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Spotify Launched in Germany Without Key Licensing Deal

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Spotify, the popular streaming music service, launched in Germany today. The company had been planning this launch for a while and had already been operating a German-language version in Austria since last year. Quite a few pundits assumed that the delay was due to rights negotiations with the German royalty collection agency GEMA. This organization is quite notorious for charging relatively high rates for music streaming, which was the main reason Grooveshark closed its German site earlier this year. The reality is a bit different, though: Spotify still hasn't signed a licensing deal with GEMA.

Talking to German public radio, Spotify acknowledged that the company is still negotiating with GEMA. As of now, the two haven't been able to reach an agreement, though the negotiations, which Spotify describes as "intense," continue.

GEMA, it is worth noting, has been negotiating with Google to set streaming rates for YouTube for years now. It's not unthinkable that its discussions with Spotify could also take quite a while. Just last year, Sony Music CEO Edgar Berger argued that "some members of GEMA's supervisory board have not yet arrived in the digital era."



11:17 am


Ford brings SYNC and AppLink to Europe

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At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Ford announced that it is bringing its SYNC and AppLink platforms to Europe. After selling close to 4 million cars with its voice-activated hands-free platform in the U.S., Ford now plans to sell more than 3.5 million SYNC-enabled cars in Europe by 2015. SYNC will speak nine European languages and also feature Ford's Emergency alert system (that's SYNC 911 Assist in the U.S.). The first car to feature SYNC in Europe will be the also newly announced B-Max vehicle, but Ford plans to quickly bring it to other cars as well.

SYNC and AppLink

In addition to SYNC, Ford is also launching AppLink, its platform for connecting mobile apps to the car and controlling them by voice, in Europe. The company is actively looking for local partners here that will enable their mobile apps for Ford's system.

SYNC, which had been available in the U.S. for a few years now, will now also speak nine European languages. Given the multitude of countries SYNC has to work in, one of the most important features of SYNC here will be the new emergency assist feature, which will automatically detect where you are and call the right emergency service for the country you are in and then talk to the emergency services in the appropriate language.

Looking ahead, Ford noted that it wants to bring more cloud-based services to the car as well. In Ford's vision, you next car would automatically shut down the lights in your house when you leave your garage, for example, tell you about road-work and traffic jams and also find a parking spot for you.

 



1:37 am


Study: Mobile Web and App Usage Now at Parity

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The online analytics company comScore released its annual "Mobile Future in Focus" report earlier this morning. Just ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, comScore is taking a closer look at how consumers in the U.S., the five largest European markets and Japan are using their phones. The report is far too long to be summarized here, but here is an interesting statistic that I don't think most people are aware of: mobile Internet users now use apps at about almost exactly the same rate as they use the web on their devices.

ComScore 2012 mobile browser and apps

 

 

European Smartphone Users Still Different from their U.S. Counterparts

There are some interesting differences between the U.S. and the top European countries. Even though the overall smartphone penetration is about the same in the U.S., Germany, Spain, France, the UK and Italy (41.8% in the U.S., 44% in those five largest European markets), Europeans don't quite use the mobile web and apps at the same rate as their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

Maybe this is due to the fact that European and U.S. users do have slightly different usage patterns, with European users, for example, using mobile email significantly less than U.S. users (30% vs. 41%). They also seem to be less interested in using social networking platforms and reading blogs while on the go (26% vs. 35%).

Another factor may be the higher popularity of tablets in the U.S. when compared to every other major market. According to comScore, more than 14% of U.S. smartphone owners also own a tablet. In Germany, that numbers is just 7.4%, while the other European countries fall in between the 8% to 11% range.

ComScore 2012 Mobile Future in Focus pdf  page 28 of 49

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9:59 am


German Government: Use Chrome if You Want to Stay Safe Online

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Google's Chrome browser had its worst month on record in January, thanks to being demoted in Google's own search results for breaking Google's own online marketing rules. Today, the Chrome team has something to celebrate, though: Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, or BSI) just announced that it is recommending Chrome as the safest browser on the market right now, especially thanks to its sandboxing and auto-update features.

The BSI is making this recommendation ahead of Europe's "Safer Internet Day" on February 7th.

Other Recommendations:

In addition to Chrome, which is the only browser the agency recommends, the BSI also recommends a number of other security products, including Microsoft's own anti-virus software Microsoft Security Essentials, Avira Free Antivirus and avast! Free Antivirus. The BSI also recommends the use of OpenDNS Family Shield to keeps kids safe online and TrueCrypt for encrypting your data.

The agency also recommends Gmail, as it offers encrypted access to your email, even in the free version.



8:26 am


Getting Facebook to Give You All Your Data is Easy (in Europe)

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As Facebook moves to gather more and more data from its users, some people are getting rather anxious to know what Facebook really knows about them. Turns out, you can actually get Facebook to send you a CD with a PDF of all of your activities on the network – as long as you are in Europe. Europe vs. Facebook, a project started by Austrian privacy activist Mac Schrems, provides you with all the necessary steps to get access to your data. Requests for this data are routed through Facebook’s offices in Ireland, where a group of employees sifts through them, compiles these records and then sends them to the user.

data_request_facebookSadly, though, for many users, things are not quite as easy as just filling out this web form and waiting for the response. Not only do you need to know what law to cite in your request (something Facebook could easily figure out itself if it wanted to make things easy for its users), but as Schrems himself found out, even a meticulously prepared request doesn’t necessarily lead to an immediate response. As Germany news weekly Die Zeit reports, Facebook still didn’t want to give him his data. Only after an official complaint to the Irish data protection agency did the social network finally relent.

All Your Data Belongs to Us – Even the Deleted Kind…

Once Facebook sends the data over, it comes in the form of a CD with an unencrypted PDF document on it. Depending on your Facebook usage, that document can be between a few dozen and thousands of pages long (you canfind some examples here).

What’s in these documents? Mostly, it’s the kind of data you would expect (when you logged in, what’s in your “about me” section, credit card information if you use Facebook Credits, phone numbers, your likes and connections, what browser you used, location data, the messages you have sent and comments you have left, etc.). One interesting kink here is that quite a few users who requested this data also found some of their deleted posts in these documents.

How to Get Your Data

If you are in Europe, Schrems compiled a step-by-step guide for getting Facebook to give you your data. Just follow these instructions and be ready to respond to Facebook’s attempts to make you go away (chances are, says Schrem, Facebook will just tell you to log in to your account and see you data there – which, of course, doesn’t include all the metadata and deleted posts it also archives).

 

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6:41 pm


Germany vs. Facebook: Like Button Declared Illegal, Sites Threatened With Fine

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Updated: German websites based in the state of Schleswig-Holstein have until the end of September to remove Facebook‘s ‘like’ button or face a fine of up to 50,000 Euro.

Germany has a long tradition of using laws to protect its citizen’s privacy. Home owners, for example, can ask Google to pixelate their houses in Street View (maybe so that their garden gnomes can stay incognito?). Facebook’s facial recognition feature has also come under fire in recent weeks. The latest target of Germany’s privacy advocates is Facebook’s ‘like’ button („Gefällt mir,“ in German). Thilo Weichert, the head of the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, argues that Internet sites based in his state that use the ‘like’ button are illegally sending this data to Facebook, which in turn uses it to illegally create a profile of its users web habits.

Note: the original article didn’t sufficiently stress the fact that Weichert’s jurisdiction is limited to Schleswig-Holstein only. I’ve updated the story to reflect this more clearly.

Thilo Weichert (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Weichert argues that data from any user who clicks the ‘like’ button – including those who are not Facebook users (which seems to be the crux of the problem for Weichert) – is immediately transmitted to a server in the United States. Weichert told German newspaper FAZ that his concern is that “Facebook can track every click on a site, how long I’m there, what I’m interested in.”

According to the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection’s press release, Facebook uses this data to create “a broad individual and for members even a personalised profile. Such a profiling infringes German and European data protection law. There is no sufficient information of users and there is no choice; the wording in the conditions of use and privacy statements of Facebook does not nearly meet the legal requirements relevant for compliance of legal notice, privacy consent and general terms of use.”

According to the Associated Press, Weichert is also telling users to “‘keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins’ and ‘not set up a Facebook account’ to avoid being profiled.”

Facebook, of course, rejects Weichert’s claims and argues that its operating well within Germany’s and Europe’s data and privacy protection laws. Its users, Facebook says, stay in “full control of their data.”

50,000 Euro Fine

Indeed, Weichert isn’t actually ready to sue Facebook itself because it is outside of his jurisdiction. His agency, however, is threatening to sue site owners who continue to implement the ‘like’ button on their sites with a fine of up to 50,000 Euro. Site owners have until the end of September to remove the ‘like’ button from their sites.



4:27 pm


German Traffic Cops Use Facebook Profile Photos to Identify Speeders

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There has been a lot of discussion around Facebook’s face recognition-based photo tagging feature lately, but putting your picture up on Facebook can have other unintended consequences as well. In two German states (Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia), police agents now regularly use Facebook to ensure that they’re sending traffic tickets that were generated by automated speed enforcement cameras to the right people. (more…)



5:57 pm


How the Internet Busted Germany's Minister of Defense for Plagiarizing his Ph.D. Thesis

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Germany’s minister of defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg plagiarized large parts of his Ph.D. thesis. This scandal would likely have rocked Germany’s political scene even before the Internet, but the massive extend of his academic fraud only became public thanks to a massive crowdsourced effort and the smart use of a Wikia-hosted wiki.

Last Wednesday, a German academic claimed that he had found 8 instances of plagiarism in Guttenberg’s 2006 dissertation about the history of the European and U.S. constitutions. That by itself would have been enough to create a minor scandal, but within four days, the German Internet community found potential instances of more plagiarism on close to 70% of the 405 pages of Guttenberg’s thesis. In total, about 21% of the dissertation’s text is plagiarized in some for or another. There is, of course, a chance that some of these wiki entries aren’t 100% correct, but there can be little doubt about the magnitude of Guttenberg’s attempts to appropriate other writers’ words as his own.

GuttenPlag Wiki

Within a day after the first allegations against Guttenberg became public, an enterprising German Internet user who remains anonymous started a blog to catalog all of potential issues with the dissertation. As the blog could neither cope with the amount of traffic it was getting nor accommodate all of the volunteers who wanted to help, the effort quickly moved to a wiki instead.

This crowdsourced effort found that Guttenberg not only plagiarized from various scholarly sources, but actually copied everything from freshman papers to text on the U.S. embassy’s website. Indeed, it even looks as if he shamelessly used the German government’s research service to write about ten pages for him. There are even some allegations that most of the dissertation was written by a ghostwriter, which would take Guttenberg’s fraud to a whole new level.

The GuttenPlag wiki currently features over 796 pages and multiple new comments and edits are still coming in every minute.

Guttenberg, whose full German name is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester, Baron von und zu Guttenberg and who is married to the great-great-granddaughter of Germany’s former chancellor Otto von Bismarck, decided to strip his academic title from his name for the time being. His alma mater, the University of Bayreuth, is looking into the matter and could strip him of his Ph.D. altogether. A criminal investigation is also currently ongoing.

For the time being, he has not lost his political positions, but as this scandal continues and the extent of his fraud becomes clearer, chances are that he will have to resign from his position as minister of defense sooner or later.

Image credit: Wikipedia



4:28 pm