Guess what? Facebook is not your friend.

Written by MJCP Tuesday, 25 May 2010 01:30

There has been an enormous degree of outrage and uproar in the media of late regarding Facebook's most recent changes to its privacy policy, most of it asserting that what Facebook provides is not, in fact, privacy at all. Rather, Facebook has betrayed the sacred trust placed in it by its users, who told it their secrets, gave it their photos, wrote on its walls and cultivated its farms. Facebook repaid that trust by becoming the global village gossip.

Well, duh.

It's still possible to post your private thoughts on the web, along with photos, videos, lists of your friends, your interests, your kinks and secrets, and have it all viewable only to a very select group of your friends in whom you have complete faith to keep your secrets. All you have to do is build yourself a web site and password-protect it.

OK, maybe you don't have the skills to build yourself a web site complete with blogging, instant-messaging and multimedia hosting capabilities. Not a problem. Chances are you have a geeky friend somewhere who has those skills and can build the framework for you. They might even be able to swing you a deal on web hosting because they've got a mate who's a sysadmin at the ISP.

OK, maybe you don't have such a friend. That is why you have Facebook. Facebook will provide you with all of the above infrastructure, free of charge. It will even let you know which of your friends and acquaintances and favourite celebrities and creepy ex-boyfriends it has provided similar services for, free of charge.

But here's the thing: Facebook doesn't do this because it likes you. It doesn't. Not because you aren't likeable or anything — it doesn't know you well enough to make such a judgment, and for all it knows you are extraordinarily charming. I like to presume you are.

Facebook provides the services it provides to you because it wants to make money. Just like any other corporation with hundreds of millions of customers, not to mention investors. It's all about the money.

You may notice I'm referring to Facebook as an "it" rather than a "they". This is not only good writing form (corporations are properly regarded as "collective singulars" rather than plural entities), I'm also doing so pointedly. I'm not writing here about Mark Zuckerberg (or "Zuck" as the millions of people who think he is their friend call him), nor am I writing about any individual or group of individuals who work for Facebook. I'm talking about Facebook, the faceless, heartless machine that exists for profit and only for profit.

Like every other company that has ever survived more than a few months in business.

An awful lot of what I've read about Facebook in recent times has dwelt upon "Zuck" and how he has become "evil" much in the manner of Bill Gates. Zuckerberg is not evil. The people who work for him, by and large, are not evil. But they are motivated by profit.

And that's where your stuff comes in. You see, I've been in the media game for a while and I've been around ad sales people a lot, and I can tell you this: what advertisers want more than anything else is demographics. They don't just want to know you've got 400 million customers, they want to know how many are women, how many are men, how many are over 45, how many make less than $25,000 per year, how many are single (and are they looking), how many listen to music, watch TV, rent DVDs and so on. That information is golden.

I should say that information about 4000 people is golden. That information about 400 million people is diamond-encrusted gold on a palladium platter. With cherries on top. Chocolate-dipped cherries. You get the point.

That's Facebook's business: demographics. It's a gigantic market-research experiment, nothing more and nothing less. Like other market-research organisations it offers you inducements — but rather than scratch-lottery tickets or the chance to try a new breath mint before the general public, you get a free web site with all the fixings. All in all, it's not a bad deal.

Except — and here's the quandary — the more of your information you want to keep to yourself, the less valuable you are to Facebook and the more you're a drain on its finite resources of storage space and bandwidth. Facebook wants to encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of the fantastic service it offers at better than mates' rates, but it needs you to tell it as many of your secrets as you can in order to afford to do so.

In that context it's easy to understand why Facebook wants you to leave as much of your information open as possible, and doesn't really have a strong incentive beyond altruism to make it easy for you to do otherwise. The bad news is that altruism is not a good business strategy.

The good news is that Zuckerberg seems open to the idea of being a little bit altruistic if it will help his business. It's happened before, when Facebook's Terms of Service changed and there was outcry because one way you could read a certain paragraph made it seem like Facebook would own your children if you took pictures of them. Facebook retreated from that stance and now only demands your first-born.

Unless I'm reading that wrong.

At any rate, Zuckerberg and others at Facebook have made encouraging noises of late about "listening to customers" and "understanding their needs" and things like that. Chances are before too long there will be changes to Facebook that will make it easier and clearer to determine which of your information is public and which is not.

But don't think for a minute it will make any of those changes because it likes you.

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What does it take to get an App approved?

Written by Alex Kidman Thursday, 20 May 2010 23:39

The modern gold rush, it seems, is in App development. Everyone's jumping on the App Store bandwagon, and it seems I can't go a week without one company or another launching a new app store for a given device. They're all trying to get in on the rich seam of gold that Apple's mined with the iTunes App Store. And the way for us ordinary folk to glean off a few choice nuggets is to develop Apps ourselves.

For me, this does present a few key problems. First, I can't actually code. But, so I'm told, iPhone/iPod/iPad development is "easy" and "any idiot could do it". I certainly qualify on one of those scores — I'll leave it up to you to work out which it is. Right at this moment, I can't say that I've got a particularly original idea for an App, but that hasn't held anyone back.

What has held a lot of App developers back, however, is Apple.

Take, for example, Mobigame. You may not have heard of Mobigame, a company (arguably) most famous for a game called Edge. You may have been able to buy Edge from the App store over the past year, but generally only if you were fast. It's available as I type this (here's a link) but might not be by the time you read this. By my count, it's been removed from the App Store at least four times so far.

Is it violent? Does it depict acts likely to incite racial tension, destabilise governments, expose youngsters to the facts of life or show that unfortunate (alleged) incident with Steve Jobs, the toasting fork and the family of ducklings?

No, none of those things. Edge — the game itself — is best described as a Marble Madness derivative featuring cubes. Hence the name "Edge" you see. I rather like it, for what that's worth.

Edge screenshot

Now Edge — the name of the game — is a contested issue. I've got to tread a little carefully here, as it's an issue that's contested at a legal level, and I've no real passion to get sued any time soon. The short, even-I-can-understand-it-version of events is that a chap called Tim Langdell reckons (by whatever means) that he's got a trademark on the word "Edge" as it pertains to video games. And, it seems, a number of other things from videogame magazines to flash drives to baseball caps. The Edge trademark is the subject of a protracted legal battle (because you can never have a short legal battle) with (at first) Mobigame and (later) Electronic Arts, due to EA putting out a game called "Mirror's Edge". The Wikipedia article on Edge Games provides some background and, if you've got an afternoon to spare, an interesting rebuttal to just about everything Langdell's done can be found here.

Anyway, when Edge first hit the App store in May last year, Langdell contacted Apple regarding trademark infringement, and Edge (the game) was pulled. Sucks a bit if you're a developer, but I guess Apple does have to respect actual trademarks. Where it gets a bit dodgier, in my not-legal-advice-just-shooting-the-breeze opinion is that Mobigame wanted to shift the name to "Edgy", and Langdell (after discussions with Mobigame) apparently went and registered "Edgy" as well.

Statements about the relative freshness of undisclosed items in certain Scandinavian regions come to mind here, but again, I have no particular desire to go toe-to-toe with any lawyers any time soon.

(Which reminds me. Apple Lawyerbots? That whole comment about Steve Jobs and the ducklings? Not serious. I'm sure it's never happened.)

Where I do think it's interesting from a consumer and developer point of view is that it shows the level of power that any developer creating applications places directly into Apple's hands. I've seen no shortage of Apps that much more deliberately flout either copyright or trademark go through the App store without so much as a glance. The rules should have some flexibility to an extent but, at the same time, shouldn't there be a solid base that all developers can at least work from?

I mean, some of the things that do get released are equally baffling. Take, for example, Trucker's Delight. It's based off a crude and deliberately offensive YouTube video. Here's a link, but be warned — it's not safe for work, rather (to put it mildly) misogynistic and almost completely tasteless. In other words, the kind of thing the internet loves.

And now there's an iPhone game of it. This isn't a review — I'm not quite willing to plunk down $3.99 of my hard earned on it right now — but just an observation. How is it that a game featuring an entirely non-violent cube can have such trouble getting a firm place in the App Store, and a game featuring a violent, crude, lecherous and deliberately offensive trucker can make it in?

Makes you think that Mobigame, the developer of Edge, should talk to the folks who developed Trucker's Delight, right? I mean, those developers must know exactly how to present an App so that anything goes, right?

Let me check who that was. I could be doing Mobigame a service by putting it in touch with folks who can get something really controversial up on iTunes.

Checking the iTunes store, I find that Truckers Delight was developed by ...


Perhaps it's playing a deliberate game of chicken with Apple, waiting to see which game will be yanked from the App store first?

What do you think? Should App development and deployment on iTunes be open slather? Should the rules be more obvious, or just better implemented?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!


New MacBook — getting warmer ...

Written by Matthew JC Powell Wednesday, 19 May 2010 01:08

Apple updated the plastic entry-level MacBook overnight, consistent with its recent policy of quietly releasing small, incremental improvements to its products that don't start with "i". As expected, the MacBook now has better graphics and, also as expected, it's got the same long-life battery its metallic cousins recently gained. Really, it's got a full complement of the bells and whistles one might like in a portable computer. Almost.

Almost, but not quite.

For a mere $A1249 you get a MacBook with 2GB RAM, a 2.4GHz Core2Duo processor, 250GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics card and 10-hour battery. It's hard to argue it's not good value.

There is just this one, little, niggly thing. An oversight really, more than an omission.

The MacBook, just like every other Apple computer with "Mac" in its name, still does not possess 3G or any other form of wireless mobile data connection. A year or two back that seemed absent-minded — now it looks deliberate.

"So what," you say, "I've got my iPhone/iPad for that if I want to surf on the bus".

No, sorry, not good enough. Mobile Safari is terrific as mobile web browsers go, and streets ahead of mobile web browsers that came before it, but it is not a desktop-class web browser. Not by a long ways. And the iPhone's Mail app, for all its recent improvement, is still a far cry from comparable to a fully-featured mail client. Even the iPad version is just a bigger version of the same thing.

Don't even get me started on the iDevices' lack of an accessible file system and inability to download stuff from almost anywhere except the App Store.

The fact is, for all the power these devices add to what you used to be able to do in a mobile device, they are not replacements for full-powered computers. Not yet anyway.

Heck, some people even want to use sites with Flash on them believe it or not.

Entry-level notebooks and netbooks with 3G data capabilities are commonplace outside the Apple world, and quite affordable presuming you're prepared to faff about with Windows or Linux. Indeed high-end fully-featured notebooks are not difficult to find with 3G on board — except from Apple.

Apple seems to have decided that its customers want to choose between "always on" connection and a full-spec computer. We can't have both. It's either a MacBook (or MacBook Air or MacBook Pro) with all the fixings, genuine desktop-class applications and full keyboards, or it's an iPhone/iPad with Internet everywhere but compromised capability to make use of it.

That, to me, isn't fair. Why can't I have it all?

For myself it isn't actually that big of a deal because I have an iPhone with Telstra and if I want to I can tether my MacBook Pro to that over Bluetooth and surf thusly. This indeed I have done on more than one occasion. More than two even.

The fact is Apple was reluctant to allow even that capability for iPhones — a capability that pretty much every other mobile phone has possessed for over a decade. I used to use my Nokia 6200 as a modem on my PowerBook connected with infra-red — that was a looooong time ago. I feel old typing it.

Apple still has customers in parts of the world who own MacBooks and iPhones and cannot do that. Obscure backwaters of the world such as California, for instance. There Apple is a prisoner to its deal with AT&T which, for its own unfathomable reasons, does not want to allow tethering from iPhones. Don't ask me.

A MacBook with 3G built in would solve that overnight. Lock it to a network, don't lock it, it doesn't matter — the connection would be there in the computer and if the networks didn't want to let Apple computers use them when they let other manufacturers' customers do so then the regulators would have questions to ask. Problem immediately goes away.

But Apple won't give us the 3G connection.

This is simply out of step with Apple's claim to leadership in technology and innovation. Apple is out the front telling us that the future is mobile, soon no-one will have a desk and ubiquitous connectivity will be fact. It recognises that its customers want that very thing — they want full-powered, full-mobility computing, and they want it now.

But they can't get it from Apple.

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The perils of printing

Monday, 17 May 2010 12:50

It would be fair to say that I rather like Mac OS X. It does what I want it to do, and (most of the time) when I want it to do it. It's still software, and still capable of being fallible, just as any software. There are some unique factors that I think make it great value, but equally there are a number of issues that seem to conspire to annoy me.

Printing would be close to the top of that list. To say I've had a bit of a rocky road with printing under OS X would be something of an understatement. Several years ago (and in the interests of full disclosure), I won a Lexmark x342n laser printer as a door prize. A nice door prize, to be sure, and at a physical level it's served me well. I wish I could say the same for the software that runs it, which has run hot and cold, on and off, for years.  I was somewhat mentally resolved that printing and I were never going to get on under OS X, until last week.

I was testing an HP Printer for CNET — in this case the HP Officejet Pro 8000.  My normal testing for this involves printing via Windows, and with an eye to testing, I popped in the supplied driver CD. It started installing, and then it stopped. Rather hard. It turns out that for whatever reason, the supplied CD didn't support Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit, and suggested I "upgrade" to Windows Vista instead.

Perhaps somebody at HP has a sense of humour.

I'm nothing if not rather dogged, so I headed to HP's web site to see if a Windows 7-compatible driver was ava il able. It was, but I was still left a little surprised — if only because the driver download was a whopping 234MB.

This is for a printer. Not a multifunction device — there's no fax, scanning, media card reading or optional coffee maker on the side of this thing. It prints, and that's all. All except for eating up 234MB of download allowance and taking a good forty-five minutes to download from HP's curiously slow download servers. All up, getting the OfficeJet Pro 8000 to work under Windows 7 ate up about two hours of my time.

(Just in case you're worrying that you've accidentally clicked onto, this is where I switch back to your regular programming.)

Later the same day, I had a colour page on my Mac to print, and the Officejet 8000 was still set up. It's a network printer, and my curiosity (or perhaps my stubborn streak) was piqued. I figured I may as well try to find it with Bonjour first, and then worry about slow HP driver servers later. Bonjour picked it up within 30 seconds, installed drivers within twenty seconds, and a page was being processed within a minute of thinking about it.

Perhaps that's why I like Mac OS X. Two hours setup time versus one minute? I know which I'd pick.

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Shock and awe

Written by Alex Kidman Monday, 10 May 2010 18:20

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, it wasn't really that stormy. But it was dark, what with it being night. If you've been around as long as I have, you tend to pick up on cues like that. In any case, it was an unexceptional Friday night, and for the first time that week I was sat down in front of ye olde idiot's lantern, catching up on a number of serials of which I am a fan.

Jack Bauer's a hard man to kill, but that's not the point of this column. Although he is rather a specialist at unbelievable things — in his case plot points and general survivability — so perhaps it was apt that I was watching 24 at the time.

Anyway, while I was busy getting my brain gently soaked in increasingly ridiculous plot points, Apple was releasing pricing info for the iPad. On a Friday night. Aren't people meant to be out partying on Friday nights, and not issuing press releases? Yeah, I know, I wasn't out partying, but see my earlier comment about having been around for a while for clarification on that point.

I already know that the iPad isn't genuinely "magical" — although I do think it's nice — but would the pricing be, as Apple had stated so vehemently, "unbelievable"?


Chances are pretty high by now that you do know the local pricing, but just in case you've stumbled here while missing the iPad news, the WiFi-only iPad will cost you $629 (16GB), $759 (32GB) or $879 (64GB), while the 3G- and GPS-equipped version costs $799 (16GB), $928 (32GB) or $1049 (64GB).

What is a bit unbelievable there is that we're getting remarkably close pricing to the US, at least on this spin of Apple's magical wheel of price fixing. All it would take would be a very minor currency fluctuation and the iPad would actually be cheaper here than the US. I wrote about this at length, covering why GST is an important consideration, at PC Authority earlier this week if you want to cover the not-terribly-complex mathematics of the argument.

What was really unbelievable was still to come this past weekend, when Telstra released its pricing for iPad Micro SIMs. I'd opined previously that the odds of pay as you go pricing were slim, and the odds of it being actually affordable were even more anorexic.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Telstra's opening offer gives users 1GB for $20 with a 30-day expiry period. Up that to any combination above $30 and you basically pay $10 per GB, but that 30-day expiry sticks like glue. Sure, that's not ideal, but since when was Telstra the affordable choice?

Optus's offer was even better, at least on paper. The same $20 would buy you 2GB of usage, no strings attached. Well, except maybe one. Optus 3G network in metropolitan areas is 2100MHz, but outside it it's 900MHz, which is exactly what the iPad doesn't use.

As I'm writing this, Vodafone/Three is yet to release plan details. Having been boldly wrong on the prepaid data pricing previously, I don't think I'll be going out on too much of a limb to suggest that Voda's deal will closely mirror Optus's, or maybe undercut it just a little. It seems unlikely that Vodafone would declare that its hoity-toity data doesn't play in the cheap kids' playground and would cost $50 per month for 200MB. At least, not if it plans on having any iPad customers, anyway.

I'd say Telstra's in the commanding chair for this one, at least as far as coverage goes. My own iPhone usage suggests that 1GB of data should be more than enough, too. Your usage may vary.

I was discussing this point on Twitter earlier in the week, and an ex-colleague of mine who now hails from Singapore commented that $20 for 1GB of 3G data isn't that great a deal. To a certain extent he's utterly right. From his perspective, he's paying (by his own estimates) around $45 per month for 12GB of data usage plus included calls in Singapore. Suddenly, Telstra's "generous" deal doesn't seem so good, now does it?

There are always differences between markets in terms of provisions and competition. It wasn't all that long ago at all that 1GB of 3G data in Australia would cost you hundreds of dollars, even on a cap. If you went over your limit by 1GB, you'd need to be ready to mortgage the family home a couple of times to pay the bill. Those times are, it seems, behind us — and not a moment too soon.

It did get me thinking about relative value for the iPad specifically, though. I knew that Australian iPad sale prices were fairly competitive, but what about data pricing?

Picking two English-speaking markets for comparison makes for some interesting reading. Let's take Telstra's 1GB/$20 deal as the baseline.

In the US, the sole iPad carrier is AT&T. There's no direct $A20 plan after currency conversion, but the entry-level $US14.99 plan is close enough. At market rates as I write this, that'd cost you $A16.57 plus conversion fees, which is close enough to $A20 for my purposes.

That $A16.57 would only buy you 250MB of data on a network that has more than its share of criticism for poor coverage. Admittedly, if you could stretch your budget a little — $US29.99  ($A33.15) would buy you "unlimited" data, but both of those plans aren't genuinely pay as you go. The data allowance only lasts 30 days, but they automatically renew unless you cancel them. It's the Claytons contract iPad, in other words.

What about over the pond in the UK? Well, aside from getting genuinely stiffed on iPad pricing upfront compared to the US (the UK 16GB iPad costs the equivalent of $A703, for example), the market there does look a little bit more recognisable. As in Australia, there are three main telcos offering up Micro SIMs with a variety of plans. A baffling variety of plans, actually.

O2 will sell you data by the day (£2 for 500MB), or month (£10 for 1GB, £15 for 3GB). Orange will sell you data by the day (£2 for 200MB), by the week (£7 for 1GB) or by the month (£15 for 3GB, £25 for 10GB). Vodafone doesn't sell in anything less than month increments in old blighty, offering up 250MB for £10 or 5GB for £25.

Clearly there are some companies in the UK that aren't that interested in price matching. In any case, taking the cost of 1GB of data from O2, with the same 30-day expiry, you hit a figure of $A16.40, which is marginally cheaper but not by much. It's the only carrier doing that kind of matching, however. Orange's 1GB plan is even cheaper at $A12.30, but that's got a seven-day expiry period. What are you going to do with an iPad to burn through a gigabyte of data in seven days?

In the end, that's the genuinely unbelievable thing about the iPad. Not that the price of the unit itself is that spectacular, as Apple had more or less painted itself into a corner in relation to US prices. Australian consumers aren't backwards in coming forwards to parallel import — perfectly legally, it should be noted — if local pricing is hitched too high, after all.

But getting the local Telcos — and especially Telstra — to deliver some surprisingly good and genuinely competitive 3G data pricing? Now that is unbelievable.

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