Friday, May 27, 2011

Google's Latest Adversary

When you're ambitious it's sometimes easy to step on toes. We know this from fields such as sports, entertainment and politics. But lately Google has been finding out the hard way that it's just as true in the world of tech and computers.

Just last week this blog reported about Google's ongoing feud with Facebook hotting up when the social networking site hired a PR firm to plant damaging stories about the search engine company. This week Google finds themselves with a new adversary to contend with in the form of PayPal and its parent company, eBay.

PayPal, the widely utilized online payment system, has slapped a lawsuit down on the Googs for the alleged theft of trade secrets the search giant supposedly used in the development of its snappy new Google Wallet.

In case you haven't heard of the Google Wallet, it's a plan devised by the search engine company to replace your actual wallet with a virtual wallet that will be contained in a certain model of Sprint phone that at this point almost no one carries. There's an excellent blog post by Seth Weintraub about the Google Wallet you can read here.

The problem, according to PayPal, is that during the development of the plan for the wallet, Google lifted several key trade secrets related to mobile payments and related technologies. It seems that the Googs was paling around with PayPal for a couple of years negotiating a deal wherein PayPal would provide payment options for mobile app purchases made through Google's Android Market.

Apparently it was during this period that PayPal made the Googs privy to a number of trade secrets regarding mobile payments. Secrets that according to PayPal's lawsuit, Google has now shared with a number of launch partners for its wallet plan including American Eagle Outfitters, Subway, the Container Store and Walgreens.

The fundamental problem here may be that while Google was once content to be a helpful search engine it now seem intent on becoming all things to all people. And as we know from the longstanding tradition of athletes trying to become rappers, just because you're good at one thing doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be good at everything.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Great MAC Defender Swindle

As Apple Mac takes an increasingly bigger bite out of Microsoft's market share, hackers are beginning to take notice. Mac attacks are on the rise and one new piece of malware uses SEO tactics to gain entry and infect your hard drive.

The program is a fake anti-spyware program called MAC Defender, which utilizes SEO tricks to rank at the top of search results. If a user clicks on a MAC Defender search result they are taken to a website that displays a fake screen with a fake virus scan, which then tells the visitor their computer is infected.

The solution? Why download MAC Defender of course!

Once you have downloaded the MAC Defender malware you are given a number of prompts and asked for your password. If you go ahead and enter it MAC Defender installs itself.

It's when you actually install MAC Defender that it really turns into a nasty piece of work. The malware operates by informing the user their computer is infected and then opening links to pornography every few minutes. In order to nullify the virus users are advised to buy an antivirus protection service from MAC Defender. If they take the bait they are then instructed to enter their credit card information.

After you have given over your credit card the warnings stop. But there is no antivirus service and you have just given your credit card information to hackers.

Well. . . color me impressed I suppose.

Not to spread virus doom, which of course I love to do, but Mac users should start taking some precautions. PCs have been running interference between us and the hackers for more than a decade now.

Only the times have changed and we're gonna have to start martialing our own defense soon. Mac themselve are preparing to release an update that will find and remove the MAC Defender virus.

But we know from experience with these things, it's only a matter of time before the next one comes along.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Don't Call it a Comeback!

Yesterday on Wall Street, online business networking site LinkedIn's initial public offering met with a frenzied level of success not seen since Google went public seven years ago. Shares that were initially valued at $45 one point went all the way up to $122.70 before finally closing at $94.25. By the time the final bell was rung at the end of the day the company was valued at $9 billion.

The runaway market success of the popular website that allows professionals to post resumes and network with one another, has some analysts harkening back to those halycon days of the late 1990s. A decade or more ago, Internet IPOs regularly made billions for companies whose business plans seemed to mainly consisted of having acquired venture capital.

With other Internet sensations such as Twitter, Zynga and Facebook yet to go public there is among some, the impending feeling that we are on the verge of another tech industry boom. And you know what? They might be right.

With Amazon e-books now outselling print editions and hundreds of thousand of jobs being created in the Silicon Valley it does appear that there is some wind blowing in the sails of the good ship technology again.

But as we know from the sporting world, some comebacks succeed, while others. . . Well remember Sugar Ray Leonard's 1997 comeback bout against Hector Camacho in Atlantic City? Just have a look at the photo on the left and you can see how well that one went.

The question we will all have to wait to learn the answer to, is whether the industry has taken heed of some of the hard lessons learned last time around when the bubble burst.

Friday, May 13, 2011

When Rivalries Turn Nasty

Soccer fans saw it happen a couple weeks ago in the Champions League semi-final clash between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Red cards were shown, some players were ejected others took blatant dives, throwing themselves to the ground as if a sniper's bullet had just struck them in the leg. Afterwards there were numerous recriminations and accusations in the press between coaches and players alike. A bad feeling still hangs in the air between the two teams.

This week the growing rivalry between Google and Facebook took a similarly nasty turn.

A report published by the Associated Press on May 12th has revealed that Facebook hired a PR firm to try and plant damaging stories about the Internet search engine giant's privacy practices in various news outlets.

Facebook attempting to criticize another web entity's privacy practices? Comps As Humans has three words for that; pot, kettle black. You can sort out the rest.

Unfortunately for the popular social networking site the whole thing blew up when a blogger who was approached by the PR firm they hired declined to take the assignment and instead went public about the offer. Of course Facebook has since denied the whole thing, claiming that it hired the Burson-Marsteller firm merely to try and prompt an investigation into a new Google service called Social Circle and specifically as to how the service collects and utilizes user data.

Burson-Marsteller approached a number of writers, bloggers and media outlets on behalf of an unnamed "mystery client," and ultimately it was "Newsweek" tech editor Dan Lyons to unravel the fact that the firm's mystery client was indeed Facebook.

While the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid dates back for decades, the Facebook-Google rivalry has only recently emerged between the two Silicon Valley neighbors. While the two Spanish soccer sides compete over titles, trophies and players, the Internet firms compete over things like marketing data and advertising revenue as well as personnel including engineers and executives.

Is there a good guy or a bad guy in either equation you ask? Probably, although in both scenarios there have been transgressions on both sides. Real Madrid have been claiming there is a conspiracy against them in the press and exhibiting nasty behavior on the pitch. Meanwhile Barca players took blatant dives in several of the recent fixtures between the teams.

On the Web side, most Internet privacy advocates say there is little cause for concern regarding Google's Social Circle and that Facebook is just blowing smoke where there is essentially no fire. So while you might not exactly say that Google is innocent, in this case it looks to be Facebook who are stirring the pot on this one.

As to whether they will get their just deserts or bad behavior will ultimately be rewarded remains to be seen. On the soccer side of things, the two teams in question have had to settle for a share of the spoils so far this season with Madrid claiming the Spanish Cup, Barca wrapping up the La Liga title and staying in contention for the Champions League title.

Things are generally less cut and dry in the tech world where the season is year round and there are no referees to eject executives for unsporting behavior. Hmm. . . that's kind of too bad.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Versatile ThinkPad That's Wired for Sound

Chinese computer giant Lenovo, whose computers have long been utilized by big corporations, have branched out into the consumer and small business market with their clever ThinkPad laptop.

The ThinkPad is a loaded business laptop that's been decked out with a Dolby Home Theater 4 enhanced audio system. The ThinkPad has a high definition image screen and is enclosed in a midnight black body case. Think of a fully loaded Audi coupe with Bose sound system and you get the idea.

The Lenovo is the first business computer to be equipped with such a deadly sound system. The Dolby software is designed to make it sound as if you are hearing things in surround sound even though the audio is delivered on stereo speakers. This makes any kind of audio really resonate on the Lenovo. Music, film soundtracks and business conference calls all come through with a clarity that is unheard of on most laptop computers.

The thinking behind this is that like people do with their cars, people are using their business computers to work and play these days. Other enhanced features included on the Lenovo include game speed graphics, vivid screens and HDMI ports for routing media to high def TV screens.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Great Internet Heist

Sony fell victim to the one of the biggest security breaches and information heists in the history of the Internet last month. The Japanese tech and entertainment giant began investigating unusual activity on its PlayStation network on the 19th of April. One week later Sony notified network users that the personal data of more than 100,000 million of them had been compromised by hackers.

The PlayStation network serves not just users of the popular gaming system but also users who download music or movies through Sony's iTunes-like Qriocity server. Details released by Sony indicate the breach may have compromised information such as credit card data, email addresses and other personal data.

Sony has since been criticized for being slow to inform users and indeed to react in general to the crisis. But in truth it seems that the consumer technology giant has been caught well off-guard in this case and their slow reaction time is in part due to the time it took them to figure out what had actually happened.

As of this morning service on the PlayStation network is still down and the company is implementing damage control measures in the form of complimentary entertainment downloads and free 30-day membership to premium services. The company has also promised to implement new security measures including an identity-theft protection program for U.S.-based account holders.

Sony is certainly in the mood to play nice in order to placate users into staying. Certainly the company will emerge from this crisis as a much harder target for hackers to hit. But with the damage already done, it remains to be seen whether or not anything Sony does will be enough to earn back user-trust.