The United Arab Emirates announced this weekend that all BlackBerry mobile services will be banned beginning in October, forcing users of the smartphone to find other ways to surf the web and send email and text messages. The decision will not only affect the U.A.E.’s half-million BlackBerry users, but also international visitors–which could lead to business travelers going into abrupt “crackberry” withdrawal as soon as they hit the Dubai airport. The reason for the ban:
The Emirates have been in a long dispute with Research In Motion, the smartphone’s producer, over the BlackBerry’s highly encrypted data system, which offers security to users but makes it more difficult for governments to monitor communications. [The New York Times]
Saudi Arabia is likely to take similar measures, and Kuwait and Bahrain may also follow suit. The Middle Eastern nations have singled out BlackBerry because of its distinct system for transmitting messages. When a BlackBerry user hits “send” on an email, the data is encrypted and sent to a local cell phone tower. From there, it’s routed through RIM’s private global network of servers, which puts the data out of reach for government snoops. Other smartphones send data through the open Internet and can be monitored relatively easily.
Los Angeles police say that Lonnie Franklin Jr. may be the “grim sleeper” serial killer they have sought for more than 20 years. And if indeed they do have their man, they have his son to thank—for getting arrested himself.
Franklin is one of the first major suspects nabbed by police using familial DNA. With this controversial method, investigators look for partial matches between DNA left at a crime scene and DNA profiles that are stored in police databases; a partial match may indicate that the person is related to the target individual sought by the cops.
The trail began to heat up when the DNA of Franklin’s son was entered in a state database after he was convicted in a weapons case, authorities said. The son’s DNA was similar to genetic material found on the victims, and authorities soon began following around Franklin to get his DNA and see if he was the suspected killer [AP].
The cops posed as waiters at a restaurant where the elder Franklin ate, which is how they obtained a complete DNA sample from him–they grabbed a plate and napkin he tossed after eating a slice of pizza. The investigators say that when they found the match to the samples in their evidence, it eased 25 years of frustration at not being able to track him down.
So you already spend all your time on Facebook—that’s not enough for the social networking giant. Soon, it will want to know where you spend all your time (in the real world).
Over the weekend, TechCrunch identified a glitch in Facebook’s mobile site that allowed them to see a space for a new feature called “places” being built in the code.
Based on the code, this is what it seems that Facebook is about to launch: A mobile version of the site using the HTML5 location component to grab your location information from your phone. Once it does that, you’re taken to this new Places area of Facebook that presumably will have a list of venues around you. From here you can click a button to check-in. Yes, there will be check-ins [TechCrunch].
It appears that Facebook plans to jump into the world of being a location-based service in the vein of Foursquare or Gowalla. But rather than launching its own service to crush the two smaller companies, Facebook may consider buying up Foursquare. Rumors to that effect circulated this weekend because in addition to the code leak, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg paid a visit to Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
The possibilities are tantalizing, especially because we think if Foursquare really wants to sell, Facebook would be its best buyer. We’re also pretty sure Facebook has interest in Foursquare at the right price. Remember, a few months ago there were some rumors that Facebook kicked the tires on Foursquare rival Gowalla [San Francisco Chronicle].
It’s been two months since we last heard from the court case engulfing Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, but the circumstances there keep getting stranger.
Back in February, the family of sophomore Blake Robbins filed suit against the school, charging that administrators had remotely accessed the webcams on Apple laptops loaned out to students to take pictures of students in their homes. Now, after two months of investigation, the family’s lawyers have expanded the case by claiming the school actually took thousands of photos. Some of the images included pictures of youths at home, in bed or even “partially dressed,” according to a Thursday filing in the case [Wired.com].
From 2002 until a lawsuit last year, the state of Texas took the small blood samples taken from newborns to screen for diseases, and saved them without the parents’ consent. Texas always said it did this for research purposes, of which there are many. But there was a wee detail about all this that didn’t come to light until an investigation published this week in the Texas Tribune. According to the Tribune, between 2003 and 2007, Texas quietly handed over 800 of those samples to the military for a project to create a database of mitochondrial DNA, which people inherit from their mother.
Like virtually every state, Texas routinely screens almost all newborns for rare diseases, collecting a few drops of blood at birth. In recent years many states, Texas included, have stored the samples and offered them up for research, mainly in pediatrics [ScienceInsider]. Because the samples are anonymous, researchers decided it was okay to use them without parental consent. However, the Tribune’s investigation uncovered emails showing Texas state officials publicized the use of DNA taken from newborns in studies on childhood disease, but deliberately dissuaded state employees from divulging the use of baby blood in establishing a DNA database [Popular Science].
An Italian court in Milan has just convicted three Google executives of criminal charges. The court found them liable for an online video that they did not appear in, film, or have any role in posting, and which the company promptly removed when complaints about it were raised. The Italian court, however, still held them responsible for the video and sentenced them to suspended six-month sentences. Experts say the case sets a dangerous precedent, and could dramatically restrict online content in Italy.
Thousands of people post videos each hour on YouTube and Google Video, and various court cases have questioned whether Google, which owns YouTube, is liable for every video that infringes on someone’s copyright or is deemed offensive to its viewers. Google has argued that it’s only liable if offensive material stays up on its site despite complaints against it, and says that if the company takes complained-about videos down, it has no legal liability–like the rules it faces under U.S. law. Italy apparently disagrees.
The case pertains to a video that was posted to Google Video in 2006 showing four youths in Turin bullying a 17-year old who suffers either from Down Syndrome or autism (reports vary). The video received 12,000 views before the Italian police brought it to Google’s notice. The company immediately took it down, and Google then helped the cops find the person who uploaded it, resulting in the identification (and school expulsion) of the four bullies. But the Google executives, who include David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, and George Reyes, Google’s former chief financial officer, were charged and convicted for criminal defamation and a failure to protect the privacy of the bullied teen.
When we last left the Lower Merion School District, its officials had circled the wagons and refused to openly discuss the lawsuit charging school administrators with remotely accessing the webcams in the laptops loaned out to students, and doing so without the students’ or their parents’ knowledge. The school stayed pretty quiet about it over the weekend, but spokesman Doug Young says that the district has suspended the practice amid the lawsuit and the accompanying protests by students, the community and privacy advocates [The New York Times].
That might not be enough to quell the swell of anger over Lower Merion’s policy. The district, which loans out Apple laptops to all it students, admits remotely activating the webcams 42 times over the course of the last 14 months, but says all of those instances were attempts to find missing or stolen computers. However, this whole fracas started after school administrators tried to use a photo taken of student Blake Robbins as evidence to corroborate charges that the young man had engaged in some sort of mischief. Robbins told CBS News that the school accused him of selling drugs and tried to back up the charge with images from the webcam.
Robbins’ parents filed suit in U.S. District Court, but that won’t be the end of Lower Merion’s legal troubles. The FBI has launched a query into the incident. Risa Vetri Ferman, the Montgomery County district attorney, said Friday that she might also investigate [ABC News].
80beats: Lawsuit: Webcams in School-Issued Laptops Used to Spy on Students at Home
80beats: Facebook CEO: People Don’t Really Want Privacy Nowadays, Anyway
80beats: Should Online Advertisers Be Allowed To Track Your Bedroom Habits?
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Plumb
Good idea: High school issuing laptops to its students so they can access school materials at any time. Bad idea: High school administrators using the webcams in those computers to spy on the students at home.
Ridiculous as it may sound, that’s exactly what a lawsuit (pdf) in U.S. District Court alleges a Pennsylvania school did. The parents of Blake J. Robbins sued Lower Merion School District, saying that administrators remotely accessed the webcam to spy on their son. Nowhere in any “written documentation accompanying the laptop,” or in any “documentation appearing on any Web site or handed out to students or parents concerning the use of the laptop,” was any reference made “to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webcam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera,” the complaint states [Courthouse News].
There’s nothing like the launching a company from your college dorm room that achieves global Internet hegemony within a few years to make you think you can offer royal pronouncements about how the world has changed.
OK, so that was a bit melodramatic. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earned some howls and guffaws in the last few days over his statements saying that, in a nutshell, people aren’t terribly interested in privacy anymore. Specifically, he said:
“In the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that’s evolved over time.”