Taylor Swift = Important Tech News. Not Kidding.

Here’s something you probably didn’t see coming — Taylor Swift made the tech blogs. Unlike other musicians who fancy themselves venture capitalists (yes, I’m talking about you, Will.I.Am) this isn’t about some lousy money pit of an idea.

Instead, she’s raising questions about the music industry’s shift to streaming in an open letter about Apple Music. “I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company… Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing,” she wrote.

Rather than jumping on a streaming bandwagon of one percent musicians like Tidal, Swift is refusing to make her latest album, 1989, available for streaming. She’s also blocked the album from being available on Spotify.

Her open questioning of Apple Music — and streaming in general — demonstrates how there are problems that have yet to be ironed out when it comes to fair compensation for artists who aren’t as well known as Swift. It’s also making the tech press openly wonder what titles and artists won’t be available on Apple Music and if it’ll be a permanent state of affairs.

Via Taylor Swift, Daring Fireball. Photo by GabboT/flickr.

Perhaps there is a god — AT&T Fined $100 Million

AT&T, the mobile phone carrier with a logo that — unapologetically and appropriately — looks like the Death Star, was fined $100 million for throttling its customers with unlimited data without properly notifying them.

The unlimited data tier is a thing of the past and was announced in 2007 when Steve Jobs  unveiled the original iPhone. AT&T’s network was not up early adopters actually using its wireless data network and the plan was scrapped after a few years. However, it continues to be grandfathered from iPhone to iPhone by users who still have the plan, though AT&T encourages users to move to tiered plans or they’ve moved on to other carriers.

Despite killing unlimited data, heavy users found that AT&T was throttling their plans to slower speeds than than the 3G and LTE connections they were used to. The FCC found that the company was in violation of the Open Internet Transparency Rule, one of the few policies left intact after a court challenge of the 2010 net neutrality order. The FTC is also suing AT&T over the issue.

AT&T is taking a pro-customer stance and complying with the FCC’s ruling.

Just kidding. “We will vigorously dispute the FCC’s assertions. The FCC has specifically identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it. We have been fully transparent with our customers, providing notice in multiple ways and going well beyond the FCC’s disclosure requirements,” AT&T predictably stated.

(Ars Technica reports that AT&T’s revenue in the neighborhood of $32 billion, with an operating income of $5.5 billion this most recent quarter. So really, AT&T is fighting over relative pocket change.)

Via Ars Technica. Photo by AT&T.

Hulu Plus is Dead. Long Live Hulu

Hulu Plus, the pay side of the TV VOD service, will now just be known as Hulu.

Hulu, without the Plus, is currently the name of its free service. However, Hulu’s rebranding doesn’t mean it’s abandoning its subscription model. There are currently 9 million paying subscribers and are a significant part of its business.

The elimination of Hulu Plus is meant to, according to Variety, make it easier for the company to compete against Netflix and other VOD services. However, Hulu Plus differentiated between the the pay and free tier that the service offered. Netflix and other like services don’t offer a free tier.

So Hulu is the free side of the service. And the pay side. No confusion there, at all.

This flattening of their brand raises questions — will the free offering be eliminated? Will Hulu finally get rid of the ads its paid subscribers have to deal with? (Probably not.) It’ll be interesting to see what the next few months brings for the site.

Via Variety. Photo by Garrett Heath/flickr.

Leap on the Rocks? San Francisco Private Transportation Startup Selling 3 Buses

Private buses are all the rage, or everything that’s wrong, with San Francisco…depending on who you ask. Though they stop at city bus stops, the company-owned buses are not for everyone — they’re for employees of Google, Apple and other well-heeled Silicon Valley tech companies.

While the plush, wifi equipped people movers caused an outcry, others saw an opportunity to provide the a bus service that’s a step up from public transportation. One of these startups is Leap, an Uber for buses (you know that must have been in their deck).

Leap allowed customers to call for a bus using an app and to buy drinks and snacks. However, Ars Technica discovered that the company’s put three of its busses on the auction block; the company reportedly has four busses in service with another in reserve.

The tech site is also speculating that the company may be in the process of shutting down. Leap’s  social media accounts, which went dark on May 19, seem to support the theory.

The company’s also been hit with an Americans with Disability lawsuit in addition to the California Public Utilities Commission hitting it with a cease-and-desist letter for operating without a license from the agency.

The takeaway? Disruption can be hard and expensive. If you’re planning on being the “Uber of…”, be prepared to hire lots of lawyers to litigate and lobby to make sure you get your way and to keep the incumbent interests at bay until your startup can get a firm foothold.

Via Ars Technica. Photo by Leap.

PayPal’s New TOS May be Drawing Government Scrutiny

PayPal, the online payment provider you love to hate, recently drew the ire of consumers and consumer groups with new language added to its terms of service.

The new TOS would allow PayPal to contact users for polls and “offers and promotions” — telemarketing calls, in short. The company would be able to use the phone numbers it has on file as well as phone numbers it discovers through, ominously, other means. There’s no way, of course, to opt-out — short of leaving PayPal altogether.

The changes in policy got attention of the FCC, which reminded PayPal about federal laws regarding robocalls and spam texts; the New York Attorney General’s office requested more information, which may be the start of a formal inquiry.

eBay currently owns PayPal, though the online auction site plans to sell the payment company.

Via re/code. Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns/flickr.

Interesting things that weren’t — and were — at the WWDC Keynote

As experienced Apple watchers know, the WWDC gives hints as to what to expect from the company for the coming year. After any Apple event, there’s all sorts of breakdowns as to what was announced and analysis into what it could mean.

OS X El Capitan (10.11), iOS 9, multitasking on the iPad (finally!), WatchOS and Apple Music were all interesting and were all predicted by the rumor mill. No real surprises for anyone who actively follows the company (though judging from the quality of guidance from Wall Street analysts, a lot of them could benefit from shutting up and following some of those rumor sites).

What was interesting this year, though, was what was between the WWDC keynote’s lines and what they left out entirely.

No Apple TV SDK — Last minute rumors pointed to no new Apple TV this year. Maybe it was because putting together an a la carte, app-driven replacement for cable isn’t as easy as everyone thinks. Maybe it wasn’t ready for mass production. Maybe it just didn’t exist.

What was expected by everyone, though, was a developer kit for the Apple TV. The biggest complaint about the Apple TV by the people who own the device is that you take what Apple gives you, in terms of apps, and that’s that. Without the kit or new hardware, the use of Apple TV is dwindling and even diehard Apple users are looking elsewhere for their VOD needs.

Apple hearts privacy — In the last few weeks, Apple’s ramped up its PR machine to push the talking point that the company cares about your privacy.

It was hard not to notice how hard Apple’s been pushing the issue in the last few weeks, with Tim Cook’s public declaration to the government that it has no plans to make its encryption work with the whims of law enforcement and that calling out the business practices of Google (and, by extension, Android) and Facebook.Apple’s positioning itself as the anti-Google/Facebook and pointing out that it doesn’t collect your data and that it has no interest in selling you anything (other than, you know, iPhones, iPads and anything else the company makes).

No Dre today — No matter what you you think of the Beats deal, it was hard to get away from those corporate images of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre together with Tim Cook and the company’s executive team. Yeah, Trent Reznor had something to do with the company, but the only people who had a “laying on of hands” in Cupertino was the Interscope Records founder and the good doctor.

Fast forward to today. Jimmy Iovine took to the stage. Reznor filled the role of Jony Ive in the company’s Apple Music video presentation and ad. But except for a few shots on Dre doing…something…he was absent from the launch of Apple Music (formerly Beats). Maybe he was working on another PhD. Or another medical speciality.

…One More Thing —  Apple’s trying to get into the social media game. Again.

Remember Ping? You probably don’t. It was the company’s attempt, back when people bought music from the iTunes Store instead of streaming it, to be social. Fans could post what they’re listening to and musicians could reach out to those fans. It was supposed to be a huge, virtual Woodstock  but instead, no one came and the company shut it down and never spoke of it again, like some deformed child in the attic of a bad horror movie.

Without mentioning Ping, Apple’s rolling out a way for musicians to reach out to their audiences through Apple Music. I suppose it’s because if there’s anything that there’s a dearth of, it’s social media platforms for musicians, aside from Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, Band Camp and, while we’re at it, MySpace.

Photo via Scott Schiller/flickr.

Cops and Local Governments Demand Privacy when it comes to Cell-Sniffing Stingrays, While Ignoring Your Rights

If you’re a stickler for online privacy, you know the trick isn’t to find a VPN or other privacy provider that won’t turn over their records to law enforcement — it’s finding a company that doesn’t keep records at all.

Turns out the police may be taking a page from them it comes to stingrays. A bit of background: stingrays, in case you don’t know, are devices originally developed for the intelligence and military communities to trick mobile devices into believing they are mobile phone towers. Stingrays can intercept voice and data transmissions and they are in use with police around the country as well as federal agencies.

When Ars Technica asked for records pertaining to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department  the agency replied that “no responsive documents exist.” In other words, like any good VPN, the sheriff department do not keep records.

Or do they? A Sacramento TV station filed a similar request, and in a grant application to Homeland Security from the department to upgrade its stingrays, it was revealed that the devices helped in over 500 investigations.

Despite the disclosure of the grant application, the SCSD refused to speak to Ars further about the matter, and conveyed the message though an attorney they’d retained.

Apparently, this kind of stonewalling is a rule and not an exception. Other law enforcement agencies do not have clear policies as to when stingrays can be employed and in many cases, warrants are not required. Local governments that are asked about them are bound by NDAs not to talk about about them. In the rare case a local government voted down the use of stingrays, one of the law makers revealed that there was an NDA to see the NDA.

However, the attorney general demanded tech companies to stop encrypting their smartphones. talking points that were thrown out included claims of kidnapping victims that won’t be found in time and, of course, kiddie porn merchants operating unhindered because of the privacy policies in place by Apple, Blackberry, Google and Microsoft.

These are old arguments that have been used to justify, and try to justify, spying on citizens and getting around the fourth ammendment. There was Clipper Chip and the FBI’s COINTELPRO. They aren’t the stuff of conspiracy theorists, but real programs the government’s done and tried to do when given too little oversight.

Once again, the federal government and police show a lack of respect for warrants and due process when it comes to stingrays. Instead, they use new surveillance technology when it suits them and let the courts hash out when and where they should be used and only after they’ve been caught using it. This isn’t just about stingrays — think domestic spying and GPS trackers.

Why shouldn’t anyone demand strong encryption and privacy protections from the companies that make their devices, at the very least?

Photo by Blake Patterson/flickr.

Banks Trying to Muscle Apple out of Revenue from Mobile Payments, No fees for Android Pay

With changes in the fee structures banks have set up for tokenized services, banks have made those transactions — which are the security backbone of Apple Pay and Android Pay — free.

For Google, this means that unlike Apple, it won’t be making any money from its users paying with a cell phone instead of plastic. In the case of Apple, they’ll continue to collect fees for transactions for the length of their contracts. (The Wall Street Journal reports these agreements will be in force for another two years until they’ll be renegotiated.)

However, this could mean that Apple Pay will not be coming to other countries because of the lack of a tokenization fee. There’s also speculation that Android Pay’s lack of fees could be attractive to card issuers — the Mountain View company also plans on partnering with with those issuers and retailers and offering coupons and loyalty reward programs.

Via The Wall Street Journal. Photo by Luke Ma/flickr.

Apple Watch Dev Kit a Go at WWDC, but No New Apple TV According to Rumors

Unlike the iPhone introduction, Apple got the message that what people really want for their Apple Watches are native apps. It about a year for the company to get the message about what its smartphone customers really wanted, with Steve Jobs initially giving advice to would-be developers to write web apps for the device.

However, Tim Cook is expected to announce a developer kit for the Apple Watch when he takes the stage at the World Wide Developer Conference on Monday. In addition, the company’s been dropping hints that it would allow deeper access to the device than it currently allows.

However, what was expected to be a slam-dunk is turning out to be not such a sure thing. Hopes were riding high that Apple would introduce a new Apple TV to replace the current version that it rolled out back in March 2012. Rumors are now surfacing that a revised device may not make an appearance.

In any case, Apple will unveil what’s new for their operating systems on Monday, June 8.

Via The New York Times. Photo by Ted Eytan/flickr

Level 3 is Investigating, Blocking Suspicious Traffic

In the world of ISPs, Level 3 is one of the biggies. They’re classified as Tier 1 and their services are considered to be part of the internet’s “backbone” with providers like AT&T, Verizon and Vodaphone. Smaller providers buy transit agreements from Level 3; Level 3 doesn’t have to because their network is that encompassing.

About 40 percent of all internet traffic comes into contact with the company at some point or another — and because of this, Level 3 is now actively hunting down and shutting down suspect network connections. Its security team goes through security blogs and websites as well as advisories to ferret out potential malicious activity.

The team then analyzes network traffic and tries to figure out the good from the bad. This process can take days. The connections are redirected and the packets are lost within Level 3’s network. But the criminal groups behind identity theft and stolen credit cards have backup IP addresses and servers, turning the enterprise into something more akin to whack-a-mole.

This might be why other ISPs are reluctant to take the same actions Level 3 has. Most other ISPs either wait for a request or claim that web traffic is too hard to nail down.

“Everyone rationalizes why they shouldn’t do anything. We’re experimenting with it to see how aggressive we could be,” Dale Drew, Level 3’s chief security officer, said.

Via The Wall Street Journal. Photo by Kristin Andrus/flickr.