Home Office Database labeled as a “Hellhouse” by Sir Ken Macdonald

The Home Office is under some heavy criticism as we prepare to move into the New Year as they have announced that there will be a database made that will be able to keep an eye on phone calls and emails in an attempt to over come the terrorist threats felt throughout the country.

The man leading the criticism is the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken MacDonald, who has labelled the database as a “hellhouse” of personal and private information that would undoubtedly find its way into the public domain as has so much private information over recent months.

Macdonald claimed that any precautions that the Government might take will mean nothing and the security of such a database cannot be guaranteed fully.  “Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything. All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen,” Macdonald said.

Macdonald is backed up by many, including the head of campaigns at Liberty, the human rights organisation, Sabina Frediani, who claimed that if ministers went ahead with the proposal then it would be further proof of how “out of touch” they had become.

Frediani stated, “The Home Secretary should think again about embarking on this misguided consultation exercise and pouring billions of pounds into this folly when people are worried about homes and jobs.”

However, in response to the Government’s claims that the database will be secure, Sir Macdonald declared that, “All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run.”

The database is estimated to cost the tax payer close to £12 billion and will hold information about what emails and telephone calls have been made, as well as showing information on the time, date, and recipient.  The database will also show details about websites that have been visited.  Currently, such information is only available from communications companies by request, however such information is not always available.

The Home Office’s response to the critics is the claim that the database is the necessary evolution that the country’s technology must take as the war on terror edges on through to the New Year.

A spokesman for the Home Office stated, “The communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle serious crime and terrorism.  To ensure that we keep up with technological advances we intend to consult widely on proposals in the New Year.  We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing the content of emails, texts or conversations.”

One unnamed private company has voiced its fears about such a database, claiming that, “If there is a breach of security in that database it would be utterly devastating.”

France – unlockable iPhone sells, but for a price

France is going mad over the whole iPhone liberation that has taken place over the last couple of weeks.  Apple is notorious for bringing out its iPhone in many countries around the world but only allowing one network to release the phone, providing somewhat of an interesting monopoly.  However, France has recently abolished the monopoly in their country as it was deemed unfair.

Now, French businesses across the country are stocking the iPhone, however, the price does not bring such a big smile to ones face.  The law in France states that anti-competitive actions, such as the ones that Apple brought into effect, and the law has been a fly in the ointment for Apple ever since the iPhone came to the market.

Orange won the contract to offer the iPhone in France, however, by offering the iPhone on an unlockable contract for the price of 649 Euros and even offered to unlock the handset for the quite extreme price of 100 Euros.

However, now that the iPhone has been allowed to be sold by just about anyone the price of the iPhone has shot up and some people are paying up to 900 Euros for the 16GB version.

However, although 900 Euros seems like a fortune to pay for the iPhone, compared to the United States for example the price is quite reasonable.  In the United States, if you want an iPhone you have to sign a 2-year contract with AT&T as well as shelling out $199, and then over the next couple of years you will be paying up to $100 a month.  At the end of the two year contract you will be looking at close to £2000 for the whole iPhone experience – so $1,200 for the iPhone isn’t too unreasonable after all.

The iPhone has enjoyed major success since its release.  The iPhone has become a household name and has even been battling as a major contender in the handheld gaming arena, against the likes of the PSP and the Nintendo DS. The iPhone has also enjoyed major success in the 4th quarter of 2008 as sales have sky rocketed past any other quarters sales.

However, Apple is being forecast to have difficulties through 2009.  It has already been announced that Steve Jobs will not be talking at Macworld in January, which is already being taken as a clear sign that this is due to Apple having nothing new to bring to the market.

Although many analysts are claiming that Apple is in a good position to survive the storm of the coming year, some analysts are concerned for the future of AppleYair Reiner, analyst for Oppenheimer, claimed that, “The question isn’t just 2009, it’s what happens after that.  What are going to be the next set of products that continue to drive the shift from Windows to Apple?”

Apple will be nervous entering 2009 as the economic downturn has already seen the end of establishments and can cause disruption even to stable firms.

Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook will bring in charges in 2009

Social networking sites, such as favourites Facebook and MySpace, are set to jump on the greedy-train as news has surfaced that the sites are planning to charge good money to their users to partake in activities that they are currently taking for granted, such as uploading videos.

Director of research for technology and telecommunications for Deloitte, Paul Lee, claims that, “The book value of some social networks may be written down and some companies may fail altogether if funding dries up.  Average revenue per user for some of the largest new media sites is measured in just pennies per month, not pounds.  This compares with a typical average revenue per user of tens of dollars for a cable subscriber, a regular newspaper reader or a movie fan.”

Websites that provide their users with networking privileges such as poking your mates rely heavily on advertising to bring in the money to help pay for the domain, the employees and the Porsche’s.  However, apparently advertising is seemingly drying up and sites such as Bebo are apparently not turning out to be the lucrative business paths they originally were planned on being.

The sad fact is that, although you and I are more than happy to fill our MySpace page with our pictures and small thumbnails depicting our “friends”, we aren’t paying for the rights to use the site, and the advertising is clearly proving not to be enough for the sites to survive on.  In fact, Twitter is making such little money it doesn’t generate any revenues at all.  Not really the aim of any business.

However, there is no denying the website’s successes – in user numbers, not pound signs.  These social networking sites, and in particular Facebook, have been appearing more and more on mobile telecommunication networks, such as Orange.  A study by Orange discovered that 640,000 of its UK users would use their mobile handset to connect to the Internet to check their social networking accounts.

The Director of Products for Orange UK, Paul Jevons, claims that the high usage of social networking sites on the Orange network is incredibly substantial, saying, “We are seeing massive numbers of unique users and traffic in social networking and we expect that to continue.  A number of things have come together such as the tariffs and the handsets that really have kickstarted social networking on mobile phones.”

Facebook, however, can breathe a sigh of relief as it is bringing in SOME revenues due to a lucrative advertising deal made when Facebook was in its prime in 2007.

The months between June 2008 and October 2008 saw numbers of users of mobile handsets access these social networking sites raise by 277 per cent and a reason for this has been said to be the introduction of such tariffs as Dolphin which allow unlimited access to these social networking sites.  The recent success of the iPhone has also brought strong attraction to Facebook and other similar sites as the iPhone provides continually wireless Internet.

Battery makers join forces to take on the world

Battery makers are hoping to earn a $1 billion worth of funding to be able to build a plant that will allow them to collaborate and make lithium batteries for vehicles.

14 US companies have joined together, including the likes of 3M Co and Johnson Controls-Saft. The collaboration hopes to receive the money over the next five years in the hope that the collaboration will be able to excel with the production of lithium batteries for vehicles.

The importance of the lithium batteries has been highlighted by the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, the name given to the collaboration of battery manufacturers.  The Alliance claims that lithium batteries “are anticipated to replace gasoline as the principal source of energy in future cars and military vehicles.”

The Alliance went on to say, “Today, United States automobile manufacturers and defence contractors depend upon foreign suppliers — increasingly concentrated in Asia — for lithium ion battery cells.”

Analysts claim that the United States are losing a race against their European and Asian competition to bring the technology to the public.  A key example is the recent announcement by General Motors that they are looking into using a foreign battery supplier for their upcoming Chevrolet Volt.

Leading the Alliance’s petition is the Chicago lawyer, James Greenberger, claims that the group are looking to create one or more facilities that would allow the Alliance to work together to develop the lithium batteries as quickly as possible.

Greenberg said, “We think this is the most effective way that government can leverage public money to both establish lithium ion battery manufacture in the United States and revitalize the automotive industry in the long term.”

Ralph Brodd, battery manufacturer consultant, claimed that the collaboration was necessary for the industry to continue.  “A small, fragmented battery industry will not long survive in the face of determined Asian competition.  Other countries are investing heavily in the manufacture of lithium ion cells.  Those countries understand that whoever makes the batteries will one day make the cars.”

And the need for the technology is also being seen as a great boost for employment rates, claims Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Control’s power solutions division.  “I don’t think it’s good enough that the American consumer is going to have a vehicle that’s electrified or have hybrid capabilities.  It doesn’t help us if we have no capability in the U.S.”

Greenberg went on to discuss the situation with President-elect Barack Obama. “We have been told very expressly that nothing has been endorsed, but our hope is that this is an idea that will attract a lot of support in a new administration,” Greenberg commented.

A former director of Sematech, Sanford Kane, commented on the importance of lithium batteries for cars, saying, “Sematech played a key role in improving manufacturing in the US semiconductor industry.  Batteries will be to automobiles what semiconductors were to computers.”

iPod tax to hit New York and then take over the world

David Paterson, Governor of New York clearly isn’t out to make any friends in 2009 as he has announced the possibility of so-called “iPod tax” which will see tax being added to downloadable music.  The move comes as New York is hoping to clear up part of the states largest deficit, ever.

Downloads have previously gotten away tax-free as they were intangible, but now the Governor has requested that the download market is hit with the tax just like other musical formats.  And just when the Internet providers were hoping to control the flow of illegal downloading.

Apart from the iPod tax that the New York governor hopes to introduce, there are also hopes to bring in tax on cinema tickets, taxis, cigars, massages and wine.  The plan is also to bring Cable and Satellite television into the tax bracket as well as clothes that are under $110 that were previously exempt from tax issues.

“This is where we are.  Maybe we should have thought about this when we were depending on what we thought was inexhaustive collections of taxes from Wall Street – and now those taxes have fallen off a cliff,” said Paterson.

Paterson went on to explain how he didn’t care if the new proposition made him any new friends or not, saying, “The other day somebody threw a pair of shoes at President Bush.  At the end of this budget presentation, if that’s the most severe punishment I get, I’ll sign for it now.”

Plans are also in place to help tackle the obesity problem in America which will see taxes placed on sugary drinks like Pepsi and Coca Cola.  The new taxes will aim to cut down the consumption of the drinks by five per cent by raising $404 million in the following fiscal year.

Acting deputy secretary for Health and Human Services to the governor, Joe Baker, wanted to highlight the harm that the sugary drinks were supplying to consumers.  “People don’t really realize the amount of calories they’re ingesting through liquids.  They say, ‘Oh, it’s just a drink.’”

Obviously, the American Beverage Association doesn’t have anything kind to say about the tax, claiming that the move was being seen as unfair and that there were plenty of other fatty foods that were to blame for obesity.

The American Beverage Association announced that, “There is no science or logic that justifies it.  Rather, we need to focus on promoting balanced eating habits and more physical activity. Until we get our kids exercising more the scales will be tipped against our next generation.”

The news has been met with outrage all around the world.  Most people understand that as soon as New York start taxing downloadable music, and it brings in a nice new income for the country, then we will start seeing it throughout the rest of the world and soon the whole planet will be forced to pay stupid amounts of tax for the simplest things like thoughts and dreams.  Can’t wait.

Palm introduces their very own AppStore – is it a fad?

In an attempt to keep the wolf from the door, Palm has pulled out all the stops and opened up a store, which will allow its users to download anything from the 5,000 applications available for the Palm OS and Windows Mobile handsets.

Sounds a bit like Apple’s AppStore to you?  Well it does to me too.  But what can you do, if it works for Apple, then Palm don’t have a sure fire guarantee that it will work for them.  But they are definitely trying to win over Apple customers, though, as Palm are offering over 1,000 free applications available for their handsets.

Within the 5,000 applications available for downloading, you are looking at around 3,000 utility applications, about 2,000 games and the rest are free.  Nice, but is that really going to make me ditch my iPhone to grab hold of a Palm device.  Maybe the move is intended to look at keeping the users they’ve currently got before trying to entice other users of other handsets.

However, an InStat analyst, David Chamberlain, has a much simpler view on the move by Palm, saying, “There are some things that probably get too much attention. They are business fads, and that is one of the fads right now. There are some compelling reasons about it, though.”

In attempt to wash away your recession blues, Palm are offering a tidy 25 per cent reduction off your first download if you have the necessary coupon code at the checkout.

Still, Chamberlain is convinced that these Application Stores will see much more of a future as he believes they are hardly making any money.  “I doubt that [handset makers] are making a huge investment in these application stores. This is more like adding an application to your cell phone deck than having to reinvent all the ways to buy it; choose it; and all those connections. That’s no major investment.”

But take a look at the Apple AppStore for a second.  They have enjoyed massive success and most of it in the gaming sector of the store.  Major gaming developers have jumped on-board and are now quite happily prepared to add the iPhone onto their list of consoles they are currently developing games for.  I think the AppStore is in a pretty solid state of affairs right now – but hey, I’m no analyst.

Still, Chamberlain, who DOES get paid to analyse such situations, went on to claim,  “I don’t think that in the case of Palm or anyone that it represents a change in the way the distribution is going on and there aren’t any big modifications in the way that application development is going on. It’s a new marketing technique but I don’t think underlying there are any big changes. It’s not the sort of thing to make me think there is a sea change going on in application development or marketing.”

Still let’s keep our fingers crossed he is wrong though – we can all benefit from free apps.

Virgin Media target illegal downloading in 2009

As Virgin Media reveal their outstanding new 50 MBPS Broadband package, talks are emerging about how the company will be tackling the ever increasing problem of illegal downloading.  Virgin Media’s new package claims to allow a high speed connection to the Internet, that they “don’t slow down”, in an attempt to woo customers over to their service, but with new customers comes the odd illegal downloader.

Virgin have announced that they will be bringing in steps to secure the flow of illegal downloading is stopped in its tracks, or at least slow it down.  Virgin Media claim that their current capping policy for heavy downloader’s allows the other 95 per cent of customers to enjoy unfaltering connections and speed.

However the new plans by the company will aim at specific traffic and will come in to effect mid way through next year.  A spokesman for Virgin Media gave some insight into the new path the company is taking.  He said, “Broadband has become integral to delivering home entertainment services and with data consumption growing rapidly, we are exploring new ways to enhance our product offering. Part of this involves intelligent monitoring and understanding the way people use our broadband service.”

Neil Berkett, Virgin Media chief executive, has also stated that the company is still aiming to introduce a new advertising technology, similar to the method used by Phorm, that has been heavily criticised in the past for breaching the privacy of Internet users.

“There will be a point in time when we use the intelligence of our network for targeted advertising, will it be with Phorm, will it be with a modification of their product? I think it is a technique, but it is not something I want to rush into. We have got a fantastic brand and we want to take our customers with us,” claimed Berkett.

However, the introduction of the ultra-speedy broadband package from Virgin Media has provided some cause for concern for its users.  Principal analyst at Forrester Research, Ian Fogg, is claiming that as more people turn to Virgin Media for super-fast broadband, their speeds will be cut down, dramatically.

Fogg said, “The reality will be a bit different. How successful it will be is how successful Virgin Media will be with customers. The more customers that sign up, the lower the speeds customers will actually receive, because of the way the network is structured.”

However, Virgin Media have become obviously defensive on the subject claiming that their customers on their 50 MBPS package will be receiving a minimum speed of 45 MBPS around 80 per cent of the time.  Berkett tried to pound home the importance of the new package, how it was a revolutionary move and not something that should be taken lightly.  He said, “We’re not just launching a product, we are catalysing a step change in the UK’s development.”

Still the pressure is on Virgin Media to control the amount of illegal downloading that will inevitably slow down other users.

Google employees decide what Google users see

Just when you thought it was safe to search in the Google fountain of websites, Google announces that they allow their employees to decide what they want to feature in the page’s search results.

This comes as quite interesting news as the company, not so long ago, outright claimed that the search engine relied on a computer algorithm to make such decisions.  Google came out and said, plain and simply, the Google algorithm “relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value.”

However, in the wake of the news that Google is in control of the search results, there has been quiet uproar as users of the site are starting to feel cheated.

Google have also featured in the headlines recently due to their connection with the possibility of cataloguing the United States’ Government websites in the future.

Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, said, “The vast majority of information is still not searchable or findable either because it’s not published or it’s on Web sites which the government has put up which no one can index.”

Users of the Internet are arguing that there is still a huge array of information out there that is unavailable to them.  Both Microsoft and Yahoo agree that the public would benefit having the public information accessible through their sites.

Google’s manager of public-sector content partnerships, J.L. Needham, says, “Unfortunately, too much of the public information provided on government Web sites just doesn’t show up when the average American does a Google search.  As a result, information that is intended for the public’s use is effectively invisible.”

Needham went on to claim that the company’s interest in the new access was nothing to do with money, but to do with customer satisfaction, saying, “We don’t care because there is monetization value.  It’s because if we fail to answer a question, then our users are disappointed with us, not their government.”

However, many are turning against Google in this debate, such as Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of SearchEngineLand.com.  Sullivan claimed that, “The more information is available, the more people are likely to use Google.  It does help Google in the end.”

It is understandable why smaller search engine sites such as Sullivan’s do not want to see Google with such a wealth of knowledge at their binary finger tips as sites such as searchengineland will inevitable struggle in the wake of such an act.  More people will shy away from the smaller engines, knowing that they can get what they want and much more from the larger engines like Google.

The National Archives have claimed that they will probably be seeing their complete database on Google by January, however, the main problem Google faces is that they must wait for such Governmental organisations to make each of their pages into proper websites in order for them to then be catalogued, and that process takes a certain amount of time and a large amount of money.

Chrome is Beta no more – it’s only been 100 days…

Google have brought their browser, Chrome, out of Beta status.  But wait a minute, the browser was only launched 100 days ago…doesn’t that seem a little fast to be pulling the software out of Beta labelling?

Take a look at Gmail.  That is still a Beta project and it’s been with us for four years.  Picasa, the photo editing software, another Google endeavour, only got rid of its Beta label close to four years after the company purchased it.  It’s pretty clear that Google likes to take their time over their software testing to make sure everything is perfect.

So what has happened with Chrome?  Google is so hell-bent on testing their products to the max, yet Chrome has only been on public release for three months.  Google claim that they are “excited” about removing the Beta tag from Chrome.

But why?  The company are claiming that the time is right, although there is still more that can be done, saying, “We have removed the beta label as our goals for stability and performance have been met but our work is far from done.”

But, if it is not finished yet, then it still doesn’t make any sense to release the software from its Beta ties.  The company went on to claim that the Chrome browser was going to feature more utilities along the way, saying, “We are working to add some common browser features such as form autofill and RSS support in the near future. We are also developing an extensions platform along with support for Mac and Linux.”

Maybe the pressure has gotten too much for them over at Google.  With the success of Firefox and Internet Explorer, Chrome is still trying to win over browser users worldwide.  However, they claim that 10 million users have downloaded the software and are actively using it.

Critics are also slamming Google for lifting the Beta tag in an attempt to boost market shares.  According to Net Applications, the Chrome browser holds a mere 0.83 per cent of the browser market as of November, and it is not hard to believe when the competition is so fierce among browsers.  And not many people are eager to switch browsers when they are so comfortable with the ones they currently use.

However, Google are sure that by removing the Beta tag, more companies will be interested in installing the software on their computers and Google are even planning on paying PC makers to install the Chrome browser onto the computers before being shipped out.

Google are still, however, claiming that the browser is ready to be of non-Beta stature as they claim that the performance has significantly been improved since its launch three months ago.  The company claimed that, “since the first beta, the V8 JavaScript engine runs 1.4 times faster on the SunSpider benchmark and 1.5 times faster on the V8 benchmark – and there is more speed to come.”

Google has released a huge amount of updates for the browser – 14 in total.

Netflix cut 50 tech jobs because Silverlight is just too good!

A while ago, Netflix decided to “go pro-Mac/Windows support” and allow their video streaming to be controlled by Microsoft’s Media Player, Silverlight, and threw their copies of Windows Media Player out of the window.  The new Silverlight streamer allowed Windows Media Player movies to be streamed by Macs the world over, making quite a few people very happy.  Bye bye Windows Media Player, thanks for all the memories.

But it’s not all jubilation and cheering in the Netflix offices today.  The Silverlight Media Player has proved to be so powerful, reliable and efficient, that there is just no need for Netflix to employ their tech savvy team of experts anymore.

Netflix, who had a team of 75 technically endowed maintenance workers, will have to get rid of 50 of them, simply because no one using the new Silverlight software is having any problems.

Sky and ITV are another couple of video streaming websites that have jumped on the Silverlight bandwagon.  They will be aiming at taking the iPlayer customers away from the BBC, hopefully providing faster and clearer video streaming.

Griff Parry, the director of On Demand at BskyB, is hailing the introduction of the Microsoft software, saying, “Microsoft Silverlight and PlayReady allowed us to build and launch this innovative service quickly, easily and in a package that provides consumers with even more flexibility in how they engage with Sky content.”

He went on to say, “As technologies that can reliably enable the rich delivery of high-quality protected content to both Windows-based PCs and Macs, the use of Silverlight and PlayReady was key in helping us provide our customers with more choice and control over their viewing.”

However, the Silverlight take over has been flagged to take over from DVD rentals by Silicon Alley Insider, who say, “It this as good as HD on-demand from your cable company? No. But it’s free if you subscribe to Netflix. Will this replace renting DVDs in the mail from Netflix if they’re available online, too? Maybe. Especially for movies that you aren’t watching for the visuals. Will this stop us from renting movies from iTunes if they’re available in both places? Probably — again, depending on the type of movie.”

Yet, although Netflix are releasing 50 members of the technical team, in what will be a pretty harsh Christmas for those leaving the group, they still seem pretty confident in the software, and why not.  If it’s so good it can replace the old human touch, then surely it scores high in my books.

Neil Hunt, Netflix Chief Product Officer, said, “Silverlight with PlayReady offers a powerful and secure toolkit for delivery of dynamic streaming, which offers faster start-up, and higher quality video, adapted in real time to users’ connection speeds.  Members who enjoy watching movies and TV episodes from the growing library of choices that can be instantly streamed at Netflix will be thrilled with this next generation improvement of access and quality, on a broader range of platforms, including Intel Macs and Firefox.”