Murdoch and Skype Vie for “Sky”

Rupert Murdoch’s British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) is in the midst of a legal battle with Skype over ownership of the “Sky” portion that both companies share in their names.

Skype filed for an Initial Public Offering earlier this week, and the legal challenge from BSkyB was discussed in the filing.

BSkyB is disputing Skype’s application for trademark of the brand and bubble logo in the European Union and several other countries including India, Norway and Brazil.

BSkyB is a satellite broadcaster, Internet service and telephony service provider, which means the two companies operate within the same field and could, thus, be seen as competitors with similar names. BSkyB is vying for the trademark with the assertion that the likeness in names could confuse consumers.

Though Skype has contested the challenge successfully in Brazil and Turkey, permission to use the name was denied by the EU trademark registry (OHIM).

Skype said in the filing that they intend to appeal the decision, first, in the OHIM Board of Appeal, and, second, if necessary, to the Court of Justice of the European Community.

If BSkyB’s challenge proves to be successful Skype could be barred from trading in its own name within the EU.

The Skype filing also mentioned, “If these oppositions to our application for trademark registration are ultimately successful, it will be more difficult for us to prevent third parties from using the Skype brand without our permission, which may have a material adverse effect on our business.”

Additionally, a successful challenge in the EU could be a harbinger for more trademark infringement suits in other countries and regions, both from BSkyB and other similarly-named parties.

RIM Negotiations Reflect Global Privacy Concerns

Saudi Arabia permitted BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion Ltd. to continue its messaging service, which was due to be shut off Monday at midnight.

This is the second deadline that BlackBerry has wriggled by, but analysts say the negotiations are likely drawing to a close as there is no new deadline set.

The talks between the two have momentarily taken the spotlight of an ongoing dispute between governments and cell phone providers—a dispute that transcends several telecom technologies and the countries quickly adapting them.

For example, the Indian Government, who still feel the reverberations of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, have recently threatened to shut off BlackBerry service too, saying that RIM’s sophisticated encryption makes it too difficult to breach terrorist networks operating via mobile phone. The Mumbai attacks were coordinated almost entirely by cell phone and e-mail.

Similar concerns have been voiced in Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates; especially because BlackBerry servers are located in Canada, which leaves them out of the jurisdiction of the countries’ laws.

The tug, essentially, is one between privacy and security, where governments and law enforcement say that access to sensitive data like messaging, call logs and even GPS location is necessary for the adequate protection of their citizens.

And it’s not only felt in the East either.

In late June 2010 the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about advanced cell phone tracking systems, information gathering techniques used by law enforcement, and an outdated law that has permitted, in several occasions, abuse of the system.

The Electronic Communications Act of 1986 determines the law in matters of cell phone and law enforcement in the U.S., however, it hasn’t been updated since its inception, meaning that the government is relying on precedent that was set when cell phones were the size of a strong man’s bicep.

In the digital world of today, cell phones transmit users’ locations roughly every seven seconds, several companies provide services for cell-phone owners to track their spouses, and billions of pieces of data rocket across networks, become harbored in cloud services or databases and are ready to be snatched by law enforcement at any moment and with little legislative regulation.

One of the main pieces of discussion in the hearings was the disconnect between the EPCA and the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act. Through loop holes in these Acts, law enforcement officers have been able to monitor the cell phones of people whom they suspect of crimes without obtaining a warrant.

Privacy advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, say the ease with which law enforcement circumvent these warrants is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“Our failure to bring privacy law into the 21st century opens the door for a whole new realm of abuse, and long experience suggests that governments including our own are seldom able to resist making use of power,” writes Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

Congress is yet to pass ruling concerning cell-phone tracking.

For Canadian-based RIM, the negotiations with Saudi Arabia could yield any number of results.

Details are still hidden because RIM officials have been unwilling to comment in the media.

The governments of the Eastern countries, who are battling domestic terrorism, maintain that access to the encrypted messages is vital and also accuse RIM of a double standard, saying the company allows developed democracies access to the same information to which they, themselves, are denied.

It’s somewhat murky just what information BlackBerry does provide governments when asked, but “legal intercepts” are typically permitted and there are doubts that BlackBerry decrypts confidential information.

What is certain is that the world—Eastern and Western countries alike—will be watching the outcome in Saudi Arabia.

Flash for the iPhone, Finally

Here’s a news Flash for you: for those who’ve always wanted to run Adobe Flash on their iPhones, a new program, called Frash, that works on jailbroken phones will do it for you, though maybe not as quickly as you’d like.

Jailbreakme developer, Comex, the same dev who unveiled a jailbreaking app last week, came up with the hack, which finally defies Apple’s long standing aversion to the product.

Users with jailbroken phones can employ Comex’s tools to install the Frash software, which is a port of the Flash runtime environment for Google Android.

Of course, we gave it a shot as soon as we heard. We found the hack successful, but it took a while to load up the Flash content. What’s more is the page got pretty sluggish. It may be wise to wait a little while for the next, updated version to come out from Comex. We’ll just have to see.

Hulu Plus Subscribers Receive Invites Today

Hulu Plus invitations hit the inboxes of those who requested them today, allowing subscribers to watch a wider variety of shows on their iPhones, iPads, TVs and more. And, it’s in HD.

The entirely new feature offers Hulu’s cloud service and is described by the official Hulu blog, as “a treasure chest in the cloud for TV lovers.”

Users who got the invites will be able to use the code to sign up for Hulu Plus, which is the new, ad-supported subscription product that is an addition to the service.

Now, television shows can be watched on iPads, iPhones 4, IPhone 3GS, or third-generation iPod touch via Wi-Fi or 3G with the Hulu Plus app.

It can also be viewed on select Samsung-Internet-connected TVs and Blu-ray players through a downloadable application, which is found in the Samsung app store.

Hulu plus subscribers pay $9.99 to have access to full seasons and entire archives of popular television shows, which gives more access that had previously offered.

Take this snippet from the official Hulu blog as an example of what it offers:

 “As a Hulu Plus subscriber, you’ll now also have access to back seasons or full runs of some of TV’s greatest shows. All nine seasons of The X-Files. All three seasons of Arrested Development. Ten seasons of Law and Order: SVU. All five seasons of Ally McBeal. Seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and three seasons ofRoswell. Every episode ever of Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. Classic skits from the first five and most recent five seasons of Saturday Night Live. The list goes on.”

Soon Hulu Plus is supposed to be available for other devices and platforms such as the PlayStation 3, according to the blog.



Google and Verizon Unveil Net Neutrality Proposal

Google and Verizon put forth a joint policy proposal on Monday that would give the FCC power to regulate broadband providers to ensure net neutrality for consumers.

The proposal effectively cemented the two firms in their commitment for non-discriminatory access to wireline broadband, meaning that no one company will be granted priority access over another.

The Google-Verizon plan provides a legislative framework suggestion, laying out seven parts that give the FCC power to impose a $2 million fine on bad actors and to enforce transparency provisions on both wireline and broadband.

The proposal, which has already been compared to the Bill of Rights for the Internet, calls for recognition that broadband and wireless service are different and should be defined as such. It also aims to reinstitute the Federal Universal Service Fund in support of a robust broadband network.

The proposal comes on the heels of conflicting reports, some of which said the companies had been meeting to propose tiered Internet rates, the exact opposite of what the proposal represents.

Verizon Communications CEO Ivan Seidenberg expressed the reason for the quick release of the Verizon-Google plan.

"There’s been so much discussion of this issue, that we feel this debate has been hijacked by issues that [are] not reflective of what the company’s doing,” he said in the conference. “We support the FCC, we built a fiber network, we built a wireless network, we purchased spectrum and agreed to open access.”

The proposal may be viewed as a respite for the embattled F.C.C., which has been stuck in a quagmire of discussions following litigation in a Comcast lawsuit that stripped them of their power to regulate the Internet under a telecommunications provision.

The F.C.C.’s trouble deepened when it tried to put wireless and wireline services under the same umbrella of regulation. Many of the players in that industry cried foul.

The Google-Verizon plan stipulates that the plan “would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement.”

This stipulation is objectionable to some, who see the proposal as a façade disguising the companies’ desires to further their business motives with giant loopholes.

According to Joel Kelsey, political advisor for Free Press who communicated with PC World, “This is much worse than a business arrangement between two companies. It’s a signed-sealed-and-delivered policy framework with giant loopholes that blesses the carving up of the Internet for a few deep-pocketed Internet companies and carriers.”

Skype Files for IPO

Skype, the Internet telephony company, filed for an initial public offering today with which it hopes to raise $100 million for future growth, according to an S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to the filing, Skype users made calls totaling in 95 billion minutes, both in voice and video during the first half of 2010.

The company, which was founded in 2003, grew average monthly connected users from 397 million to 560 million users from June 2009 to June 2010 worldwide.

Although we have achieved significant global scale and user growth to date, the penetration of our connected and paying users is low relative to our market opportunity,” the filing reads.

The IPO will be managed by Goldman, Sachs & Co., J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and others.

Analysts have increasingly viewed Skype as a “cash machine,” with the company reporting revenues of $406 million in the first six months of 2010, which ended up netting the company $13.2 million over that time period.

Skype plans to grow its business by increasing penetration rates globally and by targeting small and mid level businesses, according to the filing.


Apple Travel Apps Frustrate Third-Party Developers

Apple taxied onto the runway with patents filed for travel apps, and, while they look pretty snazzy, several third party developers are hoping the U.S. Patent Office will clip the company’s wings.

Apple filed for three different application patents, travel, hotel and high-end shopping in October of last year, but the patents were discovered only recently by

The patent application outlines a way for travelers to control services such as booking reservations, utilizing mobile-phone-based boarding passes, and requesting cabins; it allows the sending of arrival or delay notifications, and helps locate and review dining and entertainment options.

The hotel app describes such services as hotel check-in, access to hotel and in-room services, promotional deals, and more.

And the high-end shopping app provides for users to receive invites to special events, use store locator, view gift guides and catalog different products.

Certain app developers hope that the U.S. patent office will deny the patents because they say Apple is, essentially, upending their market. Since Apple has first priority in approving apps through the app store they are effectively monopolizing the future travel market with these patents.

As unwired review puts it, “This is one scary development. Imagine if back in 1994-96 someone decided to sit back, think about what kind of web services can be provided via the internet, and then decided to patent them.”

Another controversy that the patent request has stirred up involves Apple having used a figure in the request that is a direct copy of a similar third-party app called Where To?.

Though it is argued that Apple was only using the copy as a rough framework to show what the interface for the Apple version of the app would be similar too, it raises concerns because the

Where to? App is only available through the App Store.

“We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to ‘steal’ our idea and design,” Where to? Designer’s told

Furthermore, advocates of free source software say that Apple’s patenting of these travel service mechanisms could put the kibosh on innovative functions in the future; Apple’s patents would block out third party providers, allowing for only one channel of innovation.

Updated: Google-Verizon Talk Net Neutrality

UPDATE:Google Denies Net Neutrality Deal with Verizon

Google has publically denied the reports that the search giant was seeking an agreement with Verizon Wireless that was likely to have put pressure on the net neutrality status quo.

A Google spokesperson spoke with the Guardian today and refuted the assertion, saying, “We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain committed as we always have been to an open market.”

Verizon, too, has postured against the statements, saying they desired the incorporation of FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation.


Google and Verizon are nearing an agreement that will allow some Internet content providers to have priority over others if they are willing to a pay Verizon a higher rate.

For example, Amazon could potentially pay for premium Internet service, which would allow its content to be generated faster on the Web than, say, a blogger who could not afford to pay.

The negotiations between Google and Verizon, which are symbiotic stakeholders because of the Android operating system, could be the forerunner for what is being called a “tiered Internet system,” which operates much like cable television and charges higher prices for premium service.

Under the new agreement, Verizon would be free to regulate its service as it sees fit, without interference from Google, which has until now been a net neutrality advocate.

This diverges from the current mandate of net neutrality, a standard that heralds equal access to all content providers.

Under net neutrality, an individual blog, a corporate Web site and more popular Web sites, such as Amazon or Youtube, all open at the same speed when their respective URL’s are punched in.

The new paradigm, being presaged now by Google and Verizon’s negotiations, would create a fast lane and a slow lane for Internet usage, where the fast lane is reserved for the fee-payers and the slow lane is filled with those unwilling or unable to afford the premium.

Advocates for the tiered system—cable and telephone companies who own broadband—say they need the freedom to manage their systems to ensure the best experience for their customers. This entails, according to the argument, the slowing of some traffic, such as the individual blogger or e-mailer, so that more important traffic can be delivered at greater speeds. In Verizon’s case, phone calls.

Though Verizon and Google only represent two companies in the ISP and content milieu, people involved in the negotiations said their agreement could provide the framework for broader negotiations currently taking place between the Federal Communication Commission and ISP’s.

The F.C.C. wants wider control of broadband, arguing that ceding to much control to the cable companies will result in them favoring some online content and services over others.

AT&T, Verizon and other broadband providers are disinclined to be placed under the rule of the F.C.C. especially when the prospect of premium fees lends itself to greater profits.

On the one hand, should the tiered system come to fruition, consumers are likely to see higher prices for premium Internet speeds. On the other, certain services, like phone calls or Youtube, may become faster and more reliable.

Airport Security Enlists Full Body Scanners

The Transportation Security Administration is taking a more technologically sophisticated route in detecting potential security threats with whole-body scanners, machines meant to replace the magnetometer metal detectors, which have been in place since the 70’s.

The advanced imaging technology (AIT) takes images of passengers’ bodies and has been aggressively pursued in the wake of the December terror attempt, where explosives devoid of metallic material slipped past metal detectors.

According to the most recent numbers on the T.S.A. web Site, 450 AIT units began deployment in March, which were added to the 142 units already in place.

“The FY 2011 budget request includes $573 million to purchase 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and to operationally staff, operate and maintain 1,000 units, which includes the 500 units we are deploying now.”

This budget request is on track to replace three-fourths of the magnetic scanners at all 2,200 security checkpoints in the 450 commercial airports within the U.S. by the end of 2011.

There are two types of AIT’s currently used by the T.S.A., the backscatter and the millimeter wave. The millimeter wave uses electromagnetic waves to create black-and-white, three dimensional images of the passenger’s body. The backscatter units project X-ray beams over the passenger’s body to generate reflections of the body on a monitor.

(Click here to view the millimeter wave unit image. Click here to view the backscatter image.)

The images, which delve beneath the clothes and produce ghost-like yet detailed negatives of passengers’ naked bodies, are viewed by screeners located in rooms out of sight of the security lines. The officers who view the pictures never see the passengers in real-life, according to the T.S.A.

T.S.A. claims to further protect passengers’ privacy by blurring his or her face as it appears on the image and by rendering the technology unable to store, print, transmit or save the image—though at least one detailed report has countermanded this statement.

The report, conducted by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), says, among other things, that the machines can save images and that the privacy settings can be scaled up and down among 10 different privacy settings.

Also of note, passengers can opt for a pat-down instead of the screening.

Other concerns arise with the radiation emitted by the backscatter machine. Critics of the machine say airports should employ only the millimeter wave technology, which has been found to be harmless. However, T.S.A. maintains that flyers subjected to a backscatter scan receive radiation exposure equivalent to that of riding on a routine plane flight for two minutes.

Despite the privacy and radiation concerns, most polls reveal passenger approval rates of AIT’s between 74 – and 81 percent.

Gallup, for example, found that 78 percent of air travelers approved airports’ use of AIT’s.

According to the T.S.A., the machines have already been instrumental in detecting items such as pocket knives, small bags of drugs and syringes, which until now may have been too small for detection.

Telecom Confronts Poverty and Oppression

Telecommunications infrastructure is exploding across underdeveloped nations, giving people the power to leverage their economic activities and to voice their political opinions to degrees that have heretofore been unmatched.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, cell phones are transforming markets by allowing Nigerian farmers to quickly gather market information, saving time and money because they no longer have to travel to distant markets to gather pricing figures.

In India, traditional fishermen employ their cell phones to arrange trades with buyers back at marinas, brokering the exchange of their catch on the way back in to port rather than waiting to do so upon arrival—a small change meaning they can spend more time catching more fish and making more money.

Indeed, telecommunications infrastructure has penetrated underdeveloped and developing countries to an unprecedented extent, and innovative people are finding new ways to harness mobile devices and the Internet for commerce.

The communication revolution entails not only the economic revolution but the social one too, as feature-phone-bearing people from oppressed nations are finally finding the wherewithal to project their voices. And it’s not just the phones. Broadband, importantly, has ushered the Internet into impoverished regions, bringing upon its coattails the liberating media of social networking and search.

One of the most poignant examples occurred following the Iranian presidential election of 2009. Citizens harnessed Twitter’s power to foment thousands of protests following the June election, where incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly rigged the vote and quelled his popular opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Violent clashes raged across the country. Soon, Twitter was ablaze with Iranians coordinating protests and describing human-rights violations. Citizens of the world tuned in too, conversing with Iranians and showing support.

Similar circumstances can be found in China, in Moldova, in Burundi and more as telecommunications are growing ever-more pervasive and penetrating deeper into the underdeveloped world.

Currently, 28.7 percent of the planet’s population has broadband access. That’s 1.96 billion people. Strictly by the numbers, the continent of Asia’s 825 million users put it ahead of the rest of the world in broadband subscribers, bolstered, of course, by India and China. The Middle East has just over 63.2 million subscribers, while Latin America has 204 million and Africa 110 million.

Over the past ten years the growth of broadband subscribers in these continents has been extraordinary. For example, in 2000 Asia had only 114.3 million broadband users, meaning the number of subscribers has jumped 621.8 percent. Africa’s broadband users rose 2,357.3 percent over that same period.

These numbers, though representative of a positive incline, can be somewhat misleading; the vast majority of people in underdeveloped nations remain beyond the reach of fiber-optic lines.

For example, only 21.5 percent of the population in Asia has broadband access. In Africa, the country farthest behind in the information revolution, only 10.9 percent of the population can access broadband.

By contrast, North Americans enjoy the greatest degree of fiber-optic connectivity, with 77.4 percent of the population accessing the Internet.

In order to expand telecom’s reach in underdeveloped regions, NGO’s, innovators and governments have taken up the banner and are in a constant push to increase broadband’s penetration.

In 2003 and 2005 the UN held a two-part World Summit on the Information Society where telecom-industry moguls and heads of state from 192 countries met to outline a plan to usher the information age into the hands of the world’s poor.

The summit gave the impetus to such projects as “One Laptop per Child,” a pioneering effort to put inexpensive laptops in the hands of impoverished children with the idea that access to the Web will catalyze education. According to the site, the laptop can be produced and donated for $199.

It is through innovations such as these, along with the inexorable march of broadband, that people are becoming connected and freeing themselves from both poverty and the poverty of unawareness.

Thomas Paine once said, “But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.”

The communications revolution is allowing for just that: the appearance of truth.