apple app store LogoApple has announced the the iTunes App Store has now passed 100,000 available apps, but we have to wonder why this is seen as a good thing.

All of us who work around mobile news have known this day was coming, the day that the iTunes App Store passes 100,000 available apps, but it leaves me to wonder why this should be something that should be celebrated.

Have you ever looked through the App Store in-depth?  As someone who has written more articles about the marketplace than I care to remember, I have, and I can’t say that I always walk away impressed.  Sure there are some monumentally fantastic apps out there (the app for online music site Pandora springs to mind), but there are also a ton of really horrible applications.

The App Store is becoming a victim of its own success.  As people have heard all of these stories of people making tons of money from producing an app, people that have no business even trying to build an app have gotten involved.  As the number of apps has grown, it has become impossible to secrete the wheat from the chaff, and the good apps, the ones deserving of success, are becoming fewer and further between because you simply can’t find them.

A lot of the problem stems from the overly broad categories inside of the store.  While sections such as games, probably the most popular category,  has sub-categories, other sections are just too generic.  Take music for instance, anything even barely related to music gets lumped into one gelatinous group.  Why aren’t there sub-categories like “Streaming Music”, “Radio Stations”, “Music Games”, etc?  No, it’s just all “Music”.  There are currently 182 pages in the Music category with 20 apps per page … do you want to browse 3,640 apps without any additional guidance beyond … “Music”?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The only problem is just good old greed.  The Weather category has 22 pages of applications … 22 PAGES!!  Does anyone really need more than one or two weather apps?  Well, here is part of the problem in a category such as this, you have people that release specific apps for cities.  On the front page of this section alone you have “iWeather Oklahoma City”, “iWeather Seattle”, “iWeather Phoenix”, “iWeather Philadelphia”, “iWeather St. Louis”, “iWeather San Antonio” and so on, with each of these apps selling for $.99.  Or you could, you know, download the Weather.com app for free, enter multiple zip codes for it to install and be done.

You have app developers cranking out silly specific apps, choking the store to the point of being unusable, and Apple just seems to sit back and not care.  No, no, instead lets just keep approving app after app after app after app …

Part of the problem is that Apple does have to approve every app, and every time they deny one, there is a huge stink in the tech blogosphere with people decrying how unfair this is, and Apple shouldn’t be the gate keepers and yada yada yada.  So they keep approving the vast majority of apps that come in, no matter how lame they are, and end up choking the store so that customers can never find what they are looking for, and this results in reduced sales for the developers.  It is a vicious cycle that seems to have only Apple coming out a winner in the end.

I know it’s not an easy predicament to get out of.  Who is to say which apps are worthy, and which aren’t?  Perhaps a limit on the number of apps any one developer can release in a certain time?  I.E. “You get to release 2 apps a month”  I am sure people would complain, but something has to be done.

In the meanwhile, could we please get some more sub-categories?  Please?  Pretty please?

Categories: Apple, Opinion   
 

hotel laptopHave you ever noticed that the cheaper the hotel, the better the odds are that it will provide you with free Internet access?

Over my years of travelling since the Internet became a mainstream utility, I have had the opportunity to stay in hotels of just about every price level.  When Internet access first started to appear in hotels, all of them charged for it, but as time wore on, it came to be viewed more as a necessity and was given away just like in the old days when you would see hotel signs that said “Free HBO!”  Well, now those signs say “Free High Speed!”, but it seems to only happen at lower tier hotels for some odd reason.

When speaking with a friend of mine yesterday, she made a passing joke that next time I visited her I should book a room at a fancy hotel that had opened near her just so she could stay with me and enjoy the fancy room.  Wanting to see just how much of my money she had just spent, I looked up the hotel and it was in the range of $329 to $419 a night per room.  One thing leaped out at me:

Wireless High Speed Internet Access in All Guest Rooms (Charge)

Yes, they were willing to let me stay in their rooms for hundreds of dollars a night, but by golly they wouldn’t let me on the Internet for free!  Mind you these rooms have 37″ – 42″ flat screen HD TVs, iPod docking stations, dual-line cordless phones and so on, but yet giving me free access to the Internet would somehow break them?

Mind you my friend and I were just joking about staying at this place, but free Internet has actually become a deciding factor for me in where I stay.  The Internet has become an essential tool in the lives of a good number of people, and as a professional blogger, I can not go without it.  Even while I was on vacation this past August, my first in 13 years, I had to spend time each day writing, having to pay to access the Internet would have not been fun.  Luckily my hotel offered free Wi-Fi and I was able to get work done while sitting out on the dock, with a gorgeous backdrop of private yachts and fishing boats to look at over the top of my screen.  I may have been working, but at least I got to enjoy it.

Why the higher-end hotels feel the need to charge for Internet access is beyond me.  Considering what people already pay for these rooms, and all of the amenities that they give you for free, the charging for Internet access just comes off as greedy in my eyes.  They know you want it, they know that most likely you will use it, so why not make an extra couple of bucks?  And, you know, I probably wouldn’t mind it if it was around $1 or $2 dollars a day, but no, most of these places charge you $9.95 for 24-hours of access.  That’s highway robbery in my opinion.

Are they going to start charging you for electricity as a separate fee next?

Categories: Opinion, Travel   
 

passportOne of the cornerstones of the Internet since it was introduced to the public was anonymity, but now some people are calling for that to be done away with.

According to The Register, Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Labs, is calling for all users of the Internet to have a passport that identifies them no matter where they go on the Internet.  His reasoning is that this would lessen security attacks as you would not be allowed to go anywhere on the Internet without your passport.

Everyone should and must have an identification, or internet passport.”The internet was designed not for public use, but for American scientists and the US military. Then it was introduced to the public and it was wrong…to introduce it in the same way.

I’d like to change the design of the internet by introducing regulation – internet passports, internet police and international agreement – about following internet standards.  And if some countries don’t agree with or don’t pay attention to the agreement, just cut them off.

While this is certainly a lofty goal, it is also about the most ignorant thing I have ever heard someone at his level say.

Does he really think that hackers wouldn’t figure out a way to generate fake passports?  All this would end up doing is encumbering your average user while the hackers would still just run around doing whatever they wanted as they would get a hold of other people’s passport codes.  Kaspersky Labs is a well respected company in the security software field, but apparently their CEO needs a muzzle before he goes off with ideas that show such an obvious lack of forethought.

And cutting off countries who don’t sign on to this idea?  Excuse me, I have to stop writing so I can go and finish laughing …

Categories: Opinion, Security   
 

emailI have no clue why, but people sure do seem to want to call the day and date of email’s death.

Every so often someone comes up with the idea that sites like Facebook or Twitter are going to kill off email.  I first wrote a story about this in July 2007, and I thought it was stupid then, but I think it is even stupider now.

The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece today saying that products like Twitter, Facebook and Google Wave are moving us away from email because we can be constantly connected.  This is true to some extent, but horribly wrong in others.

My argument about Facebook replacing email has always been that it isn’t conducive to business communication.  You have no way to back it up, you can’t attach files and corporations can’t control it.  You will never see a Fortune 500 company saying, “Okay, no more email, all communication must now run through a third-party system that limits what we can do and how much control we have over it.”  This is simply never going to happen.

As for Twitter … you have 140 characters to communicate in, can’t attach files, has had a spotty history with security and is far too public.  Sure it is good for short communications between friends, but are you ever going to broker a deal for oil futures on it?  No.

Google Wave is the newest weapon in this silly fight against email, and while it is still in “Preview” mode, you receive no notifications of when you have an update to a Wave to read and there is no way yet to access it while mobile.  Sure these things may change as development move forward, but for now it is just an interesting tool for people to try out.

What I will agree with is that these services are killing the short, blurby style emails of “what are we doing tonight?”, “what do you want for dinner?”, etc, but the concept that they will completely kill off email is just silly.  Email has been here for 40 years for a reason: it works.

Categories: Internet, Opinion   
 

ftc_logoThe Federal Trade Commission has officially adopted new rules that could send the entire tech blogosphere into a tailspin.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has officially adopted some new guidelines for disclosure of “material connections” that they have been promising for some time now.  The odd part is that they seem to impact everyone but print media.

The part of the press release that just makes this whole thing a mess is as follows:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

Where are the newspapers and magazines in all of this?  Companies send out “review units” for products all the time to both bloggers and print media: sometimes they request they be returned, other times they don’t.  So why are only bloggers being mentioned specifically in this?  True, the entire new guidelines also cover celebrity endorsements, but the only written word people covered are bloggers.  And if we are caught doing a review without disclosing a “material connection”, we face fines of up to $11,000.

There are some other rather large questions left by these new rules.

Will we have to go back and add disclosures to old posts?

Imagine a site like Engadget or Gizmodo having to go back and go through all of their old posts.  This probably won’t happen, but if it did, it would be the biggest mess ever.  (For the record, StarterTech has received exactly two items as a “freebie” to review thus far, that was a Chumby and another item that was so horrible that we skipped reviewing it.)

Why is print media not covered by this?

How did “old media” get off completely free in this?  Print journalists also receive “freebies”, and have been taken on many “junkets” (i.e. paid trips) to cover stories, but somehow only bloggers are covered by this?  The only difference is where we publish.

What form must the disclosures take?

Does it have to be lengthy?  Can we write just one disclosure and link back to it?  What points must it cover?

What will happen if I am sent a product to review that is to appear on a blog based in another country?

The FTC is a body governing only the United States, but the Internet is global.  I happen to work for two blogs based in other countries.  Let me give you the scenario for one of them:  BLORGE.com is based in Australia, so technically it doesn’t fall under the FTC, but would I?  One of the other writers at BLORGE is based in the United Kingdom, so obviously he doesn’t fall under the rules, so would I have to disclose information, but he wouldn’t?  That would kind of look odd on the site.

What if a blogger lives elsewhere, but the server their blog is hosted on is inside the United States?  Technically the FTC can’t do anything to them, but maybe they would shut down the blog?

Questions, Questions, Questions

Why now?  What has so drastically changed that bloggers must now disclose everything we do?  Don’t get me wrong, these new guidelines will have little to no impact on StarterTech at this time due to us not being on enough review lists, but this is something we were going to focus on more heavily in 2010.    At this time though, this is purely written from a view point of, “you have to be kidding me.”

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

cdc_logoIt could prove that the predicted spread of the Swine Flu, or H1N1 virus, could bring the Internet to its knees as well as the populace of the world.

According to The Wall Street Journal (registration required), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are warning that as much as 50 percent of the United States population could be staying home if the H1N1 infections reach the pandemic levels they fear.  While businesses are making plans for workers to telecommute if this happens, people are beginning to wonder what may happen to the Internet if both workers and children are trying to access the Internet at the same time.

During the recent outbreak of the virus in the New York City area, over 60 schools closed, leaving 800,000 students home during the day.  While the Internet stayed up, it did not have the added factor of the parents also being home and trying to telecommute.  According to a recent study by Cisco, the Internet is at nearly 50 percent capacity from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. with business traffic, and then from 4 P.M. to 11 P.M. traffic surges past 50 percent, but the traffic shifts to video games and other forms of entertainment.

In short, 50 percent plus over 50 percent equals … well, you can see that comes to over 100 percent.

The Department of Homeland Security actually did a study on the effects of a pandemic on communications, and it did find that most people would experience brown outs or complete loss of Internet connectivity if something like this would happen.

It is being suggested that people attempt to limit their Internet connectivity during a time like this to help keep the Internet running smoothly, but the report suggested that 75 percent of homes would have to voluntarily comply for it to have any real impact.  There has been some suggestion that the government should enact legislation to allow for certain services be cut off to help maintain the health of the Internet in such a situation, but that is meeting with mixed reactions.

Considering that every Cyber Monday, the Internet shopping version of Black Friday, the Internet slows to a crawl, the odds of people voluntarily staying off of the Internet seems rather unlikely.  In other words: if the Swine Flu does go pandemic, expect the Internet to move at the pace of a snail.

Categories: News, Opinion   
 

rocky mountain bankThe saga of Google and Wilson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank just keeps getting odder and odder.

According to CNET, it has now been confirmed that the unintended recipient of the email containing sensitive information on 1,300 customers of Rocky Mountain Bank was never even opened:

“Rocky Mountain Bank, working with Google (through court order), confirmed on Thursday of last week that the e-mail containing client information was never opened and has now been permanently destroyed by Google’s system,” Tina Martinez, general counsel for Rocky Mountain Capital, wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

“As a result, no customer data of any sort has been viewed or used by any inappropriate user during this data lapse,” Martinez wrote. “Rocky Mountain Bank acted to protect its customer’s confidential information. That objective was accomplished. The matter is now closed and the TRO (temporary restraining order) entered on September 23, 2009 is now vacated.”

This was something I had actually suspected, and as a commenter by the name of totorototoro accurately pointed out in the comments on the CNET article:

Maybe it went to his SPAM filter. Or maybe he’s just smart. I mean, “Rocky Mountain Bank”? How tacky is that? I’m not about to open any email from a “Rocky Mountain Bank”, especially with an attachment.

So now we learn that a completely innocent person lost access to their Gmail account over absolutely nothing. And that is where this story really starts to irk me as CNET posted an update to this story:

Update 4:35 p.m. PDT:The bank did not take any action against the worker who sent the e-mail, the bank’s lawyer said.

Okay, excuse me, but … WHAT?!?  You’re telling me that this bank took massive legal action against this completely innocent person, had them locked out of their email account, and yet the employee who actually messed up has had no action taken against them?  Are you kidding me?  This employee potentially compromised the personal data of 1,300 customers, they are the reason this whole saga started, and yet nothing happens to them.  I am not suggesting they should be fired, everyone makes mistakes, but nothing?

You know, I can tell you with absolute certainty, I will never bank at Rocky Mountain Bank, course, they mis-fire many more emails and it won’t matter, they’ll find a way to mess with you anyway.

Categories: Google, Opinion   
 

gmail logoIt seems that Google and Wilson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank have reached an agreement over the email the bank sent to the wrong email address and resulted in that account being closed.

The other day we reported on a story about Judge Orders Google To Deactivate User’s Gmail Account, about how a bank had sent an email to an unintended recipient. When the owner of that account didn’t reply to their emails requesting that the document containing the confidential information of 1300 accounts be destroyed, they went to Google to request the person’s identification. Google told them they would need a court order for that, so the bank did go to court, and the judge not only ordered the information turned over, but also ordered Google to shut down the Gmail account in question.

Well the good news is that Google did indeed comply with the order, but they have now talked things over with the bank and an agreement has been reached.

Google spokesman Andrew Pederson spoke with CNET and said the following:

After notifying the account owner, we complied with the court’s order. However, after working with Rocky Mountain Bank and the court, we resolved the issue around the bank’s error, and both sides have agreed to vacate the TRO and dismiss the case.

While we regret that the user has been locked out of their account through no fault of their own, we’re not legally able to reactivate the account until the court approves our motion to dismiss the case and vacate the TRO.  We’re hopeful that the court will act quickly, and as soon as the motion is approved, we’ll reactivate the account.

While it is great to see Google fought this, it doesn’t change the fact the original ruling was made.  How long is it before we see another case such as this pop up with a similar resolution?  This is still a troubling ruling by the original judge in the case, and one I doubt we have heard the last of.

Categories: Google, News, Opinion   
 

spamWe aren’t sure who it is that still reads spam, let alone makes purchases from it, but please stop.

According to Ars Technica, a security researcher from Sophos names Dmitry Samosseiko did some sleuthing, and was able to find his way into the administrative backend of a spamming network.  What he discovered was that there is still big money being made from spam emails, and the conclusion is that so long as people continue to purchase Viagra and other drugs via these emails, we will all suffer.

In a lengthy report (PDF link), Mr. Samosseiko details how the one spam network he got into has about 30 sales a day, totaling up to $4,000.  $1,600 of that goes to the spam software generator, a group named GlavMed, while the rest goes to the person using the spam bots.  In other words, GlavMed makes around $584,000 a year from spam, and this is just one of possibly many spam networks set up by them.

The latest iteration of spam seems to be centered on Russians setting up the networks to sell the drugs that come out of Canadian pharmacies.  While there is no way to know for sure, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is tied in with the Russian mob, but that is purely speculation on my own part.

It is amazing to me that there are still people even reading their spam emails after the endless warnings that have been made by security groups over the dangers of even opening these emails, let alone clicking on any links in them.  You are opening yourself up to viruses, Trojan horses, identity theft and any other slew of nastiness by even reading this junk mail.

The other problem is that you are subjecting everyone else on the Internet to continue receiving them because even a small percentage of them work.  It costs next to nothing to send out hundreds of thousands of spam emails, so why should the spammers care if only 30 a day result in a sale?  The only way for this to end is for everyone to just stop looking at them, but somehow I doubt that will ever happen.

Maybe we need a new slogan, something like, “Every time you read a spam email, God kills a kitten”.  Think that would finally get the point across?

Categories: Opinion, Privacy, Security, Shopping   
 

gmail logoIt seems that even if you are completely innocent, you can lose your email account if a bank wants you to.

I really try to avoid blogging on the same subject on two blogs, but this case is so frightening, it has to be brought to the attention of many people as possible.  You can see my more journalistic effort on this news over at Tech.BLORGE.com, but over here, where I’m the boss, I’m going to be a bit more blunt on my feelings about it.

The short version of the story is that Wilson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank emailed out a list of 1,300 customers of its bank on Aug. 12th.  This list included their names, addresses, social security numbers and loan information, in other words, highly sensitive information.  After sending out the email, someone at the bank realized it had been sent to the wrong Gmail account.  They emailed the account that had sent it to and instructed whomever received it to destroy it without opening it.

When the bank did not hear back from the person, they contacted Google demanding that the identity of the account holder be turned over to them.  Google said that due to their privacy rules, a court order was needed to do such.  The bank then went to court and demanded not only an order for the information, but also for Google to deactivate the account.  U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in the northern district of California issued the order this past Wednesday.  The bank asked for it to be done under seal, but U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte denied that request.

There is no indication if Google has obeyed the order yet, but that doesn’t change the fact that this order should have never been issued.  The order for the person’s information is perfectly reasonable, but to ask for the account to be deactivated, and for the judge to agree to this, is just beyond the pale of good sense.  A person, who’s only crime is that he received an unintended email, has been stripped of his email account, something that could be life altering for a large number of individuals.

Online Media Daily spoke with John Morris, general counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, about the subject.  Here’s what he said:

It’s outrageous that the bank asked for this, and it’s outrageous that the court granted it.  What right does the bank have and go suspend the email account of a completely innocent person? At the end of the day, the bank obviously screwed up. But it should not be bringing a lawsuit against two completely innocent parties and disrupting one of the innocent party’s email contact to the world.

Other lawyers are bringing up possible First Amendment ramifications of the case, saying that this significantly impacts the individuals rights to communicate online.  I think they may be overstating the First Amendment aspects of the case, but then again, I’m not a Constitutional lawyer.  It could easily be argued that no one has a “right” to communicating online at all, but I could be wrong in that aspect also.

What does trouble me is that there is no mention of proof that this person either read the emails from the bank, or might not even be logging into their account.  If it’s the latter, then this person has had their identity revealed and been drug through court for absolutely nothing.  Heck, there is even a chance the emails went to their spam folder.

No matter how you look at this case it is troubling, and I am sure this isn’t the last we’ve heard of it.  I would especially like to hear how Judge Ware felt justified in deactivating the account.

This is a scary, scary time for all email users after this case.

Categories: Google, Opinion   
 
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