Archive for June, 2010


Is this the end for SCO?

I’ve given up on predicting when the zombie movie series starring the undead SCO monster is finally going to stay quietly in its grave. Still, this week a jury is deciding whether SCO or Novell owns Unix’s intellectual property rights.

You may have thought that this was settled. Most of us who followed SCO certainly thought that the matter was a done deal. After all, deciding who owns Unix comes down to a fairly simple issue of contract law and not some esoteric IP (intellectual property) legal gymkhana. And no matter how SCO sliced it, Judge Dale Kimball decided that Novell owned Unix’s copyrights. Alas, another judge decided last August that Kimball had had no right to make that call and that a jury should decide who Unix’s copyrights instead.

So, here we are again: SCO vs. Novell, and the known Linux-using universe round 743.

I don’t think for a minute in a rational universe that SCO can win this case. But, it is in front of a jury and, after-all, a jury is made up of twelve-people who weren’t bright enough to get out of jury duty.

After all, common sense says that when a company buys a software line, it gets all the IP rights with it. Unfortunately, while SCO certainly wanted to buy Unix’s copyright back in the day, Novell choose never to sell Unix’s IP to SCO.

Sure, SCO was able to bring up some former Novell people, such as its worst all-time former CEO, Robert J. “Bob” Frankenberg, to try to support its claims. Unfortunately for SCO, Frankenberg wasn’t there when the final contract amendments were signed, so his testimony was, shall we say, not that strong.

If this were anything but a jury trial, I wouldn’t be worried. Novell owns Unix’s IP and all is right with the world. Alas, it is a jury trial, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they do decide that SCO owns Unix. If that’s the case we can look forward to another few years of the SCO zombie wandering the face of the Internet with its long dismissed claims of Linux containing some of SCO’s Unix code.

In the end, it will turn out alright. Novell will appeal the verdict, and a higher level court will award Novell Unix’s IP and smack SCO down. But, in the short run, I fear we may yet have to deal with SCO’s undead and annoying anti-Linux copyright claims.

If proposed changes to the Facebook Privacy Policy go through next month, the social network will store financial account information you use to make purchases on its site unless you tell it not to.

That’s just one of the concerns I have about the proposed changes, due to go into force in April, that Facebook attempted to slip by users over the weekend. Here’s what’s on my mind:

1. I object to the idea that Facebook will now store my payment account numbers from now on unless I explicitly bar it from doing so.

If you make purchases through Facebook, the service will store a copy your payment account number information in its database unless you opt out. Currently Facebook can only store those numbers with your explicit consent. Given the poor job the financial services industry has done protecting credit card and other consumer payment account data this would seem to be a very bad idea.

To change this users will need to go to their My Accounts page, click on the Payments tab, go to Payment Methods and click the “manage” hotlinked text.

2. Facebook will be more generous in sharing information about me with third-party web sites and applications.

Language removed: “You can choose to opt out of Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect altogether through your privacy settings.”

Added: “When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. We may also make information about the location of your computer or access device and your age available to applications and websites…”

3. The proposed Facebook privacy policy changes were deliberately announced, quietly, over a weekend, when few would notice.

The notice, which I received this morning, was dated March 27th. In addition, once I clicked through and read the proposed changes the notice – and any links to the proposed changes, – simply disappeared from my Facebook page. I was unable to find it on the privacy policy page nor by searching the site. Fortunately I had downloaded a PDF copy of Facebook’s proposed privacy policy changes before closing the page.

Facebook still has very much a “doors wide open” approach to privacy – and that door is getting wider. It gives new users less restrictive privacy settings by default. Facebook itself describes quite nicely why you should set your privacy settings very conservatively – and think twice about anything you post or do on Facebook:

“Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, it was otherwise distributed pursuant to your privacy settings, or it was copied or stored by other users.”

Translation: Nothing you post on Facebook is ever, truly private.

As a father who has been blessed with four healthy kids, I don’t know what it’s like to be the parent of a child who was seriously injured by being shaken as a baby. So I don’t pretend to be able to fully comprehend the hurt and anguish those parents feel over the infamous iPhone Baby Shaker app. What I do know is that I share their outrage, disgust, and sadness that the app was even conceived, let alone marketed.

All of that said, we need to step back and consider what has happened in the aftermath of the outrage. Apple has issued the following statement of apology: “This application was deeply offensive and should not have been approved for distribution on the App Store. When we learned of this mistake, the app was removed immediately. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and thank our customers for bringing this to our attention.”

The developer of the app, Sikalosoft, stated this on its Web site: “Yes, the Baby Shaker iPhone app was a bad idea. You should never shake a baby! Even on an Apple iPhone Baby Shaking application. In case you are unaware Baby Shaker was an Apple iPhone application that was greatly lacking in taste. …There are currently over 30,000 iPhone applications out there. So there are many other iPhone applications you could be better spending your time and money on.”

We need to remember that good people, and good companies, do stupid things. When they do, and they’re brought to account for them, they have a choice. They can try to weasel out of the mess by going into denial mode, shifting the blame, spinning the story or refusing to discuss it. Or they can demonstrate some courage by acknowledging the mistake, apologizing for it, and taking corrective action. Both Apple and Sikalosoft have chosen the latter course, so they should be forgiven by everyone – unless, of course, there’s anyone out there who has never done anything he regrets.

The condemnation of Apple and Sikalosoft has been spearheaded by the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation, which has engaged in aggressive press outreach efforts to bring attention to Baby Shaker. Yesterday, the foundation sent me a copy of an open letter from its founder, Patrick B. Donohue, to the boards of directors of Apple and AT&T. Here’s an excerpt:

“We would like a complete accounting as to who was responsible for the vetting and launching of this sick application. We would like Apple and AT&T to develop a significant plan to reverse the damage they have caused. Anything short of this will reinforce the belief this was a purposeful and cynical plan to reach a 1 billionth application download! As Directors of both of these companies you have a fiduciary and corporate responsibility and the authority to act immediately – we expect nothing less from you.

“On behalf of the millions of families across this country who are dealing with a child who suffers from a pediatric acquired brain injury (PABI), we are demanding action. If we do not receive an adequate response from Apple and AT&T by the time we begin our 15-city American PABI Tour on May 3rd (pabitour.com – to promote awareness and support families who are dealing with PABI) we will hold a demonstration in front of the Apple Store in all 15 cities.”

Now, I have all the respect in the world for the work the foundation is doing in support of families that suffer as a result of brain injuries. But I find myself agreeing in large part with the view of CrunchGear Editor in Chief John Biggs, who wrote this in an e-mail exchange with me this morning:

“I think the entire issue has been blown out of proportion by an organization whose sole mission is to prevent baby shaking and hence is enjoying a boost in the news cycle this week. This is simply another permutation of ‘family’ organizations blaming video games – in this case a crude simulation of violent behavior that I find abhorrent – for the violent actions in real life. …The funds – however meager – spent on their press outreach efforts in order to capitalize on someone’s harmless bad taste could be better put into more bedside education for new mothers.”

I wouldn’t characterize anything about the app as “harmless,” because in my view stuff like this harms the decency and dignity of the human spirit, which is in enough need as it is of being uplifted. But let’s not make a spectacle of the mistake. Let’s move on.