WEEKLY RECAP

Yahoo’s Poison Pen Pal; Free Internet but No Porn

Newly revealed court documents have Yahoo squirming. It now appears the company may have spurned an offer from Microsoft worth US$40 a share way back in 2007 — months before all its hand-wringing over a much-publicized, much-lower bid.

Yahoo apparently also declined an earlier offer of a search advertising partnership with Google — something it later sought out as a way to keep Microsoft at arm’s length.

The documents were introduced in a lawsuit that accuses Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang of refusing to negotiate in good faith and erecting roadblocks to Microsoft’s offer, while failing to fully explore alternatives. The suit seeks to hold Yang and others responsible for what shareholders say are direct financial losses tied to the failure of the Microsoft deal.

If the allegations are true, they could be a powerful weapon in the hands of activist investor Carl Icahn as he moves to replace the Yahoo board of directors. Ratcheting up the rhetoric, Icahn sent Yahoo a letter accusing Yang and the company’s board of going to inordinate lengths to sabotage Microsoft’s attempted bid.

Yahoo chairman Roy Bostock fired back a reply accusing Icahn of misrepresenting and manipulating the facts. Yahoo rescheduled its shareholders meeting to August 1, allowing plenty of time for more chapters in the drama to unfold before the big proxy fight.


Listen to the podcast (11:07 minutes).


Free Net Plan

Having succeeded in changing the rules of the wireless game with its last auction of unused wavelengths, the Federal Communications Commission is ready to try again.

The first time around, the FCC attached a mandate to the sale of a coveted block of spectrum that required the purchaser to accept any device on its network. This time, as it prepares to auction off another band of airwaves, the FCC is thinking of requiring the winner to use part of it to provide free wireless Internet access to 90 percent of the nation’s population within a decade of taking ownership.

The deal comes with another catch: You’ve got to filter out undesirable content such as porn.

That raises a question — what’s the point of having the Internet, then?

Crazy Wikia Search

Look out Google, there’s a new search engine in town.

OK, maybe Wikia Search isn’t quite ready to take on the big boys, but Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales insists it’s heading in the right direction. Wikia, the online encyclopedia’s for-profit cousin, is behind the crowd-powered search engine that allows users to essentially tweak the algorithm that generates the search results.

Wikia Search uses a star system that lets user feedback gradually influence the ranking of items delivered on a results page.

Sounds crazy, you say? Maybe — or maybe crazy like a fox. Google recently announced its own initiative that lets corporate clients change the display of Google-powered search results within their own sites.

Time Warner Messes With Texas

In the town of Beaumont, Texas, anyone who wants to sign up for a new broadband Internet package with Time Warner will have to pick one with a capped data rate — that is, you’ll pay extra if you download more than a few gigabytes per month.

If you don’t like it, you can try to get AT&T DSL, but if you can’t get that, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Now don’t think for a second that you necessarily have more cable options just because your city’s bigger than Beaumont. When Time Warner and Comcast scooped up what was left of Adelphia in ’06, the two re-organized to dominate different markets across the U.S., and about 480,000 consumers in Los Angeles were affected.

Service apparently got so bad that City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo decided to file a civil lawsuit against Time Warner. The city claims it ripped off subscribers and provided inferior service for months, with excessive outages, overbilling, and long waits during customer service calls, among other offenses. Meanwhile, Time Warner stands behind its service.

Maybe Rocky just had some trouble with his router and decided he needed to take it out on someone. I can relate.

iPhone Crosses Pacific

Apple’s latest iPhone deal will put the seemingly unstoppable gadget in the hands of tech-savvy Japanese consumers, who may be less inclined to gush over the device and more inclined to scrutinize it.

Mobile carrier Softbank — Japan’s No. 3 wireless provider — will distribute the phones in the country. The deal is a big coup for Apple, which has been in talks with Japanese mobile providers for nearly two years. The addition of Japan could also be an important step in letting Apple reach its much-publicized goal of 10 million iPhone sales by the end of the year.

The Softbank agreement brings the total number of countries carrying the iPhone to 70. Japan, however, may hold the most weight of all. It’s known for being an innovator when it comes to new technology — something that has raised doubts as to whether the iPhone will be cutting-edge enough to make an impact. The launch date in Japan is still unknown, though — it may be that it will be one of the first landing places for the hotly anticipated 3G model.

It’s rumored that Steve Jobs will unveil the new handset during his keynote speech at the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on Monday.

Taking Aim at Safari

It’s a given that Microsoft would rather people surf the Web on Explorer than on Apple’s Safari browser. Now Redmond is telling users that their system security might be in danger if they run Safari on Windows.

It appears that Safari’s default settings allow content to be automatically downloaded without the user’s permission. That’s not a huge deal if you’re using Safari on a Mac — but Windows’ settings allow content to run automatically after it’s downloaded.

Now, that’s nothing to be scared of if you’re using something like Explorer — but put Safari on Windows, and the combination could open you up to what’s known as a “carpet bombing attack” if you should happen to stumble upon a malicious site. Microsoft issued a security advisory telling users to ditch Safari.

Apple’s response? “We are not treating this as a security issue.”

AMD Goes Mobile

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices has long lived in Intel’s shadow. But a new chipset, in addition to a stumble by Intel, may give AMD a small taste of the limelight.

The new product is called “Puma” — and it’s the company’s first major effort to create a true mobile chip rather than just tweak a desktop chip, according to Insight 64 research fellow Nathan Brookwood.

AMD certainly could use a break — it’s coming off six consecutive losing quarters. At the same time, Intel has said its next laptop platform, Centrino 2, will be delayed about a month to July 14.

Verizon Goes Big

Verizon Wireless has purchased Alltel for $28 billion, ejecting AT&T from its seat as the No. 1 wireless carrier.

The move comes just a year after a group of investors took Alltel private. The acquisition will leave four national players in the wireless space, with AT&T and Verizon the clear Goliaths, Sprint at number three, and T-Mobile straggling in fourth place.

Though it has been lackluster in terms of acquiring subscribers, Alltel has one of the largest mobile networks, with extensive reach into rural and remote areas in 34 states. With Alltel’s 13 million customers on the rolls, Verizon Wireless will have 80 million subscribers compared with about 71-point-4-million for AT&T.

Collateral Damage

When you’re fighting villains as evil as copyright pirates, who’s got time to worry about a little collateral damage?

MediaDefender plays the role of the RIAA’s and the MPAA’s man at arms, ferreting out illegal file-sharers and stompin’ ’em out. But they got a little over-eager, it seems, and the result was that a legit online entertainment network, Revision3, was tied down with a dedicated denial of service attack for an entire weekend.

What drew MediaDefender’s attention was that Revision3 uses BitTorrent for distribution. BitTorrent is popular among the pirate types, but lots of above-the-board distributors use the protocol too. MediaDefender says it didn’t deliberately target Revision3 specifically.

Can’t wait to watch the lawsuit from the sidelines? Sorry, but Revision3 says it doesn’t plan to sue. On the other hand, they will bill MediaDefender for all the lost time and the extra labor it took to correct the problem.

People Are Boring

It took a bunch of scientists and access to the location information for the cell phones of 100 thousand people to figure out what most of us already know: People don’t really stray far from their daily routine. Home, work, home — that’s about it for the average person.

The findings add more data to a field of knowledge on human mobility that previously only drew upon the results of a study of the movement of dollar bills. So for scientists who are interested in this kind of thing, perhaps it’s a fascinating revelation.

But for privacy advocates, it’s an outrage. How, they ask, can you expect to be serious about anonymity when you’re tracking the places people go? It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s who by where they live and work, right?

More Facebook Privacy Woes

Facebook has found itself the target of an investigation by Canadian authorities, who are looking to find out whether its policies regarding the sharing of personal data violate privacy laws. The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic filed a 36-page complaint alleging 22 separate violations.

Facebook begs to differ, saying its users actually choose to share the information in question.

That’s true, to a point, said Jordan Plener, a law student working on the complaint — Facebook’s default setting is to share the information — and it requires a fair amount of tech savvy to figure out how to change it.

Google Under Fire

Just how important is the location of the link that directs you to a site’s privacy policy? If you’re a member of one of 14 privacy and consumer groups, apparently it’s pretty important.

The coalition has issued a strongly worded letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to inform him that the search site’s privacy policy link is too hard to find. That, they assert, is a violation of California law.

Whether that’s actually the case is subject to debate — the law leaves site operators some wiggle room in terms of where they can put the link. Google’s is on the bottom of its About Google page, which it argues is a prominent enough location.

Scarcity Breeds Demand

Nintendo owners can turn their Wii video game consoles into a personal-trainer-slash-yoga-instructor with Wii Fit, a video game that comes with a sort of step aerobics pad to measure the player’s weight and balance.

But U.S. buyers are having a hard time finding Wii Fit in stock. Maybe it’s economics — the Wii Fit sells for about the same number of Pounds, euros and dollars.

Given that one euro gets you more than one dollar, and one Pound gets you something like — what is it now, forty bucks? Well, the point is, which continent would you rather ship more units to?

It’s also possible that Nintendo has a chronic problem with undershooting demand — a year and a half after its release, it’s still hard to find a basic Wii console in some places. I think it’s probably an international conspiracy to keep Americans fat and keep Europeans thin.

Our recommendation to those who have a Wii but can’t get Wii Fit: attach 10-lb weights to each controller and play the boxing game in Wii Sports while running in place.

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