Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Apple working on volume control for iPod's ?

One of the problems with using an iPod and listening to some of your favorite music is that you may not realize when the music volume is too loud and liable to hurt your ears. Apple initially did not care too much about this particular problem, but then got hit with a class-action lawsuit over hearing loss caused due to a person. The claim was that the highest level of volume possible in a iPod was enough to cause permanent hearing loss. Apple had at that time responded by releasing a patch that allows users to set a maximum level of volume, but after that, there was no further news in this regard.
However, now Apple seems to have moved further in this direction, and it would now seem that Apple is developing a device that would allow the iPod itself to calculate how long the user has been listening to the iPod and at what volume, and then automatically reduce the volume. Refer this article.

Citing a new patent application, the report--to which Apple declined to comment--says the "device will also calculate the amount of 'quiet time' between when the iPod is turned off and when it is restarted, allowing the volume to be increased again to a safe level."

This could be interesting. Granted, it would be a useful step, but imagine the surprise when a user listening to the device for some time suddenly feels the volume level dropping suddenly. Could be shocking unless the user knows that something like this is going to happen. And unless this is handled right, it could affect all the people who use an iPod as the base for all their music; they connect the iPod to a music system. Such a modification of the volume could also affect them negatively.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ask.com allows erasing of past searches

Once, there was the thought that all the searches that you made were not anything to be worried about; that thought did not last very long as it became clear that search engines were storing searches along with information. Fine, but even then a person does not know who are you - after all, your name and address are not revealed. And then there was research done on the basis of using the various searches conducted by the same computer, and enough information was able to be extracted that the actual address and person could be found. During this time, the question of privacy came to be raised more and more, and there was increasing pressure on search engines to modify their search archival to address privacy concerns.
And now search provider Ask.com has thrown the gauntlet much further. It has announced a feature called AskEraser that seeks to project an image of handling customer-privacy concerns by allowing users to set that their searches on Ask.com be deleted from the company's servers:

When enabled by the user, the feature will completely delete search queries and associated cookie information from Ask.com servers -- including IP addresses, user IDs, session IDs and the text of queries made, according to the company. In most cases, the deletion will take place within a few hours of the time a search is completed, the company said.
But there are important caveats to keep in mind, Chester said, Ask.com, for instance, will still collect and store user search data by default, unless the user specifically enables AskEraser, Chester said. And enabling AskEraser does nothing to prevent third parties with whom Ask.com has relationships from collecting and storing search data.

There are some exceptions, but this is a further movement in the area of search engines being more concerned about privacy. One wonders as to whether Google will react to this move in some way, after all, Google is seen as the market leader in search, and it needs to not be concerned about the privacy of its users. At the same time, Google has made change only after some amount of pressure in the past through privacy experts and through the media.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Facebook forced to reverse plans on Beacon

It seems so logical a business plan; you create a social networking site. Put in effort, put in a lot of useful features, and you start to get a lot of good publicity. People start pouring in, and you start salivating about how to use these large number of people. You get the perfect method, based on advertising. Everything seems fine, and then suddenly there is a large amount of uproar about the loss of privacy implied in this feature, and reluctantly, you have to withdraw the feature. And this is exactly what Facebook had to do over the 'Beacon' feature it introduced.

Facebook is giving members of its social network the ability to completely decline participating in the company's controversial Beacon ad system, a reaction to intense criticism that Beacon is too intrusive and compromises people's privacy. Beacon, part of the company's new ad platform, tracks certain actions of Facebook users on some external sites, like Blockbuster and Fandango, in order to report those actions back to users' Facebook friends network.
The idea is to generate advertising that is more effective because it is intricately combined with people's social circle, so that products and services are promoted in a more organic way via the actions of friends and family.

In this case, the analysis found that Beacon gathered a web of data about the activities of the user even under certain circumstances. For example, Beacon tracks users even if they are logged off from the social-networking site and have declined having their activities broadcast to friends. Beacon captures detailed data including for users who have never signed up to Facebook (but who are transacting on partner sites) or have deactivated their accounts.
Facebook went too far in terms of gathering and using data; however, this is also an example of how even the most fervent supporters can turn against you if they feel that they are being exploited - a sort of warning to developers of such sites.