles as an expert on surveillance law.

Today’s Scuttlebot: Holographic Employees and Laser Archaeology

The technology reporters and editors of The New York Times scour the Web for important and peculiar items. Monday's selections include the use of holograms of people to give instruction in airports around the world, and the discovery of an ancient Cambodian city in the jungle with airborne laser mapping.

I.B.M. Inflates Its Cloud

For all the money it has spent, you don’t hear about I.B.M. as a powerhouse of cloud computing-based services. Cloud computing is still a tiny fraction of the company’s $106 billion in annual revenue. Still, I.B.M. has spent more than $4 billion acquiring cloud computing-based services in the last few years, and recently bought a big public cloud.

I.B.M. apparently feels that attention must be paid.

The company is certainly gearing up for a much bigger push in cloud-delivered software. The first step is packaging the products in new ways, to address a much bigger customer base that’s a little lower on the corporate pyramid.

On Tuesday, the company showed off a series of cloud products centered around such popular topics as Big Data and social analytics for marketing, as well as human resources, sales, customer care and procurement software delivered over the cloud. In all, I.B.M. says it has more than 100 cloud applications.

The announcement signifies that under Virginia M. Rmetty, its chief executive, I.B.M., like other incumbent technology giants, is being forced to change its ways.

I.B.M. used to sell complex hardware, software and services packages to chief executives and their ilk. In the new world, it must also offer products for executives more directly involved with day-to-day operations that their departments can use without complex training or lengthy procurement, hassles like installing servers.

That approach is how many cloud upstarts, like Salesforce.com, even Yammer, made their way into companies, back when the cloud business was starting out.

Earlier this month, I.B.M. agreed to pay about $2 billion for SoftLayer, which has a global network of 13 data centers. Coupled with I.B.M.’s own data centers, SoftLayer should make it easier to deliver software over a so-called public cloud, as opposed to a company’s own mach! ines.

Public clouds like Amazon Web Services, where many companies share computing space, have become an increasingly accepted part of enterprise technology.

Moving to a public model can’t have been easy for a company that made mainframe computers for corporations â€" its stock in trade for decades. But it points to I.B.M. for changing with the times.

Apple Executive Defends Pricing in Case on E-Books

Apple Executive Defends Pricing in Case on E-Books

Just days after Apple introduced the iPad and opened an e-bookstore, the biggest player in the e-book market, Amazon, changed the way it sold digital titles. Steven P. Jobs shot off an e-mail to the Apple executive who had negotiated deals with the publishers.

Eddy Cue, a senior vice president for software and services.

“Wow, we have really lit the fuse on a powder keg,” Mr. Jobs wrote in the e-mail dated Jan. 30, 2010, to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services.

The e-mail was brought up as evidence during the second half of Mr. Cue’s testimony in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday, where much of the discussion focused on whether Apple intended to help the publishers raise Amazon’s prices.

Mr. Cue testified on Monday that Mr. Jobs’s e-mail was not a memo congratulating him about how Apple’s entry into the e-book market affected Amazon, causing it to switch to a business model called agency pricing, where the publishers, not the retailer, set the price of the books. Mr. Cue said Mr. Jobs was remarking on the company’s ability to “cause ripples” in the e-book industry, which was then largely dominated by Amazon.

While Mr. Cue conceded that some e-book prices had gone up as a result of agency pricing, he noted that many titles might not have become available in any digital store at all if Apple had not introduced agency pricing to the market. He said he had learned from his meetings with publishers that they were unhappy with Amazon’s uniform $9.99 pricing for e-books and that they were planning to use a tactic known as windowing â€" delaying the release of an e-book until after the more expensive hardcover had been in stores for a while.

Mr. Cue testified that both he and Mr. Jobs believed that “withholding books is a disaster for any bookstore.”

The Justice Department was not persuaded. Lawrence Buterman, a Justice Department lawyer, asked Mr. Cue whether he was aware that only 37 e-books had ever been windowed.

“The number doesn’t matter,” Mr. Cue said. “What matters is which books. Thirty-seven could be a huge number if it’s the right books.”

Both parties showed their evidence on a projector screen. Apple’s legal team used a MacBook to shuffle between evidence documents, stacking them side by side in split screens and zooming in on specific paragraphs.

In contrast, the Justice Department’s lawyers could show only one piece of evidence at a time. One video that Mr. Buterman played as evidence failed to produce the audio commentary needed to make his point.

In its antitrust case brought a year ago, the federal government is trying to cast Apple as the ringmaster that conspired with five big book publishers to raise e-book prices. The publishers have all settled their cases.

On Monday, the Justice Department’s lawyers homed in on a condition in Apple’s contracts with the publishers: the “most favored nation” clause, which required publishers to allow Apple to sell e-books at the same price as the books would be sold in any other store. Apple has said this clause existed to guarantee that Apple customers got the lowest e-book prices. But Mr. Buterman argued that it defeated Amazon’s ability to compete on price, and that it left Amazon with no choice but to switch to the agency model while allowing the publishers to raise prices.

Mr. Cue said he disagreed. He noted that Amazon had 90 percent of the e-book market before Apple entered the game.

“Amazon could have negotiated a better deal,” he said. “They had a lot more power.”

Lawyers for Apple and the government spent much of the hearing debating whether the e-mails exchanged between Apple executives and publishers illustrated Apple’s intent to help the publishers force Amazon’s hand. In one e-mail sent to Mr. Jobs, Mr. Cue was reviewing his meeting with the publishers, saying they were interested in solving the “Amazon issue.”

Mr. Cue said he was referring to the publishers’ ability to price books above Amazon’s uniform price of $9.99 in Apple’s iBookstore. Apple had proposed price caps of $12.99 to $14.99 for new releases. But he said this did not refer to enabling the publishers to force Amazon to raise prices, too.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 18, 2013, on page B4 of the New York edition with the headline: Apple Executive Defends Pricing in Case on E-Books.

AT&T to Introduce Solar-Powered Charging Stations

AT&T to Introduce Solar-Powered Charging Stations

As keeping the mobile life going becomes ever more important â€" both to wireless customers and the providers who serve them â€" AT&T says it has a new way to keep New Yorkers connected free.

Starting Tuesday, 25 solar-powered charging stations will sprout in parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces in the five boroughs.

Testing a mobile charging station in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Starting Tuesday, 25 solar-powered charging stations will sprout in parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces in the five boroughs, part of a pilot project from the wireless provider in partnership with the city. The stations â€" 12.5-foot steel poles with three petal-shaped solar panels fanning out on top â€" can accommodate up to six devices at a time regardless of wireless carrier, with dedicated ports for iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and standard USB charging cables.

Designed by a Dumbo-based firm, Pensa, with solar technology from Goal Zero, a mobile solar start-up, they are to remain in place in spots like Union Square Park, Metrotech Plaza and Rockaway Beach for three to four weeks at a time until October. If successful, AT&T could expand to other cities. The project will cost $300,000 to $500,000.

“We view this as a commitment to being a part of the New York community as a corporate citizen but also as a way for New Yorkers to continue to engage with their technology as they continue to consume more and more data,” said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T’s New York division.

It is also good for the company’s bottom line. The city has more mobile customers than in any other market, and executives, who have promoted use of their network by providing free wireless in subways and at parks and cultural events, realized there was a need for more frequent charging.

And it is the biggest area of growth for the major telecommunications companies, said Eddie Hold, vice president of the Connected Intelligence unit at NPD Group, a market research firm.

“People are making less phone calls than they’ve made before and more importantly the newer generation of people are really not making many phone calls,” he said. “To make money out of data services the telecom companies need to convince you to connect as many devices as possible. The more you connect, the more data you use, the more money they make.”

The spark for the project came after Hurricane Sandy, when AT&T supplied diesel generators and cell towers on wheels to hard-hit neighborhoods in the five boroughs.

Working with Goal Zero, which makes portable solar chargers, and Pensa, which had been experimenting with creating stationary street chargers, the company won approval this spring from city Parks Department officials to test them. They will rotate locations â€" including Orchard Beach in the Bronx, Governors Island, Pier 59 in Hudson River Park, Coney Island, the Staten Island Zoo and several cultural events.

In creating and testing the stations, said Chris Abbruzzese, vice president for marketing at Goal Zero, they found that consumers are aware of exactly how much of a charge they need to power a phone or tablet for, say, a commute home. Three 15-watt panels and a 168-watt-hour lithium ion battery pack can keep the stations operating through the night or five days without sunshine. The stations will allow a user to fill a smartphone in two hours, or grab a 30 percent charge in 30 minutes.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 18, 2013, on page B2 of the New York edition with the headline: AT&T to Introduce Solar-Powered Charging Stations.

Daily Report: Tech Companies Reveal Some Numbers on Requests for Customer Data

Technology companies, under fire after revelations that they secretly gave customer information to the federal government, are putting out data to reassure their users, but rather than provide clarity the disclosures have left many questions unanswered, Vindu Goel and Claire Cain Miller report in The New York Times.

Apple, for example, said that from Dec. 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013, it received 4,000 to 5,000 requests for data, covering 9,000 to 10,000 accounts, from American law enforcement agencies. Facebook said it got 9,000 to 10,000 requests for information about its users, covering 18,000 to 19,000 user accounts, in the last six months of 2012.

How many of those requests were from federal investigators seeking to sniff out the next terrorist? The companies said they were not allowed to say, although they noted that the requests were commonly related to things like local police investigations and searches for missing children.

“We still don’t know what is allowed and how these programs are being implemented,” said Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research group.

But the companies were under immense pressure to announce something. If customers do not trust that Facebook or Microsoft or Google will keep private data confidential, they could use those services far less, undermining the companies’ entire business model.

Protests Expand in Brazil, Fueled by Video of Police Brutality

Video of a Brazilian reporter, Pedro Ribeiro Nogueira, being beaten by eight police officers during a protest he was covering in São Paulo last Tuesday.

As my colleague Simon Romero reports from São Paulo, more than 200,000 Brazilians filled the streets of cities across the country on Monday, in protests against the high cost of living and lavish spending on soccer stadiums ahead of next year’s World Cup that have intensified as images of police brutality against peaceful protesters spread on social networks.

While the dynamic of heavy-handed police tactics, like the use of pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters, magnifying rather than quelling dissent echoes recent events in Turkey â€" not to mention those in New York, Oakland, Spain, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia in 2011 â€" some of the images of the police crackdown that stirred the most anger on social networks were captured not by protesters or foreign correspondents but by reporters for local newspapers and television stations.

One striking account of the violence used on protesters last week in Brazil’s largest city, in a video viewed more than a million times on YouTube, was narrated by Giuliana Vallone, a reporter for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo’s Web site who was shot in the eye at point-blank range by one of the police “shock troops” deployed against the protesters.

An account of last week’s violence against protesters in São Paulo, narrated by Giuliana Vallone, one of 15 journalists injured while reporting on the demonstrations.

On Monday, as protests spread across Brazil, video clips shot for the Web site of another newspaper, O Estadão de São Paulo, showed protesters in the national capital Brasilía, dancing and singing on the distinctive modernist roof of Congress after they had broken through police lines.

Video of protesters swarming Congress in Brazil’s capital on Monday night.

Video of protesters occupying the marquee of the National Congress in Brasilia on Monday night, posted online by the newspaper O Estadão de São Paulo.

Other images of the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters were shot on the phones and cameras of bystanders or participants in the demonstrations. One clip posted on YouTube by a blogger named José Almuiña, showing the sudden use of force against protesters kneeling in a street near the recently renovated Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, has already been viewed more than 450,000 times.

Video of police officers in Rio de Janeiro firing tear gas at peaceful protesters near the recently renovated Maracanã stadium on Sunday.

That attack, by officers from the Batalhão de Choque on protesters singing the national anthem and waving Brazilian flags, came as the stadium was being used for a match in the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup.

Similarly heavy handed tactics used against protesters who gathered outside the new national stadium in Brasilía before the opening match of the Confederations Cup on Saturday â€" some holding signs that announced “We Left Facebook” â€" were caught on video posted on YouTube and Vimeo.

Video posted on YouTube showed police officers using force to break up a peaceful protest outside Brazil’s new national stadium in Brasilía on Saturday.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.