Archive for June 3, 2009

"Netbook" name lawsuit ends in a settlement

The legal battle between companies Intel and Psion Teklogix over who had the right to use the term “netbook” has ended in an “amicable agreement,” says Psion in a press release:

“The litigation has been settled through an amicable agreement under which Psion will voluntarily withdraw all of its trademark registrations for ‘Netbook’. Neither party accepted any liability. In light of this amicable agreement, Psion has agreed to waive all its rights against third parties in respect of past, current or future use of the ‘Netbook’ term.”

Netbooks, those ultra-portable laptops (some of which are now offered with wireless plans), found themselves in the midst of an identity crisis after Psion sought to reign in manufacturers’ use of its trademarked name. Intel argued that the name “Netbooks” had become an industry term.

Comments off

CFP2009 panelists: Online consumers are often careless or foolish

Harvard researcher Rachna Dhamija painted a grim picture of how consumers deal with online security during the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in Washington, D.C.

Take how users deal with security when they visit their bank’s Web site. “They’re not thinking, ‘I want to be secure,’” said Dhamija. “They’re thinking, ‘I want to do my banking.’”

Users are overconfident in their ability to protect themselves, she added. The typical reaction by consumers when they see a dialog box pop up while Web surfing: “Something just happened and I need to click OK to get on with things.”

Security practices require consumers to make tradeoffs, but the choices they make aren’t always the best ones. “Users will knowingly install spyware if the tradeoffs are good for them,” Dhamija said.

“We seem hopelessly bad at making security tradeoffs,” said security expert Bruce Schneier. “That’s because we’re responding to the feeling of security and not the reality.” The opposite reaction is also worrisome, he added. “Just as bad is something that makes people safe and they don’t know it, so they don’t act.”

How safe do you feel online? Do you download freely without knowing exactly what you’re getting and giving up?

For free tips [link:  ]on how to stay safe online, see our Online Security Guide.

Follow my continuing coverage of the conference on this blog and live on Twitter at: —Donna Tapellini

Comments off

DTV transition: Most viewers ready—after a few headaches

Digital TV transition watching TV With less than two weeks remaining until analog over-the-air broadcasts end, the vast majority of Consumer Reports’ readers who receive TV via antenna say they’re already set up to receive digital signals—albeit after a little grief, in some cases.

Data on 38,000 subscribers, drawn recently from the 2009 Annual Telecom Survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found that 12 percent of respondents receive free TV to a set-top or rooftop antenna. Of those people, 85 percent said they had already completed the steps required to be able to receive over-the-air broadcasts after June 12, when the analog broadcast era ends.

More than half of those households—56 percent, to be precise—have purchased a digital converter box to facilitate viewing digital signals on an old, analog TV set. (see our free Ratings of more than 40 boxes.) But, in news that will hearten the consumer-electronics industry, 30 percent of respondents prepared for the digital transition by buying a new TV—since all new sets have the built-in digital tuner required to receive the new signals from broadcasters.

Also, about one in ten respondents who were prepared for the transition already own a relatively new TV (bought in the last few years) that is capable of receiving digital signals without a converter box. Finally, some 8 percent of respondents made their old TV ready to receive digital broadcasts by buying a DVD player or DVR recorder that has a built-in digital tuner.

However, nearly one in four of respondents who were set up for the transition had to replace the set-top antenna they were using to receive analog signals. Most were able to receive digital signals by buying another indoor antenna, but about a third who replaced an antenna were forced to buy a new outdoor antenna, which is generally pricier and involves some installation.

New antenna or old, some 20 percent of these respondents said it was difficult to receive all available stations with their antenna (see our guide to antenna troubleshooting.) And 17 percent said they were unable to receive at least some of the channels they received via analog signals.

It’s possible, however, that some of those missing channels will become available on June 12. Some stations are yet to make the transition to digital broadcasting, while others are transmitting digitally are not yet at full power, as some stations continue analog broadcasts and so divide their transmission power between analog and digital signals. We advise periodic rescanning of channels to pick up stations as they begin or boost their digital broadcasts.

These findings have prompted Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, to today urge the Federal Communications Commission to step up its efforts to assist consumers who still face problems obtaining digital signals.
We’ll continue to report on some other findings from our survey as our DTV coverage continues. Meantime, for help and more information, check our free Guide to the Digital TV Transition and our many other blogs on the DTV transition. —Paul Reynolds

Comments off

DTV transition: Crisis was averted, but work remains, say CU advocates

[Photo: laura padgett]

The country has avoided a crisis in the transition to all-digital broadcasting, but several issues continue to require high-priority attention from the federal government, according to advocates at Consumers Union, the parent company for Consumer Reports.

Appearing today before the Federal Communications Commission, CU policy analyst Joel Kelsey said the FCC needs to continue to “prioritize education efforts aimed at troubleshooting reception and signal issues.” He cited figures from the recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center showing that some viewers are having difficulty in setting up digital converter boxes and antennas to receive digital signals. Some are also having trouble receiving some channels digitally.

Kelsey also asked the agency to use its “bully pulpit to urge municipal leaders to play a larger part” in efforts to educate consumers about the DTV transition, and to urge retailers to provide a range of converter boxes in rural areas, where consumers often must drive long distances to reach a store.

Finally, after praising the FCC’s walk-in information centers, Kelsey asked the agency to ensure those centers—and others launched in partnership with groups such as AmeriCorps—remain open after June 12th, since some consumers will “inevitably require assistance” after that date. —Paul Reynolds

Comments off

Privacy conference panel: Consumers give up privacy too easily

"Alas, consumers will sell their privacy for a candy bar; in fact, they demand to be able to do so."

That’s a sentiment posted on Twitter here at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference  in Washington D.C. But advocates worry that consumers are unaware of just how much of their private information is being mined, retained, and shared by companies that engage in online behavioral marketing—and beyond.

“A global system has emerged designed to collect information about each of us wherever we are, and target us for advertising and increasingly for politics,” said Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy.  “And it’s designed to affect our behavior.”

Industry representatives contend targeted advertising is effective and something consumers want. “If you can target ads to interested users, they will be effective,” said Microsoft’s Mike Hintz. “Most consumers would prefer to see an ad that they’re interested in.”

But the Federal Trade Commission worries that more data is being collected than is necessary. “Data collection may be disproportionate to the benefits achieved,” said Jessica Rich, of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Google says it is addressing some concerns with its ad preferences manager. We’ll take a look and let you know what we think soon.

Google’s approach may not be sufficient to protect privacy, privacy advocates say. “It’s an onerous system when I’ve got to opt-out through Google, opt-out through Microsoft,” said Amina Fazlullah, U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “There’s a value to privacy that’s priceless. It’s not the ads that bother me, it’s the system behind them that bothers me. ”

What are your thoughts on privacy and online advertising? Are you willing to sell your privacy “for a candy bar?” Are you aware of what information is collected about you and how it’s being used?

Follow my coverage of the conference here on this blog and live on Twitter at: —Donna Tapellini

Comments off