Skype Is Hit With Major Outage

Millions of Skype users have been hit with a major outage just days before Christmas and as the Internet telephone provider prepares for an initial public offering.

As Skype explains it, the failure of several supernodes caused the widespread outage on Wednesday. “Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available. Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype,” the company said. In its blog it added, “Our engineers are working to resolve the problem.”

Skype estimates that about two-thirds of its users are still unable to log in, it said in a blog post Thursday morning.

Almost 5 million users are back online, Skype said, but that’s still only around 30 percent of the number it would expect to see at the time of the blog posting.

Skype offers free Internet voice and video calling between subscribers, and provides low-cost calls to landline and mobile phones.

In January, Skype was down for 3.5 hours, and in August 2007, it was down for 36 hours. The company has said it is working to improve the reliability of its network, so it can provide 100% uptime.

FCC’s Net Neutrality Draws Criticism

The FCC has narrowly approved, by a 3-2 vote, a new policy on net neutrality that has been met with a lot of criticism and has already drawn fire from some in the telecommunications industry, and even supporters of the principle were not completely happy with the Commission’s new rules.

Net neutrality is the concept that any traffic on the Internet gets treated the same way and is transmitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. The idea is to prevent companies from favoring one providers’ content over another.

Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T or Verizon (News – Alert), will be prevented from blocking access to lawful websites and content, according to media reports. The plan also affects wired broadband providers.

To the right-wing free market corporatists, the mere fact that a government agency could presume to have a say in how a private service like Internet access is sold is heresy. To the left-wing free-Web purists, the fact that these rules are not laws, have loopholes you could drive a truck through, and still allow ISPs to throttle Internet access, is a high crime.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R, Ill.) called the FCC’s plan “a solution in search of a problem.” Shimkus said in a statement that “The Internet is not broken, and the FCC has no legal authority to ‘fix’ it without a directive from Congress.”

“As a sector of the economy free from government interference, the Internet has expanded well beyond anyone’s imagination,” he added. “For average Internet users, this move means the slower roll out of new wired and wireless technologies as well as the slower deployment of high speed networks in underserved parts of the country. … This move discourages capital investment, stifles job creation, and could raise the cost of Internet access.”

However, many Democratic leaders were sympathetic to the proposal. In a statement released by President Barack Obama, he said the FCC’s decision “will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech” and he described it as “an important component of our overall strategy to advance American innovation, economic growth, and job creation.”

He also noted that “parties on all sides of this issue – from consumer groups to technology companies to broadband providers – came together to make their voices heard.”

Here are the new rules, cut and pasted right from the FCC press release:

Rule 1: Transparency
A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.

Rule 2: No Blocking
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network

Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

Wikileaks App Removed from Apple Store

Just a few days after Apple approved the WikiLeaks app, they removed it from their Apple Store. No specific reasons were given for the app’s ouster. The app was launched on December 17.

The WikiLeaks app was a paid app, $1.99, and was designed to provide “instant access to the world’s most documented leakage of top secret memos and other confidential government documents”.

The app was created by a third-party development firm called Hint Solutions, which lists Igor Barinov as its general manager. Barinov has confirmed both in his own Twitter feed that Apple has removed the WikiLeaks app from sale without further explanation at this point.

TechCrunch said It is unclear whether Apple believes that the app violated its Terms of Service, or whether the computer giant was joining Bank of America, MasterCard, Amazon and others in denying Wikileaks a platform.

The move may put Apple at risk for a distributed-denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, from Assange supporters joining Bank of America, MasterCard, Amazon and others.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Visits China’s Largest Search Engine

Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg arrived in China today and visited the offices of the country’s largest search engine, Baidu.

Photos of Zuckerberg in Baidu quickly appeared online, and Baidu’s director of international communications Kaiser Kuo confirmed that Zuckerberg was indeed there. “Obviously I’m not going to deny what’s in the pictures,” Kuo told the Associated Press, adding that Zuckerberg had lunch with Baidu CEO Robin Li.

Kuo jokingly set aside rumors that are inevitable by tweeting, “Rumors that Baidu is about to acquire Facebook (Facebook) are greatly exaggerated.”

“It was just two nerds comparing notes,” a Facebook spokesman said. “Keep the speculation in check.”

Zuckerberg has made no secret of his desire to expand in China, where Facebook has been blocked by the government censors’ Great Firewall since 2008. On a recent global map of Facebook users, China appeared as a black spot, though it has a bigger internet population than any country on Earth.

In a recent speech at Stanford University, he said “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people? Our theory is that if we can show that we as a western company can succeed in a place where no other country has, then we can start to figure out the right partnerships we would need to succeed in China on our terms.”

If Facebook manages to convince China to open up, it will be a huge win for the service – not only because of China’s 1.3 billion potential users, but because other Internet (Internet) giants failed to do so.

Our Smartphone Apps are Spying on us

Our smartphones don’t keep secrets and are sharing our personal data widely and regularly.

The Wall Street Journal did an investigation into the world of smartphone apps and found out that many of our favorite apps, like Paper Toss and TextPlus 4, are telling advertisers all about us.

An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps” – games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones – showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.

iPhone maker Apple Inc. says it reviews each app before offering it to users. Both Apple and Google say they protect users by requiring apps to obtain permission before revealing certain kinds of information, such as location.

“We have created strong privacy protections for our customers, especially regarding location-based data,” says Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr. “Privacy and trust are vitally important.” But, The Journal found that these rules can be skirted.

For example, One iPhone app, Pumpkin Maker (a pumpkin-carving game), transmits location to an ad network without asking permission. Apple declines to comment on whether the app violated its rules.

Apple’s Chief Executive Steve Jobs, who has spoken out against intrusive tracking. At a tech conference in June, he complained about apps “that want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up.”

Yahoo Trimming The Fat

Yahoo is believed to be planning a shut down of eight products and plans to get rid of 600 jobs worldwide, about 4% of its workforce. Yahoo had about 14,000 employees at the end of the third quarter of this year.

Some of the products on the hit list include Delicious, Yahoo! Buzz, MyBlogLog, AlltheWeb and AltaVista.

Carol Bartz, Yahoo!’s chief executive, was brought into the company by its shareholders, to reverse its ailing fortunes and reinvigorate a fading interent brand. And, she’s doing just that.

“Part of our organizational streamlining involves cutting our investment in underperforming or off-strategy products to put better focus on our core strengths and fund new innovation in the next year and beyond,” a Yahoo spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We continuously evaluate and prioritize our portfolio of products and services, and do plan to shut down some products in the coming months,” she added. “We will communicate specific plans when appropriate.”

Yahoo sites get hundreds of millions of unique visitors per month, but the company has been grappling with a slide in how much time people have been spending on its sites, among other issues.

IE Better Thank Firefox on Malware

Research has found Internet Explorer 9 is more than five times more likely to protect surfers from socially-engineered malware than its closest competitor, Firefox 3.6.

That’s the conclusion of a recently released report by security firm NSS Labs. In testing Web browsers’ protection against socially engineered malware in September, the company found that the public beta of IE9 caught 99% of malicious applications, higher even than its predecessor IE8, which was second at 90%.

Looking solely at “a web page link that directly leads to a download that delivers a malicious payload whose content type would lead to execution, or more generally a website known to host malware links” – i.e. fake downloads as often seen on Facebook or Twitter – the research found IE9 capable of blocking 99-percent of the threats encountered.

Firefox 3.6’s showing in the tests was a mere 19%, followed by Apple Safari 5, 11%; and Google Chrome 6, 3%. Opera 10 offered no protection against socially engineered malware.

The report is not the final word on browser security. NSS Labs tests only the browsers’ defenses against socially engineered malware. The firm does not look at vulnerabilities within the browsers themselves or in their plug-ins. Therefore, a more comprehensive examination could lead to a different standing of overall scores.

Voyager 1 Sends New Data About Solar Wind

For 30 years, the Voyager 1 has been traveling through space and is coming close to the outer edge of our solar system and will soon enter interstellar space.

Now about 10.8 billion miles from the sun, NASA’s Voyager 1 probe has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Those solar winds are no longer travelling outwards and are likely blowing sideways, scientists believe, as a result of pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

“As a surrogate for human senses, Voyager 1 is sniffing and listening and sensing the galactic auras beyond the final physical boundaries of the solar system — the grandest voyage ever made by any Earth-sprung traveler,” said James Oberg, a retired rocket scientist who is now an author and full-time media consultant. “Even the sun has, in its eyes, faded to merely the brightest star in its full-surround heavens.”

The tiny spacecraft, launched in 1977, is now 10.8 billion miles from Earth. At its current distance from the Earth, it takes about 15.5 hours to send a command to the spacecraft and a similar time to receive an acknowledgment.

Edward Stone of Caltech, the Voyager 1 project scientist said, once the solar wind crashes into the interstellar medium and circles back in the heliosphere, it eventually forms a giant tail like a comet before dissipating into the void. Voyager has been in this region for six years, traveling about 35,000 mph, he said, “and I expect it will be there for another four.”

The Voyagers are powered by the radioactive isotope plutonium-238. As long as the instruments survive, power will remain available to at least some of them until about 2020.

Microsoft to Introduce New Slide Out Keyboard Tablets

Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to show off their new tablet computers in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Microsoft is trying to compete in the tablet market by offering a slight twist. The new tablets have slide out keyboards. You might say this makes it a laptop but it’s actually a combination of a tablet and a laptop. It’s similar to the Apple iPad but not as thin and the keyboard is said to be “unique” and “slick”.

It will apparently run Windows 7 but there is speculation that the company will create a stripped down version of Windows 7 to run on the tablets.

“Microsoft makes it a practice to not comment on rumors or speculation,” spokesperson Sarah Reid, who works at the software giant’s public relations agency, Waggener-Edstrom.

As with most of the stuff that Microsoft demos, their line of thought is completely logical: “you can’t do work on tablets because they don’t have keyboards, so if we include a keyboard, people will love us!”

There are supposed to be a few of these new tablets from Microsoft. Reportedly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be demoing some of these new tablets on stage during his keynote at CES.

NASA Helps Colorado Manufacturers

NASA signed a Space Act Agreement at the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver to promote the commercialization of technology developed for the space program.

Colorado hopes to gain 10,000 new jobs and $300 million in economic activity over the next five years as a result of this new agreement.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said they will help build a technology park somewhere between Loveland and Boulder.

“This park will use Colorado’s existing competitive strengths to boost economic growth while creating new jobs and products for aerospace and energy industries,” Garver said. “NASA is pleased to collaborate on new technology developments like the one being created through the Colorado Technology Acceleration Program and Regional Innovation Cluster.”

Under the agreement, small and mid-sized businesses will have direct access to a NASA “innovation ambassador,” an agency expert who can identify NASA and partner technologies ready for commercialization. The ambassador will conduct forums to drive partnerships among NASA and Colorado businesses and help identify businesses that can benefit from commercialization technical assistance.

Garver said the agreement will reduce the time to get new technology products to market from an average of five years to 18 months.