The week in technology: Musical mayhem
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The clash between the music and technology industries was underlined painfully this week for Sony BMG, which continued to suffer headaches over its controversial CD copy-protection software.
The “rootkit” software developed for the music label, which had been included on some of its new music releases since March, surreptitiously installed itself on the computers of CD owners. There was an uproar when it was discovered to be not only very difficult to remove, but it allowed writers of “malware” to take advantage of new vulnerabilities.
In the face of numerous lawsuits Sony BMG first suspended, then withdrew the malware-enabling CDs, and made a “fix” available to remove suspect parts of the Rootkit, but not before several bloggers and news websites discovered malicious websites that take advantage of the rootkit vulnerabilities.
Worse still for Sony BMG, the first “fix” they provided actually created another vulnerability. The F-Secure weblog has comprehensive instructions for worried rootkit victims.
Meanwhile several blogs, including Techdirt, wondered whether the bad press would affect take-up of Sony’s new video VoIP software, released this week and aimed squarely at Skype’s user base.
Still on music piracy, the International Federation of Phonograph revealed its second wave of prosecutions against individual users of file-sharing programs such as Kazaa had been escalated in the months since April, and included several South American countries for the first time.
IFPI’s media release refers to “thousands” of prosecutions but a spokeswoman told the FT that to date there have been 521 sanctions made against P2P music pirates.
IFPI says its policy is not to launch legal campaigns in countries until several pre-requisites are filled: that there is a legal framework or precedent for such action, that legal music downloads are available, and that education campaigns (such as sending instant messagers to P2P users) have been held.
Apple versus the labels
How much power does Apple hold in the music industry today? EMI, along with its fellow major music labels, must be pondering this question even more after this week. On announcing EMI’s first profitable half-year for five years - thanks in part to rapid growth in digital downloads - the head of its music division, Alain Levy, made two predictions about digital music that were swiftly rebuffed by the iTunes owner.
First was that iTunes would within 12 months begin to offer variable pricing on songs - something that Levy and his counterparts at other large music labels has been lobbying heavily for.
Second was that EMI’s new copyright protection technology would work fine with iTunes. But when asked about this, an Apple spokesperson “said in so many words that it wants to know what EMI is smoking and where it can get some, stating that there’s no agreement in place and none on the horizon”, according to Arstechnica.
Google takes on eBay, Craigslist, rest of world
Google this week released “Base” - an ambitious project even for the attention-grabbing search engine giant itself.
The index allows internet users who are registered with Google to post items: anything, says Google, from recipes to research to items for sale. For the first time Google is trying to establish a base for internet users to publish data, rather than just indexing and searching it.
In a ZDnet interview, Google downplayed some speculation that Base was an attempt to take on every kind of e-commerce website.
Punters were confused, and tech bloggers were sceptical. Most commentators saw it as a likely competitor to auction website eBay and Craigslist, the locally-based classifieds listings website. EBay however could be a bigger target than it first appears - through its Kijiji network, eBay owns numerous sites around the world that are similar to Craigslist, including the fairly successful Gumtree, which was bought earlier this year.
“There is a whole dark Web out there that Google’s bots cannot crawl, so they want you to be helpful, please, and become unpaid data-entry clerks to fill up their index,” wrote Eric Schonfeld in the Business 2.0 Blog.
John Battelle’s blog, after wheeling out the inevitable “All your base are belong to Google” headline, said this was a very big deal. “Behold, the physical world rendered as information.“ He also linked to a story written by Paul Ford in 2002 which predicts Google overtaking both Amazon and eBay by 2009, using “semantic web” technology - in otherwords, linking web items according to their meaning.
Google meanwhile was reported to be in acquisition talks with two very different companies this week.
First was Equant, a provider of telecommunications infrastructure gear. This report has only appeared on the BN America website, but given previous signs about Google’s infrastructure aspirations, it is certainly believable.
The second claimed target is Riya, a California-based online photo-sharing service that has barely been launched. Om Malik said he had been hearing “whispers” for a week of the purchase, which would allow Google to compete against Yahoo’s Flickr. However Malik cautioned the news was in the “highly rumored and unconfirmed category”. Of course the reported $40m price tag would create only a tiny dent in Google’s enormous cash reserves.
Microsoft’s secret EU memo
Microsoft was clearly not happy with the record €497m ($593m) fine levelled against it by the European Union’s competition commission last year, and is appealing the decision.
A memo revealed by the Financial Times showed that not only is the technology behemoth seeking backing from the US Government in its appeal, but it is also soliciting help from fellow large US companies, asking them to lobby the White House and even providing contact details for two officials.
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