December 12, 2017

Baidu Deal May Reduce App Piracy in China

Baidu, the leading search engine in China, signed a deal last week to buy an operator of mobile application stores called 91 Wireless for $1.9 billion from an online video game company, NetDragon. The move should help Baidu regain ground against two other Chinese Internet giants, Alibaba and Tencent, which were quicker to add mobile capabilities.

The deal may also advance the fight against digital piracy of mobile apps, which remains widespread in China. In the rest of the world, most mobile applications are distributed through official outlets like Google Play or Apple’s App Store. But in China, dozens of so-called alternative app stores are the dominant distributors. Many of the applications available for download through the alternative stores are unauthorized knockoffs.

Baidu will get two of the alternative stores, HiMarket and 91 Assistant, as part of its deal with 91 Wireless. And analysts say Baidu could be motivated to crack down on unauthorized copies, which would alter the landscape of China’s app market.

“It’s fair to say that it has not been a priority among Chinese app stores to police the content,” said Carl-Johan Skoeld, director of Stenvall Skoeld Company, a consulting firm in Shanghai that works with app developers.

Two years ago, Baidu reached a landmark agreement with major record companies to distribute licensed online music after it had been labeled a conduit for piracy by the Office of the United States Trade Representative. In addition, Baidu’s stock is listed on the Nasdaq, potentially exposing the company to litigation from software developers whose applications had been copied and offered through 91 Wireless, legal experts said.

“It’s unlikely that app stores would be protected by safe harbor,” a provision of Chinese law that gives Internet companies legal protection, in certain cases, if they act to take down pirated material, said You Yunting, an intellectual property lawyer at DeBund Law Offices in Shanghai.

“If I were Baidu, I would put aside 10 to 30 percent of the purchase price as a copyright infringement fund and pay it out a year or two later, conditional on 91 stopping piracy,” he said.

Baidu and 91 Wireless declined to comment.

Analysts say 91 Wireless has already been more active in fighting piracy than some other app stores in China, taking down infringing applications when notified. But developers complain that they should not be responsible for patrolling the stores for violations; given the number of stores and the frequency of updates, the task is practically impossible.

Alternative app markets have thrived in China in the absence of Google Play, which caters to phones using the company’s Android operating system. More than three-quarters of smartphones in China use Android, but Google, which had a prominent dust-up with Beijing over accusations of censorship and network security, has not introduced a Chinese version of its app store.

Alternatives like Qihoo 360, Wandoujia, 91 Assistant and HiMarket have filled the gap. Many of the Android apps on these sites are legitimate; because there is no Chinese Google Play, the developers instead license their apps to the alternative markets.

But it is another matter for alternative apps compatible with Apple’s iOS operating system. Apple integrates its hardware and software, so iPhones are configured to download applications only from the company’s official app store.

Apple did not introduce a Chinese-language version of the online shop until 2010, and did not permit credit card transactions in the local currency until a year later. As a result, many Chinese iPhone owners decided to “jailbreak” their phones — hacking them to accept applications from outside sources. Most of the apps are unauthorized copies.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/19/business/global/baidu-deal-may-reduce-app-piracy-in-china.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Slipstream: Legislation Would Regulate Tracking of Cellphone Users

THERE are three things that matter in consumer data collection: location, location, location.

E-ZPasses clock the routes we drive. Metro passes register the subway stations we enter. A.T.M.’s record where and when we get cash. Not to mention the credit and debit card transactions that map our trajectories in comprehensive detail — the stores, restaurants and gas stations we frequent; the hotels and health clubs we patronize.

Each of these represents a kind of knowing trade, a conscious consumer submission to surveillance for the sake of convenience.

But now legislators, regulators, advocacy groups and marketers are squaring off over newer technology: smartphones and mobile apps that can continuously record and share people’s precise movements. At issue is whether consumers are unwittingly acquiescing to pervasive tracking just for the sake of having mobile amenities like calendar, game or weather apps.

For Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, the potential hazard is that by compiling location patterns over time, companies could create an intimate portrait of a person’s familial and professional associations, political and religious beliefs, even health status. To give consumers some say in the surveillance, Mr. Franken has been working on a locational privacy protection bill that would require entities like app developers to obtain explicit one-time consent from users before recording the locations of their mobile devices. It would prohibit stalking apps — programs that allow one person to track another person’s whereabouts surreptitiously.

The bill, approved last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would also require mobile services to disclose the names of the advertising networks or other third parties with which they share consumers’ locations.

“Someone who has this information doesn’t just know where you live,” Mr. Franken said during the Judiciary Committee meeting. “They know the roads you take to work, where you drop your kids off at school, the church you attend and the doctors that you visit.”

Yet many marketers say they need to know consumers’ precise locations so they can show relevant mobile ads or coupons at the very moment a person is in or near a store. Informing such users about each and every ad network or analytics company that tracks their locations could hinder that hyperlocal marketing, they say, because it could require a new consent notice to appear every time someone opened an app.

“Consumers would revolt if this was the case, and applications could be rendered useless,” said Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who promulgated industry arguments during the committee meeting. “Worse yet, free applications that rely on advertising could be pushed by the consent requirement to become fee-based.”

Mr. Franken’s bill may seem intended simply to protect consumer privacy. But the underlying issue is the future of consumer data property rights — the question of who actually owns the information generated by a person who uses a digital device and whether using that property without explicit authorization constitutes trespassing.

In common law, a property intrusion is known as “trespass to chattels.” The Supreme Court invoked the legal concept last January in United States v. Jones, in which it ruled that the government had violated the Fourth Amendment — which protects people against unreasonable search and seizure — by placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car for 28 days without getting a warrant.

Some advocacy groups view location tracking by mobile apps and ad networks as a parallel, warrantless commercial intrusion. To these groups, Mr. Franken’s bill suggests that consumers may eventually gain some rights over their own digital footprints.

“People don’t think about how they broadcast their locations all the time when they carry their phones. The law is just starting to catch up and think about how to treat this,” says Marcia Hofmann, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in San Francisco. “In an ideal world, users would be able to share the information they want and not share the information they don’t want and have more control over how it is used.”

Even some marketers agree.

One is Scout Advertising, a location-based mobile ad service that promises to help advertisers pinpoint the whereabouts of potential customers within 100 meters. The service, previously known as ThinkNear and recently acquired by Telenav, a personalized navigation service, works by determining a person’s location; figuring out whether that place is a home or a store, a health club or a sports stadium; analyzing weather and other local conditions; and then showing a mobile ad tailored to the situation.

Eli Portnoy, general manager of Scout Advertising, calls the technique “situational targeting.” He says Crunch, the fitness center chain, used the service to show mobile ads to people within three miles of a Crunch gym on rainy mornings. The ad said: “Seven-day pass. Run on a treadmill, not in the rain.”

When a person clicks on one of these ads, Mr. Portnoy says, a browser-based map pops up with turn-by-turn directions to the nearest location. Through GPS tracking, Scout Advertising can tell when someone starts driving and whether that person arrives at the site.

Despite the tracking, Mr. Portnoy describes his company’s mobile ads as protective of privacy because the service works only with sites or apps that obtain consent to use people’s locations. Scout Advertising, he adds, does not compile data on individuals’ whereabouts over time.

Still, he says, if Congress were to enact Mr. Franken’s location privacy bill as written, it “would be a little challenging” for the industry to carry out, because of the number and variety of companies involved in mobile marketing.

“We are in favor of more privacy,” Mr. Portnoy says, “but it has to be done within the nuances of how mobile advertising works so it can scale.”

A SPOKESMAN for Mr. Franken said the senator planned to reintroduce the bill in the new Congress. It is one of several continuing government efforts to develop some baseline consumer data rights.

“New technology may provide increased convenience or security at the expense of privacy and many people may find the trade-off worthwhile,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote last year in his opinion in the Jones case. “On the other hand,” he added, “concern about new intrusions on privacy may spur the enactment of legislation to protect against these intrusions.”

E-mail: slipstream@nytimes.com.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/technology/legislation-would-regulate-tracking-of-cellphone-users.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

One Million Apps, and Counting

Apps shrink the programs that were once available only on a desktop computer to make them usable on smartphones and mobile devices — stock trades, restaurant reviews, Facebook, streaming radio, photographs, news articles, videos and, of course, Angry Birds.

The pace of new app development dwarfs the release of other kinds of media. “Every week about 100 movies get released worldwide, along with about 250 books,” said Anindya Datta, the founder and chairman of Mobilewalla, which helps users navigate the mobile app market. “That compares to the release of around 15,000 apps per week.”

According to Mobilewalla, in a fairly quiet 14 days before the release of app No. 1,000,000, an average of 543 apps were released each day for Android-based devices, and an average of 745 apps hit the market daily for the iPhone, iPad and iTouch. The total for the two weeks across the Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows platforms was 20,738.

A product was counted each time it was designed for a different device in the climb to a million apps. So when Urbanspoon was released for iPhone, BlackBerry, iPad and Android, it was counted four times because each platform demands different code from the developers.

By any measure, the rise in apps is striking. In October 2008 the known app universe was 8,000 Apple titles. Mobilewalla was formed that year to provide a Web site for users to search for mobile apps, and to categorize and rank them.

Mobilewalla began analyzing Android and Windows apps in 2009, and added BlackBerry a year later. The 100,000-app milestone was passed in December 2009. In little more than a year, the total passed 500,000 and exceeded 750,000 six months after that. Five months later: one million.

For Dr. Datta, the surge in apps and the ability of almost anyone to bring an app to market is a chicken-and-egg story. Developers who have created fewer than 10 apps make up 80 percent of the producers, he said. “Anyone with a good idea can outsource the code, and they own a new app.” In January, Mobilewalla will begin tracking ranking, downloads and revenue for individual apps

Brad Hunstable, a co-founder and the chief executive of Ustream, an app that allows users to broadcast live video to the Internet using a smartphone, or watch video anywhere, explained how the world has changed. Building an app for a phone five years ago meant going through the carrier, and contending with hardware and quality assurance issues, he said. “Now anyone can build for a platform,” he said.

Adding to prime conditions for app development is what Mr. Hunstable called the “convergence of the app ecosystem,” a world with more powerful devices, higher quality networks and high-resolution cameras.

“It’s an exciting time to be a developer for mobile,” said Thomas Chung, a vice president and general manager of the Playforge, a developer based in San Mateo, Calif. The Playforge released Zombie Farm, a role-playing game, in February 2010 for Apple, and an Android version in October 2011. On Friday, it was the top game in its category on Mobilewalla.com. Lower barriers to entry have prompted an explosion of content in the last few years, he said.

“The market has become more consumer-facing, too,” he said. “A lot of people can download applications now, and it’s just a big win all around.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b9652dee1e151a75d8dc5859da2cd559

App Smart: Retail Store Apps Help Navigate Aisles

As a parent, I don’t find the process much better. Wandering around a big-box store in search of a pencil sounds like a game show in which the lucky winner gets to hand over a credit card.

I recently tried to determine whether mobile apps could make the process less frustrating or costly. The answer was a qualified yes.

Of the apps made by big-box stores, those from Best Buy and Target sped up the shopping process slightly, as did Westfield Malls, a new app from Westfield, a mall developer. Others, for Sam’s Club, Staples and Wal-Mart, were less helpful. (At least the apps themselves are a bargain. They’re all free, on both Apple and Android.)

The better ones suggest that they can help you find an item in the local store. Some also offer prices on those goods, but they’re often inaccurate.

I assigned myself the task of finding school backpacks, T-shirts and a 64-gigabyte iPod Touch, and I drove to a stretch of road in suburban Connecticut with a mall and nearly every one of the big-box stores.

Of all the apps I tried, Best Buy’s was the most reliable and filled with features. I used it to find the nearest store and to check the availability of the iPod Touch before driving there.

The app suggested it was in stock, and it was correct. The price inside was $399, but when I pointed out to a sales associate that the app showed it for $370, he said they “can match” the online price.

“Can, or will?” I asked.

“Will,” he said.

From now on, before making a significant purchase at a big-box store, I will download the store’s app so that I have quick access to their online prices.

Like most other apps on my list, Best Buy provides an app-size version of the week’s sales circular for specific stores, and it allows you to collect items on a wish list. Users are also supposed to be able to retrieve product details while in the store by scanning the so-called QR code, a new alternative to bar codes, on many labels.

That sounded promising, so I gave it a try. I repeatedly tried scanning QR codes on five different products, and each time the app returned an error message. So much for that.

Target’s mobile app was also fairly good but a bit more uneven than Best Buy’s. When it came to basic searches for product, the app was good on inventory but bad on prices.

It showed that my local store had the iPod, for instance. But when I arrived, the store’s price was $395, $25 more than the price I saw on the app. I checked my phone again and, in gray print beneath the $370, saw that it was an online-only offer.

Worse still, when I clicked for more information on the iPod, I found out that I couldn’t retrieve an in-store price from the app.

Target doesn’t offer QR scanning, but you can create wish lists and have coupons sent to your phone via text messages. My coupons were for women’s jeans and macaroni and cheese, neither of which I needed.

At least Target knew that the iPod was in my local store. The Sam’s Club app suggested that the iPod wasn’t available, but it was (at a cool $349, no less). Wal-Mart’s app suggested the iPod was available in the store, but it was not.

Staples was less ambitious. Its app posted products but didn’t try to predict in-store availability, and the prices, according to the app, “may vary by store and online.” That’s not very useful.

Home Depot isn’t exactly a back-to-school shopping destination, but as a big-box store, it’s worth mentioning. The app’s product search feature is fast and it includes a long list of video tutorials and even a tape measure function. Plus, the store map is good for charting out shopping trips.

But I digress. Back to school we go.

Few people know, or care, who owns the nearest mall, but it may be worth your while to look it up. Westfield, one of the bigger mall developers in the United States, recently introduced a useful iPhone app that tries to offer information on store inventory.

With my younger son and daughter in tow, I tested out the app at a Westfield mall in Milford, Conn., which includes a Target. We found a bench, opened the Target and Westfield apps and searched for T-shirts and backpacks.

Westfield’s product search function was spotty. I typed “women’s graphic T-shirts,” and the app produced no results. I tried related search terms, and came up empty until I tried “Graphic T.”

More than 23,000 T-shirts appeared, so I sorted the results to show only one result per retailer. Fifteen appeared — inexplicably, the ones at Target’s didn’t make the list — so my daughter chose an Aéropostale shirt for $24.50.

Using the app’s map, we quickly found the store and the shirts, which were on sale (two for $15).

Still on the Westfield app, we searched for backpacks and found a promising one at Target: the Sumdex Impulse Full Speed, for $68. We walked to the store and wandered through one section of backpacks.

No Sumdex. We browsed through a second section. No Sumdex.

We walked for a few minutes until we found an employee who could direct us to any other backpacks, and he pointed us to a wall of them. No Sumdex backpacks existed at the store.

I gave up on Westfield and opened the Target app, which showed several Sumdex models available.

Online only.

The apps didn’t fail us completely. I turned from the backpacks to find my daughter racing toward a package of pens. “Those are my favorites,” she said, then looked around at all the school supplies nearby. “This is so much fun!”

Quick Calls

Cut the Rope: Experiments ($1 on iPhone and $2 on iPad) is as big a hit as the original, and every bit worth the download. Liz Claiborne Inc.’s Love Is Not Abuse (free on Apple), for parents of teenagers, simulates dating-abuse situations and offers resources for more information.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=14ff659222004aa57c6714047512ee08

Enough With the Delays: Why Wimbledon Switched to ESPN

“We felt it was important to have a single narrative across the two weeks,” Ian Ritchie, the club’s chief executive, said on a conference call Tuesday. He added, “We felt very positively that we wanted to put it into one arena.”

ESPN has had the cable rights to Wimbledon since 2003, but the new deal gives it everything NBC has had, including all of the semifinals and finals.

In talks last weekend in London, ESPN outbid Comcast’s NBC-Versus partnership, which could not guarantee a fully live plan until 2014.

After 43 years as the tournament’s lead broadcaster— after decades of “Breakfast at Wimbledon” and announcers like Dick Enberg and Bud Collins — NBC’s run had ended.

ESPN will begin broadcasting its live telecasts next year on ESPN; ESPN2; its broadband channel, ESPN3; and its mobile apps. It will also rebroadcast the men’s and women’s finals on ABC at 3 p.m. Eastern on the day of those matches.

“Live is pre-eminent,” Ritchie said. “Live is the nature of the game now on sports around the world, not just for tennis, but for other ones.” He added, “I’m sure there is a place for tape delay and highlights, but the sports viewer wants to see things live.”

Ritchie said that he had had conversations in the past with NBC about changing its tape-delay policy, but gave no details.

“You understand from my comments that live is important,” he said.

An NBC spokesman declined to comment on Ritchie’s remarks.

NBC has stuck for many years to a policy of not pre-empting the highly profitable “Today” show to carry Wimbledon in the early morning. So although it carried some matches live in late morning to the Eastern time zone, it showed them on tape elsewhere.

The network’s adherence to rigid time slots also led to chaotic incidents like one in 2009 when ESPN2’s live coverage of a Tommy Haas-Novak Djokovic match was cut off at 10 a.m. Eastern, when NBC’s window of coverage began. It carried the Roger Federer-Ivo Karlovic match on a two-hour delay, then showed the rest of Haas-Djokovic.

ESPN’s estimated $40 million annual rights fee exceeds the combined total of the $10 million it paid under its previous contract, and the $13 million NBC was paying.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d8fe13d19230b425558d9e51bd89fe6e

Bucks: Hotelier Offers New Options to Rewards Program

Anyone who is a member of a loyalty rewards program has been in this frustrating situation: You have a small number of points left over after a big redemption, but the rewards available for low balances aren’t very enticing. (How many cheap steak knives do you really need?)

Officials at the InterContinental Hotels Group are tweaking the chain’s “Priority Club Rewards” program over the next two to three months with an eye, in part, to addressing that situation. They’re making the program more flexible and adding lower-point reward options, like downloads of songs, mobile apps and e-books, for members earning points by staying at IHG hotels, including Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas.

Offering downloads in exchange for reward points is a first for travel loyalty programs, according to Don Berg, vice president of loyalty programs and partnerships at IHG. He told me the exact number of points required for downloads will be no more than “a few hundred.” IHG will also offer a points “sweepstakes,” in which members can spend, say, 100 or 200 points to earn the chance to win a higher-stakes reward, like an iPad or four nights at the InterContinental Hotel in Times Square. (A four-night stay at one of the company’s luxury hotels can require up to 120,000 points, although periodic promotions can sometimes drop the needed total to 20,000).

IHG also says it will allow members to use a combination of points and cash to get brand-name merchandise. Some frequent travelers are loath to redeem points for more hotel nights, Mr. Berg said. They’d rather use the points for other items, like electronics or sports equipment — often as gifts for others.

Yet another new option will be an offer of 50 percent discounts on “last-minute” rooms booked using points. Members will get an e-mail on Mondays, telling them what properties will offer discounted rooms the following weekend. (If a room typically required 10,000 points a night, it would require just 5,000.)

IHG seeks an edge in the competition for business travelers, who make up the vast majority of reward program members. The average loyalty club member, IHG research shows, belongs to an average of three programs. Hotel loyalty programs have gained in appeal, as airlines have made their frequent-flier programs more restrictive and added more fees.

IHG’s research over the last three years suggests that loyalty program members want to use their points like cash. By offering a variety of redemption options, “you’ll get more of their wallet on the paid end,” Mr. Berg said. IHG has 4,400 hotel rooms under six brands in addition to its flagship InterContinental properties, including Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites.

Would you use points to redeem low-cost items like downloads? Or do you prefer to accumulate them for bigger rewards?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3ecd867f278c721c8544ad72120e5263