Cisco Makes Bid to Acquire Skype


Cisco reportedly made an offer to acquire Skype in an effort to nab the telephony company before its IPO, according to a source who spoke with the technology blog, TechCrunch.

The source said that Cisco may be looking to acquire the company with an offer in the ballpark of $5 billion, though TechCrunch has been unable to confirm the report with an official statement.

The secrecy is apropos of a company that is on the verge of an IPO, a move that usually requires high degrees of confidentiality—especially in the stages right before going public.

Some analysts say that $5 billion may be a little much, especially since Google recently released its own version of VoIP powered through Gmail. These analysts point out that the VoIp atmosphere is heating up, so the increased competition may cause a devaluation of Skype. Also, Ebay recently sold its 70 percent share of Skype and valued the company at $2.75 billion.

As of the time of this writing, neither Skype or Cisco have issued any statements concerning the matter, though some analysts say it’s likely that Skype will accept the offer so they can remain competitive with Google.

More updates as the story unfolds.


You Typed in “Net-Neutrality”. Did You Mean Litigation?

The buzz on the news sites right now is that Paul Allen has filed a lawsuit against the entire internet.  Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, has officially filed against 12 companies, alleging a violation of patents that he owns.

The suit lays out four patents for technology one of which allows for a website to “suggest” things consumers might like, and another that allows readers to locate stories based on a subject.

The lawsuit was filed by Interval Licensing, LLC., a company that Paul Allen financed during the internet boom.

What’s interesting to note is that Microsoft is left off the litigation, but that a lot of big name internet companies are named, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Yahoo.  

This lawsuit follows a string of other patent lawsuits, including that of NTP against of the same companies in Paul Allen's suit. This suit included Microsoft and was focused technology patents regarding the way email is delivered to mobile phones. The court ruled in favor of NTP and similar patent cases have been ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.  Such cases have resulted in big payouts, like Research in Motion, Ltd., the maker of BlackBerry, shelling out $612.5 million since 2006.

The spokesperson for Interval Licensing David Postman says, “We recognize that innovation has a value, and patents are a way to protect that.”

TechCrunch quotes a representative from Google, “This lawsuit against some of America’s most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of in the marketplace.”

In the shadow of negotiations with the FCC, Google, and Verizon over net-neutrality, the integration of Bing into Yahoo!, and the growing popularity of Google Android and Apple mobile devices – is this a way to Microsoft to catch up with the rest of the pack, or do you think there is some validity to Interval Licensing’s patent suit? 


Airlines Consider Worldwide Mergers

Pan-continental airline mergers seem to be creeping more and more into the airline industry’s horizons, now with the CEP of the International Air Transport Association saying that consolidations around the globe are the next step.

Giovanni Bisignani, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, told the Dow Jones Newswires that airlines would need to consolidate beyond national borders to maximize margins in the future.

He also bemoaned the current restrictions, which exist in the U.S. and abroad, that prevent foreign airlines from owning over 49 percent of domestic carriers.

Airline mergers in the U.S. have been profitable for the airlines, but somewhat controversial among consumers who often wind up with fewer flight choices.

Domestically, Delta has completed a merger with Northwest and United Airlines is in the process of merging with Continental, along with other major-carrier combinations still underway.

Most domestic airline CEOs are of like mind with Bisignani, saying consolidations result in higher margins.

In Europe, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the German airline that accreted with three airlines last year, officially reported that they would be on board with the trend too.

Bloomberg reported that Stefan Lauer, a Lufthansa executive, said mergers were very likely and that they were an exciting prospect for the airline industry.

Industry analysts point out that the mergers will help airlines stay afloat and could lower prices for larger companies. However, it also reduces competition as there are fewer players in the game.

Shorter flights either atrophy or become more expensive as the larger companies look more toward increasing longer, more popular flights. 

Netflix Introduces Streaming App for iDevices

The Netflix application that has been so popular on iPads was made available for iPhone and iPhone touch users today.

The free app, version 1.1.0, universalizes television and movie streaming for the iOS-based devices and is a move that will spearhead Netflix’s mobile penetration plan

The 15 million-plus users who have Netflix memberships, which start at $8.99 a month, can now view all of the movies available for streaming directly through the app.

I snagged the app and tapped into my basic membership as soon I heard to indulge in some streaming-goodness. I played a snippet from the Big Lebowski and the dude looked pristine as ever over my iPhone screen. The load time was surprisingly quick over 3G too—probably just as fast as my iMac at home. I connected some speakers for a little surround sound and almost forgot I was at work!

Also, I was pleased to see that the iPhone/iTouch version was formatted for the smaller devices, unlike the iPad which uses the same interface as the Netflix site. Tabs along the bottom let you browse genres, search for specific movies and put movies in your Instant Que. Little play buttons display over the movie covers so clicking and playing is pretty simple.

The app’s only demerit is that you can’t even view the titles of movies that aren’t available for streaming. Which means, I can’t manage my normal queue on the go, only the instant queue is accessible. 

Google Unrolls Voice in Gmail

Google held a press conference today to discuss their newest feature: the ability for people to place VoIP phone calls with Gmail accounts through Google Voice integration.

The company appended the feature to the Google Chat window, which has previously allowed Gmail users to chat with their contacts.

Starting today, there will be a call/dialer function that will be accessible to all people with Gmail accounts. The feature is fully integrated with peoples’ email contacts, allowing them to call other Gmail users by selecting their names and pressing call.

Users can call people who are not sitting at their computers too. According to a Gmail Blog post today, people can call any phone from Gmail by dialing on a computer-based keypad. The blog says calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free, while calls to other countries will be billed.

“We’re rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next few days, so you’ll be ready to get started once “Call Phones” shows up in your chat list,” the blog says. It adds that users who wish to use the service will first have to install the voice and video plug-ins.

The service is similar to Skype, except that it’s integrated with email and charges for cross-country connections.

Google will sell its own credits for the program through Google Checkout, a shopping-cart application that users will have to pre-pay through for international calls.

Senators Concerned About Chinese Telecom Bid

Eight republican congress members sent a letter to the Obama administration last week asking that they closely review a bid by a Huawei Inc., a massive Chinese telecom corporation, to supply equipment to Sprint Nextel in the U.S.

The letter sites national security concerns as Huawei purportedly had business ties with Saddam Hussein and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran, which was previously sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The letter states, “A Chinese company with such a leading role in Iran’s economy, and close relationship with the IRGC, should not be able to do business in the U.S.”

Among the senators who sent the letter were Jon Kyl of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri. They expressed concern that Huawei’s position would be threatening because Sprint Nextel supplies equipment to the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies.

“Is there any concern that Huawei, if it gained any measure of control over a U.S. contractor involved with sensitive U.S. government contracts, would present a national security threat for technology leakage or enhanced espionage against the United States?” the letter asks.

The move points out a debate that has been taking place for some time now, where a balance is yet to be struck between open trade and national security—especially when Chinese companies are trying to invest in sensitive U.S. industries.

Huawei executives countered the letter saying that the company only wished to do business with its counterparts in the U.S., and that the Chinese government and military had no sway over the company’s dealings.

The senators dismiss this claim as posturing, pointing out the contracts between the company and the military and government, as well as saying the Chinese government may have directly funded Huawei.

The Senators asked the Obama administration to appoint an investigative team to fully examine the company, its dealings and the potential risks of a deal with Sprint Nextel.

Airport Security Testing Palm-Down Body Searches

With new, more aggressive pat downs being tested at Logan International Airport in Boston and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, privacy advocates have already begun lamenting the new levels of airport-security friskiness.

The Boston Herald reported that Transportation Security Administration screeners will be using the “enhanced patdown” method that lets screeners go palm-forward on the torso—instead of the usual backhanded approach.

The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning the procedure, saying that there seems to be a constant erosion of privacy as security grows more and more invasive.

According to the Boston Herald, passengers who have undergone the new searches feel overly probed and excessively scrutinized by Big Brother.

The story quoted several Boston-area travelers who narrated the screening processes as they recalled them.

One man, named Rob Webster, said there was “probing and pushing” of his genital area, and added, “if anyone ever groped me like that in real life, I would have punched them in their nose.”

The TSA defends their position, saying that it is a needed addition to enhance the multi-layered security approach—especially when terrorists are devising bombs that are undetectable by the magnetometers.

Looking ahead most airports will give passengers the option of the “enhanced screening” or full body scanners, which take x-ray pictures of peoples’ bodies beneath their clothes.

Stealing Through iTunes-PayPal-Bank Account

It’s been reported today that many people have gotten their iTunes account hacked.  While this in itself would be a minor--and puzzling--bit of thievery, it can have much larger implications.  Most people have their iTunes account linked with for purchases of songs and videos.  And many of those same people have their PayPal accounts linked to their bank account.

After hacking into an iTunes account, multiple transactions are made through PayPal purchasing iTunes products.  The PayPal account is quickly drained then, if linked to a bank account, the charges are passed on to be paid by the bank.

It is important for everyone to check their iTunes and accounts to see if there are any unauthorized transactions.  Afterwards, change your password on not only the iTunes account, but PayPal and even the bank account.  Choose a password that has no meaning, mixes letters and numbers, and even uses misspelled words.  Ideally, a password should look like this:  sd9ow8vlwr89n.  But that would be hard to remember.

Signs of a hacked iTunes account include a great number of identical purchases, and of course, any downloaded songs of the band, ABBA.

Credit Card Relief

A final piece of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 legislation went into effect, shielding credit card users from "unreasonable late payment and other penalty fees".

It’s a two-part benefit for credit consumers.  First, it puts a limit of $25 for late charges and other fees except in extreme circumstances.  Those circumstances include repeat offenders, and where it can be shown the costs of recouping exceeds the $25 limit. 

Another restriction now in place is that a late or overdraft fee cannot be higher than the charge in question.  Also, consumers cannot be charged more than one fee per infraction.

The second benefit to this legislation it it also encourages credit card companies to reconsider rate increases from January 1st, 2009.  While it doesn’t appear to be mandatory, the banking industry holds that it has already been modifying rates in accordance, especially since many rate increases were based on large fees that now do not exist.

However, credit card companies now may not raise interest rates on customers who pay their bills on time.  They must also give at least 45 days notice before any rate hikes or fee changes.

Face Time for Inmates

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that beginning September 1, 2010, death row inmates in the Virginia prison system would no longer be able to visit their families in the closest thing that can be considered face to face. Three years ago, the Virginia Department of Corrections banned what is called a contact visit from their death row inmates, requiring the inmate stays behind a glass partition during a family visit.

Starting in September, those visits will be purely done by video conferencing.  Virginia is following the heels of Kansas, the only other state to require family visits for death row inmates, and there are very strong feelings about the change from the position of the Department of Corrections, as well as the families on the inmates.

Officials who support the migration over to a pure video conference system feel like the change will help them to better use the staff on site at the prison systems.  Video conferencing will eliminate the need for searching inmates and visitors. Also, the facility will no longer have to be shut down to escort the inmate from death row to the visitation rooms. These visitations will also be recorded and provided to the family members.

Family members of death row inmates oppose the new visitation rules and say that the inmates are already on death row, and this change is only further punishing the inmates.

Supporters of the new visitation rules state that this will cut down on security concerns across the prison. Taking a death row inmate to a visitation is not as simple as walking them down a hall. They must be cuffed and chained, and the areas of the prison that have to be walked through must be put on lock down, requiring extra staff to monitor the other inmates. Not only would this measure decrease the need for extra security protocols, it would also lower staff costs.

The article did not mention the visitation circumstances surrounding procedures in regards to an inmate’s “last” visit.

The question really boils down to – is it the right place to beef up security? With reports of attempted and successful prison breaks on the rise, less physical contact with someone who could aid in an escape is a great idea, but there are two sides to every argument. What side are you on?