Archive for July 7th, 2012

Anonymous supporters protest internet censorship in Japan

TOKYO: About 80 masked people, calling themselves allies of the global hacker group Anonymous, picked up litter in Tokyo Saturday in a novel protest against Japan’s tougher laws against illegal downloads.

In light rain, they took part in an ‘Anonymous cleaning service’ for one hour in a park and on pavements in the shopping and entertainment hub of Shibuya, a change from the group’s trademark website attacks.

They were dressed in black and wore masks of Guy Fawkes, the central figure in England’s 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament, which have become a symbol of protests by the loosely linked alliance around the world.

Last month, Japan’s parliament enacted new copyright laws that could mean jail for anyone illegally downloading copyrighted music and movies.

On June 26, websites of the Japanese finance ministry, the Supreme Court and other public offices were defaced or brought down after an Anonymous online statement denounced the new laws.

The statement claimed Japan’s recording industry and other content providers were now pushing internet service providers to implement surveillance technology that will spy on every single internet user in Japan.

The group, which assembled for the clean-up service in Tokyo, attributed the cyber attacks to other Anonymous elements around the world.

“We prefer constructive and productive solutions,” the group said in a statement. “We want to make our fellow citizens aware of the problem with a productive message.”

“In IRC (internet relay chat), somebody proposed cleaning as a means of protest as we didn’t want to follow the style of mass anti-nuclear rallies which are getting too much,” said a spokesman for the assembly.

“I guess this is the first time that a Japanese-led Anonymous group stages an outside operation,” said the man who said he works as an engineer in the computer industry.

“The cleaning service has amused overseas Anonymous allies as something unique to the Japanese,” said another spokesman. “We want to continue stating our case on the net.”

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The History of Sonic the Hedgehog available for pre-order on Amazon

A forthcoming book will document the history of Sega’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega announced today. The 300-page book, The History of Sonic the Hedgehog, covers the Blue Blur in exhaustive detail, including “every 2D and 3D Sonic game” and “every spin-off game, every crossover, and even rare cameo appearances by Sonic across the gaming universe.” You can see some preview pages over on the Sega Blog.

The History of Sonic the Hedgehog is now available for pre-order on Amazon. We’re guessing it gets pretty dark after the first 30 pages or so.

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External device causes smartphone fire: Samsung

SEOUL: Samsung Electronics Co on Saturday cited a report by fire investigators as saying an external energy source had caused one of its flagship Galaxy S III smartphones to catch fire in Ireland last month.

The world’s top smartphone maker said an investigation by Fire Investigations (UK) had stated that the Samsung device was not responsible for the cause of the fire, and that an “external energy source was responsible for generating the heat”.

The new Galaxy S series, the strongest rival for Apple’s iPhone, was launched in Europe in late May and in the United States last month.

A Dublin-based consumer posted comments and photos on a web site in June, saying his Galaxy phone had “exploded” while mounted on his car dashboard.

He wrote that while he was driving, “suddenly a white flame, sparks and a bang came out of the phone.”

The South Korean electronics giant said it had contracted FI-UK, an independent British provider of consultancy services into fires and explosions, to determine the cause of the fire.

Samsung added it had provided FI-UK with several Galaxy S III phones, including the burnt smartphone, for a series of tests.

“Additionally, the investigation results state, ‘The only way it was possible to produce damage similarly to the damage recorded within the owner’s damaged device was to place the devices or component parts with a domestic microwave,'” Samsung said on its official global blog (http://global.samsungtomorrow.com/?p=16161).

It also showed the unnamed user’s latest comments posted on a web site, saying the phone had been recovered from water and the damage “occurred due to a large amount of external energy” which apparently was used to dry out the device.

“This was not a deliberate act but a stupid mistake,” the user added, according to the Samsung blog.

There have been other reports of Samsung smartphones overheating. In March, a Korean schoolboy reported that a spare battery for his Galaxy S II exploded in his back pocket. Samsung said then that the cause was massive external pressure or force.

Heat issues have been reported with other devices. In March, influential consumer watchdog Consumer Reports said Apple’s latest iPad tablet threw off a lot more heat than the previous version, lending weight to complaints on Internet forums that the device could get uncomfortably warm after heavy use.

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Phone app allows US users to film police activity discreetly

NEW YORK: A US civil rights advocacy group has launched a free mobile phone application that allows users to record police activity discreetly, saying it will help boost police force accountability.

The New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explains that “Police Tape,” available to the public since Tuesday, “allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police.”

The Android phone application, available for download on the website of the ACLU of New Jersey, is “an essential tool for police accountability,” said the office’s executive director Deborah Jacobs.

“Too often, incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed.”

Unlike traditional smartphone recording apps, “Police Tape” disappears from the screen once it is launched, minimizing the possibility that police will notice the recorder.

The application allows users to send the file to the ACLU for safe-keeping and analysis.

“Police Tape” also contains legal advice on the rights of citizens confronted by police.

The ACLU of New Jersey website cites several court rulings that recognized citizens’ rights to film police activity.

A similar application for iPhone will be available later this summer, the site says.

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Yahoo CEO search down to Levinsohn, Hulu’s Kilar

NEW YORK: The race to become Yahoo Inc’s next chief executive appears to have come down to two candidates: current interim CEO Ross Levinsohn and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar.

According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, Levinsohn and Kilar are the last names left on the Yahoo board’s shortlist for permanent CEO of the company.

Yahoo, the once iconic Internet company, has struggled to find its footing in the new digital world dominated by the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

The company has essentially been rudderless since turning down Microsoft’s $44 billion takeover offer in 2008. Since that time, Yahoo has plowed through four CEOs in as many years, among them Terry Semel, co-founder Jerry Yang, Carol Bartz, and most recently, Scott Thompson.

Yahoo’s board also had on its shortlist Jonathan Miller, currently News Corp’s Chief Digital Officer and former CEO of AOL Inc, and wanted to speak with him about the position, but Miller declined to pursue discussions, said a source familiar with his thinking.

According to this source, Miller put the brakes on any talks with Yahoo’s board out of respect for his friendship with Levinsohn, who has long wanted to run a company as CEO. Prior to their current positions, Miller and Levinsohn ran an investment firm together named Fuse Capital.

Kilar, however, has no such personal relationship with Levinsohn, which is why he is still on the shortlist.

Executive recruiting firm Spencer Stuart is leading the search on behalf of Yahoo.

While Kilar is being seriously considered for the role, Levinsohn is still thought of as the favorite to take the position on a permanent basis, according to one of the sources.

Since taking over as interim CEO in May after Scott Thompson’s forced resignation, Levinsohn has been acting and making decisions as if he has already won the seat, this source said.

Levinsohn hired former Google director and media veteran Michael Barrett as Chief Revenue Officer to help lead Yahoo’s efforts to reemerge as an entertainment and information destination that wins advertising revenue.

Those close to Levinsohn have said he is committed to building out Yahoo’s own video programming and striking more syndication deals in pursuit of ads that command a higher price, and Barrett’s hiring underscores that strategy.

Miller and Levinsohn were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for Yahoo’s board, Charles Sipkins, declined comment, as did a representative for Hulu.

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Microsoft stumbles into crucial financial year

SEATTLE: An ugly first week for Microsoft Corp’s new financial year, probably its most important to date, has done little to inspire confidence that the software giant can jumpstart a stubbornly stagnant share price.

The world’s largest software company, whose stock remains mired around $30, had prepared a multi-pronged assault to try and break into the crucial mobile computing space this year and take Apple Inc and Google Inc down a peg.

But on Monday, it announced a $6.2 billion writedown of a 2007 Internet-advertising acquisition – a reminder that Microsoft has a patchy track record when it ventures outside of its Windows and Office comfort zone.

Days later, Vanity Fair blamed Steve Ballmer’s “astonishingly foolish” leadership for a “lost decade”, in one of the most scathing articles ever written about the CEO.

It was not the news agenda Microsoft had in mind as it prepared to unveil fourth-quarter results on July 19. The writeoff is expected to hand the company its first quarterly loss – on paper – since going public in 1986.

“This kind of massive write-off is a stark reminder that Microsoft’s capital allocation policies in the past have not been ideal at times,” said Highmark Capital fund manager Todd Lowenstein.

Microsoft is placing several major bets over the next 12 months: its new Windows 8 operating system; its first tablets; a new version of Office; and revamped phone software.

Wall Street thinks Microsoft still stands a chance of reclaiming its former glory and investors, including Lowenstein, cite a promising pipeline for 2013. But they will want hard reasons to pay more than $30 for a stock that hasn’t traded above that for any extended period of time since 2000.

“The jury is still out, but I see the potential for a renaissance here with a new platform,” said Rick Sherlund, an analyst at Nomura Securities International, who has followed the company for three decades. “This is not a winner takes all, Apple kills Microsoft, death-spiral situation. There’s room for a lot of innovation that allows Microsoft to grow again.”

Big Charge

Microsoft got off on the wrong foot with the announcement that it was writing off $6.2 billion in goodwill, chiefly for its 2007 acquisition of digital advertising firm aQuantive.

That purchase was supposed to accelerate Microsoft’s entry into an online ad market dominated by Google, but it never took hold and its money-losing Bing search engine has barely dented Google’s market share in the three years since launch.

The write-off was a painful admission that Microsoft has failed to make a profitable business from online ads despite growing traffic. A sale of the online unit, perhaps to Facebook Inc, would make sense now, some on Wall Street suggest.

The huge charge was not a shock to investors – Microsoft shares rose slightly in the next trading session – but it underscored how the company misjudged the Internet’s commercial possibilities and lost its way in mobile computing.

Some point out that Microsoft’s $6.2 billion charge for an ill-conceived Internet-centric acquisition is actually better than they deserve. Ballmer offered to pay $47.5 billion for fading Internet giant Yahoo Inc in 2008. That company’s market value is now less than half that.

WINDOWS 8

The central gambit for 2013 is that its touch-friendly Windows 8 software – due out around October – will fire consumers’ imaginations and take root among Microsoft’s core business audience.

For the first time, it will make “Surface” devices of its own to run Windows 8: a tablet based on power-efficient ARM Holdings chips to challenge Apple’s iPad and an Intel Corp processor to attack the lightweight laptop market.

Analysts are skeptical Microsoft can produce a device cheaply enough to seriously threaten the iPad, but recognize that Microsoft is challenging PC makers such as Acer and Samsung to come up with better machines.

Microsoft has generated interest, but not exactly excitement about the new system, which is sure to confuse many longtime Windows users.

But even if Windows 8 is not an instant hit, Microsoft’s long-term agreements with corporations, which are paying for the latest version of Windows even if they don’t use it, mean that the core Windows business will not crumble.

“Windows is not only not going to disappear, but rather become the No. 2 tablet operating system and No. 1 operating system for” tablet-notebook devices, said Mark Moerdler, a technology analyst at Bernstein Research. “In contrast to the bear case, that Windows revenue will go off a cliff.”

In phone software, Microsoft has no such cushion. Despite a tie-up with handset maker Nokia, the company still has only 4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, according to the latest figures from tech research firm Comscore.

Microsoft announced a new version of its phone software two weeks ago, called Windows Phone 8, but there are concerns that financially-squeezed Nokia may not last until its release in autumn without help. Its shares have fallen 80 percent since former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop became CEO in 2010.

“If Nokia goes away, then Windows Phone is done,” said Michael Yoshikami, CEO of fund manager Destination Wealth Management, who does not own Microsoft shares. “Microsoft is either going to own or have a share of Nokia.”

Earnings Wipe Out

Microsoft’s $6.2 billion aQuantive charge is expected to wipe out any profit for Microsoft’s fourth fiscal quarter. Wall Street analysts are now predicting a quarterly net loss of $366 million when the company reports earnings on July 19, rather than its previous estimate of $5.25 billion net profit.

But the one-time charge will not affect fiscal 2013. Analysts are calling for a sales increase of about 10 percent for fiscal 2013, and profit growth of about 13 percent if the charge is discounted.

Bernstein’s Moerdler thinks the share price is based on “an unrealistically bad scenario of no-to-negative perpetual growth, billions of dollars of annual cash drain from search and mobile into perpetuity, and tens of billions of dollars of additional value destruction through ill-fated acquisitions and investments.”

But that is exactly what some fear. Destination Wealth Management’s Yoshikami paints a worst-case scenario.

“Nokia collapses, they don’t step in. They have no other significant manufacturer willing to take a chance on Windows 8, they decide they are going to take a chance on Surface tablet and that comes out at $800. Then their stock is at $28 forever.”
Ballmer has become a lightning rod for this failure of innovation. Vanity Fair quotes one former manager saying Microsoft had turned itself into “technology’s answer to Sears”.

Ballmer has had critics since taking the top job in January 2000. But the widely cited thumbs-down still resonates.

“I would question how much longer he (Ballmer) will be there. That’s something Wall Street is always speculating about,” said a Wall Street analyst who asked not to be named. “You need someone who can manage creative talent better than Steve’s done.”

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