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Monday, September 23, 2013

Answers to Readers’ Questions About Electronics on Planes

As Jad Mouawad and I reported, a Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel will meet this week to complete its recommendations to relax restrictions on electronic devices during flights.

The guidelines are expected to allow reading e-books or other publications, listening to podcasts and watching videos, according to several of the panel’s members who requested anonymity because they could not comment on the recommendations.

Below are a sampling of reader questions about the change and answers from the reporters.


I’m all for getting rid of the bogus restrictions on electronics … but texting isn’t allowed while listening to a podcast with headphones is?
â€" Greg Maletic, Portland, Ore.


Texting would require a data connection, while a podcast can be downloaded to a phone and can be played in Airplane Mode. There are several reasons data connections will remain banned. One reason is that the Federal Communications Commission has requested the ban, because phones trying to connect to cell towers while traveling at hundreds of miles per hour causes too much strain on the cellular network.


Here’s what I don’t get: If an electronic device can really interfere with a plane’s systems, then why are electronic devices permitted even to be carried on planes? Guns are banned because they’re dangerous. Bombs and knives too. If some gizmo can transmit a signal that cripples a plane’s systems, then wouldn’t all gizmos be banned entirely â€" not just during takeoff and landing? And wouldn’t some bad guy have already tried to hijack a plane using a radio device? â€" Seth, New York City


Electronic devices cannot interfere with a plane’s navigation system, which is why the rule is going to be changed. The original rules banning electronics were put in place in the 1960s, when CB radios carried on board by passengers caused interference with some pilots’ radios. Since then, planes have become highly insulated and electronics do not interfere with radios. Additionally, most of a plane’s navigational equipment operates on entirely different bands than consumer devices like an iPad.


IPhones, and I suppose other cellphones, have an “airplane mode” setting, which disables Wi-Fi and phone functions. I fail to see why using a phone as an e-book while in airplane mode could possibly pose a danger. Similarly, if a laptop is closed, it is as good as off, so why do the airlines insist that laptops be powered down as opposed to just being closed? â€" Lew, Efland, N.C.


These are rules that were put in place long before most laptops, iPhones, or “airplane mode” even existed.


Many airlines issue tablets to pilots for use in the cockpit. They’re rapidly replacing â€" or at least supplementing â€" the old carry-on bag full of charts. This would seem to indicate that the airlines themselves are fairly convinced there isn’t a problem with at least a limited set of Wi-Fi-enabled devices. â€" Fry, Sacramento


That’s correct. When airlines and the F.A.A. said it was O.K. for pilots to carry iPads in the cockpit instead of paper manuals, passengers started to question why it was O.K. for these devices to be inches away from the most important part of a plane’s system. At first, the F.A.A. said the electronic emissions from two iPads were very different than those from 100 iPads, but several experts have said that is not true â€" 100 iPads does not mean 100 times the emissions.


And my 1.026 kg “Steve Jobs” biography is a less dangerous projectile than a 0.68 kg iPad? - Thomas, Nyon, Switzerland


Most hardcover books are much heavier than today’s electronic e-readers and tablets.

Twitter Adds CBS to Its Stable of Big Advertising Partners

Twitter has been furiously adding partners to its Amplify advertising program ever since it began informally last year with a partnership between the social network, ESPN and the Ford Motor Company. In those initial ads, ESPN sent out clips of football games, wrapped in a Ford Fusion ad, as short messages on the service.

Since then, more than a dozen other content distributors, from the Fox television network to Globosat in Brazil, have joined the program, with brands including Heineken and AT&T promoting clips from major sports events like the U.S. Open tennis tournament and NCAA basketball games and live events like MTV‘s Video Music Awards.

On Monday, Twitter announced that it had signed CBS, one of its biggest partners yet. The broadcast and Internet network intends to use Twitter Amplify to showcase content from 42 products, from TVGuide.com to its fantasy football site.

As an example, Twitter and CBS showed off a possible “60 Minutes in 60 Seconds” ad, which could promote content from the venerable television news magazine.

Increasing advertising revenue is important to Twitter, which has filed preliminary paperwork to sell stock to the public in an initial public offering that could occur as soon as November. As part of the process of courting investors, the company will be publicly disclosing its financial performance for the first time.

The real-time nature of Twitter’s stream of messages, or tweets, pairs well with live broadcasts. During Sunday night’s Emmy Awards broadcast on CBS, for example, the number of tweets exceeded 17,000 per minute as Carrie Underwood performed her rendition of the Beatles‘ “Yesterday.”

Television executives are intrigued by the possibilities of Twitter and TV reinforcing each other’s audiences.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” said David Morris, the chief client officer of CBS Interactive, who appeared onstage as part of a Twitter presentation for Advertising Week 2013, an annual industry gathering in New York. CBS can send Twitter messages, or tweets, in real time, targeted to people who are likely to be interested in the content, with advertisers getting additional reach for their messages.

Mr. Morris declined to name any advertisers that would participate in CBS’s Amplify efforts, saying discussions were still going on. However, he said, “one advertiser asked us to partner and package up 20 of these shows.”

Matt Derella, a Twitter executive who works with the company’s largest American advertisers, said that research by Twitter and Nielsen suggests that Twitter and television reinforce each other, boosting viewership and the volume of messages on Twitter.

Broadcasting commercials simultaneously on a TV show and Twitter can boost an ad’s message, Mr. Derella said. Twitter has found that users who saw a TV commercial and then engaged in some fashion with a Twitter ad for the same product indicated they were 58 percent more likely to to buy it than people who saw just the television ad.

“By adding Twitter to your buy, you will sell more stuff,” he said.

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Reviewing the Review Reviewers

There was a voluminous response to my article Monday morning that said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, had gone after 19 companies for fake online reviews. His investigation was the largest such action by regulators to date, indicating how the problem is now becoming a law enforcement issue.

Here is how I would sum up the tenor of many of the comments: A good beginning, but in essence a slap on the wrist, with the total amount of fines reaching only $350,000. Regulators should do much more.

The problem is pervasive and getting worse, commentators believe. As Jeremy in New York put it:  “Sadly, this is where ‘free-market capitalism’ is going. It’s not about creating a better product for the consumer, but about tricking consumers into thinking ‘yours’ is so much better than ‘theirs.’”

One reason that good reviews overwhelm the less enthusiastic is that bad ones are hunted down and removed. Consider the experience of RK in Boston:

“I had occasion last year to discover that people who post negative reviews can be harassed until they delete the reviews. After an independent seller I ordered from via Amazon messed up the order in multiple ways and did not respond appropriately to my communications, I posted a straightforward negative review of the seller (my review was just factual, no invective). What followed was a series of emails, texts to my cell phone at 2 AM (!), and emails from the seller, all purporting to be from the employee who had messed up the order but now feared losing his job because his boss would fire him when the boss saw my review. I was contacted many times over multiple days with requests to remove my review from Amazon. Given that this person now had my name, street address, email address, and (somehow?) my phone #, and was claiming he would lose his job because of me, I took the path of least resistance and deleted my review. Yes, I could have stuck to my guns … but the whole thing was starting to feel crepy and I didn’t have time at that point to research how to complain to Amazon.”

Charles H. Green of West Orange, N.J., tied the problem of fake reviews into the bigger issue of flattery, which the Internet makes so easy. “What do you say when an acquaintance asks you and 20 other “friends” to write a positive review of their new book? What about automatic following â€" endemic on Twitter and now messing up LinkedIn? What about Triberr, where dozens of people agree to automatically tweet and like every post every member puts up? A lie by any other name pretty much smells the same. This is the tip of a very large iceberg.”

The article received a bad review or two itself. Polymath in British Columbia wrote: “Although I hate phony reviews and would love to see them abolished, I have a hard time seeing just what law most of them violate. In fact, they seem to be protected by the 1st Amendment. Especially since they typically just use adjectives and other words that can’t be nailed down to a level of true or false. I mean, who’s to say that an employee who posts a review didn’t actually find their employer’s goods or services to be ‘wonderful’ or whatever they say.”

Mr. Schneiderman was clear on this even if the article perhaps was not. Preparing or disseminating a false or deceptive review that a reasonable consumer would believe to be a neutral third-party review is a form of false advertising known as “astroturfing,” and it violates several New York laws. Businesses have a moral and legal responsibility to present things as they are. Otherwise we’re going to be ordering lobster on the menu and we’re going to get hamster.

Polymath wasn’t done with me. He or she added: “I’m sorry to say, I find this sentence from the article utterly hilarious: ‘Fake reviews undermine the credibility of the Internet.’ Just exactly what credibility is the Internet supposed to have?”

Which is the saddest comment of all.

Is Maker Faire Made for Kids?

At New York’s Maker Faire this weekend, an event that has built a following by showcasing the tinkering of homespun inventors, children were front and center at every booth, touching, playing and asking the exhibitors how their inventions work.

To some, that was a boon. To others, the child-friendly vibe made for a less-edgy event than in years past, and could risk turning the event into little more than a D.I.Y. refresh on the traditional science museum concept.

“In San Francisco, there was a lot more fire. There was a lot more Burning Man-type stuff,” said Michael Newman, an exhibitor who showed off a paper-based video game (great for kids, by the way). But this year’s New York event seemed more genteel, he said. More toddlers. Less danger.

As the event has grown, both in terms of attendance and corporate sponsorship, it has become a magnet for families looking for hands-on learning that could augment science, engineering and math education, while helping to develop the next generation of what has been called, the “maker movement,” a renaissance in building, making and fixing things yourself.

“I love that it is becoming more kid-centric,” said Stephen Gilman, who brought his son Ben, 7, to the event, and works to help create “makerspaces,” or  hands-on learning workshops, for children.

“This is where the power of the maker movement is,” he said.

Amber Garcia is only 2 1/2, but her mother, Christine Rosario, brought her and her older sister to the Learn How to Solder tent at the fair.

“If they think they can do it here,” her mother said, “they can do it in the future.”

Many of the festival’s activities, like a large-scale demonstration of Mentos candy reacting with Coke Zero, air rockets and toy guns constructed out of PVC pipe, seemed designed to pique the interests of children, and were accompanied by family-friendly kits  for everything from cardboard robots to quadcopters to soldering tools. All of them were for sale.

The grounds also featured a life-size re-creation of the board game Mouse Trap.

Children flocked to the Take It Apart booth to dismantle the kinds of technology they are usually not allowed to touch.

Miles Labat-Comess, 7, and his sister, Marion, 9, tore into several donated Canon EOS-5D Mark II cameras.

“Their grandfather would be horrified,” said their father, Noel Labat-Comess. “He’s a photographer.”

Robots, or really anything with a face, was a sure draw. Many exhibitors, from homegrown chip inventors to Microsoft, drew children in by displaying friendly-faced (or boxing-gloved) robots, which the software giant used to demonstrate its Kinect motion sensing system.

Ben Gilman tried out an electric glove at a station featuring Furry Electric Zoo kits that incorporate basic electronics into stuffed animals, felt and fabric.

Like many parents at Maker Faire, Michael Carroll, a fourth-grade teacher in Philadelphia, said he thought that hands-on learning was the future of education.

Using a homemade lie detector, the kind he has his students build in class, Mr. Carroll interrogated a middle-school student about whether or not she does her homework. She said she usually did, and passed.

Popcade is a pint-size arcade console that Joshua Axelrod, right, built to revive the experience of playing over 100 classic video games. It took him about 100 hours to build, including seven trips to Radio Shack and 11 trips to Home Depot, and attracted a long line of children wanting to play.

One booth, sponsored by a cereal maker, encouraged kids to make racecars out of fruits and vegetables, which were then put to the test on a wooden speed track.

Alijah James, 12, center, has been to Maker Faire the past two years and brought his friend Jaylen Taylor this year. Andy Gikling, an engineer from St. Paul, Minn., showed them the remote camera for his robot, which tows a cooler of “beer” (which was actually filled with wires, he said, since the organizers wouldn’t allow actual beer in his exhibit).

Robert Beatty was touring the exhibits with his daughter Camille, quizzing her on the electronics used in the projects on the display.

“Wire, a battery, capacitor, regulators, ” answered Camille, 13, examining a whirring mobile of wooden cubes. An experienced robotics maker, Camille and her sister have a permanent project on display at the New York Hall of Science, a replica of the Mars rover. Camille worked on most of the machining for the rover, while her sister, Genevieve, 11, handled the soldering.

A lot of people assume Camille wants to become an engineer someday, she said, but she is interested in lots of things. Robotics right now is just a hobby. She said the project was more important as “inspiration to other kids to be creative,” which seemed to be the primary message of Maker Faire this year.

If nothing else, the event seemed to be making more makers, getting children excited about circuit electronics or soldering, putting small assembly kits in their hands (and making a large tent of merchandise available to their parents).

Turkey’s Chief European Union Negotiator Acknowledges Turkey May Never Join Bloc

It has been an open secret for years that Turkey, a majority Muslim country with a strong dose of national pride, would reject joining the European Union rather than waiting for the bloc to deny it entry.

Now, in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgement by a senior Turkish official that its decades-long bid to join the European alliance might fail, Turkey’s E.U. affairs minister, Egemen Bagis, said Saturday that Turkey would probably never join the union, the world’s biggest trading bloc.

Mr. Bagis said at a meeting in Yalta that prejudice in Europe was thwarting Turkey’s E.U. application much as it had undermined its bid to host the 2020 Olympics, according to a report Saturday in London’s Telegraph newspaper.

“They should understand that they are not hurting me by putting me on the back burner. They are hurting themselves,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Bagis as saying.

While he said that E.U. entry still remained a long-term goal, he stressed that Turkey was more likely to follow the example of Norway and to remain closely aligned with the alliance by adopting E.U. standards and retaining close economic ties, the paper said.

Europe has long had deep ambivalence about admitting Turkey, a country of 76 million, with skeptics citing the country’s geographic and cultural differences. Those doubts were further fanned during the recent bloody clampdown by the government on protesters in Taksim Square.

In June, influential ministers from Germany and France questioned whether Turkey had the democratic credentials to join the club.

“No democracy can be built on the repression of people who try to express themselves in the street,” France’s E.U. affairs minister, Thierry Repentin, said as the protests flared.

Then in July, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, was more blunt, expressing his opposition to Turkey joining the E.U., and insisting, as the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, once did, that Turkey was not a part of Europe.

Newly re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has also advocated for a special partnership for Turkey that falls short of full membership - an idea that Ankara flatly rejects.

Mr. Bagis’s remarks came as a surprise because his mission for years has been to persuade the 28-nation European bloc that Turkey deserved membership. He has long passionately argued that Turkey could be the E.U.’s bridge between the East and West and help it to expand its clout in the Arab world.

Even if the European Union was more enthusiastic, Turks have themselves soured on Europe.

With the union buffeted by the euro crisis and the events of the Arab Spring creating opportunities for Turkey to expand its swagger in the region, many Turks are asking why they would want to join a sick club that in any case does not want to accept them as a full partners.

Skepticism of the .E.U in Turkey has also been fueled by a seemingly intractable political dispute with E.U. member Cyprus. And many Turks feel they are being discriminated against because their country has a Muslim majority.

According to a survey released last week by the German Marshall Fund, popular support in Turkey for E.U. membership has fallen to 44 percent from 73 percent in 2004.

Mr. Bagis, for his part, has been displaying increasing frustration with the Europeans’ frosty attitude toward Turkey. Criticizing European countries skeptical of Turkey’s E.U. membership bid and alluding to Turkey’s economic and political strength, Mr. Bagis recently underlined Turkey’s growing defiance.

“Turkey doesn’t need the E.U., the E.U. needs Turkey,” he told reporters in June. “If we have to, we could tell them, ‘Get lost, kid!’”

Apple Sells Nine Million New iPhones

Apple for the first time released two new iPhones instead of one last week â€" and in multiple countries around the world, including China. That strategy resulted in record iPhone sales, nearly double the sales of the previous model, the company said Monday.

Apple said it sold nine million new iPhones over the weekend. That compares to five million iPhone 5 smartphones sold last year in the first weekend the device went on sale.

“This is our best iPhone launch yet,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, in a statement. “While we’ve sold out of our initial supply of iPhone 5S, stores continue to receive new iPhone shipments regularly. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough new iPhones for everyone.”

The company did not say how many of each model was sold, but it had expected the iPhone 5S, the more expensive model, to be more popular. Apple allowed customers to place early orders for the iPhone 5C, the lower-cost model, but not the iPhone 5S because of expected supply constraints.

Sales of the new iPhones topped analysts’ expectations. They had predicted Apple would sell eight million new iPhones.

Apple Sells Nine Million New iPhones

Apple for the first time released two new iPhones instead of one last week â€" and in multiple countries around the world, including China. That strategy resulted in record iPhone sales, nearly double the sales of the previous model, the company said Monday.

Apple said it sold nine million new iPhones over the weekend. That compares to five million iPhone 5 smartphones sold last year in the first weekend the device went on sale.

“This is our best iPhone launch yet,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, in a statement. “While we’ve sold out of our initial supply of iPhone 5S, stores continue to receive new iPhone shipments regularly. We appreciate everyone’s patience and are working hard to build enough new iPhones for everyone.”

The company did not say how many of each model was sold, but it had expected the iPhone 5S, the more expensive model, to be more popular. Apple allowed customers to place early orders for the iPhone 5C, the lower-cost model, but not the iPhone 5S because of expected supply constraints.

Sales of the new iPhones topped analysts’ expectations. They had predicted Apple would sell eight million new iPhones.

Giving Yourself Glowing Reviews Online May Cost You

Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” wrote Walt Whitman, America’s great bard of self-promotion. As the world goes ever more digital, quite a few businesses are adopting that philosophy â€" hiring a veritable chorus of touts to sing their nonexistent praises and lure in customers.

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, called the deceptions “worse than old-fashioned false advertising.”

New York regulators will announce on Monday the most comprehensive crackdown to date on deceptive reviews on the Internet. Agreements have been reached with 19 companies to cease their misleading practices and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties.

The yearlong investigation encompassed companies that create fake reviews as well as the clients that buy them. Among those signing the agreements are a charter bus operator, a teeth-whitening service, a laser hair-removal chain and an adult entertainment club. Also signing are several reputation-enhancement firms that place fraudulent reviews on sites like Google, Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo.

A phony review of a restaurant may lead to a bad meal, which is disappointing. But the investigation uncovered a wide range of services buying fake reviews that could do more permanent damage: dentists, lawyers, even an ultrasound clinic.

“What we’ve found is even worse than old-fashioned false advertising,” said Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. “When you look at a billboard, you can tell it’s a paid advertisement â€" but on Yelp or Citysearch, you assume you’re reading authentic consumer opinions, making this practice even more deceiving.”

Investigators working for Mr. Schneiderman began by posing as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop that was the victim of unfair reviews. Could the reputation management firm gin up some good reviews to drown out the naysayers?

All too often the answer was yes. The investigation revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places they had never seen in countries where they had never been.

In some cases, the reputation shops bribed their clients’ customers to write more fake reviews, giving them $50 gift certificates for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews.

The investigation was aimed at companies based in New York, but it will have a wider reach. “This shows that fake reviews are a legitimate target of law enforcement,” said Aaron Schur, senior litigation counsel for Yelp, which has taken an aggressive approach in screening out reviews it believes to be false. Yelp recently sued a California law firm for writing fake reviews of itself.

Within recent memory, reviewing was something professionals did. The Internet changed that, letting anyone with a well-reasoned opinion or a half-baked attitude have his say. Web sites loved this content, because it was free. So consumer reviews became ever more ubiquitous â€" and influential.

Reviews persuade people to try a new resort or shun an old restaurant. They sell books and the devices the books are read on. They influence the choice of garden tools, plumbers, high fashion and, increasingly, doctors. If you provide a service or sell a product and you are not reviewed, you might as well not exist.

In a 2011 Harvard Business School study, a researcher found that restaurants that increased their ranking on Yelp by one star raised their revenues by 5 to 9 percent. A 2012 Gartner study estimated that one in seven recommendations or ratings on social media sites like Facebook would soon be fake. And there have been instances where all the reviews of a product have been secretly bought and paid for by the seller of the product.

Some retailers and other sites that feature many reviews have largely ignored the problem, perhaps not wanting to scare away real customers. Others have been like Yelp and been more forceful in addressing the problem.

But the New York investigation shows that the fakers are constantly increasing in sophistication. “Do not make them sound like an advertisement,” one firm investigated by the attorney general cautioned its writers. Another boasted of using multiple computers to foil suspicions that arose when more than one review came from the same machine. A third talked of outwitting Facebook.

“Sadly, it will take continued policing, both by law enforcement and the review sites themselves, to make sure some businesses stop lying to customers they claim to serve,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Fake reviews undermine the credibility of the Internet. Olivia Roat, a marketing consultant for Main Street Host, a Buffalo digital marketing agency, discussed her growing realization that fake reviews are omnipresent on the company’s blog last year. “Say it ain’t so!” she wrote. Who, she wondered, could be trusted?

Apparently not Main Street Host, which was one of the 19 companies that signed an agreement to desist. The agreement says Main Street Host “engaged in astroturfing on behalf of over 30 clients,” using a term referring to writing fake reviews. Executives there could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

For the service companies, buying reviews seems a shortcut to the better reputation they are unlikely to achieve on their own.

US Coachways, another company in the investigation, is a charter bus service based in Staten Island. If a prospective customer were to look on Yelp, she might get the sense that this is not an outfit she would want to hire.

“This company basically ruined what was otherwise a great trip,” wrote a typical reviewer in 2012. Currently, the company has 14 reviews averaging one star. It is not possible to get much lower than this.

Edward Telmany, US Coachways’s chief executive, was upset about the low ratings, according to the formal Assurance of Discontinuance he signed with the attorney general’s office.

“We get bashed online,” Mr. Telmany wrote, accurately, to his employees on Nov. 20, 2011. “We are loosing [sic] money from this.”

His response was not to fix the problems that customers were citing, like buses never showing up, but to begin a full-fledged effort to get fake reviews. Mr. Telmany hired freelance writers, mandated that his employees write favorable reviews and even pitched in himself. He posted a five-star review on Yelp that began, “US Coachways does a great job!”

Neither Mr. Telmany nor a spokesman for US Coachways could be reached for comment on Sunday. The company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.

Faking reviews often begins with faked reviews of the company faking the reviews. In October 2010, a review appeared on Yahoo that said the writer was “thrilled” by the services provided by Main Street Host. He added that he just didn’t understand “why this company gets all the negative reviews.” He also said, “for the record, I am not a Mainstreethost.com employee, don’t know anyone who is, and have no knowledge of anyone else’s experience but my own.”

The review was, of course, by a Main Street Host employee. The company agreed to a $43,000 fine.

A version of this article appears in print on September 23, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Give Yourself 5 Stars? Online, It Might Cost You.