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Friday, December 23, 2011

Sprint Disables Carrier IQ Software on Its Handsets

Wireless carrier says it will no longer collect data from controversial software

By Jaikumar Vijayan (Computerworld)

Sprint, the biggest user of Carrier IQ's software, said Friday it has disabled use of the tool in response to customer concerns.

The wireless carrier is no longer collecting data using the tool and is evaluating its options regarding the software going forward, the company said in an emailed statement.

"We have weighed customer concerns and we have disabled use of the tool so that diagnostic information and data is no longer being collected," the statement said. "At Sprint, we work hard to earn the trust of our customers and believe this course of action is in the best interest of our business and customers."

On Thursday, Sprint disclosed that it had installed Carrier IQ's controversial software on 26 million of its handsets. In a letter to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Thursday, Sprint said it had been using Carrier IQ's software since 2006. The company said it had been using the software only to collect network- and device-related information for quality-of-service-related purposes.

Franken had earlier sent a letter to Sprint, AT&T and several other companies demanding details on their use of Carrier IQ's software. Franken's letter was prompted by security researcher Trevor Eckhart's disclosure last month that Carrier IQ's software could be used to conduct highly intrusive tracking of mobile phone users.

In its response, Sprint maintained that its use of Carrier IQ's software had been limited to reviewing device functionality on its network to better understand issues such as dropped calls and gaps in cellphone coverage.

In its statement Friday, Sprint reiterated many of those same claims. "To be clear, Sprint has not used Carrier IQ diagnostics to profile customers, to serve targeted advertising, or for any purpose not specifically related to certifying that a device is able to operate on our network," the company said. "Sprint does not look at the content of customer messages, emails, photos, videos, keystrokes, etc. using the diagnostic tools offered by Carrier IQ."

Sprint's move could go a long way in allaying customer concerns over the use of Carrier IQ software on its handsets. Sprint is the second major company to say it is disabling use of the software on its handsets. The first was Apple, which said it was disabling Carrier IQ software installed on its iPhones. Apple also plans to issue a software update soon that will let consumers get rid of the software entirely from their handsets.

Friday, December 2, 2011

AT&T, Sprint Confirm Use of Carrier IQ Software on Handsets

Verizon, RIM, Nokia insist their handsets don't support the software

By Jaikumar Vijayan (Computerworld) - Amid what's snowballing into a major privacy controversy, AT&T, Sprint, HTC and Samsung today confirmed that that their mobile phones integrate a controversial piece of tracking software from a company called Carrier IQ.

Both wireless carriers AT&T and Sprint insisted that the software is being used solely to improve wireless network performance while phone makers HTC and Samsung said they were integrating the software into their handsets only because their carrier customers were asking for it.

T-Mobile said that it, too, uses Carrier IQ's software, which it described as a diagnostic tool to troubleshoot device and network performance. "T-Mobile does not use this diagnostic tool to obtain the content of text, email or voice messages, or the specific destinations of a customers' internet activity, nor is the tool used for marketing purposes," the company said in an email statement.

Meanwhile, several large carriers and handset makers, including Verizon, Research In Motion and Nokia, distanced themselves from the software and insisted that reports about their devices integrating the tool are false.

Read entire article at ComputerWorld.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cyber Monday Will See More Mobile Shoppers

New smartphones and tablets are making it easier for consumers to part with dollars, survey finds

By Matt Hamblen (Computerworld) - Smartphones and tablets make it easier than ever to make impulse purchases.
As a result, mobile buying is expected to be more popular than ever on Cyber Monday next week and throughout the 2011 holiday season.
A recent survey of 403 adult Americans found 70% of mobile shoppers expect to make, or have already made, more purchases from a smartphone this holiday season than they did in 2010.
The online Motricity Mobile Shopping Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14.
Mobile shoppers still say they don't buy big ticket items from their devices, though the most expensive purchase averaged $274, surprisingly high when compared to 99-cent price of many mobile apps.
At the same time, 32% of those surveyed had yet to spend more than $100 on any one item when shopping via a mobile device.
Men, on average, spent $312 for their most expensive item, compared to $222 for women.
The Motricity survey said the increased shopping from mobile devices this year is likely due mostly to a growing comfort level with purchasing goods using them. In fact, 44% of respondents cited their comfort level with the technology as the primary reason for making more purchases by the devices, while 35% cited the ease of using devices for buying goods.
The study's authors noted that over the past year, many users bought high performance touchscreen tablets or upgraded to them from devices that use trackballs.
Some users still see barriers to mobile purchases. For instance, 32% said they have "concerns about security" while the same percentage said it's difficult to get full product information on the screen of their device.
Some respondents also said slow and unreliable Internet connections and problems entering purchase information are barriers to mobile shopping.
One big surprise: younger mobile shoppers are NOT the biggest driver of mobile shopping, the Metrico study found.
Device owners aged 25-44 are almost twice as likely to say that shopping from a mobile device is more convenient than other means that those aged 18 to 24 (by 42% to 23%), the survey found.
"It's common to think that the increased popularity of mobile shopping is being driven by Gen Y," the survey concluded. "It's also incorrect."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Introducing AVG Family Safety

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Know if your child is a victim of cyber bullying or grooming.
AVG Family Safety uses key-stroke technology to monitor your child's activities in chat-rooms and on social networking sites. If it spots words, phrases or language that are known to be used to victimize children online, it will notify you immediately via SMS or email.

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Create unique logins and accounts for every child, enable Block, Warn, or Monitor modes according to their age and maturity, and adjust them over time as your household’s use of the Internet and understanding of Internet threats increases.
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Take steps to protect your children from inappropriate material by enabling 58 categories of protection spanning over 60 million websites.
Know what your children are looking for by monitoring searches on popular engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Help keep them from being exposed to questionable words, terms, and phrases by filtering their search terms.

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Take steps to protect your child by filtering objectionable material from over 80 social networks like Facebook, restricting access to chat rooms and functions, and monitoring instant messages and social network threads.

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Download AVG Family Safety from the Apple App Store and you will have the same level of protection when they are searching and surfing. AVG Family Safety replaces the standard browser and will block harmful and inappropriate sites in the same way the PC version does.

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Operating systems

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Operating SystemFamily Safety
MS Windows XPYes
MS Windows VistaYes
MS Windows 7Yes
Apple iOSYes

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

BlackBerry Service Restored, Company Says


Research In Motion Ltd. said it has fully restored service to its global network early Thursday, as it ramped up communication with carriers and customers—apologizing for the continued delays.
Co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis—who has stayed out of the public eye since Monday, when outages first struck Europe and other markets—appeared on a conference call early Thursday. He apologized for the outages and said the backlog of messages that had clogged systems since Monday is being cleared up.
The outage started with a failure in RIM's European data center, and cascaded across the world. Mr. Lazaridis said the outage was the largest in its history and likely caused by a hardware problem. "We don't know why the switch failed in the particular way that it did," he said.
Mr. Lazaridis and co-CEO Jim Balsillie stopped short of promising any sort of compensation for affected customers, saying such discussions "have not been our priority" as the company scrambles to fix its service. "That's something we are now turning our attention to," Mr. Balsillie said on the call.
Early Thursday, some U.S. customers were still complaining of missing emails. European and Mideast carriers reported improved services.
RIM, meanwhile, mobilized executives around the world to reach out to customers. On Thursday morning Patrick Spence, RIM's head of global sales and regional marketing, told reporters in India that the company was doing everything in its power to restore service, but he declined to say when the company expects normal operations to resume.
Without providing details, Mr. Spence said that RIM will work to overhaul its infrastructure to avoid future service disruptions.
RIM employees are leaving "no stone unturned" to restore service to normal, Mr. Spence said in the conference call. Once that happens the company will work to discover the root cause of the problem, consider compensation for phone carriers affected by this week's outages and try to reassure customers of BlackBerry's reliability, Mr. Spence said.
Vodafone Group PLC, the world's biggest mobile operator by revenue, said Thursday that RIM has informed them that email and its BlackBerry Messenger services are "now in the process of being restored and should be functioning as normal for most customers, although there might be still some cases where web browsing may still be unavailable."
A Vodafone spokesman said the company is "reviewing all options" on the question of compensation for affected customers.
Users in Asia had to contend with patch service Thursday.
The restoration comes after the company earlier blamed service outages affecting customers in Europe, the Mideast, Latin America and India on an internal technical glitch: a failed switch and an inoperable backup. But even as the company had promised customers on Tuesday that it had fixed that problem—and expected customer service to quickly return—disruptions spread Wednesday to previously unaffected markets, like Asia and the U.S.
RIM has said it expected some data delays after its fix, as it worked to send out a "backlog" of data to users.
—Guarav Raghuvanshi and Archibald Preuschat contributed to this article.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

RIM's BlackBerry outages come at worst possible time

by Larry Dignan (CNET.com) October 12, 2011 9:15 AM PDT

Research In Motion's rolling global outages could be a major body blow for a company looking to get off the mat. In fact, the timing of these outages is simply brutal.
Here are the moving parts:
  • RIM is trying to convince folks to buy its BlackBerry 7 devices and has an iPhone 4S launch as well as a bevy of Android phones hitting the market.
  • Its developer conference is next week and RIM has to rev up its supporters.
  • A crucial QNX update is coming in weeks ahead that will make or break RIM's PlayBook tablet.
  • Emerging markets are RIM's one strong suit.
All of those items are overshadowed by a company that now can't keep its service running. Today, RIM is seeing outages in North America and South America. The outages are tied to a botched "failover to a backup switch." Now the BlackBerry service is backed up with data. Keep in mind that e-mail and messaging is the reason that BlackBerry devices are still popular to some degree. RIM is associated with security, messaging, and enterprise-grade service. An infrastructure meltdown at this point just doesn't look good.
This timeline of outages from RIM is simply a mess:
Wednesday 12th October - 9:45 (GMT-5)
BlackBerry subscribers in the Americas may be experiencing intermittent service delays this morning. We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and we apologize to our customers for any inconvenience. We will provide a further update as soon as more information is available.
Wednesday 12th October - 12:00 (GMT+1)
We know that many of you are still experiencing service problems. The resolution of this service issue is our Number One priority right now and we are working night and day to restore all BlackBerry services to normal levels. We will continue to keep this page updated.
Tuesday 11th October - 21:30 (GMT+1)
The messaging and browsing delays that some of you are still experiencing were caused by a core switch failure within RIM's infrastructure. Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested. As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service as quickly as possible. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused to many of you and we will continue to keep you informed.
Tuesday 11th October - 16:00 (GMT+1)
Some of you are experiencing messaging and browsing delays. We are working to restore normal service as quickly as possible and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.
Monday 10th October - 20:46 (GMT+1)
Our sincere apologies to all of you affected by today's BlackBerry service issues.
Monday 10th October - 15:00 (GMT+1)
We are currently working to resolve an issue impacting some of our BlackBerry customers in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. In the meantime, we apologise to you for any inconvenience, and thank you for your patience.
For another company, these outages would be taken in stride. In fact, RIM has had outages before and came out just fine. However, the stakes are much higher now.
Rest assured that the BlackBerry outages of late will be duly noted by activist investors that are trying to force a RIM takeover or at least boot the company's co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. These outages will also be an issue for any potential acquirer of RIM.
Jefferies analyst Peter Misek crushed RIM in a research note today. His memo to activists was that RIM's turnaround will take a long time. Misek's point:
We believe any potential acquirers will wait until the QNX transition is completed as they will not know what they are buying otherwise. Also, we believe acquirers will wait to see if Windows 8 becomes the third mobile ecosystem as its success or failure will dramatically alter the strategic situation and RIM's valuation. We also believe it will be difficult to extract value from RIM in a break up or a management change scenario.
Specifically, Misek said that RIM can't be broken up until its migration to QNX is complete in roughly six months. Meanwhile, a management change is difficult. Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha would be a candidate to lead RIM, but he's highly thought of at Google. Other executives at Apple and Microsoft are largely locked up from going to RIM. PC makers, smartphone rivals, and other takeover options look slim.
Add it up and RIM's only real option at the moment is to execute well and bolster momentum for the BlackBerry. The outages aren't helping that cause.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Amazon Tablet to be 'Hundreds Less' Than iPad

If the price is right, it will sell -- and it looks like Amazon is taking this philosophy very seriously

By Ed Oswald (ComputerWorld)
The fire sale of the HP TouchPad (and the resulting rush to snag the tablet) proved one thing: if it's cheap enough, they will come. This could be good news for Amazon, who reportedly plans to release its own tablet in late September/early October for "hundreds less" than the iPad.

Sources told the New York Post that the e-tailer plans to sell the device for "hundreds less" than the iPad, although they didn't specify a target price. It seems as if Amazon wants to sell more hardware first, and then hope to make up the difference in the sales of content later.

In industry speak, this is called a "loss leader " because the product is sold for less than it costs to manufacture the device. Amazon hopes that consumers will spend more in its digital content stores as a result of getting the hardware itself cheaper.

Whether that strategy will work in the tablet sector is up for debate, but it's worked in the video game market for years.

If true, the market strategy presented by the New York Post is helping to flesh out the picture of a device that we still don't know much about. Based on reports, the Amazon tablet is expected to run Android 3.2 with a nine inch screen, slightly smaller than the iPad's 10.1-inch screen but significantly bigger than the Tab's 7-inch screen.

Amazon may release two versions of its tablet: a dual-core processor model for the average consumer, and a more powerful quad-core device for the power user. Other than that, we don't know much, because the company has shared little about its tablet plans (other than telling us to "stay tuned").

Regardless of the specs, as long as it's comparable to the iPad, Amazon's apparent decision on pricing will pay off. Look at the TouchPad: it was inferior to the iPad in power (and some may argue software), and still sold like gangbusters when the price was right. Imagine a tablet that is closer to the iPad in specs -- how could it not sell well?

The coming price war on tablets will benefit everybody. I'm willing to bet that Apple will even join in and possibly bring the cost of the iPad down a bit, too. Let's remember the company had about a year head start on everybody, so its manufacturing costs have likely fallen to a point where it could drop the price and still make a hefty profit.

I think it's a perfect time for an iPad price drop. Just in time for the holiday season. That could make things very interesting.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

AT&T Customers Try to Block Merger With T-Mobile

by Marguerite Reardon of CNET.com
JULY 22, 2011 3:22 PM PDT

Talk about a David and Goliath story. The New York-based law firm of Bursor & Fisher is working with some AT&T customers in the hopes of blocking AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile.

The firm is working on behalf of a small group of AT&T customers to demand arbitration from the company, which is the second largest wireless phone company in the U.S. and one of the biggest political contributors in the country. In its arbitration filings, Bursor & Fisher alleges that the deal between AT&T and T-Mobile would violate the Clayton Antitrust Act and harm competition in the wireless market. The firm has already signed up 11 AT&T customers, and it's soliciting more on its Web site: FightTheMerger.com. It filed the first arbitration demand Thursday in a 236-page document.

The main argument in the arbitration request is that the merger will lead to higher prices and diminished service, which would harm consumers. The customers are asking that the merger be blocked or at the very least that certain requirements be put on the merger, such as AT&T divesting some wireless spectrum and stopping its practice of entering into exclusive contracts with handset makers.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission are already reviewing the merger. It's expected to take the agencies a year to complete their evaluation of the merger. The Justice Department in particular will be looking at potential antitrust claims while the FCC's main obligation is to ensure that the merger will serve the public interest, since the wireless licenses that AT&T and T-Mobile hold are regulated by the FCC. The FCC said this week that it has stopped the clock on its review as it obtains additional information from AT&T.

Scott Bursor, a partner at Bursor & Fisher, said his firm expects to file hundreds of these cases. While arbitration is typically used to dispute individual complaints, such as an erroneous charge on a bill, Bursor said he thinks the process can also be used for antitrust disputes, since class-action lawsuits are not available to AT&T customers.

"The law gives private parties the opportunity to sue in antitrust cases," Bursor said. "So we are using this arbitration process to help consumers, who are barred from filing class-action suits."

In its contracts, AT&T prohibits customers from suing the company directly or as part of a class-action lawsuit. A U.S. Supreme court decision in April upheld this practice. Instead, consumers must use an arbitration process. But consumers are also prohibited from filing arbitration as a group or class and instead must file claims individually, which is why Bursor has said the company will file hundreds of these claims.
And because each arbitration request is assigned to a separate judge, each case will be evaluated independently, which in theory could increase the chances of a beneficial outcome for the customers filing the complaint.

AT&T said in a statement that the arbitration process is not intended to hear class-action cases, such as the ones Bursor plans to file.

"The claims made by the Bursor & Fisher Law Firm are completely without merit," the company's statement said. "An arbitrator has no authority to block the merger or affect the merger process in any way. Our arbitration provision allows customers to resolve their individual disputes with AT&T in a prompt and consumer-friendly manner."

Bursor's firm has worked with wireless customers in the past on class-action suits over early-termination fees. His firm also sued AT&T over mobile-handset exclusivity. Michael Aschenbrener of Aschenbrener Law in Chicago, who has also brought class-action suits against wireless companies in the past, said that using the arbitration process to air antitrust complaints is unusual. So it's difficult to say if it will be effective. But he said at the very least it might get these consumers' concerns heard.

"Arbitration is a new approach in this context but necessary in light of recent anticonsumer Supreme Court precedent," he said. "Whether these consumers will be successful remains to be seen, but this demonstrates that consumers want to be heard and will be heard--no matter how much the courts and big businesses try to silence them."

These AT&T consumers involved in the arbitration are not the only ones opposed to AT&T's plan to buy T-Mobile. Sprint Nextel has also expressed its opposition. And this week, Senator Herb Kohl, who heads up a subcommittee on antitrust matters, asked regulators to block the deal.
Some states are also taking a closer look at the merger. California's Public Utility Commission is examining it. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced in March that his office would "undertake a thorough review of AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile" and analyze the merger for "potential anticompetitive effects on consumers and businesses."

Meanwhile, AT&T has also garnered support from a number of groups. There are already governors in 26 states that have signed on to support the merger. And 76 members of Congress have also expressed their support for the merger.

AT&T said earlier this week during its earnings call that it is confident it will get the approval for the merger. And the company said it expects the deal to close in the first quarter of next year.

Read more: at CNET.com

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's your cell phone's maximum radiation level?

By Sharon Machlis (Computerworld)
June 3, 2011

Computerworld - With recent news of a possible link between cell phone radiation and risk of brain cancer, you may have a new-found interest in knowing how much radiation your mobile handset is giving off -- or, more importantly, how much your body might be absorbing.

The FCC's legal limit for mobile phones is 1.6 Watts of radiofrequency energy per kilogram, using a measure called Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).

The Environmental Working Group, which tracks SAR data for more than 1,300 cell phone and smartphone models, notes that several factors besides your handset affect your actual level of exposure. For example, distance from the cell tower plays a part: If the connection is weak, the handset needs to generate more radiation to make a connection to the tower. Network frequency and technology may play a part, and even the age of the user is an issue.

"Children and teenagers would likely get higher radiation dose than adults from the same phone," EWG spokesperson Leeann Brown said in an email.

Distance from the phone also matters. Using a headset or the speaker -- or texting instead of talking -- are inexpensive ways to cut down your exposure, EWG advises. The organization has posted 8 cell phone safety recommendations on its Web site.

The FCC also cautions that SAR alone doesn't tell the full cell phone safety story, since it measures maximum possible and not typical radiation levels.

There's a fairly wide range of SAR levels for cell phones tracked by EWG using data from vendor Web sites, last updated in December 2010, ranging from the LG Quantum's 0.35 W/kg to several Motorola models that come in just at 1.60 W/kg.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Alternatives to Popular Tech Products

By Elsa Wenzel (PC World)
PC World — Were you more of a freak or geek than a popular kid in high school? Are you always looking for a way to fight "the man"? Do you express your individuality with, say, safety-pin earrings? Maybe you're just a savvy shopper who doesn't believe all the hype you see in commercials. In any case, these alternatives may turn your head.

Slideshow: Tech That Will Matter in 2011
Slideshow: 30 Most Anticipated Tech Products of 2011

Whether you're looking for a better word processor, a new shopping method, an end to iTunes headaches, an iPad rival, or a way to escape your phone bill, you can find plenty of great services and tools besides the old standards.

Microsoft Office, for starters, has ample competition in the form of both desktop and online productivity suites. If you find Adobe's Acrobat PDF maker too clunky, check out other PDF tools. You can even try alternatives to alternative products, such as various Ubuntu Linux operating-system desktops. If you like to whistle while you work, you have ways to escape the ubiquitous Apple iTunes, as well as options aside from the newer Amazon Cloud Drive.

If you're running a business, consider alternatives to an old-school credit-card terminal; we looked at five ways to make mobile payments, including the intriguing Square Card Reader. And PayPal isn't the only way to make and receive online payments--we rounded up at least seven other options. Professionals who manage bookkeeping in-house may lean overwhelmingly on Intuit QuickBooks, but we examined five cloud-based services that you can access anywhere you have an Internet connection.

As for hardware, don't forget that the iPad 2 isn't the only tablet in town. If you lust after the MacBook Air but you want to "think different" from Apple, take a look at seven sleek, ultrathin Windows laptops. Dying to ditch your landline? VoIP apps aren't the only way.

For any consumer or small business, doing the research to select the best product from an array of software or hardware should pay off in the long run, especially if the most famous name doesn't necessarily fit your needs. Sure, some market leaders stand out because they offer a more well-rounded product for most users, but some are missing the features you need--or are just plain aggravating or costly to maintain.

As part of your research, take a look at this roundup of PCWorld's recent coverage of some of the finest alternatives to dominant tech products. The best part: Most of these options cost less than the market leaders in their respective categories, and some are even free.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Internet Sales-Tax Debate Comes to California

Andrew Asch (ApperalNews.net)
April 29, 2011

State legislatures in South Carolina and Texas this week approved measures to require online retailers to pay state sales taxes, and California might jump into this fray next.

A bill before the California State Assembly, AB155, was approved by a legislative committee on April 25. It will require out-of-state online retailers such as Amazon.com and Overstock.com to pay state sales taxes, from which they have been exempt since the 1990s. The assembly might vote on it in June, according to Tom White, the chief of staff for bill sponsor Charles Calderon (D–Whittier.)

If passed, the state might bring in $6 billion in tax revenue, according to a 2009 University of Tennessee study. The sum will help whittle down California’s $25 billion-plus budget deficit.

But online retailers have reacted with tough action to other states’ attempts to collect sales taxes. In March, Amazon and Overstock refused to pay sales taxes in Illinois and cut business ties to their Illinois affiliates when that state’s governor, Pat Quinn, signed a law changing these online retailers’ tax status.

Arlington, Va.–based Retail Industry Leaders Association has contended that ecommerce retailers have enjoyed a free tax break for too long.

“This is revenue that is owed,” said Jason Brewer, a RILA vice president of communications and advocacy. “It makes more sense for legislators to collect taxes that are owed rather than raise taxes.”

Advocacy group The Alliance for Main Street Fairness, also based in Arlington, contends that bricks-and-mortar retailers are bearing a heavy burden for sales taxes while wealthy Internet retailers have shared no responsibility. “There is no reason to treat online sales differently than purchases made in a store,” said Eric Bearse, a group spokesperson. But sales taxes would hurt businesses in times of weak economic recovery, said the Washington, D.C.–based Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). It also would unnecessarily burden them with an administrative nightmare, said Heather Greenfield, a CCIA representative.

“CCIA has long opposed taxes on e-commerce as burdening online vendors with the task of sorting through the policies of thousands of taxing authorities around the country and serving as revenue-collection agencies for each of them. Mom-and-pop businesses would likely close if faced with such a legal and accounting nightmare,” Greenfield said.

In a February 2008 New York Times blogdistributed by RILA, Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, was quoted stating software programs are published that will easily figure out how much sales tax e-commerce retailers owe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fake Security Software Takes Aim at Mac Users

'Rogueware' plague expands from Windows to Mac OS, tries to dupe Apple users into paying $60-$80
By Gregg Keizer (ComputerWorld)
May 2, 2011 04:05 PM ET

Computerworld - Scammers are distributing fake security software aimed at the Mac by taking advantage of the news that al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces, a security researcher said today.

A security firm that specializes in Mac software called the move "a very big step forward" for malware makers targeting Apple's users.

Phony antivirus software, dubbed "rogueware" by security experts, has long plagued people running Microsoft Windows, but this is the first time scammers have targeted the Mac with a sophisticated, professional-looking security application, said Peter James, a spokesman for Intego, a Mac-only antivirus company headquartered in France.

"This is indeed a very big step forward for Mac malware," said James.

The program, dubbed MAC Defender, is similar to existing "rogueware," the term for bogus security software that claims a personal computer is heavily infected with malware. Once installed, such software nags users with pervasive pop-ups and fake alerts until they fork over a fee to purchase the worthless program.

Until now, rogueware has been exclusively targeting Windows PCs.
That's changed, according to Kurt Baumgartner, a senior malware researcher with Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, who today said that one group distributing MAC Defender has also been actively spreading Windows rogueware.

"They have been revving up for this for months," said Baumgartner of the work to prep MAC Defender.

Last month, Baumgartner had reported that ".co.cc" domains -- which are often used to spread malware and host attack code-infected Web sites -- had begun to host fake security sites and deliver the "Best AntiVirus 2011" rogueware.

During his early-April sweep through the .co.cc domains, Baumgartner found a URL explicitly aimed at Macs: "antispyware-macbook(dot)co(dot)cc".

"It is very odd that this group is marketing 'Fast Windows Antivirus 2011' from 'macbook' domains," Baumgartner said at the time in a blog post.

Today, Baumgartner said that a group using .co.cc domains was serving up fake security software for Macs as part of a broader campaign to trick Windows users into downloading and installing phony programs.

That campaign is currently exploiting the hot news topic of Bin Laden's death to get people to click on links that redirect their browsers to the rogueware downloads. The scammers have used "black hat" SEO (search engine optimization) tactics to push links to rogueware higher on Google Images' search results.

But that's not the only way Mac owners have been duped into installing MAC Defender.
On Saturday -- the day before President Obama announced the killing of Bin Laden -- messages from infected users began appearing on Apple's support forums.

"What is macdefender and why is it trying to install itself on my computer?" asked someone identified as "wamabahama" on April 30.