Here’s a review of what has the microsoft bid caused!……a few smiles and a few sad faces
Article on Forbes
Yahoo! co-founders and execs Jerry Yang and David Filo will likely be out of a job if their company is acquired by Microsoft. Fortunately for the pair, they’ve accumulated a hefty fortune this week to fall back on during retirement.
Based on stock ownership information reported in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the value of Filo’s stockpile of Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO – news – people ) shares soared $796.4 million since Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT – news – people ) announced its bid for the Internet portal. The value of Yang’s stake jumped $436.4 million.
If they decide to sell their company to Microsoft, Yang and Filo would reap even bigger rewards. Shares of Yahoo! are still trading a discount to Microsoft’s bid of $31 per share. Plus, Yahoo! would likely try to negotiate a higher price.
While a windfall for the Yahoo! guys, the past week has squeezed the fortunes of those tied to Microsoft. Wall Street is concerned by the amount of money Microsoft will need to pay to acquire Yahoo! and the difficulties of integrating two tech giants with vastly different corporate cultures. As of midday Tuesday, shares of Microsoft are down 8.4% since the announcement of the deal.
The decline means a massive hit to the net worth of Microsoft’s largest shareholder and Chairman Bill Gates. He’s been clipped for $2.3 billion. Chief Executive Steven Ballmer was stung with a $1.1 billion loss.
It also means a sizable slide for Paul Allen. The Microsoft co-founder has been unloading stock since his departure from the company but still reportedly owns over 100 million shares.
But the losses of the Microsoft trio look paltry in comparison to that of the Google (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ) guys. Google’s big three–Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page–own the vast majority of Google’s class B shares. The private shares are similar to the class A shares that trade publicly but have more voting power.
Google shares have declined 10.9% from the close of trading Thursday to midday Tuesday. Much of the fall can be blamed on Google’s disappointing fourth-quarter earnings release, but the possibility of a “MicroHoo!” isn’t helping. Microsoft has made it clear that a big reason behind the attempted Yahoo! acquisition is to challenge Google’s online hegemony.
Even worse is the battering Google shares have taken over the past three months. They’ve plummeted $221.65 or 30.6% after an excessive rally. The decline means the value of the Google position of Brin, Page and Schmidt has dropped nearly $15 billion since November.
Here’s Techcrunch also joining the league of Websites leveraging Presidential debates to increase traffic…..after Youtub(CNN Debate)…….
Oh! Sorry I meant to enable American voters hear their presidential candidates talk about technology and their vision through our favorite medium i.e. the internet ….
It’s sadly clear that our current leaders have little understanding of technology and why it’s important to our economy and culture. That has to change.
We’ve been interviewing 2008 presidential candidates for the last few months to get them to state, on record, their positions on ten key technology related issues (Barack Obama, John McCain, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich).
In December we announced that we were also holding a Tech President primary here at TechCrunch, where readers could vote on the candidate that they thought had the best policies on these ten key issues. The poll ended yesterday, and the results can be seen here. Barack Obama won the Democrat side, with 60% of the votes (John Edwards took second). Ron Paul won the Republican vote with 73% of those votes (John McCain took second).
Those results are meaningful indicators of how our readers feel about the candidates. In addition, taking into account those votes as well as our own analysis, we are endorsing one candidate from each party: Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans.
Senator Barack Obama – Democrat
Senator Obama has put more time and effort into defining his technology policies than any other candidate. In November he released a detailed position paper on technology issues, and we had a one-on-one interview with him two weeks later.
He is staunchly in favor of net neutrality, and has promised to make it a priority to reinstate it in his first year in office. He has proposed intelligent programs for increasing technology education and access to children. He doesn’t believe the FCC went far enough in their proposed rules for opening up the 700MHz spectrum auctions. He wants to see increases in the number of H1-B visas given out each year. He strongly supports research into renewable energy sources and he has a realistic, market based approach to capping carbon emissions.
More importantly, though, Senator Obama talks about the future with a sense of optimism that the other candidates seem to lack. America has done great things in the past, and we can do great things in the future, so long as our leaders support our home-grown and immigrant entrepreneurs, or at least get out of the way. Jobs will be lost in some sectors, but growth in technology can drive our economy ever forward. Senator Obama seems to understand that, and has spent a great deal of time addressing technology issues and talking to Silicon Valley leaders. Some of the other Democratic candidates have staked out similar positions as Senator Obama on tech issues – but I get the sense that they are playing “me too” rather than showing real leadership and thoughtfulness on the issues.
Senator Obama also continues to surge when it comes to using the Internet to amplify his voice. I talked about his online surge earlier this month.
Senator Obama is the candidate of optimism and leadership, and he will be getting my personal vote.
Senator John McCain – Republican
Choosing Senator Obama for our Democrat endorsement was relatively easy. We had a lot more trouble with the Republicans. The trouble comes because, based on their positions on the issues, none of them are the perfect candidate. The leading candidates – Romney, Huckabee and McCain – all have flaws. And while Ron Paul won the TechCrunch primary by a very large margin, he too has flawed technology policies – not the least of which is that he is staunchly against net neutrality, and doesn’t want the FCC to get too involved with spectrum allocation rules.
The problems stem from Republicans’ general rule to “let the market decide,” which appeals to my libertarian leanings but can cause real problems in a monopoly-type markets. People tend to have few choices when it comes to Internet or mobile providers. In those cases using government to force a level playing field and open access is what actually stimulates economic growth. Republicans also tend to shy away from “green” issues such as pollution (carbon emissions), and alternative fuel research. Finally, their reluctance to get the Federal government involved directly in education means that they avoid issues like increasing math and science curriculum in pubic schools, or providing Federal funding or incentives to address the digital divide (in particular, getting computers and Internet into schools). Their resulting policies tend to put off technology focused voters.
Taking all of the Republican candidates positions into consideration, as well as TechCrunch reader voting, we are endorsing Senator McCain as the best candidate from that side of the aisle. Senator McCain, more so than any other Republican candidate, is at least willing to go on record on any issue we brought up in our interview with him.
He is standoffish on net neutrality, mobile spectrum rules and the digital divide. And he has voted against some bills to fund renewable energy research.
But he’s made it clear that he’ll address inequities that arise from his hands-off policies on net neutrality and mobile allocations, which other Republican candidates refuse to do. And his positions on Internet Taxes, H1-B visas, China/human rights violations and other issues are strongly pro-technology. Romney and, to a lesser extent Huckabee, by contrast, have shown little inclination to even discuss their position on these issues.
Senator McCain also has more pure leadership experience than any other candidate running for office. He is the elder statesman of the election, and that experience counts for something. Finally, his pro-business leanings will do much to promote the technology economy in the U.S.
Now, as an aside, McCain did say that he was “illiterate” when it comes to computers, which isn’t uncommon for his generation. His campaign has clarified that position somewhat since then, and it’s clear that McCain has surrounded himself with enough technically savvy individuals that he’s likely to avoid a “series of tubes” type comment down the road. Frankly, I don’t give a damn if McCain ever turns on a computer or not. I just want a president who has the right top-down polices to support the information economy or, as I said above, be smart enough to just get out of our way and let us do our thing.
Facebook is no stranger to the complaints of privacy activists. First, it was the site’s News Feed feature back in 2006. Most recently, the company’s Beacon service drew widespread criticism. This blog post will outline yet another major privacy issue, in which Facebook recklessly exposes user data.
Facebook launched its widely popular application developer program back in May 2007. As of press time, there were more than 14,000 applications. Some, including most of the popular apps, are made by companies, while a few of the popular apps, and a significant number of the long tail of the less popular applications are made by individual developers.
But a new study suggests there may be a bigger problem with the applications. Many are given access to far more personal data than they need to in order to run, including data on users who never even signed up for the application. Not only does Facebook enable this, but it does little to warn users that it is even happening, and of the risk that a rogue application developer can pose.
Privacy problems for the user
In order to install an application, a Facebook user must first agree to “allow this application to…know who I am and access my information.” Users not willing to permit the application access to all kinds of data from their profile cannot install it onto their Facebook page.
Screenshot of adding an application
What kind of information does Facebook give the application developer access to? Practically everything. According to the Application Terms of Service,
“Facebook may…provide developers access to…your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location…your current location…your political view, your activities, your interests…your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history,…copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums…a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends.”
The applications don’t actually run on Facebook’s servers, but on servers owned and operated by the application developers. Whenever a Facebook user’s profile is displayed, the application servers contact Facebook, request the user’s private data, process it, and send back whatever content will be displayed to the user. As part of its terms of service, Facebook makes the developers promise to throw away any data they received from Facebook after the application content has been sent back for display to the user.
Researchers blast Facebook
Some applications may make use of all this data, but as researchers from the University of Virginia have detailed in a recent report, Facebook provides applications with access to far more private user information than they need to function. Adrienne Felt, a student and lead researcher on the project, told me that of the top 150 applications they examined in October 2007, “8.7 percent didn’t need any information; 82 percent used public data (name, network, list of friends); and only 9.3 percent needed private information (e.g., birthday). Since all of the applications are given full access to private data, this means that 90.7 percent of applications are being given more privileges than they need.”
Felt condemned this practice, and said that it violated the the idea of least authority, an important security design principle that states that an actor should only be given the privileges needed to perform a job. In other words, she said, an application that doesn’t need private information shouldn’t be given any.
“Regardless of the click-through disclaimer that Facebook makes users accept, I don’t think people understand what’s happening to their data behind the scenes. If applications don’t appear to use private data–but then they all have this same standard click-through screen–how can users differentiate between applications that really need access to data and all the rest?”
More than your own data–selling out your friends
Facebook’s Web site and lengthy application terms of service curiously fail to mention something rather important. In addition to providing the application developer access to most of your private profile data, you also agree to allow the developer to see private data on all of your friends too.
Many Facebook users set their profiles to private, which stops anyone but their friends from seeing their profile details. This is a great privacy feature that can protect users from cyberstalkers and is completely gutted by the application system. To restate things–if you set your profile to private, and one of your friends adds an application, most of your profile information that is visible to your friend is also available to the application developer–even if you yourself have not installed the application.
The good news is that Facebook lets you configure the amount of your own private data that your friend’s applications can see. The bad news is that it’s hidden away, requiring several clicks through menus to find a page listing specific privacy settings (Privacy -> Applications -> Other Applications). Furthermore, the default values are extremely lax, such that a user who has yet to discover the preference page is essentially sharing her entire profile by default.
This friend data-sharing “feature,” and the ability to protect against it, isn’t mentioned anywhere else on Facebook’s site, nor are users informed about it when they install an application.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. During our conversation, he dismissed claims that Facebook does nothing to inform users that applications have access to data on user’s friends, stating that “we have made things very clear to users, and they understand it very well.” However, by press time, he had yet to send me a link to anywhere on the site where this information was “clearly” explained.
As for actually getting user permission before using their data in new and creepy ways, Solove said that the company “seem to have a very cavalier attitude to their users consent.”
Ok. So in order to give your friends virtual naughty gifts, play scrabble online, or see your daily horoscope, a user has to hand over all their private profile data to some unknown company or developer. No need to worry though, because Facebook has safeguards in place, right?
“Before providing any information to any Developer through the Facebook Platform, Facebook requires each Developer to enter into an agreement…which…strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of Facebook Site Information.” (Facebook application terms of service)
Ah, good. Facebook requires that each developer protect the privacy of the user information and requires that they not store a local copy. I’m sure Facebook enforces this vigorously, audits developers, and throws the book at anyone who violates this rule, right?
“[each application] has not been approved, endorsed, or reviewed in any manner by Facebook…we are not responsible for…the privacy practices or other policies of the Developer. YOU USE SUCH DEVELOPER APPLICATIONS AT YOUR OWN RISK.” (Facebook application terms of service)
I asked Facebook’s Kelly what his company is doing to ensure that application developers do not violate the rules by saving a copy of user data that passes through their servers. He cited “extensive security mechanisms operating behind the scenes,” although, he refused to expand on this, due to “security reasons.” He wasn’t too happy when I accused him of practicing security though obscurity, a concept widely mocked in security circles. He dismissed my charge as a mischaracterization.
Kelly claimed that his company “has a variety of techniques to determine if [developers are saving user data.]” As a PhD student in Information Security, I can quite confidently say that from a technical perspective, this is impossible. Simply put, once the data leaves Facebook’s servers, the company has no way of knowing what happens to it. Thus, giving Mr. Kelly the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that Facebook has a team of trained psychics on staff who use their mysterious powers to ferret out rogue developers.
Who are the application developers
Kelly said that users can determine a developer’s trustworthiness by looking at their profile page, and that somehow, users can combine to form some kind of intelligent hive mind. “One of the factors is what applications your friends are installing. Untrusted applications don’t get added very often as the collective mind is choosing what is trusted in real time.” He further added that it is “up to your friends to make that determination in real time. If an application is going to give them some utility, they’ll know that the applications have to obey the rules.”
Call me a cynic–but I fail to see how thousands of 18-year-olds can collectively assess the data protection practices of some random developer in a foreign land. Remember, these are the same 18-year-olds who post photos of themselves passed out drunk on their public profile pages.
Would I trust the hive mind of Indiana University students to tell me which bar in town has the cheapest beer? Sure. But to expect them to evaluate a company’s privacy practices? No way.
A public outcry
Unfortunately, as alarming as this issue is to privacy activists, there is a good chance that it may fail to gain the attention of the millions of Facebook users necessary to actually force the company to fix its policies. While both the newsfeeds and Beacon scandals were “in your face,” most users have no way of knowing what, if any, data is being transmitted to application developers by Facebook, and thus are unlikely to be motivated to complain.
Furthermore, even users who are aware of the privacy risks of Facebook applications may still end up installing them. To not do so is to isolate yourself, to cut off communication channels, and in some cases, to cause insult your friends.
In what can only be a great example of life imitating art (see below), I asked security researcher Adrienne Felt which, if any, applications she used. She told me that in spite of the fact that she had spent significant time investigating the privacy risks, she still ended up installing an application because her friends wanted to send her some virtual Christmas presents. Not wanting to offend them, she put aside her privacy concerns, and installed the app. As she told me, due to the peer pressure, “I had a hard time saying no.”
After being in private beta for the last three months, Playyoo is opening its doors for everyone this morning. The site is aimed at casual gamers who like playing games on their mobile phones. Like Kongregate, game developers can show off their wares and interact directly with the people playing them. Better yet, anyone without programming knowledge can use Playyoo’s WYSIWYG game creator tool to create one of six game presets of simple games like pairs, tic tac toe, snake, and ping-pong. While the amount of customizations on these gaming presets is fairly limited, the titles uploaded by real game developers tend to have a little more depth. Developers with existing projects can simply port them over with a Playyoo-supplied template for Flash 8 Pro or CS3.
In terms of cost, if users find a game they like, they can download it to their mobile phones free of charge. The entire service is run by advertising, which shows up both on the site and on the games when you start them up.
What I really like about Playyoo is that it supplies each user with a customized “game stream” that can be tweaked similar to Facebook’s newsfeed so that certain game genres show up more or less than others (get a peek at this after the jump). It makes it easy to discover new content as it comes in. Likewise, Playyoo users can send recommendations to one another if they come across something cool or worth playing.
Playyoo currently supports a pretty massive variety of phones. It’s also nice enough to let you know how many games out of the entire library your phone can handle, along with providing a bandwidth limiter you can set to automatically cut you off of after burning through a set limit of data. While the graphics of the titles may not blow your socks off (like the upcoming Vollee service) you can’t beat the price, and the potential for the game creator Web app is promising for folks like me with little to no coding skills.
More screens after the jump.
As has been long expected, Facebook has begun to work on making its service available in multiple languages as it expands internationally–and it’s doing so by utilizing the power of its millions of users by enlisting them to volunteer a few minutes. The site has spent the past few weeks asking international users to participate in the process by installing a “Translation” application that lets them translate words on Facebook from English to their native languages. It only applies, of course, to Facebook-generated text; anything entered by users, like interests or favorite movies, remain as-is.
The Translation application is initially available in French, Spanish, and German, and Facebook has said that thousands of users have enlisted in the process and are “actively translating.”
But it’s more complicated than that: “This doesn’t mean that once a user has finished translating the site will be available in that language,” a release from Facebook explained. “In order to get the best possible quality translations, we have a voting system. Other translators of that language will be able to vote on the quality of the translation by giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Users are also able to report any poor translations or translators.” Essentially, Facebook has prank-proofed the system.
Full versions of Facebook in French, Spanish, and German will be available, ideally, before the end of March; when those are complete, the next set of languages (which have yet to be determined) will enter the translation process.
A handful of other social networks already offer a variety of languages based either on personal preference or geographic location. Friendster, which is popular in Asia, allows its users to toggle back and forth between English and Chinese; MySpace operates more than a dozen international sites with both language and content targeted toward the culture in question.