Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Revealed: how eBay sellers fix auctions

Recorded excerpts of meetings with Paraskevaides:
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CUSTOMERS of the internet auction site eBay are being defrauded by unscrupulous dealers who secretly bid up the price of items on sale to boost profits. An investigation by The Sunday Times has indicated that the practice of artificially driving up prices — known as shill bidding — is widespread across the site.

Last week one of the UK’s biggest eBay sellers admitted in a taped conversation with an undercover reporter that he was prepared to use business associates to bid on his goods for him.

Our inquiries found evidence that a number of businesses — ranging from overseas property agencies to car dealerships — have placed bids on their own items using fake identities.

The cases raise questions about whether eBay, the world’s biggest auction site, is doing enough to protect consumers.

Shill bidding is against eBay rules and is illegal under the 2006 Fraud Act. However, the resulting higher prices on the site boost the value of eBay’s share of the sales.

Last November eBay changed its rules to conceal bidders’ identity — making it even more difficult for customers to see whether sellers are bidding on their own lots. Since its launch seven years ago, eBay’s UK website has attracted more than 15m customers. It sells more than 10m items at any given time.

One of the beneficiaries of the boom is Eftis Paraskevaides, a former gynaecologist, from Cambridgeshire. He has become a “Titanium PowerSeller” — one of eBay’s handful of top earners — selling more than £1.4m worth of antiquities a year on the site.

In a conversation with an undercover reporter last week, Paraskevaides claimed shill bidding was commonplace on eBay.

When the reporter asked whether he arranged for associates to bid on his own items, he replied: “Well, if I put something really expensive (up for sale) and I was concerned that it was going for nothing, I would phone a friend of mine, even a client of mine who buys from me, and say: For Christ’s sake, I sell you 100 quids’ worth of items a week . . . just put two grand on it, will you?” The reporter was posing as a seller of valuable antiquities. He inquired whether Paraskevaides could sell them on eBay and guarantee a minimum price.

He replied: “Leave it to me (laughs). Don’t call it shill bidding. Then I won’t be accused of shill bidding. Yes. I mean — I’ve got people.

“I’ve got some of my big clients who buy big items off me, I look after them. So I can get on the phone to America and say: Mr XXXX . . . you’re a multi- millionaire. You buy a hundred grand’s worth off me a year. Do me a favour would you. Just put — yeah. Exactly.”

He claimed eBay would never follow up a complaint against him for shill bidding because he generated about £15,000 a month in commission for the company. “Are they going to ban somebody who’s making them the best part of 15 grand a month? No,” he said.

After being told that he had been talking to an undercover reporter, Paraskevaides denied that he had ever shill bidded on eBay and claimed he was talking about clients who sometimes bid on expensive items if they wished to protect the price.

However The Sunday Times discovered businesses that have been bidding on their own items. One leading dealer from London admitted last week that that he had shill bidded in the past.

A spokesman for eBay said he expected that the company would now launch an investigation into Paraskevaides. Anyone caught shill bidding risks a permanent ban.

The spokesman added: “The change to the way bidder IDs are shown has already resulted in a safer environment for users."

YouTube to Share Some Ad Revenue with Users

By Reuters

NEW YORK—YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley said the leading online video service is mulling a plan to share advertising revenue with users who contribute to the site, according to a user clip and media reports from Davos, Switzerland.

"In terms of paying users revenue against the content that they are uploading, we definitely are going to be moving in that direction," Hurley said in video recorded in Davos, by a YouTube user and posted on the site.

"We feel we are at a scale now that we will be able to do that and still have a true community around video."

Hurley, who spoke during a session at the World Economic Forum gave no details on how much YouTube, the leading online video sharing site that was bought by Internet search leader Google Inc. last year, might pay users.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum takes place January 24-28 in the Alpine ski resort of Davos and is attended by top politicians, monetary policymakers and senior business executives

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why pirated Vista has Microsoft champing at the BitTorrent

On the eve of launch, P2P networks unnerve the software giant
Eric Lai computerworld.com

As Microsoft Corp. gets ready to launch Windows Vista and Office 2007 to consumers, it claims a formidable new foe it lacked at its last major consumer software launch five years ago: the popular filesharing network known as BitTorrent.

This third-generation peer-to-peer (P2P) service, already used by tens of millions of Internet users to swap digital music and movies for free, is becoming a popular mechanism for those looking to obtain pirated software.

"Any software that is commercially available is available on BitTorrent," according to Mark Ishikawa, CEO of BayTSP Inc., a Los Gatos, Calif., antipiracy consulting firm.

Piracy and prerelease
Or in the case of Vista and Office 2007, before they were commercially available. Both products were released to corporations almost two months ago, but won’t be officially launched to consumers until Jan. 29.

But as early as mid-November, "cracked" copies of both products were available via BitTorrent. As of mid-January, more than 100 individual copies of Office 2007 and more than 350 individual copies of Windows Vista were available on the service, according to BigChampagne LLC, a Los Angeles-based online media-tracking firm.

The pirates that cracked early copies of Vista all sidestepped Microsoft’s latest antipiracy technology, the Software Protection Platform. SPP is supposed to shut down any copy of Vista not registered to Microsoft over the Internet with a legitimate, paid-up license key within the first 30 days.

Microsoft has quietly admitted that it has already found three different workarounds to SPP. It says it can defeat one, dubbed the Frankenbuild because of its cobbling together of code from beta and final versions of Vista. It hasn’t yet announced success against several other cracks, including one seemingly inspired by Y2k, which allows Vista to run unactivated until the year 2099 rather than for just 30 days.

"Pirates have unlimited time and resources," BayTSP’s Ishikawa says. "You can’t build an encryption that can’t be broken."

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

iPhone: The mediocre phone that will change the world

A bad phone -- but just what is it, anyway?

David Haskin computerworld.com

More than a week after Steve Jobs' blockbuster iPhone announcement, longtime industry observers and analysts are still furiously debating iPhone's impact.

And the first issue the analysts are wrestling with is: Just what the heck is an iPhone, anyway? Before commenting on its potential success, four analysts I spoke with first struggled to define exactly what an iPhone is.

"If you take the telephone out of the equation, the effect of iPhone will be profound," noted David Chamberlain, principal analyst for wireless issues at market research firm In-Stat. That is to say, Chamberlain said, the iPhone isn't much of a phone but it is an awesome ... something else.

In an industry accustomed to slotting products into narrow categories and measuring success within those categories, the unclassifiable (so far) nature of the iPhone has created a Jobsian, Alice in Wonderland-like atmosphere where t's are being dotted and i's are being crossed.

Herewith, with the help of some highly regarded industry analysts, we'll try to throw a lasso around this galloping pony and understand just what the iPhone is and what its prospects are.

What is the iPhone, anyway?
Trying to figure out what the iPhone is can be a matter of addition by subtraction. One thing the analysts agree about is that it won't be much of a cell phone, let alone a smart phone.

"It does seem under-horsepowered as a phone," said Neil Strother, research director for wireless devices at NPD. "It doesn't have [3G], which I don't get. How can they expect people to spend that much money [$500 for the 4GB version] and it doesn't even have 3G?"

Among the reasons the iPhone isn't a smart phone like the Motorola Q or the Treo line is that it doesn't support corporate e-mail or viewing attachments in Word or other formats commonly used in the enterprise. Nor can it use third-party applications like smart phones, many plain-old, not-so-smart phones and even old-fashioned PDAs. Nor is it a plain iPod since media players don't have even mediocre voice capabilities.

"It's been billed as less a smart phone than a super-smart iPod with phone functionality," noted Miro Kazakoff, a senior associate for wireless technology at market research firm Compete Inc. "It comes from a place of being more of an entertainment device with phone functionality added on."
Added Ken Dulaney at Gartner, "It's either a weak phone or a hot device in the network media category."

Another thing that the iPhone isn't is just another mobile device. "The interface is absolutely breathtaking," In-Stat's Chamberlain said.
Got it. The iPhone is a lousy phone but a breathtaking media device that acts like a phone but isn't.

What does it compete against?
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Friday, January 19, 2007

SeaMonkey Group Updates Browser Suite

SeaMonkey 1.1 is the follow-on to the now-defunct Mozilla Suite, a collection of Internet applications that included browser, e-mail client, newsgroup reader, and HTML editor.

By Gregg Keizer

The open-source group determined to keep alive the last Internet suite updated its SeaMonkey bundle Thursday with both security fixes and new code that brought its applications up to par with Mozilla's Firefox 2 and Thunderbird 2.

SeaMonkey 1.1, which was released in versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, is the follow-on to the now-defunct Mozilla Suite, a collection of Internet applications that included browser, e-mail client, newsgroup reader, and HTML editor. When Mozilla spiked its suite, a group of volunteer developers launched the SeaMonkey project. Mozilla still provides some support, including hosting the project's Web site.

The bundle's browser is based on Firefox 2.0, the newest edition of Mozilla's application, while the e-mailer takes its technology from Thunderbird 2.0. Other enhancements to v. 1.1 include a new version of the ChatZilla chat client, e-mail message tagging, and browser spell-check.

SeaMonkey 1.1 can be downloaded from the project's Web site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

CES 2007: Consumer Convergence

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is an enormous spectacle of personal computing products showcasing lighter, thinner and more efficient form factors for laptops, desktops and mobile devices, with Windows Vista a major benefactor of a more converged mobile environment.

View the entire Eweek.com slideshow

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Buying a Computer for Vista ... and Beyond

With careful planning, you can buy PCs that will both support Windows Vista and last well beyond today's standard life span

Bill O'Brien Computerworld.com

Once upon a time, you could buy a computer that, despite being technically obsolete the minute you got it home, could still be useful for years and years to come. Lately, however, technology has been gaining speed on good judgment. Do the words "accelerated amortization" sound familiar?

Whether you're an individual buying your own PC or an IT manager outfitting business users, it pays to plan your purchases so that your systems, whether desktop or laptop, last longer than the norm. Selecting computer hardware that will stretch two years out is easy. Making decisions that will support a three-year hardware life span takes a little more thought. But with some real fine-tuning and a well-honed knowledge of how the system will be used, you can move the marker out to four years or -- if you're both wise and exceedingly lucky -- possibly even five years.

We're here to help you sort through the bewildering array of choices when purchasing new hardware. Our basic strategy, with a few exceptions, will be to opt for components that are just under the current state of the art. We're not thinking about resale; we're thinking about getting our money's worth and maximizing the system's life span.

The Vista Factor

When you stare into your crystal ball trying to divine what hardware to buy this year, you're likely to see something odd. That 800-pound gorilla staring back from inside the globe is nothing less than Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system, and it can't help but affect your decision.

If most accounts are to be believed, Vista is a frightening monster that will place more demands on your hardware than any other operating system you've ever encountered. Some analysts have claimed that you'll be shelling out around $3,000 for equipment to meet the formidable burden Vista will impose. They claim that practically every piece of hardware you own must be dragged down to the recycling center and be replaced with the latest and greatest stuff from which computers are made, lest you find yourself overcome by the beast that is Vista.

Urban legends are great things, aren't they? Make no mistake, there is some semblance of truth wafting around inside all the hype. But, as with most legends, there's also a significant amount of fearmongering (not to mention the hope of sparking a round of high-end PC sales).

Vista is not King Kong. It is a handful of monkeys with a couple of great apes thrown in at the high end. There's nothing to fear when buying hardware this year -- it just requires a little planning, and that's nothing new.

Let's take a look at Microsoft's minimum supported hardware requirements for running Vista:

  • An 800-MHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 512MB of system memory

  • An SVGA (800x600) graphics processor

  • 64MB-256MB graphics memory with bandwidth of 1.6GB/sec.

  • A 20GB hard drive with 15GB of free space

  • A CD-ROM drive

  • (We can revise one item immediately: Vista is supplied on a DVD disc, so you'll need a DVD-ROM drive to install or reinstall it. So much for accuracy.)

    Look around you. Do you own anything that doesn't greatly exceed the majority of those specifications -- except maybe that four-year-old ThinkPad you've been using to even the coffee table legs or the desktop PC you "donated" to the kids in 2001 so they could shove peanut butter into the optical drive and not destroy your data?

    If you ratchet up to what Microsoft calls a Vista Premium Ready PC, which can take advantage of advanced Vista features, including the Aero interface, you get this list:

  • A 1-GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

  • 1GB of system memory

  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128MB of graphics memory (minimum), Pixel Shader 2.0 and 32 bits per pixel

  • A 40GB hard drive with 15GB of free space

  • A DVD-ROM drive

  • Audio output capability

  • Internet access capability

  • Again, with the graphics specification excepted, most of that still isn't very attractive for a PC you'd like to hold on to for the next four or five years. Of course, marketing comes into play here. Microsoft wants you to purchase as many copies of Vista as you possibly can. There's nothing inherently wrong with that position; it's just business. Still, for it to happen, Microsoft wants its product shown in its most attractive light. Translation: It shouldn't look like it will cost you a fortune to own and use.

    But there is truth in the nonthreatening system requirements Microsoft touts. Vista is self-acclimating. While everyone running Vista will benefit from its beefier security regimens, the operating system will tune its display characteristics to fit your hardware's profile. At worst, you'll end up running something akin to Windows XP protected by Smith & Wesson. At the upper end, you'll experience the full range of Vista's eye candy extraordinaire.

    All of this leaves computer sellers with a great deal of room for interpretation, and that's never a good thing for computer buyers. The moral of the story is that if you're looking for longevity in a PC, don't simply accept what the computer seller offers by default, even if it has "Vista Premium Ready" stamped all over it or comes with Vista preinstalled.


    Tuesday, January 02, 2007

    The new hotness: Personal tech in 2007

    2007 will be an amazing year for personal technology. Call it "The Year of the Super Toy."
    Mike Elgan Computerworld.com

    As Moore's Law, or something like it, continues to drive down the cost and size of electronics, increasingly sophisticated technology will find its way this year into consumer electronics products of all kinds. If you're a gadget freak, fasten your seat belt and hang on. It's going to be one hell of a year.

    The year of gadget Wi-Fi

    Home PC users have become extremely comfortable with Wi-Fi in the last five years. Connecting at home through a Wi-Fi connection is old hat. The new game in town is Wi-Fi for gadgets, especially media players, cameras and TVs. Consumers will increasingly demand Wi-Fi in gadgets for the convenience, power and flexibility of being able to zap media around without hassles and without adding to cable bloat.

    If nothing else, Microsoft's new Zune media player will drive demand for Wi-Fi in handheld gadgets. People already share music, videos and pictures, so why not do it in math class or at Starbucks rather than waiting until you get home? It's only a matter of time before the first Wi-Fi-enabled iPod hits. When that happens, Wi-Fi will become a must-have feature of media players for many users. New media players this year will not only connect peer-to-peer, as the Zune does, but also link to the Internet directly, like a PC.

    Right now, only an exotic minority of digital cameras sport Wi-Fi connectivity, including the Nikon S7c, Nikon Coolpix P1 and P2, Nikon D2H, Kodak EasyShare One, Canon PowerShot SD430, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and others. Look for these cameras to become more popular and new cameras to emerge with Wi-Fi capability. Wi-Fi lets you offload pictures to a nearby PC -- or upload them to the Internet -- without hunting for a USB cable or risking the loss of your tiny media card by removing it from the camera.

    Wi-Fi in media players and cameras? Absolutely. But TVs?

    Three years ago, a smattering of Japanese companies came out with what they called "wireless TVs" -- small LCD displays that received their content from a base station connected to cable. Those products never went anywhere. At press time, however, Samsung planned to release its new HP-TS064 Plasma TV, which features Wi-Fi, at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

    The Samsung uses Wi-Fi in a totally different way from the old "wireless TVs." It doesn't get its regular TV signal over wireless, but it can connect to your PC over Wi-Fi, so you can watch YouTube videos or other Internet- or PC-based content, such as photo slideshows, on the TV.

    The year of the mobile trackball

    This year, the trackball will become the hot input device for mobile gadgets, especially smart phones. For a decade now, mobile devices have employed rocker dials, scroll wheels, thumbwheels and other input technologies for navigating menus, moving cursors and controlling various features.

    Suddenly, however, two of the hottest brand-new devices -- the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and the RIM BlackBerry Pearl -- are taking older devices to school with their super-fast mini-trackballs. The smart phones use them for everything from camera zoom to ripping through icons and menus.

    In 2007, the trackballs on these gadgets will influence the entire industry. Look for trackballs to show up on a lot more phones, as well as media players and other devices.