Technology

Google Fiber to launch in December

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Google will launch its ultra-fast Google Fiber Internet service in South and Southeast Austin in December, Google officials said Wednesday at a meeting in Austin.

Google announced in April 2013 that Austin would be the second U.S. city, after Kansas City, to get its Google Fiber gigabit service. Google has since added the ultra-fast service in Provo, Utah.

Google initially said the service would be available in Austin by mid-year 2014, but that deadline came and went without the service being ready to launch.

Signups will begin in December for new users in South and Southeast Austin. Individual neighborhoods will have to commit to using the service for Google to consider putting Fiber there. If your area's selected, you'll have to pay a $300 "construction fee" to access the pipeline but, aside from a free 5mbps package, other pricing details haven't been announced.

At 1 gigabit, the service is more than 100 times faster than today’s typical broadband Internet access and lets a user download 25 songs in 1 second, a TV show in 3 seconds and a high-definition movie in less than 36 seconds.

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Amazon sued over in-app purchases

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The Federal Trade Commission announced last week that they have sued Amazon for allegedly making it too easy for children to make in-app purchases without a parent's permission. "In-app purchases" are typically for items or rewards offered within mobile games that enhance a game or allow a user to advance levels.

The FTC said in its suit that it seeks a court order for the company to refund money to parents affected by the unauthorized charges. It also wants the court to ban Amazon from charging parents for in-app purchases without their consent.

Amazon altered its policy in 2012, requiring passwords for purchases over $20. The FTC continued to receive complaints, according to the lawsuit. In 2013, Amazon began requiring greater password protections but still allowed for a 15-minute window for unlimited purchases after an authorizing password was used.

The lawsuit comes after weeks of talks between the FTC and Amazon about the company's policy for in-app purchases. The FTC asked Amazon to abide by guidelines the agency has put forward for rival Apple, which settled similar FTC charges earlier this year.

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Don't count Aereo out yet

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It may not be game over for internet television streaming company Aereo, which shut its doors last month after the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Copyright Act. In a new court filing, the company says it believes it can operate once again, and within the confines of the Supreme Court decision by operating as a cable system instead of an equipment provider. Under current law, that would protect any transmissions it's picking up from being prohibited, the company wrote in a joint letter to US District Judge Alison Nathan.

"Under the Second Circuit's precedents, Aereo was a provider of technology and equipment with respect to the near-live transmissions at issue in the preliminary injunction appeal. After the Supreme Court's decision, Aereo is a cable system with respect to those transmissions," the company said in the letter. Therefore, it added, those signals would be protected as part of a "statutory license." Broadcasters who sued Aereo commented that they find this new legal plan and interpretation of the Copyright Act "astonishing."

Aereo launched in early 2012, and was quickly sued by broadcasters who took aim at its legality. The company's technology uses rooms full of dime-sized antennas to stream and record over-the-air TV programming, then delivers it to people online. The company made money off premium plans that offered extra features like DVR and multichannel recording before shutting down late last month. The company's attempts to sidestep the Supreme Court ruling also includes calling on consumers to get in touch with members of Congress.

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Mass. Supreme Court can order decryption of your computer

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Imagine that you get arrested, your computer is seized and state wants to take a look at the encrypted data hidden away on your hard drive. Can it force decryption of your computer? Traditionally, the answer has been no. Courts have previously ruled that ordering a defendant to decrypt their data was tantamount to self-incrimination, which would be a violation of their 5th amendments rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court has changed this, and has recently ordered a defendant to decrypt his machine because the pertinent data's presence on the computer was a "foregone conclusion." In other words, if the police already know the data they are looking for is there, it doesn't count as new testimony and is not protected by the 5th amendment.

The state's argument is largely based on the defendant's own statements. When Leon Gelfgatt was arrested under suspicion of mortgage fraud he told state troopers that everything on his computers was encrypted and that "no one is going to get to it." He also explained that he was capable of decrypting this data, but refused to. According to the Supreme Court, this made the presence of encrypted data and the existence of a decryption key a "foregone conclusion," and won't tell the government anything it didn't already know. The ruling sounds a bit slippery - of course the government already knows that there are encrypted documents on the computer, but it doesn't know what those documents contain, which leaves proponents of digital privacy rights uncomfortable with the ruling.

While this ruling only applies to the state of Massachusetts, it's a major strike against privacy advocates. For the rest of the country, the burden of decrypting seized data still falls on the burden of of authorities, but the larger issue is still up for debate in the higher courts.

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Supreme Court Rules Aereo's Service Violates Copyright Law

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The United States Supreme Court ruled last week that Aereo was in violation of US copyright law. The decision states that Aereo's use of small antennas hooked up to cloud DVR technology violates the right of companies producing broadcast content. Specifically, the decision says that Aereo's business violates the 1976 Copyright Act; the act states that individuals or businesses are violating copyright if:

1: perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or
2: to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work ... to the public by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public are capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places at the same time or at different times.

In the case of Aereo, the Supreme Court says the company's service is tantamount to "a performance or display of the work."

The decision is in line with the Supreme Court's history involving cable companies. In 1976, the Copyright Act deemed the rebroadcast of airwave-based television via cable a performance. As a result, cable companies had to pay broadcast networks for access to content. Today's ruling states that Aereo is essentially in the same boat as cable TV companies. "Aereo's activities are substantially similar to those of the [cable television] companies that Congress amended the Act to reach," Associate Justice Stephen Breyer writes.

Aereo's argument was that, since it only rebroadcasts shows that its users choose and save on customer-assigned DVR machines, its users were retransmitting/performing. In other words: each Aereo subscriber is assigned an individual DVR machine and antenna. Since each user must choose what they watch (unlike cable, which is a feed of every channel all the time), Aereo argued that it's not a rebroadcaster, but its users are (which is legal). Instead, Aereo thinks of itself as a hardware provider. That hardware (DVR machines and antennas) provide a service. Associate Justice Breyer disagrees: "We conclude that Aereo is not just an equipment supplier and that Aereo 'perform[s].'"

The justices were split six to three, with justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan in favor, while justices Thomas, Alito and Scalia were against. Justice Scalia wrote the dissenting opinion of the court. Read the opinion here.

Aereo has "paused" its service, and is refunding subscribers for their last paid month.

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Facebook says it will no longer share your activity by default

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Recently, Facebook made an important change to Instagram. Your Instagram likes will no longer be automatically shared back to Facebook. The same goes for photos posted to Instagram, unless a user taps the Facebook button in the app's sharing screen. The update effectively removes Instagram's ability to automatically share anything back to Facebook, and today, Facebook is announcing its plans to take the idea much further. Automatically posted stories from apps like Pinterest and popular Facebook games are going to show up less in the News Feed, and Facebook aid it will discourage developers from adding auto-posting to their apps at all.

Facebook's de-emphasis of "implicitly posted" stories, as the company calls them, follows Facebook's recent moves to upgrade the News Feed with higher-quality content. You might have already noticed fewer auto-posted stories in your News Feed. Facebook began automatically scrubbing out auto-posted stories in response to the aforementioned user feedback months ago, but today the company is making the act official.

Facebook has no plans to remove auto-posting from any apps, but the announcement is intended to serve as a warning to developers that implicit sharing isn't going to grow their app's user base like it once did. The social network wants to emphasize "explicitly posted" content going forward.

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Samsung loses second round of patent battle vs. Apple

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2012's patent trial of the decade, which was all about whether some Samsung products were utilizing Apple's technology without licensing it, resulted in a billion dollar win for Apple. At the time everyone knew a second case, involving different patents and products, was getting underway. The trial for that other case is now over, and the jury has reached a verdict. In general terms, the verdict is not a complete win for either party, as Apple owes Samsung $158,400 and Samsung will have to pay Apple $119,625,000. That is a long way from the $6.2 million and $2.2 billion the parties asked for, respectively.

The result: Apple devices infringed one of two asserted Samsung patents, while Samsung phones and tablets infringed three of Apple's five asserted patents.

Apple received a complete victory on patent #5,946,647 - for a technology that enables links clicked in one application to open other applications (like a phone number in an email opening up in the phone app). The jury found that all ten Samsung products at issue infringed. That list includes the Admire, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S II, Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, Galaxy S II Skyrocket, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 and Stratosphere. Apple was also successful with its slide-to-unlock patent (#8,046,721), but it was not a complete win. Only some Samsung products were found to have used it. Apple came up empty with two of its other patents: #6,847,959 (universal search), #7,761,414 (background sync). Patent #8,074,172 (word recommendation/autocomplete technology), was also at issue in the case, but presiding Judge Lucy Koh already found that Samsung devices infringed that patent on summary judgement back in January.

Samsung ended up winning on one for two claims. A very small number of Apple devices infringe patent #6,226,449 (camera and photo organization technology) but Samsung was unsuccessful in proving Apple infringed Samsung's patent #5,579,239 (covers some video transmission tech.)

The case isn't completely over. Expect there to be appeals filed on both sides.

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Aereo moves ahead with PR push before Supreme Court Trial

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The US Department of Justice and almost every major broadcaster have accused Aereo of violating copyright laws. So far, courts have sided with Aereo. In five days, the Supreme Court will get the final word.

Today, Aereo launched its own lobbying effort in the form of a website named "Protect My Antenna." It makes arguments for Aereo's position and compiles various legal documents for the public to read. "We remain steadfast in our conviction that Aereo's cloud-based antenna and DVR technology falls squarely within the law," Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said in an email to users announcing the site.

It's no suprise that broadcasters are upset with Aereo's live TV service. Here is how the service works: Customers pay a yearly fee to access a dedicated antenna at one of Aereo's locations and it includes DVR functionality. Users access the content online via streaming. So why are the broadcasters upset? The channels that Aereo carries show licensed content. The companies that broadcast that content want their licensing fees.

The US Department of Justice argues that Aereo is violating copyright law by re-broadcasting content from the big broadcasters and other OTA signals.

The case is scheduled for April 22nd.

Source: Protect My Antenna

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Google changes Terms of Service and there is little you can do about it

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Most GMail users are now aware that Google has been scanning users' emails for advertising data. Some users are upset that Google has yet to inform users directly about this practice. Google currently faces several lawsuits due to this. The company may have just avoided trouble by updating its terms of service to clearly state what it is doing. If you read through the lengthy text, you'll see that Google now explicitly states that "automated systems analyze your content" for the sake of advertisements, customization and security.

Google tells Reuters that the move is based on feedback from the "last few months" and should provide "even greater clarity" to users. Although true, few people read the terms of service at all.

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