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[disclosure: I was taken to Berlin for IFA by Haier]

haier-fridge.jpg

It used to mean something cheap and plastic that played a tune and broke 3 days later. Now we all know that China makes some of the finest gadgets out there.

They make the iPhone, they make LG TVs, they make many of the clothes we wear and they probably make your washing machine too.

But while Chinese companies have the manufacturing muscle and technical expertise to produce the most advanced and most finely-tuned machines in the world, as a country they have relatively few brands. They don't have design, they don't have marketing, they just make the stuff.

Well that's where companies like Haier mark a change - alongside existing Chinese tech giants like Huawei and Lenovo, they signal the next wave of Made in China - Designed in China.

Haier is the biggest manufacturer of dishwashers by volume in the world. It's also the biggest manufacturer of fridges in the world. By being the biggest in China - a billion people natch - you end up being the biggest in the world.

And while they do lots of affordable and mid-range fridges, they do premium stuff. And now they want to be premium brand in Europe and in the US, like they are in China. Maybe you don't know much about what makes a fridge premium - but we're talking about smart temperature control, french window shutter drawers, fruit drawers at optimum temperature and of course, those little ice dispensers. Then it's also about build quality and energy efficiency.

Let me tell you - I saw Haier's fridges at IFA - they were lovely fridges, with premium-range price tags to match.

Point being - that China don't just make quantity, it makes quality now. That's going to be the way of the future. And that's where they start to challenge the West and change the future of technology.

Moving from white goods to the sexier end of consumer electronics it means that the next Apple may as well be in Shanghai as California.

I don't see a Chinese phone brand that could rival Apple springing up in the next five years - currently there are none [LG and Samsung are South Korean, HTC is Taiwanese] but beyond that is anybody guess. They've obviously got the manufacturing skills already.

And because the home market there is growing, new Chinese hardware companies will have an easier ride starting out than a US or European company. It will be much easier to sell stuff while finding their feet. The market in PCs is pretty static out in the West, relying on replacement only. So much so that the most successful PC company in the US, HP, has decided to stop making them.

The US isn't a fertile place for the next Apple right now.

But design and branding are two big problems that China face. When I visited there two years ago someone pointed out a parallel case: China make so many clothes - but there are no (significant) Chinese fashion brands. The guy I was talking to suggested that the Chinese education system was partly to blame: it promoted manufacturing skills like attention to detail, and the ability to replicate ideas exactly. Not necessarily the skills need to create bold new ideas or to redefine genres.

Though, in a nation of 1 billion people - can it take long?

Soon the ideas coming out of the there could be bigger than shutter-door energy-efficient fridges.
In the meantime if you want to see those nice fridges do look at the Haier selection: http://www.haier-uk.co.uk/products/cooling
And the Haier website: http://www.haier-uk.co.uk/

BYAITHumb.jpgShinyShiny readers: Steve Jobs is moving on, and so am I. Don't know how often I'll get to make this comparison so while I can I'm milking it TO THE FULL.

I'm moving on after 2 years of editing ShinyShiny - my first and favourite blog. Since taking over the reins from Shiny luminaries Zara and Susi, I've gradually moved the site away from writing about pink feature phones (they've just stopped making them) and towards social networking, Facebook, apps and err Facebook.

I didn't realise just how many bloody stories I'd written about Facebook in my time. I'm still not aware of the the extent of it. But it's a hell of a lot.

Anyway, that's because I love doing it.

I've also loved working with Gerald Lynch of TechDigest, who you should all read and follow on Twitter @geegeeemidnight. He likes films about apes. Thanks Gerald and Ashley and Chris and Lis and Laura - it's been a treat working with you all.

But thanks most of all to you guys - the readers and commenters. You've written some nice comments, made some good points, told me funny things on Twitter. Thanks in particular to that guy who offered to exchange one of his testicles for a Google+ invite. I hope you got one in the end. Best wishes.

I tweet here @annajleach - would be lovely if you like to follow me to keep up. I'll be covering tech stories as a reporter over at The Register ;)

Look out for the new ShinyShiny editress Becca Caddy - @beccacaddy, fresh from PopGadget and BitchBuzz.

She's going to do a brilliant job.

SEE YOU ON THE INTERNET.

Oh by the way some of my favourite stories from the past 24 months..

Apple's no-nipples policy means fashion mags are censoring their iPad editions


Has Facebook finally introduced 'who's looking at your profile'? + UPDATE: Facebook respond

Apple tablet - most hyped product since the wheel


Vintage vibrators: sex toys from the past


Louis Gray blames Facebook for not telling him his sister had a baby


Yes people put drunk pictures on Facebook & what of it? Why the media needs to grow up..



Poll: Is Andrew Marr right? Are bloggers "inadequate, pimpled and single"?



Has Facebook got too complicated? Site doesn't even "notice" latest data leak

bb-thumb.jpgOkay - I'll say straightaway that Blackberries are great mobile phones and a useful all-round tool for communication. Most people buy Blackberries because they work well.

But the connection between Blackberry and youth culture - particularly deprived urban youth culture - has always fascinated me.

Since BBs started out as the smartphones for suits - business leaders making deals over their desks, it's funny to think of them now as the tools of hooded teenagers breaking into FootLocker with BBM used to exchange looting plans instead of stock tips.

How did that happen?

To me there's a clear link between the ghetto/hip-hop lust for labels like Prada and Gucci and car brands like BMW (ref Nicki Minaj lyrics) and the way these kids want Blackberries.

It's the desire for the material wealth and power that these kids don't have: aping the high-flying city culture that they are so definitely barred from. Blackberry users are CEOS, people with soft-top cars and suits and power. Stuff these kids don't have. Or are ever likely to get.

But they can get Blackberries and so they do.

It's a culture that idolises material wealth and bling for the reason that it's excluded from them. Middle-class kids who want that stuff get good grades from their nice schools and go get it. It's much more of a distant aspiration if you're at a sink city state school.

Yes, I'm going on rap lyrics I know. And yes, this is generalising, probably condescending. Just interested by how technology plays out in social structures.

There's also the celebrity connection that makes BBs more attractive to kids: see our story - Why are Blackberries so popular with Hip-Hop Stars?

Then - of course - lets add that Blackberrys come at many different price points so are more affordable than iPhones, they're also more customisable and as mentioned come with Blackberry Messenger. All attractive to a younger market with less money.

Related: Social networks and identity: MySpace is more black, Facebook is more white and Twitter is gay?

duncan-bannatyne.jpgDragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne was forced to back down after asking his Twitter followers to break someone's arms.

The 62-year-old millionaire removed the tweet after an outcry from his followers complaining that he was encouraging violence.

Bannatyne was moved to the angry tweet after a nasty blackmail message from an account called @YuriVasilyev_ threatened to hurt his 25 year-old daughter Hollie and demanded money in return for her safety.

@DuncanBannatyne originally tweeted: "I offer £25,000 reward for the capture of the coward who calls himself @YuriVasilyev_ Double if his arms are broken first."

A nasty situation and a lot of drama, but... it raises the bigger issue about whether we should take what we read on Twitter to be true. Was Duncan really suggesting that a mob go out there and crack someone's arms up? Do public figures with 381,433 followers have to be responsible about what they tweet in the fear that someone might read them wrong and act badly.

Do there need to be restraints on what we're able to say on Twitter?

The classic case for people being held accountable for their tweets was the Twitter Joke Trial when a 27 year-old accountant setting off for a Christmas break was arrested for tweeting that he would blow up Doncaster's Robin Hood Airport if his plane was cancelled. Most people would have considered that to be a joking expression of frustration rather than a hard and fast terrorist threat, but the police, and then a judge thought otherwise. In the end the tweeter Paul Chambers was fined £3,600 for "menace".

By that logic, Bannatyne could be guilty of menace too. And Bannatyne has more followers of course so arguably a greater reach and more influence.

Soo... could we be guilty of menace for tweeting something like "I could kill the woman next to me on the bus eating for crisps so loudly".

Should we just stop saying things on Twitter that we don't mean, in case someone, somewhere does take them seriously and goes on a mad arm-breaking, crisp-eater killing rampage.

That would be ridiculous. But it is an issue Twitter is going to have to face up to - just as other media outlets have.

I guess the trouble with Bannatyne's tweet in particular is that he wanted the first part of the tweet to be taken seriously. The offer of the reward was genuine, but the second part less so, though obviously his fury is understandable.

Normally, there's more of a clear contextual distinction between what we mean as a joke or an exaggeration and what we actually mean.

One plus side of this story is that Twitter is obviously pretty good at self-regulating as the reaction showed.

In the end, Bannatyne compromised on "OK £30,000 reward for info leading to his arrest" - an offer that still stands.

blackberry-drake-tinie-tempah-cool-factor.jpg

It has always fascinated me that Blackberries have such a niche in ghetto/urban style. They crop up in hip-hop lyrics all the time, the stars are often photographed clutching them to their ears. And lets just say that for every knitted iPhone cosy, there's a Blackberry with a customised patent leather case with the owner's initials tooled on in Swarovski.

Even Apple's high status pricey iPhone doesn't have the same high-end brand cachet. And Android and Samsung etc just don't rank. (Though if you know a hip-hop lyric about a Galaxy S2, please tell me).

Blackberry's Ghetto Status
I got thinking about Blackberry's ghetto status again this morning at the launch of the new Blackberry 7 phones (nice btw, check out the new Bold 9900) - because we were shown a video about Blackberry users which showcased business people, dairy farmers, working parents and dieters and then Tinie Tempah and Drake.

Drake (god love him, I won't talk about my feelings for him here) said that he writes most of his lyrics on his Blackberry. Tinie murmured something about how they were real and he liked BBM.

We know you do Tinie, you sing about it all the time.

Celebrities tend to have Blackberrys and I'm told, by a reliable source, that they're very common in the fashion industry too.

Why do celebs love Blackberries?
So why do hip-hop stars and fashionistas like them so much? Don't they know that there are way more apps on iOS devices? That the touch screens are more responsive? I guess they do, but they still go for Blackberry over iPhone. I can think of two reasons.

1) Security. Blackberrys route carrier data back through their own servers. This makes them much harder to tap or compromise. In this age of phone-hacking, that's a big deal for someone whose life is likely to be under scrutiny.

2) Reputation as a businessman's phone. The Blackberry is the phone of the powerful, the people who make deals and sit in the Oval Office. Not the sort of people who like retro photo apps and have time to play Angry Birds. I think people who want to take themselves seriously often get Blackberries. Let's face it, iPhones are still associated with layabout hipsters who like taking pictures of themselves.

Can you think of any other reasons?

Celebrity endorsement is a big deal for Blackberry, and iPhone still doesn't have it

This isn't just me mouthing off about celebrities, it's a signficant commercial factor.

People do what celebrities do - and though tech journalists may harp on about operating systems - the bulk of the population will pay more attention to what their favourite singer is holding in the magazine photos. Blackberry's status with celebs is a major brand asset for RIM and one that even Apple can't match. Well, yet anyway.

Related: Why do Blackberry users get so addicted? Five reasons..

19-fb-top-friends.jpgTrawling the hundreds of fascinating comments on our Facebook Top Friends story which questioned who turns up there and why, we came across a comment that might just explain it.

I think someone has cracked it. Or at least, cracked the reason why randoms show up in there.

No-one is questioning why your good friends show up in that top ten - that's public interaction, like Facebook told us. But why does that guy you were friends with at university but haven't seen or Facebooked since, crop up in there?

Over to Mia:

mia [here]
I have the answer!
The majority of the people that appear on my list are those that i interacted on their profile and have recently been on line(usually 12 hours earlier).
Now some 3- 4 friends that constantly appear are those that at some point during the year i wrote on their wall (for example to say happy birthday) but they never replied and obviously don't log in anymore so facebook is trying to remind you to contact them again and maybe make them become more active.
--

It makes sense to me! Two other insights back it up.

1) Facebook does what it does because it wants to make money. It wouldn't simply introduce a feature that perplexed its users to no good end.

Axman:
"to keep people interested so they can continue to make money - they will figure ways to keep us interested via having us interact with our favorite people. Why would they put random people up? It doesn't make sense to me. In the marketing world, they will do anything and everything to make a little extra cash.

2) Not all friends that are in that box have to have been selected by the same criteria. As Esther sagely pointed out:

"Has anyone considered that the friends list might have different functions?
For example:
x+y+z = 15
-X people you publicly interact with
-Y people you've gone through their entire photo album at least once
-Z people are completely random

just a thought."

So -pulling these three ideas together we can work this out: Facebook puts your good friends in that friend box so that when you go to your own profile, you see them and feel happier and are more likely to click on them and see what they're up to.
Facebook want to make money and that means getting as many of their members to spend as much time as possible on the network. If you see your good friends, you stay on there longer.

But say not all friends in that box are selected by the same criteria. Say 2/3 out of 10 might be there for different reasons to the other seven. These ones are the randomers - old friends you haven't facebooked for months or even years. Why are they there in your top friends box?

Well perhaps this isn't about Facebook trying to engage you. Perhaps this is about Facebook trying to engage them and using you as nice juicy bait. Say these people haven't Facebooked you for ages because they rarely go on - their profile is all but inactive. If they turn up on your page there's a chance you'll click on their profile, wonder what they're up to and write a polite something on their wall.

They'll get a message saying "Anna has just written on your wall" and it might tempt them to log back in again and even get back into Facebooking more regularly. Exactly what Facebook want.

The Facebook rep I talked to back in December suggested this: she said that Facebook might use that top friends box to suggest people they thought you should reconnect with. But they're not suggesting that you reconnect with them for the benefit of your own social life - it's because they want to pull those people back into Facebook and want to use you to do it.


Again, I can't be certain, but this is the most cogent and rational explanation that I can think of for this. It probably doesn't explain everything either - like why your ex-boyfriend or your dead friend turns up there, but it does explain the randoms - always the most puzzling element for me.

Thanks also to curiouser and Anonymous for their comments and investigations.


Has Facebook got too complicated? Site doesn't even "notice" latest data leak

62-plateau.jpgApple has risen so far so fast that it's not just negative tech bloggers with too much time on their hands who wonder whether it can possibly sustain the rise. And just how it's going to cope with the inevitable plateau.

Apple overtook Microsoft to become the most valuable tech company on the stock market last year. And makes profits way ahead of Google or any other tech competitor. It was the outsider that sky-rocketed to mainstream success.

We've already looked at how Apple is adjusting to the cultural changes that come from now being the dominant tech company: Is Apple losing its cool? Why the ban on live gig recording could be one step too far....

Now, still chewing the fat on Apple's frankly incredible Quarter 3 results, it's interesting to look at the financial aspects too.

The FT just have. They reckon that the picture isn't as burning bright as it might be:

"Because the good times have made the company vast by any standard (it is expected to have more than $100bn in revenue this year) the question is how much, not if, growth is going to decelerate in coming quarters. When the company reports, later on Tuesday - and for several more quarters to come - investors should be alert for any clues about how management will handle this transition from absurd to merely exceptional growth."

Apple make so much money by inventing new markets, that some financial experts have cast doubt on their ability to maintain their profits in open mature markets.

The FT again, different blog post, noted that share prices only rose a modest 5% on the back of the spectacular Q3 results.

"What Apple's products and growth show is that the company actually innovates, creating markets rather than fighting for share. That means the bosses, despite their string of successes, might themselves have only a limited view of the financial future and so have few options besides caution. The issue is not disclosure, but the nature of real technological change."

In other words, is their incredible technical innovation sustainable? Techies would argue not, especially given some unimpressive releases like the iPad 2. (See our feelings on the magnetic cover here). But their ability to sell products is unmatched.

And one important market open to Apple doesn't rely on inventing more swanky new products. One big outside factor in Apple's continued profitability is its growth in Asia, particularly China. Growth in sales in the US and Europe has been relatively flat, but in Asia Pacific sales are up 57%. That's huge, because China is huge.

Apple are well placed to take advantage of the market there, and growth there could fuel Apple's continued profitability, even if they don't make any game-changing announcements in the next few years.

47-google-plus-logo.jpgWe've discussed how Google Plus will affect your online social life, but how it will affect how content is found, shared and even made? It's a hazy look into the future topic but one worth the effort for news makers and their readers - as Google+ fever continues to sweep the 'netz weeks after it launched.

Pay attention.

DISTRIBUTION OF NEWS AND CONTENT
Google+ will become a highly significant place for people to find and share content.

>> Lots of people are on there: It already has 10 million members [according to this]

>> It's already sending a lot of traffic to news sites (techcrunch found it was sending 20% of the traffic that facebook sends, despite being 0.014% of the size)

>> Business pages haven't arrived yet, but are coming soon. Expect all major media organisations to get pages, same way they have Facebook ones.

>> People are more keen to engage, and share on Google + than on Facebook because they can separate out their posts and don't have to swamp their friends with their work.
Yet click-throughs may be greater than on Twitter, where tweets and links often get lost as they're buried by the timeline.

>> The +1 button could be more powerful than the Facebook like button, for the reasons about sharing given above. Crucially, if it ever has an effect on SEO - then +1s will become gold-dust for site-owners.

>> Sparks. This content discovery tool is yet to mature - basically it works a bit like Digg - you select topics you're interested in and it shows you big stories in that area. If it works into Google Reader, it could become more useful.

44-sparks.jpg


PRESENTATION OF NEWS AND CONTENT
News could become more multimedia as G+ allows for more than just headlines.

>>Google + might well change what content looks like. Where Twitter allows for just a headline and link, Google + lets people make more complex and multimedia packages of content.

Chris Brogan says: "G+ could enable some really interesting multi-format publishing if you turn it around: mix audio, video, photo, text, link, and location data into a "package" or a "project," and you've got a powerful digital publishing platform."

>> Integration with other Google Tools could make news more useful. For example, news about upcoming events could feed into Google calendars, or Google documents or spreadsheets - useful perhaps in the case of very specific business news.

>> Micro-payments could become more of a practical possibility for online news - think about an integration with Google Checkout. Google + could serve as the gateway to content.

>> Twitter allows for retweets, but Google+ allows for comments which means that stories can be worked out in comments on articles and links as well, adding value to the story itself.

33-Google-Plus-Button.jpg

MAKING CONTENT
Gathering information could be made easier by Google +. It could accelerate the shift in journalism towards curation.

>>Google Plus could actually change what we write as well. As mentioned above, headlines could become less significant as packages are easier to share.

>> Google+, like Twitter could be a rich source of information for researching stories. We hope that the search function, and possibly some hashtag functionality could speed this up.

>> News organisations could create News Circles as much as news stories, where people and posts associated with particular stories are curated and put in a stream rather than an article. When open circles are introduced, this will be a big deal.

>> Facebook are tinkering with introducing Spotify as a music partner providing a library of music, if Google Music and Youtube are introduced like this, then people will be able to watch and listen to most content inline. Can we expect playlists next? Will Google take over the world (again?).

>> Smart news-makers though, won't want to transfer all their data and content to Google, because they, not Google need the hits on their website to make their advertising pay.
----
44-sharing-comments.jpg


Agree? Disagree? Let me know below...


Sources and thanks: ChrisBrogan.net, TNW, Business Insider, The Nieman Journalism Lab

2-facebook-video-calling.jpg

For me, one of the joys of social networking is that you can do it while you're slumped on your bed wearing a tracksuit and eating a bowl of cereal.

No make-up or cocktail dresses needed thank you. But Video Chat on Facebook could change that, as you never know when your colleague or that hot guy/lady from tennis club/Accounts/manga reading group will suddenly start video messaging you and requesting to see a) you and b) wherever you are.

Of course you could politely refuse to share images of your ruffled hair and patchy bed face with them but it the refusal would add its own social difficulties.

Ok - so it's more likely to be your friend getting in touch with you, or your sister or something. But still - it makes Facebook less of a "slouch and lurk" experience and more of a "sit-up and brush your hair" thing. Best to switch it off when looking ropey.

It's getting deeper into our lives...

66-google-plus-Circles-page-2.jpg

I know - five days ago I was writing about how the ability to sort your friends into Circles was a massive winner for Google+. But now, after a few days of sorting my friends into circles I've decided it's Not Such An Incredible Thing After All.

The ability to group friends has been sold as a big advantage of the network by Google itself - Circles is the first feature mentioned on the introductory page and the facility was bigged up by the Google execs interviewed about it in this Wired article. But in practice.... I don't feel it.

After trying it out a bit, I'm not sure I either need - or want - to group my friends.

To be fair I only have five friends on there right now and they could all be put in one circle: "Nerdy People Who Bagged Google+ Invites Early Because They Go Crazy For That Kind of Thing".

But it got me thinking. The suggested categories are Friends / Family / Colleagues. You can create new groups yourself of course, but as it sits, I think the groups overlap too much to be particularly useful. I mean, my sister would go in both Friends and Family, Gerald at TechDigest would be in Colleagues and Friends and well, the rest are friends too so they'd all go in Friends. The day my mum gets on Google+ I'll put her in the Family Circle, but I don't think she ever will.

I can't think of many more meaningful distinctions here with the people I know.

I think Facebook have got it right in realising that there's only one circle that really matters - the people I'm actually interested in. Then there's a broader group of people who I feel warmly towards and will click on from time to time. But I don't have to go through dragging and dropping them into groups. Because for starters, I can't really think what groups I'd put them in. And maybe I'm interested in some of their stuff - that picture that got 10 comments, but not all of their stuff - a music video I've already seen.

Facebook works it out for me with their news feed filter and - yes - they do a pretty good job.

And I also think that - like it or not - Facebook has changed the definition of "friend". It's flattened it out into "a general bunch of people you met and liked at some point". I don't mind if any of my random friends sees that hamster video I just shared. But then I sincerely doubt all of my 500 friends would see it anyway.

Let's consider this properly: the numbers on Facebook get misused a lot. Though I may have 500 friends on there, I'll only see the updates of 30 at most, and will only go out of my way to check the profiles of 15 or so. I imagine only about 30 people will get my updates, so only about 30/500 will see that hamster video from my wall. And that's probably optimistic.

Most people know this and update Facebook accordingly. I write for the people I know might read it. I just assume people who don't care won't see it. Unless you're a celebrity of some kind, people don't usually go out of their way to check up on all your latest news.

But I don't know. Maybe it's just not working for me because I haven't got enough friends on there yet.

Sparks and the +1 button do interest me though. I think that for me Google+ will be best as a links stream and a place to store and share interesting stories. I like it and I want to use it, but the friends grouping just isn't a winner.

What do you guys think? Any reflections on Circles?

Related: What Pulp Fiction would look like if it happened on Google Wave: Amazing

25-ryan-cleary1.jpgMark Zuckerberg was named Time's Man of the Year in 2010, but sometimes those lonely nerds stuck in their bedrooms do stuff that's dangerous as well as powerful.

Papers have piled in to call 19 year-old Ryan Cleary a geek, and section him off as a weirdo. See the Mail's report which delved into Cleary's mental health issues and described him as someone who never left his room and had no friends. The Sun wrote him off as social misfit and a "heavy-metal fan".

To hackers however, he's a Julian Assange without the rape allegations. Though admittedly with less of a high-minded mission, because as repressive regimes go, Sony Playstation was hardly one of the worst and uh, the UK Census and the NHS aren't exactly evil empires.

At least Wikileaks was kind of taking on The Man by tackling military regimes and -arguably- it helped trigger the Arab Spring with its revelations about the Tunisian leading family.

But in the case of the Sony hack, the attack was sheer bravado. As far as I'm aware - no-one has made much money out of it and the main result is that Sony have lost a lot of money and have tightened their security procedures.

LulzSec are vandals, nihilists, but they have a strangely compelling story.

It's such a pirate narrative - the little randomers pulling off an audacious raid on huge organisations, though it seems that only one or two raids to date have resulted in any significant loss of data. They call themselves "pirates".. and I guess they have some of the glamour of Captain Sparrow about them, with a devilmaycare attitude to their own safety and all those around them.

25-lulzboat.jpg

But in the end, that fuck-you attitude catches up with you. Seemed like Ryan had been pissing off other hackers as well as the police organisations and millions of Sony customers. He got on the wrong side of Anonymous in 2008 and again in May this year. See our story here.

It could be that someone from Anonymous fingered Ryan in a leak to the cops, but his name was definitely out there already.

Troublemakers usually get what's coming to them...

The problem for Ryan is that the law forces will be dying for a scalp to hang, especially after the humiliation of having their own websites hit and the high-handed rhetoric from LulzSec on Twitter.

Personally I think they should employ him doing something useful rather than sending him to Guantanamo for the rest of his adult life. Though looks like Guantanamo won't be too much of a change for Ryan - judging from the state of his room in his mum's house in Essex...

Hackers are our era's pirates - feared, hated yet strangely admired for their mad exploits. And its the notoriety rather than the loot that motivates them..

32-tinie-steve.jpg

When Apple took out a patent on software which would stop people using their iPhones to film at gigs, it got Brit singer Tinie Tempah all riled up. He said it was wrong for Apple to stop people doing what they wanted with their phones. The new technology would allow venues with an infra-red signaller to shut down camera apps on all iPhone/Pads/Pods in range.

We looked into Apple's motivations in a story here, but it got us thinking - how long can Apple keep doing things like this without starting to lose its cool? They make great gadgets - iPods, iPads, iPhones - they sell cool stuff - apps, music and films. But here they are intentionally crippling the functionality of one their devices and controlling not just what's on the phone to start with, but also what users can put onto the devices that they have shelled out £100s of pounds for.

What venues would Apple allow to use the infra-red signallers? Could anyone with enough money buy one? It's easy to see how these could get misused by anyone wanting to prevent information or footage getting out - celebrities, the Syrian government, you name it.

Apple have been censoring things for a while. We wrote about how they were censoring the iPad editions of fashion magazines back in 2010. And geeks have always been aware that a sandboxed, controlled experience was the price they paid for the smooth operation of their Macbook.

But this camera disabling feature goes further than Apple's previous forays into censorship - because it doesn't just curtail your right to find/consume certain content, it curtails your right to make it.

Apple is no longer niche. They're huge and mainstream: for example it has finally become worthwhile for hackers and scammers to make a virus for Mac. And more significantly the computer company now controls large areas of other industries - music distribution, apps and increasingly films and magazines.

The problem is that with their interests lying in so many diverse areas, Apple aren't just trying to make the best computer devices anymore. They're also trying to protect their music stores, their links with the film business, their shop fronts, their revenue streams.

As we said before: "it's one of the dangers of one company having control over so many aspects of an industry: it starts distorting one market to protect its interests in another one.."

Apple has gone far on its reputation as the must have computer brand for creatives and their devices are great for consuming and creating media, but their control freakery has to stop somewhere. I hope it's here and that this ridiculous idea gets blown out of the water.

Otherwise I'm thinking twice about iPhone 5.


37-fbstream.jpg

A big trend in communications - promoted by everyone from Facebook to Microsoft to HTC is the idea of running together all your messages together in one all-consuming message stream. So your email from Jen flows into a thread with your text message from her, that Facebook chat you had the other day and a tweet reply she sent you last week.

In this new world of messages, it's not about the platform the message was sent on - it's about the person who sent it. The person is at the centre of the experience.

On the Windows Phone 7, it's called the People Hub, HTC phones do it, and Facebook are starting to roll it out with their new Facebook Social Inbox which streams texts, emails and Facebook chat in together.

37peoplehub.jpg

But do we want it?

In some ways it's very intuitive, particularly if you have multimedia friendships and spread yourself thinly across many platforms. BUT just sometimes - you want to keep stuff separate. Sometimes you want to have work stuff on email and social stuff on Facebook.

Part of it's a space organisation thing - so I know to go to email if I want to get certain info,

Part of it is self-discipline: I keep Facebook shut when I'm working, and my email open so I can focus on work. If I get Facebook stuff before 5pm, I'll never manage to do anything ever again.

Part of it is that I see different places online as having different conventions and different kinds of conversation. So.. for example Facebook is a bit like the pub where it's all social stuff, and text messaging something I do with good friends - it's like chat you'd have in the kitchen, while email is like the office or a cafe.

And you wouldn't want conversations from those different places getting mixed up.

Any one feel the same way?

Related: Facebook Mail: 10 Things You Need to Know

17-bin.jpgEvery so often the Daily Mail likes to publish a story about how the government will put computers in our bins so that they can spy on how much rubbish we're putting out and charge us more money.

Well. One or two such pilot projects have failed - but, unfortunately for the Mail, measuring stuff like this is the future and a lot more than bins will have computer chips in them in 10 years time.

We can expect them in everything from bins to barbie dolls - see our 10 uses of the Internet of Things story - but the Mail was right in one respect. With so much of our private data washing around the internet, we need to think about how we're going to keep it safe.

Privacy will be an issue though.

One solution though is one that we've been using for 20 years - SIM cards. SIM cards are pretty near as damn secure. Text messages to the right number go to the right phone - they can guarantee the identity of the sender and receiver of messages. Data that was sent or received using this method of authentication is likely to be safe.

Well - that's how the technology could do it, whether that's how people at either end will do it is another question. With much more sensitive data potentially available - healthcare records, blood-pressure monitors, information about what's in your fridge - any leaks due to human error, hacks or corporate interests could have much bigger impact.

Related: Has Facebook got too complicated? Site doesn't even "notice" latest data leak


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In the flurry about smears, dirty PR and who is worst at dealing with sensitive user data, an interesting story about Facebook passed under the radar yesterday.

The story was also about privacy. And surprise surprise - it wasn't good news for Facebook. Or Facebook users for that matter. Facebook admitted yesterday that they just hadn't noticed a major data loophole, that up until yesterday had let advertisers access user details including your name, sex, chatlogs and photos.

The Leak
It was all down to a url quirk that research company Symantec pointed out.

As PCWorld describe it:


"Symantec claims Facebook has not only leaked private data such as your sex and your age, but for the past four years third-parties have had access to such goldmines as your profile, photos, and chats. Symantec also blats Facebook for giving third parties the ability to post things to your wall."

It's likely the advertisers didn't even notice that this information was available to them, which is good.

But the problem is that FACEBOOK DIDN'T EITHER. They just didn't realise. And that's bad.

Facebook didn't "notice" leak
The whole purpose of Facebook as a site is that it manages user information - stores, shares it and puts it in the right place. Accidentally giving private stuff to advertisers was definitely putting it in the wrong place. But it's not some evil plan - it was just a mistake.

And I think that could be telling. Facebook have been callous with privacy before - but then they usually meant to be. This was just an accident.

Is the site just getting so big that they didn't notice for a while? The problem came with 3rd party apps - stuff like Farmville - and the access tokens they use to get into the profiles of their users. The spare access tokens were kicking around and got passed onto advertisers and analytics sites as well as the apps. The access tokens will be disabled when you change your password, but otherwise can access your profile at any time.

Confusion at the heart of the social network
But if Facebook doesn't know, WHO DOES?

For us, it's reminiscent of when we asked Facebook how they arrange the top friends box and the spokesperson just told us that they couldn't really tell us. Well, they told us a bit - it was interesting. But it was vague and the PR told me that she couldn't really explain what exactly the algorithms did.

A lot of this could be corporation talk - trying to make sure pesky questions run into the sand. But it could also be that genuinely they are losing control about what goes on around the edges of the organisation...

Facebook is the Roman Empire of the digital world
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Let's compare Facebook to the Roman Empire (why not). An smart, efficient organisation spreads quickly because it's tightly-run and simple. As it overruns surrounding areas, its success leads to more success as it wins more resources, which lets it go further.

Now, after growing absolutely huge, it hits a tipping point and becomes a victim of its own success and the need to manage and finds that maintaining vast amounts of land (in the Roman case) or data (in the Facebook case) is a different task to winning it over in the first place.

It starts to bend under its own weight and gets bogged down by management. Its size becomes a disadvantage instead of an advantage.

Byzantine Data Hoard
Enough Romans, but I think you get gist - Facebook is now huge and a massive data repository: more a Byzantine data hoard than a slim-line start-up.

Take the simple idea of uploading a photo to your Facebook profile. For starters, Facebook makes and saves 6 versions of it - in different sizes to put it in different places (albums, thumbnails and 4 other ones, don't actually know what they are), they add it to your profile news feed, to an album. You can add to a specific album... but if you don't, they'll automatically set it to either 'Mobile Uploads' or 'Wall pictures' depending on how you uploaded it.

You can set individual privacy settings for that picture as a single upload. You can also set general privacy settings for a general album. If your friend John is able to see your photos he'll see it on his news feed, and can click through to see

If you tag Abby in the photo, it will get copied to her wall, and added to the album Pictures of Abby, where the original privacy constraints you put on it will also apply, but also ones specific to Abby and her wall.

Comments and likes from all over the place then accrue to that photo and become associated with it and they'll get posted about too - Abby's comment will appear on John's news-feed, and so on.

So one piece of data - a photo - gets copied multiple times and spread in different places to create its own network of connected packages linked to itself.

Just an example of how a very simple thing can have so many consequences in such a complex structure.

Now multiply that by 100 million - the number of photos uploaded to Facebook everyday.

It's no wonder they're losing some of that information...

[Symantec via Mediapost]

Anonymous, the biggest hack of the past few years and why users need some legit channels for their problems on the internet

11-anonymous.jpgHackers group Anonymous may have been involved with the huge data leak at Sony, the CEO of Sony told a US government committee in a letter today. The intruder who took the data most likely got into the system during the DDoS attacks that Anonymous have claimed responsibility for.

And there's another shred of evidence. Sony say: 'the intruders had planted a file on one of our Sony Online Entertainment servers named "Anonymous" with the words "We are Legion."'

Earlier this week I wrote a post about who could be behind the hack at Sony and why they did it. With the figure of people affected now at 100million, the story making front page news on papers and websites and commenters speculating that this could impact Sony permanently, it's biggest hack in recent years.

One of the most interesting thing about writing the article was the response. First - yes. commenters pointed out a couple of obvious facts I'd missed (hands up) but then, once I fixed it up some interesting stuff started to come in. This comment for example, which seems pretty bang on the money.

"Just because the hack may have involved credit card data that does not mean financial gain was a motive. the motive could just as easily been to give sony a well deserved and long awaited kicking by giving them a PR disaster they will not forget.

"[...] there would be nothing gained by anonymous admitting it as it could potentially refocus federal goons efforts and alienate the more short term thinkers in the gaming community. Likewise Sony's long term goal is to limit the PR damage and is far better for them to say they were targeted and customer data compromised by highly skilled international cybercriminals than admit it was a bunch of bored teenage script kiddies."

Anonymous - such as they are - have denied involvement with the leak of user details, though do admit they made DDoS attacks against the corporation. But that rogue "We are Legion" file is just confirmation of something that seems relatively obvious:

Two things that make me think that this hack was more than just a criminal trying to make a buck:

1) The hack is very sophisticated and high-profile but - unless there's some fraud we haven't yet heard about - the idea for making money out of it seems a bit haphazard and well, not very good. A more committed criminal - obviously intelligent enough to pull off something of this scale - would, surely have thought of a better way to make money than just selling the data to scammers.

Plus Sony isn't a banking company, it's not a shopping company - it's a gaming company. Surely if you have that amount of company crushing hack-power you'd go for a softer touch? And perhaps something less high-profile so you wouldn't call the attention of the world's media on your head.

2) Sony had recently angered a lot of gamer-techie people. Is it really coincidental that weeks later it suffered the biggest hack of the past few years?

Even if Anonymous wasn't directly responsible, clearly it could have been someone working on the same principles as them and motivated by the same anger?

Perhaps even motivated by the statement they made, which did draw the battle lines. Even if Anonymous doesn't control all the soliders, they did seem to start the war ---
[click for bigger image]

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I'm not saying Anonymous were wrong to make their statement about Sony's actions. I think they were absolutely right: they made a valid complaint about a genuine problem (though obviously we don't condone the threats or the penis-beehive bit, no).

The trouble is that people rarely listen to valid complaints from online customers unless you do call attention to them by, oh, say, some high profile hack.

What I am saying is that us online customers and website users need some need some kind of legal recourse, some platform for us as customers or users to air our genuine grievances..

Maybe we need to get more steam behind an online bill of rights giving us for example squatting rights over our online stuff.

We take a lot of the internet on trust - if Mark Zuckerberg suddenly decided to charge for access to Facebook millions of people would be furious - but we wouldn't be able to do anything about it. It is a private company and though our stuff and space and personality is on there - it's theirs - not ours.

Trust works well, but seeing as the IRL law-courts tend to protect the big corporations against the little guy (see ACS copyright cases, the Sony case, Twitter Joke Trial) I think we need some more user-friendly groups to look out for our interests too, but in a legal, safe way.

JUST A THOUGHT.

Got any thoughts of your own on this? let us know -

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If Osama bin Laden caused all that global chaos without email, just think what he could have done with Google Docs and a few iPhone productivity apps.

It makes me shudder.

I couldn't organise getting two people over for dinner without G-chat, google maps, text messages and possibly a Facebook reminder - so I was very impressed to hear that in his later years he ran Al-Qaeda with human couriers and verbal messages. It has been widely reported that his very lack of technology (phone connections and internet supply) was what led the Americans to his compound in the first place. Though he did have a computer in his room.

Here's how we imagine he did it. If you're trying to cut your reliance on your Blackberry and email - you could take some tips from Osama's innovative low-tech approach to communication and management.

Sending an email
The Osama way >> get a local runner to memorise a spoken message, release him from the compound and set him out running to a local terrorist cell.

Instant Chat
The Osama way >> same but get the messengers to run quicker

Uploading threatening Youtube messages
The Osama way >> make your own videos by all means, but don't upload the videos from home - send the couriers out with a SD card and get someone else to upload it. Saves you that tedious uploading time.

Making a phone call
The Osama way >> um, back to the human couriers again. Perhaps your message could be more informal and conversational.

Social networking
The Osama way >> get all the people you like and want to communicate with to live in your fortified compound with you. It's like real-world Facebook.

Err... that's all for now.

4-tylerclementithumb.jpgThe story of Tyler Clementi, his suicide and the aftermath is one of bullying, persecution and intolerance in America - and shows both the harm - and good - that can be done with the internet.

A Rutgers court have just charged Dharun Ravi with intimidation and invasion of privacy - Tyler's room-mate who secretly filmed him having sex and streamed it on the internet. Rav tweeted about the live-stream encouraging people to watch it.

What could be a prank in another circumstance turned out to be lethal bullying in an America where it is still difficult for many people to be gay and it drove Tyler to jump to his death days after the incident last September. Obviously the internet and the webcam were essential to the crime.

We worry about lack of privacy on the internet leading to embarrassments or a lack of professionalism, but this was a invasion of privacy that led directly to a suicide. The worst possible scenario. The case of closeted gay people living hidden lives in difficult communities is one to bear in mind when web masters like Zuckerberg talk about privacy being optional.

However, one thin silver lining to the case is that it gave birth to Dan Savage's YouTube-powered It Gets Better Project, which used the webcam for good in an attempt to make the internet, and America a better place for gay youth - asking governments, corporations, celebrities and normal people to film YouTube videos of themselves describing their coming out stories and how it got better for them. It's an innovative idea that used web 2.0 to its best - with millions of viewers and thousands of contributors including celebrities, yes, but also everyday people whose stories are rarely told.

The trial of Dharun Ravi continues...

Read the full story here

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OH REALLY.

Another person has published another blog describing how Facebook makes us stupid. Nicolas Carr, blogger and author of The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains writes:

"Are you ashamed that you find Facebook boring? Are you angst-ridden by your weak social-networking skills? Buck up, my friend. The traits you consider signs of failure may actually be marks of intellectual vigor".

Yes, if you're bad at humorous photo comments, it's could be because you're intellectually vigorous. It's fair to say Nicolas and I probably fall on different sides of the optimism divide. I'm what they call a digital romantic. And I like Facebook. I think that if you're bad at Facebook, you should just put a bit more effort in. Or at least not pretend that you're too clever and vigorous for it.

Carr's story is based on a survey published by the Journal Computers in Human Behavior by a certain Professor Zhong (precis here) which interviewed 436 college students during 2010 and contrasted how active they were on Facebook with a personality trait I have never heard of before that is apparently A Good Thing: "need for cognition".

His blog explains what it is:

"Need For Cognition (NFC), as Professor Zhong explained, "is a recognized indicator for deep or shallow thinking." People who like to challenge their minds have high NFC, while those who avoid deep thinking have low NFC. Whereas, according to the authors, "high NFC individuals possess an intrinsic motivation to think, having a natural motivation to seek knowledge," those with low NFC don't like to grapple with complexity and tend to content themselves with superficial assessments, particularly when faced with difficult intellectual challenges."

Well according to the survey people who spend more time on Facebook score lower on the Need For Cognition spectrum. Low Need For Cognition scorers are also more likely to add friends than High Need for Cognition scorers.

Before we leap to the conclusion that Carr does - "if you want to be a big success on Facebook, it helps to be a dullard."

I don't think it's helpful to trash time spent on Facebook. It really just depends how you use the damn thing. There are definitely valuable traits associated with being good at Facebook - see the Facebook Project for one and there are social and even career advantages to be gained from using it well. Sure having it on all the time could be bad for your concentration at work, but not using it would be much weirder in my book.

Also I like to play the women card when arguments like this come up. The type of flickering attention, multitasking thought that is fostered by the internet is what people have traditionally associated with female brains. Snobbery about multitasking is tinged, I think, with a little sexism. Imho, it's largely men who like just sitting in the shed and thinking about one thing who get sniffy about this kind of mental approach to things. But hey, it's useful on the internet, and it means that those of us who manage to think like this don't get flipped out by tweetdeck notifications.

Of course deep concentration is a beautiful thing and beautiful things come out of it, but lets acknowledge how useful the multitasking and how useful social networks are.

Well maybe the internet has already done something to my brain, but I can't take any more grumpy old men who aren't good at being sociable complaining that people who like social networking are dizzy airheads.

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It has been noted - largely by the porn industry - that porn has really led the way with 3D TV. They have been early adopters of the technology.

The first 3D porn film opened in China over the weekend - to a rapturous reception. Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy cost $2m and uh - it sounds like they made full use of the extra dimension. "It will leave audiences feeling like they are sitting right there at the edge of the bed" said writer Stephen Shiu.

US soft porn mag Penthouse have bankrolled one of the first 3D TV channels to open in the US... and we've documented the introduction of 3D webcam chat in speciality British site Swinger's Heaven, another technological first, and then there's also the 3D version of classic sex instruction video The Lover's Guide.

Obviously the tech companies behind the glossy big 3D screens are playing down their association with the porn industries - preferring to highlight how great boxing matches and nature documentaries look on it, but I was at a talk by renowned British film-maker Mike Figgis over the weekend and he brought up the porn thing all over again.

After discussing the state of the British film industry, the impact of Youtube and the internet and how the funding machine in Hollywood works - someone asked about 3D films and Figgis was pretty scathing about the effect it had on film quality... He said film-makers were just beginning to build up a really interesting language of focus and camera effects and that 3D gave directors way less control because the centre of the image always had to be in focus allowing for much less director's input.

But he added that the tech had found its natural partner with the porn industry and that it really wasn't surprising that they have taken it up so enthusiastically..

Figgis said that the trend towards three dimensional images marked a shift back to the kitschy in film-making - an attempt to make films seem as real as possible, hiding the fact that they are highly manufactured products. Figgis said he preferred a more honest stance from film-makers where the artifice is foregrounded and films are seen more as works of art.

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