Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Google "failing to protect Android users"

Google has been criticised for failing to protect its growing number of Android phone and tablet users from security threats which are stealing people's information and costing them money.

Google has been the subject of criticism before for failing to vet applications distributed through the Android Market. But the problem for users is rising and while there is some advice consumers can follow there is no guarantee of avoiding malware.

Computer users have long been the target of virus attack, trojans and worms. But with the rise of ever sophisticated mobile devices, malware creators are homing in on this new user base.

Apple attempts to shield users from such threats by vetting anything that is available for the iPhone through its online store. While it has resulted in criticism of a "walled garden" concerning what is allowed to be run on Apple devices, it has arguably meant greater security for those using iPhones and other Apple devices. However some suggest it may give a false sense of security, relying on Apple to approve safe applications rather than by consensus or the individual user.

Google allows anyone to make their apps available, without it first being vetted. While it has meant greater innovation, and a wider range of applications, it has also increased the risk of downloading a malicious piece of software. Google's open approach allows users to monitor and review the apps, including analyzing the code, something not offered by Apple. While there is undoubtedly a risk, at least one security research firm, Lookout, says Android's applications are less problematic than Apple's.

But with the apparent rise in malicious applications landing on Android phones, some are calling on Google to strengthen their security procedures. Writing on the technology website ZDNet Adrian Kingsley-Hughes says that it was time Google started taking security much more seriously. It is not a new problem. Last year security firm McAfee said that malware was increasing exponentially on Android devices [ZDNet] but said there were some measures users could do to prevent being scammed.

The main piece of advice is to check the permissions and look for suspicious requests which grant access to the hardware and software components on the device, like contacts, camera and location. If something in the permissions screen does not look right, it is advised not to install that app. For example, a game or alarm clock app probably should not need to access contacts or have the ability to transmit that data from a device.

McAfee and others in the security industry also advise users only download apps from legitimate sources such as Google's Android Market. But since some of the malicious applications have been distributed through this conduit, this is not a guarantee to avoiding malware.

And despite suggestions of installing anti-virus software, some have cried foul, claiming some are less than useless. In fact there are some who have labelled those marketing Android security software as being nothing less than scammers and charlatans [ZDNet].

Indeed a report on ZDNet last year points to evidence from malware testing specialists AV-Test.org [PDF] which point to quite shocking failures in terms of anti-malware software detecting risks.

Of course this report concerns only some of the free anti-malware apps available and did not evaluate those by reputed firms McAfee or Norton, which although expensive might protect users.

It is a potential time-bomb for Android, Google and its users [ZDNet]. Android may be outselling other devices at the moment but the threat from malware could be its undoing. In fact Windows Mobile have even used the malware threat in a marketing strategy by offering Android users hit by viruses the chance to win a Windows Mobile device [ZDNet].

Many are drawn to Android because so many of the apps are free. However these apps are often funded by advertising being displayed which could itself pose a security risk [ZDNet].

The latest run of what Symantec calls Counterclank may have affected only a small number of individuals but it is further sign the situation is getting out of hand. A report this week suggests that some 5 million people might be infected by recent attacks [gmanetwork / WSJ], though there is disagreement as to whether recent 'attacks' are just 'aggressive advertising' [Guardian].

It is clear that the situation needs to be addressed and fast before bad publicity kills off what is otherwise an amazing piece of technology.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Facebook IPO - overvalued & irrelevant

Facebook is set to release its IPO as early as this week and there is much speculation over whether the floating of this tech company will be all it's cracked up to be.


It is likely to be one of the largest tech IPOs to date with reports putting the valuation of the company at around $100 billion. However, it is not clear how much Facebook actually makes through advertising and whether the price tag is overvaluing the tech company.

The Wall Street Journal speculates that the IPO could happen as early as Wednesday this week [1st February] and was looking at picking Morgan Stanley as the lead underwriter, knocking out the other potential candidate Goldman Sachs.

Reports suggest Facebook will sell  $10 billion worth of stock in its offering, valuing the company at $100 billion, and leaving the social network's underwriters around $100 million in fees. At only 1% of the entire sum this would be the second lowest underwriting fee of all time with the exception of General Motors' IPO which generated only 0.75% in fees from its $18 billion IPO in November 2010 [CNN Money].

'Important moment in history'

Aside the smaller percentage generated for the underwriters, there is also a concern the valuation of the company as a whole is over inflated. Not since Netscape or Google's IPO has there been so much interest in a tech company going public. "This is clearly the most important moment in the Valley's history since the Netscape IPO," says Stephen Diamond, associate professor of law at Santa Clara University. "The Netscape IPO put the Valley on the map in a different sort of way. Post-Netscape, it was not just a silicon, hardware world." [MarketWatch]

Google's stock has soared since its IPO in 2004. The search giant offered 19,605,052 shares at a price of $85 per share. Shares in Google are now well above $500 despite a fall in profits in recent months. Netscape has arguably done less well. Once the dominant browser in 1995 the company was eventually swallowed up by AOL in a $4.2 billion deal in 1998.

Tech failures

Excitement seen in other tech IPOs has also failed to materialise the mass profits initially. When a number of Chinese tech companies launched on the NYSE there was a huge interest generated. But over time these companies have failed to make the returns envisaged.

RenRen, China's homegrown version of Facebook, search engine Baidu, news and micro-blogging portal Sina and video sharing website Youku were all promoted as being tech stocks to watch. Baidu has managed to grow from $40 per share to $130 in the last two years, peaking at $157 in July 2011, but other Chinese tech stocks have fared less well.

Since its launch in early 2011 RenRen's shares have tanked, dropping from $18 to a little over $6. Despite a peak in April 2011 of $62 per share Youku's stock has dropped to only $23, markedly below the $37 share price it began with in late 2010.


There are a number of reasons behind these falls but one main factor is the lack of transparency concerning the companies' accounts. When the US questioned accounting practices, in a number of Chinese companies, and proposed to launch a probe to investigate, stocks plummeted [BBC].

Even where accounting practices where not necessarily in question there were still concerns that China's dotcom bubble was set to burst [BBC].

Dangdang, China's answer to Amazon, launched on the NYSE in late 2010 but has plummeted from $32 to only $8.15. And while rival Jingdong [360buy.com] is doing well it is not yet making a profit and has so far held back from launching on Wall Street.

Since March 2011, 30 US-listed Chinese firms have seen their auditors resign and 20 have been de-listed while regulators examine accounting and disclosure issues. Concern over corporate governance has eroded confidence in other Chinese companies listed in New York, even those not accused of any wrongdoing.

But while China arguably has the largest Internet market, growth for many Chinese tech companies is finite. Many are built only around a Chinese language platform and even if this were expanded to include English and other languages, the tight restrictions and censorship within China would force these companies to build separate infrastructure outside the country if they wanted to compete with Western rivals.


Censorship is unlikely to affect Facebook's growth, though it may be forced to make some changes if it wishes to enter China, as has also been speculated since Mark Zuckerberg's 'secret visit' in 2010 [Independent / Forbes / tvnewswatch - Twitpic]. Where Facebook may fail is in terms of transparency. In fact the company has effectively been forced to go public since SEC regulations stipulates that certain financial information be made public because the company has more than 500 investors. The deadline to file this information expires in April.  But going public has its risks. While Facebook  will have access to new cash and possibly enable it to acquire other companies and reward its employees, it will also lose some of its 'mystery and cool'. It may also disappoint since it will also be forced to reveal its profits or losses. The excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the IPO will likely result in the offering being oversubscribed. And many of its some 3,000 employees will likely become millionaires overnight. What remains to be seen is how the company fares over time both in terms of its profitability and its place on the world wide web as competition from rivals such as Google+ squeeze Facebook's dominance. In fact some have already called the IPO an irrelevancy [Forbes / NPR / FT]. 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, January 30, 2012

Concern over Google's new privacy policy

In recent days Google has been criticised for its new privacy policy which it says simplifies things across its large number of online tools and applications. But while there are some legitimate concerns, the criticism is unwarranted given the way most people use the web

From search to ads

While many think of Google as primarily a search engine, it has in fact become the world's biggest advertiser. In short, whether a user is checking their GMail, looking for information on a particular technology, or searching for a place or country, there will be advertisements places alongside the page or amongst the search results.

Since the web is saturated with advertisements, few people question the placing of Google's specifically chosen advertisements on their web space.

But with recent announcements concerning Google's plan to reshape the way it handles personal data, the debate over how that information is stored or used is concerning privacy advocates and rekindling the debate over whether Google's mantra of "do no evil" is being further eroded.

Relevant results

Search for 'television' and a page of results will appear connected to this subject. On the top will be two or three advertisements which depending upon your detected IP address will show retailers and online suppliers of such products. To the right will be an additional list of ads.

But even in the main list of search results will be a number of links which point to retailers, with perhaps only a couple linking to information about television as a subject. The Wikipedia page does in fact come at the top of the page, but many others would be irrelevant for those searching for information about the actual item itself.

In order to obtain such specific information it is necessary to add more key words to the search. Typing 'television' and 'invention' produces no advertisements and far more informative links. But as advertisers themselves become savvy, and incorporate Search Engine Optimisation [SEO] into their marketing strategy, even specific enquiries can lead to a page full of ads.

Users of GMail will also be familiar with advertisements alongside their messages. While some are contextually related to the email content, others may have been picked due to a users email history.

Collecting data

Adverts are not placed in Google Calendar or Docs, but it is possible that content is scanned in order that Google can make contextual ad placements in other products.

In fact Google freely admits in its new policy that it collects "information about the services that you use and how you use them, such as when you visit a website that uses our advertising services or you view and interact with our ads and content."

Logging locations

But why should this matter? After all if a user is looking for a product, is it not better that relevant products and services appear in search results rather than ones that have no bearing or relevancy.

Some have criticised in particular Google's logging of people's actual location. But by identifying IP addresses and other methods to locate a user's whereabouts, information can be tailored and be more specific. A search for 'TV guide' would be far less useful if it gave returned results from all around the world rather than one's actual location.


For its part Google says it it trying to be transparent and make things easier for its users.  "We're making things simpler and we're trying to be upfront about it," Google Policy Manager Betsy Masiello said on a blogpost.

But while Google say that individuals and companies still have control over what is shared or stored, some companies and government organisations remain uneasy about the changes.

"You still have choice and control," the company insists. "You don't need to log in to use many of our services, including Search, Maps and YouTube," but "If you are logged in, you can still edit or turn off your Search history, switch Gmail chat to 'off the record,' control the way Google tailors ads to your interests, use Incognito mode on Chrome, or use any of the other privacy tools we offer."

Furthermore, Google states it is not collecting more data and that their new policy simply makes it clearer as to how they use that data.

This has not satisfied everyone however. SafeGov dispute Google's claims concerning privacy and control [PC World], while others have suggested that the importance of advertising revenue is clouding Google's vision and changing the way the search engine operates [Venturebeat].

Some users have voiced their annoyance over integration of Google+ in their search results [Venturebeat], and apparent anomalies of users not in their 'Circles' showing up in Google searches [lead411]. Google states that users can opt out the social search feature. It is also explained in detail on some other sites such as this post on Venturebeat. But there is also growing criticism that Google's search results are getting less relevant [SearchEngineLand].


It has to be said that Google is not the only search engine, and total anonymity on the web is all but impossible. A search on Microsoft's Bing for the word 'television' also brings up many adverts and even search terms 'television' and 'invention' in conjunction return ads not seen in Google. Furthermore, Bing also publicly acknowledges it too "customizes a portion of the online ads that you see based on your past online activity."

Sharing data

When it comes to sharing data, Google say they "do not share personal information with companies, organisations and individuals outside Google" except where consent is given, because of applicable laws requiring Google to hand over data or where a domain administrator, handling your account, makes such changes. The only vague issue concerns Google's sharing of data with "affiliates or other trusted businesses or persons to process it for us, based on our instructions and in compliance with our Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures."

However, Microsoft's policy is just as vague in this regard. While they state they "do not sell, rent, or lease our customer lists to third parties" the company states, "In order to help provide our services, we occasionally provide information to other companies that work on our behalf."

Few options

One could of course refrain from using GMail, and not see those targeted advertisements, though there are few free email alternatives. Hotmail and Yahoo both display advertising on their email sites. When it comes to searching the web the choice is also narrow. With Google Chrome's incognito mode, one can at least avoid suggested results or avoid those search queries being logged with a specific account.

Much of the criticism of Google's policy changes is rather flippant when one considers people's willingness to use so many other social features on the web, be that Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Twitter and the like, some with far more dubious Terms & Conditions than Google. One should be careful with what one shares, and also check privacy settings too, but to believe there is any true privacy on the net is entirely false.

The only true way of avoiding any such issues is to not use the Internet or perhaps to only use a pseudonym for everything shared or posted. But even that can be blown wide open if close associates reveal one's real identity.

More reports: CNN / Daily Mail / Reuters / Washington Post

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Press TV ban "a prelude to war"?

Iran's Press TV has been forced off the air in Britain, and to anyone previously viewing the news channel from the Astra satellite, after Ofcom [Office of Communications] revoked its licence.

The channel has been strongly criticised for broadcasting blatant propaganda and being the mouthpiece of the dictatorial regime in Tehran. But banning the broadcaster may only serve to increase anti-western sentiment in Iran, as well as bolster Islamist feelings of being victimised.


Of course it has to be acknowledged that Iran imposes strict censorship on its own citizens with an official ban on satellite television, though it is widely flouted [Censorship in Iran]. The Internet too is restricted with methods similar to that of China's Great Firewall imposing blocks on sites deemed inappropriate [Internet censorship in Iran].

But there appears to be an issue of double standards as Britain talks about press freedom while banning foreign broadcasters. The reasons behind the ban also do not tally with the fact that channels coming from other totalitarian regimes remain on the air while Iran's Press TV is taken off the air.

China broadcasts to viewers across Europe on the Astra platform with two state run channels CNC and CCTV News. The English speaking news channels are not only funded by the one party state but also heavily censored. And although more subtle than the output seen on Press TV, both Chinese channels broadcast propaganda and skewed news reports.

Iran claims the ban "goes against Britain's claims that it allows free flow of information and supports freedom of the press" [Press TV], and while its website remains accessible through which the channel may be watched, it does have some supporters in some unlikely quarters.


Writing in the Guardian, who describes himself as a "proud Zionist", says the action by Ofcom is "thoroughly deplorable as well as palpably cynical."

He suggests that the blacking out of the Iranian propaganda channel might be a retaliatory move. Alderman points to a US Embassy cable which Wikileaks released in 2010. The cable appears to show that the Foreign Office had looked to use UN sanctions against Press TV after the BBC Persian service was blocked by Tehran [BBC].


But there maybe other reasons for taking Press TV off the air. The ban comes at a time of heightened tensions between the west and Iran. In recent weeks there has been a war of words with the west talking of increased sanctions against the country while Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz.

In response to the threat, which could severely impact the flow of oil from the region,  Britain, France and the US sent several warships into the Persian Gulf on Sunday [22/01/2012] [Telegraph].

A total of six ships led by the 100,000 tonne nuclear power American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln entered the gulf in what was described as a "clear signal" to Tehran. The move could not be clearer, coming only two days after screens went black on Iran's state broadcaster.

Targeting the media

Blacking out broadcasters of enemy states during a time of war is not unusual. During the Kosovo war in the 1990s NATO bombed the Serb Radio and Television headquarters in Belgrade killing 16 employees [BBC / Wikipedia], prompting a debate as to whether broadcasting stations, even if used as a conduit of propaganda, were a legitimate target [Consortium News / Guardian / BBC].

The television station went to air 24 hours later from a secret location, which some suspect might have been the Chinese Embassy which was itself bombed 14 days later. The story is confirmed in detail by three other NATO officers - a flight controller operating in Naples, an intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio traffic from Macedonia and a senior headquarters officer in Brussels. They all confirm that they knew in April that the Chinese embassy was acting as a 'rebro' [rebroadcast] station for the Yugoslav army [VJ] after allied jets had successfully silenced Milosevic's own transmitters [Guardian / Wikipedia].

At the time Defence Secretary William Cohen said the attack was a mistake. "One of our planes attacked the wrong target because the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map." Cohen claimed. The excuse was widely ridiculed and later countered by a source in the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency who described the "wrong map" story as "a damned lie".

Television and radio broadcasters were also targeted during the Gulf War and in April 2003 US aircraft bombed the Baghdad bureau of Qatar satellite TV station Al Jazeera killing a journalist and wounding another despite the US being informed of the office's precise coordinates prior to the incident. Later a memo was leaked which appeared to show the bombing was deliberate, despite claims to the contrary [Wikipedia].

Libyan TV was also targeted by NATO jets during the 2011 air campaign. Striking at transmitters and the state broadcaster's headquarters in the capital Tripoli the bombing only had limited success [Telegraph / Guardian]. The station was ultimately shut down after rebels stormed the facility, though the wave of propaganda continued via radio broadcasts transmitted from Syria [Daily Mail].

Ofcom claims

Press TV has been removed from the airwaves less violently but it is nonetheless a little concerning. Ofcom say that Press TV's practice of running its editorial oversight from Tehran, Iran's capital, is in breach of broadcasting licence rules in the UK. "Ofcom has decided to revoke the licence held by Press TV Limited with immediate effect," the media regulator said in a statement.

Ofcom offered a choice of two remedies saying that the broadcaster either switch editorial control to the UK transfer the broadcasting licence to Iran. "Broadcasting rules require that a licence is held by the person who is in general control of the TV service: that is, the person that chooses the programmes to be shown in the service and organises the programme schedule," Ofcom said. "Ofcom gave Press TV the opportunity to apply to have its operations in Tehran correctly licensed by Ofcom and Ofcom offered to assist it to do so," said the regulator [Guardian].

Nuclear threat

The shutting down of Iran's international television output, at least to much of Europe, comes on the back of a demand for increased sanctions to counter what many nations see as a growing nuclear threat. Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons, something it vehemently denies. But the attacks on Iran are coming not only with words and sanctions.

In 2010 the Stuxnet virus attack struck at the heart of Iran's nuclear industry and in the past few months unknown assassins have killed leading scientists. On January 11, a motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to the car of Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan near a college building of Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran. He was immediately killed and his driver, who sustained serious injuries, died a few hours later in a hospital [BBC]. Ahmadi Roshan was a chemical engineering graduate working at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility. 

In November 2010 another scientist, Majid Shahriari, was killed the current head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Dr. Fereydoun Abbasi was injured [BBC / Guardian]. Professor Masoud Ali-Mohammadi, a scholar at Tehran University was killed by a bomb in January 2010 [BBC].

Iran has accused the US and Israel of being behind these attacks, though neither nation has admitted responsibility. Nonetheless the pressure against Tehran is increasing and with the removal of a major propaganda tool. Iran also claim that Britain is behind the jamming of other transmissions [Press TV].

Conflicting opinions

In technical terms, as laid out in the broadcasting act. Ofcom was within its rights to pull the channel from the air. Under section 362(2) of the Act, the provider of the service for the purposes of holding a licence is the person with general control over which programmes are comprised in the service1. So by failing to declare that Tehran rather than London was its editorial base, Press TV gave Ofcom the ammunition to bring the channel down.

As Jody Sabril writes on the The Huffington Post website, Press TV has done itself no favours and failed its employees. But while Press TV has flouted the letter of the law, it seems suspicious that it has taken several years to act against the broadcaster. Furthermore for a regulator that has been criticised for failing to regulate other parts of British broadcasting, this decision creates more suspicion. In particular Ofcom has been pressured to investigate whether the parent company of News International, News Corporation, was still the "fit and proper" owner of a controlling stake in the satellite broadcasting company British Sky Broadcasting [BSkyB] following the News International phone hacking scandal.


Some suggest it is "payback" for the attack on the British Embassy last year [GlobaResearch]. Meanwhile others maintain that it was a decision over the views broadcast on the station [Forbes]. It may also have as much to do with Press TV failing to pay a £100,000 fine imposed by Ofcom over the broadcast of an interview with reporter Maziar Bahari, conducted while in custody and under duress [IBTimes].

On BBC's Today programme [audio] Yvonne Ridley, a former war correspondent who works for Press TV, insists the closure of the channel is essentially an act of censorship and denies that the channel is a mouthpiece for the Iranian government.

"Prelude to war"

Meanwhile Xinhua, China's state propaganda mouthpiece, asserts that the closure "could lead to further deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two countries".

This could certainly be the case. Whatever the reasons are behind Press TV's licence revocation, it will certainly raise concerns for other broadcasters of dubious output including China Central Television, Xinhua's CNC and Russia's state owned Russia Today channel. Iran has suggested ban is a "prelude to war", and while this may be a little exaggerated the pressure against Iran is certainly mounting.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Panic sets in after Megaupload shutdown

File sharing sites are beginning to panic, shutting down or restricting their services following the FBI raid on Megaupload last week. But it is not just those who blatantly infringe copyright that are at threat. Even popular sites such as Amazon S3, Dropbox, iCloud, Google apps and Microsoft's SkyDrive may be scrutinised, forcing their owners to rethink their business models.

Small victory

When Megaupload was taken down last week by the FBI it was a victory for those in the music and film industry who say they were losing millions of dollars daily because of the site's deliberate flouting of copyright and distribution of music and video files.

There are of course millions of users who will feel aggrieved that they can no longer obtain the latest music release of Hollywood blockbuster for free.

Home-taping to file-sharing

Arguments persist over the reasons why individuals are not prepared to pay for CDs or legitimate music downloads. Some argue that the price asked for by music companies or film distributors is too high, while some insist that people will always opt for the free download however cheap the companies make their product.

Issues concerning copyright infringement have persisted for many years. Home-taping in the 1980's concerned record companies so much that the British Phonographic Industry launched a campaign to counter the threat. It its Home Taping Is Killing Music campaign record companies asserted that innovation and funding for new talent would dry up. However some groups directly opposed the campaign. British band Bow Wow Wow released a cassette single "C30, C60, C90 Go" on a cassette that featured a blank side that the buyer could record their own music, causing consternation for the record company behind the release. Some groups went further by encouraging fans to record music illegally. The tape version of the Dead Kennedys e.p. "In God We Trust Inc." also had one blank side. The blank side was printed with the message, "Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help."

The stakes for record companies grew with the advent of the MP3, the Internet and Peer to Peer [P2P] sites such as Napster which enabled people to share music files. Napster, and others like it, were forced to change to a different business model and begin charging users, sending profits to the record companies.

But the war on copyright infringement was not over as sites like Megaupload began to facilitate file-sharing on a far bigger scale. And as the recording industry upped the anti it seemed that file-sharing sites were beginning to look at ways to protect their own interests as well as those of the music industry.

"Sharing profits"

Some reports surfacing on the web have suggested that Megaupload was shutdown because of its plan to launch a cloud-based music locker, download store, and do-it-yourself artist service. Called MegaBox it was said to have already been in beta testing in November last year and had supposedly built a list of partners including 7digital, Gracenote, Rovi, and Amazon MP3 [DMN]

This may have been an attempt to appease the music industry and hand profits back to the artists, though it may have been too little, too late.

According to Kim Dotcom himself, Megabox would pay back the artists even if music was downloaded for free. Speaking to TorrentFreak, Mr Dotcom said, "UMG [Universal Music Group] knows that we are going to compete with them via our own music venture called Megabox.com, a site that will soon allow artists to sell their creations directly to consumers while allowing artists to keep 90 percent of earnings."

"We have a solution called the Megakey that will allow artists to earn income from users who download music for free," Dotcom claimed. "Yes that's right, we will pay artists even for free downloads.  The Megakey business model has been tested with over a million users and it works."


Some might well be sceptical of Kim Schmitz's claims, especially given his well publicised chequered history of computer fraud, handling of stolen goods, stealing credit card numbers, insider trading and embezzlement. And it seems that while some artists had lent their support to the proposed venture, the record companies were less than impressed.

Mr Dotcom had secured support from many artists for Megabox and made a video featuring the likes of P Diddy, Will.i.am, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, The Game and Mary J Blige. But the video had the shortest shelf-life ever for a product containing such high-profile artists after UMG stepped in claiming copyright breaches and forced its removal from YouTube [TorrentFreak].

UMG had less success getting it removed from Chinese based Youku where several users posted the promotional video. After a battle with UMG, Megaupload managed to get the video reinstated on YouTube by  late December [TorrentFreak].


But it was obvious the battle was not over, either with the likes of UMG or authorities who insisted Megaupload were breaking copyright laws. It all came to an abrupt end for Mr Dotcom last Friday however when New Zealand police raided his multi-million dollar estate in Auckland and seized expensive cars, a sawn-off shotgun and froze bank accounts containing millions of dollars.

It was clear this was no ordinary operation. New Zealand police had been cooperating with the United States' FBI and Justice Department, Hong Kong Customs and the Hong Kong Department of Justice, the Netherlands Police Agency and the Public Prosecutor's Office for Serious Fraud and Environmental Crime in Rotterdam, London's Metropolitan Police Service, Germany's Bundeskriminalamt and the German Public Prosecutors, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Department of Justice in the investigation preceding the arrests.

The indictment alleges that a criminal enterprise was led by Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, 37, a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand. It states that Dotcom founded Megaupload Limited and is the director and sole shareholder of Vestor Limited, which has been used to hold his ownership interests in the Mega-affiliated sites.

Mega conspiracy

In addition, the indictment names several others involved in what has been termed the "Mega conspiracy". Finn Batato, 38, citizen and resident of Germany is described as Megaupload's chief marketing officer. Július Benčko, 35, a citizen and resident of Slovakia, is the graphic designer and of particular interest to authorities who claim he played a major part in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and money laundering along with Kim Schmitz.

Others named are Sven Echternach, 39, a citizen and resident of Germany, and head of business development, Mathias Ortmann, 40, a citizen of Germany and resident of both Germany and Hong Kong, described as the chief technical officer, co-founder and director, Andrus Nomm, 32, a citizen of Estonia and resident of both Turkey and Estonia, a software programmer and head of the development software division and Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, a Dutch citizen and resident of both the Netherlands and New Zealand, who oversaw programming and the underlying network structure for the Mega conspiracy websites.

While Schmitz, Ortmann, van der Kolk and Batato were apprehended in Thursday's raid, Benčko remains at large. Echternach and Nomm were arrested in Europe over the weekend [Reuters].

Sharing sites react

The fallout of the Mega conspiracy saga is creating some concern in the online community and particularly for file sharing sites. On Monday FileSonic stopped sharing only allowing users to download their own content. Other sites have also begun to restrict access or embark on a mass cleaning-up of their websites to delete what might be considered to be copyrighted material.

4shared, MediaFire and FileServe have started to delete files & accounts while others are closing affiliate programs, blocking US IP addresses as well checking for files which infringe copyright. UploadStation, owned by FileServe, has engaged in a process of mass deletion, and is testing USA IP blocking. It has, like FileSonic, shutdown file-sharing completely. Some sites seem content with closing their affiliation with other sites and cleaning up their hosted content. VideoBB, VideoZer and Wupload are all engaged in mass deletion but have also severed links with other portals. Others such as Uploaded have simply banned US IP addresses, perhaps in the hope of dropping off the FBI's radar.

Some sites have shut up shop altogether. Enterupload, previously boasted a service enabling users to host large files, images, videos, audio and flash. However the site now redirects to gev.com a technology and news website.

UploadBox is effectively closed with its file hosting service no longer available. All files will be deleted on January 30th, though users who uploaded the content may retrieve the data before this date. And x7.to is also unavailable with visitors to the site greeted with a message in German which translates as "We regret to inform you that we have stopped our service completely."

Amazon, Dropbox & Google apps at risk

Other sites seen as the more legitimate end of file-sharing are also feeling threatened according to the Daily MailAmazon S3, Dropbox and YouSendIt all facilitate the sharing of large files with other individuals, though it is usually done selectively rather than making content freely available to all. Even Google Docs could be used to host and share content, both publicly or privately, which may also make it the target of US legislators.

Nonetheless, the fact that a ripped CD could be shared via these platforms might raise concerns within the companies concerned. Mike Masnick, editor of the Techdirt blog, said, "There's a real worry that [the Megaupload case] creates chilling effects for lots of legitimate services who do things like de-duplification [sic], or have legitimate backup services. If you're running Amazon S3 or Dropbox, do you now suddenly change how you do business, just to avoid the possibility of being accused of racketeering and criminal copyright infringement? That's worrisome."

Battle not over

The case against Megaupload has certainly shaken the file-sharing community, though there are a few that claim they are not threatened. RapidShare, based in Switzerland, has publicly stated that its users need not worry. "There is no reason to be concerned," the site said on its Facebook page. "We aren't threatened in any way."

They may not be concerned but it is clear that US lawmakers are homing in on anyone who breaches copyright. As for those wanting to share illegal copies of the latest music release it may all move underground, using P2P or FTP. Some may even resort to old fashioned sharing by sending CDs and DVDs through the post.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, January 23, 2012

FileSonic stops file-sharing after Megaupload arrests

There are signs that some file-sharing sites are capitulating in the face of stronger action being taken by authorities to stop copyright infringement. On Monday FileSonic disabled all sharing of files allowing only personal account access.

In a statement, the company said, "All sharing functionality of FileSonic is now disabled. Our service can be used only to used to upload and retrieve files that you have uploaded personally."

FileSonic describes itself as the 'Unlimited Storage Company'. Much of the stored content was often shared with others and in many instances was in breach of copyright laws. It was not difficult to find illegally shared movies and albums on the site.

The decision by FileSonic comes after authorities closed down Megaupload which operated out of offices in New Zealand. Last week police in Auckland arrested Megaupload founder German national Kim Dotcom, also known as Kim Schmitz, along with three others in a raid requested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation [BBC].

Megaupload claims it was diligent in responding to complaints about pirated material. However prosecutors have accused Megaupload of costing copyright holders more than $500 million in lost revenue. Megaload has been described as one of the largest file-sharing sites on the Internet. But it was by no means the only one.

As well as Megaupload there are many other such sites. These sites evidently feel threatened despite the fact that many are based outside the US. FileSonic has offices in Hong Kong and London, and Uploaded.to, which also disabled sharing, is based in Hong Kong.

Others that have yet to stop sharing files are the sites RapidShare and MediaFire, but they will certainly be looking at the latest developments in the crackdown over illegal file-sharing. Other sites such as Files Tube which act more as a conduit to file-sharing sites will also be watching to see if they too are at risk.

FilesTube states it allows users to search for shared files from various file hosting sites like FileServe, FileSonic, Megaupload, 4shared, Rapidshare, Hotfile, Mediafire, Netload and many others. As a search engine it could be argued that they are no different from Google, Bing, Yahoo or Baidu, though they do provide links to specific content which might be more difficult to defend.

But if file-sharing sites decide they can no longer operate freely, sites such as Files Tube will also disappear since they will serve no purpose.

While the demise of these sites will impede the distribution of illegal music downloads they will also be missed by those who use them legitimately. Many of the sites are free to use and enable users to share very large files with others.

There are other sites which allow limited storage of files which might be shared with individuals or groups, but they too may be concerned that the clampdown may affect them [Reuters / ZDNet / CNET].

Authorities also assert that file-sharing sites such as Megaupload are used to distribute more than just music and films. According to the indictment cited against Megaupload claims that files found on the site also included child pornography and terrorism propaganda videos.

Megaupload and other sites make money primarily from membership fees which offer faster upload and download services, though some also display advertising.

The revenue generated has made the likes of Megaupload's Mr Dotcom very rich. New Zealand police froze assets amounting to NZ$11 million [US$8.86 million] and seized several expensive cars including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe and a 1959 pink Cadillac. A sawn-off  shot gun was also secured in the raid [NYT / Business WeekAFP].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia blackout over proposed censorship laws

Wikipedia is to shut down for 24 hours in protest over proposed laws which it says will stifle freedom of speech. Other website and portals have also announced they will take part in the blackout protest including the user-generated news site Reddit and the blog Boing Boing [BBC].

The blackout protests are a reaction to proposed bills which proponents say are necessary to curb rising piracy and breaches of copyright infringement on the web.

The Stop Online Piracy Act [Sopa] and Protect Intellectual Property Act [Pipa] are being debated by Congress in the United States. The new laws could force US based sites to shut down permanently of face heavy fines if they are found to use copyrighted material. In the past sites would only be obliged to remove the content [BBC].

But Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, says the issue is not as clear cut as lawmakers maintain. "Proponents of Sopa have characterised the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy," Wales said in an interview with the BBC, "But that's not really the point. The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it's going to impact all kinds of things that, you know, don't have anything to do with stopping piracy."

And there appear to be some signs that the White House appear to be partially on the side of those protesting against the bills. In a statement published on their website, the White House said, "While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Furthermore, the statement emphasised the importance of protecting freedom of speech. "Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," the White House said.

Such statements have prompted some proponents of the bill to react angrily, saying the government was not serious in its effort to stamp out piracy. This week media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined the debate, hitting out at the Obama administration as well as the search giant Google. "So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," he lambasted in a series of tweets that drew much publicity.

Murdoch's criticism was primarily directed at Google who he accused of directly making money from the online pirates. "Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying," Murdoch claimed in another tweet.

Google responded saying they do everything they can to tackle copyright infringement.  The company told technology website CNET that Murdoch's comments were "nonsense" and in an interview with the BBC a spokesman was quoted as saying, "Google respects copyright - and we've worked hard to help rights holders deal with piracy"

"Last year we took down five million infringing web pages from our search results and invested more than 60 million dollars in the fight against bad ads," the spokesman added.

Google is in a battle not only with the likes of Rupert Murdoch, who has previously criticised Google of stealing his news content, but also many commentators in the blogosphere.

Some bloggers and writers have come in defence of Murdoch and concede, if somewhat reluctantly, that he has a point. BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones questioned whether Google had deviated from its "Do No Evil" mantra. Meanwhile, writing on The Music Void, Jakomi Mathews says, "The fact Google continues to serve up search results linking to sites that make money from advertising and subscription fees, yet never pay the rights holder is quite frankly morally reprehensible." And he says that properly thought out legislation could target and block infringing sites such as Pirate Bay in the same way ISPs and search engines block child pornography.

Google, who oppose Sopa, appears to be broadly in agreement with such an approach. In a statement made this week the company suggested "targeted legislation that would require ad networks and payment processors - like ours - to cut off sites dedicated to Piracy or counterfeiting".

Should the legislators win and block certain websites, the battle is unlikely to be over. Just as so-called netizens in China jump the firewall to circumvent government censorship, the use of VPNs and similar technology will likely grow if traffic to sites such as Pirate Bay are blocked in the West.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

China’s economy slowing, but still growing

China has released new data which indicates its economy is slowing. While not positive news the figures were welcomed by the markets as they generally showed a far more stable economy than some had perhaps feared.

In the last quarter of 2011 China saw growth fall to 8.9%, down from 9.1% a year before. It is a significant drop since early 2010 when growth was measured at more than 11%. Yet there has been a gradual decline with a drop in growth seen every quarter since.

The markets have seen the relatively the small drop in growth as positive news. the Shanghai Composite lifted 4.2%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose 3.5%. Europe also saw gains across the major indices with the FTSE, DAX and CAC40 all rising, though cuts in borrowing in Spain also help create a boost [Bloomberg]. In the US. markets also reacted positively to the news [Bloomberg].

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday Jing Ulrich from JP Morgan Chase insisted that the country was not likely to be affected by the fall in exports, saying that growth was more reliant on the domestic economy. She, like many analysts, say that even if the property bubble was to burst (some say it already has), it was unlikely to have any major effect on the overall economy.

China nonetheless faces pressure to ease monetary policy and to tackle a weakened property market and sinking export market, not helped by the European debt crisis [BBC / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chaos at Beijing Apple store halts iPhone 4S sales

Riots broke out on Friday morning in Beijing with enraged shoppers battling with police and each other outside the capital's flagship Apple store. Hundreds of people had queued overnight in freezing temperatures to get their hands on the latest iPhone 4S. But as dawn approached scuffles began between shoppers, staff and the police.

Trouble is said to have broken out after a staff member from the Apple store in the Sanlitun district of Beijing announced that the iPhone would not go on sale as planned and that the crowds of waiting customers should return home.

There were shouts of "Liars" as shoppers surged forward, some throwing eggs at the plate glass windows.

There are indications that Apple's decision not to open was due to safety concerns. While many people had queued in line overnight some shoppers said people were becoming impatient in the early hours and were pushing in line.

"I got in line around 11 pm, and beyond the line the plaza was chock full with people," said Huang Xiantong, 26, outside the store. "Around 5 am the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt," he said.

The exact chronology of events is not clear but it seems likely that the store decided to shut its doors because of the large numbers and fears of controlling the crowd.

Police stepped in as tempers frayed, and several shoppers were taken away. Some accused them of being too forceful in calming the crowds however. "The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling," one shopper said.

It is not the first time that trouble has broken out at the Sanlitun Apple store. When the iPad2 went on sale in May 2011 a brawl outside the store left several people injured as arguments over queue jumping descended into chaos [tvnewswatch].

After the latest incident Apple said it is to halt all retail sales of the latest iPhone in China for the time being, but said the phones would be available online, through its partner China Unicom or at official Apple resellers.

In a statement issued concerning the fracas, Apple said, "The demand for iPhone 4S has been incredible and our stores in China have already sold out.Unfortunately we were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, the iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being."

Apple's products are popular with the Chinese but that can create problems for both the company and its customers. Scalpers are common, buying up as many devices as possible and selling them on to those not willing to wait in line for a significantly higher price. However, arguments often break out between the scalpers and genuine shoppers. Scalpers often work in large groups and can deplete the available stock quickly leaving the genuine customer with little or no chance in getting a device at the retail price.

Apple have attempted to stop such practices by selling tickets limiting sales to only two devices per customer, but as scalpers simply use hired hands this can prove ineffective. At the Sanlitun store at least 1,000 people were hired by scalpers to stand in line for them at the Sanlitun store, the government-run news agency Xinhua reported.

At Apple's other store in Beijing's Xidan district there was no sign of trouble, but the entire stock of 2,000 iPhone 4S devices sold out before 9 am. Shanghai's only Apple store in the Pudong district also sold out early, disappointing many who had queued for hours. "I am very upset," said a retired 59-year-old trying to buy a phone for his daughter, "They said they will start selling iPhone 4S at 7 am, but said they had sold out all phones since I got here at 6 o'clock." [BBC / CNNIBT / Telegraph / WSJ / Video: YouTube / YouTube]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hazardous Beijing smog cancels flights

Beijingers have been coughing and choking on the heavy smog in recent days, though according to official figures the air quality is "Good". The official line is not convincing anyone however, and there is a rising backlash on China's own microblogging platforms. Even some of China's media are becoming somewhat bold in observing that the poor air quality fails to match the official description.

Hazardous air

This week the US Embassy's air monitoring equipment measured the air quality as "Hazardous", and on several occasions it went "Beyond index". And even the China Daily was beginning to question whether official government readings were somewhat misleading.

Visibility was reduced to less than 200 metres during the rush hour with the US embassy's air pollution index reading 500 at 07:00 on Tuesday. Our correspondent described the air as "Crazy polluted" on Tuesday morning, "So polluted the air quality scale is off the chart, maxed out at 500 level!"

Such a reading is labelled as "Hazardous", and citizens would normally be advised to stay indoors as a precaution. However there was no such warning from Beijing's municipal environmental monitoring center. Instead the air was described as "Good".

Flights cancelled

Meanwhile, dozens of flights were cancelled at Beijing's international airport delaying hundreds of passengers [SMH / SCMP]. In recent days the government has said it has begun testing more accurate monitoring equipment which uses the same PM2.5 scale used on the US Embassy. It has yet to release data collected from the new machines [CNN / China Daily]

Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau have agreed to release more detailed reports on air pollution and will begin to publish monitoring data on fine particulate matter before the Chinese New Year [BJEPB - Chinese / WSJ / BBC / China Daily]. Yet all too often one only needs to look across the city to see the air is far from clean.

Weather is "no excuse"

Authorities say they are making efforts to reduce air pollutants, but also blame the weather for trapping the pollution. However, Wang Qiuxia, a researcher at Green Beagle, an environmental protection non-governmental organization based in Beijing, says the weather should not be used as an excuse. "Although the foggy weather keeps the pollutants from dispersing, the PM2.5 readings wouldn't be this high if the city's air were clean enough, however heavy the fog is," she said.

tvnewswatch, London, UK [with addition reporting & picture from our correspondent in Beijing]

Friday, January 06, 2012

China plays with fire as Year of the Dragon looms

The United States has raised concerns within the Chinese leadership after Obama revealed plans to reinforce its military presence in the Asia Pacific region.

Evidently undeterred by the scary images on China's new stamps commemorating the coming year of the dragon which has prompted much criticism within China [WSJ / Washington Post / Telegraph / BBC], the US says it was planning for a "smaller and leaner" military focused on potential threats from China and Iran, with a reduced presence in Europe.

US accused of "Warmongering"

On a rare visit to the Pentagon, Obama said the US needed to rethink its military strategy, placing a greater emphasis on naval and air power while reducing the size of the army, because of both the fiscal crisis and the drawdown of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan [FT / BBC].

However, the shift of emphasis to Asia Pacific has drawn sharp criticism from China who describe the move as "warmongering".

A long article published on the state news agency website Xinhuanet asserted that by boosting its military presence in the Asia-Pacific, the United States could threaten peace in the region.

"The United States should abstain from flexing its muscles, as this won't help solve regional disputes," the article attributed to Yu Zhixiao, continues. "If the United States indiscreetly applies militarism in the region, it will be like a bull in a china shop, and endanger peace instead of enhancing regional stability." [BBC]

The article also raises concerns over the Pentagon's annual expenditure of $600 billion for  "baseline budget and war-fighting tasks" and drew analysis to the smaller budgets employed by other leading nations, though it failed to draw attention over China's increasing military budget.

America spends in excess of $700 billion on its military and has a the most powerful defence force on the planet. With 6,302 battle tanks, 3,252 fighter/ground attack aircraft, 71 submarines and at least 450 land-based intercontinental ballistic missile launchers as well as a large naval force, the US is well defended.

China's growing military

But China is fast catching up with an annual budget of $89 billion and growing according to official figures. However many experts believe the amount spent on China's military is far greater than stated.

Nonetheless the spending is building a vast force. China possesses the largest standing army of 2,285,000 personnel, much higher than America's 1,569,000 military personnel.

It is also on a more than equal footing with many other components with its estimated 7,400 battle tanks, 1,669 fighter/ground attack aircraft and 71 submarines. However, China falls behind the US with a much smaller navy and significantly smaller nuclear deterrent. China is only believed to have around 66 land-based intercontinental ballistic missile launchers and a total of 180 nuclear warheads compared to the US's 1,950 active warheads [Sources:  International Institute for Strategic Studies / Wikipedia / BBC].

Concerns over China

It is these concerns as well as a perceived growing threat of cyber-attacks coming from China that is making the decisions in the Pentagon. China's poor choice of friends and allies is also raising concerns in US military circles.

China is close with Iran and relies on the country for a significant amount of its oil. As such China is resistant to the imposition of any sanctions against the country which many believe to be developing a nuclear bomb.

Risks of war

Following recent calls to place further sanctions on Iran, especially heightened after the downing of a US drone and the attack of the British embassy in Tehran, one military general is reported to have said China would be willing to come to Iran's aid to protect its interests.

Major General Zhang Zhaozhong is quoted by some sources as saying China would not hesitate in coming to Iran's defence should missile or nuclear sites be attacked, even if it meant the start of World War III. Bullish rhetoric perhaps, but disturbing if China's military leaders are espousing such opinions [Fox News / Press TV].

And according to some reports China is circumventing international sanctions against Iran by enlisting North Korea's help in providing the Islamic state with its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as technical expertise to make the nuclear warhead-capable missiles operational.

Iran is not shy of showing the world its new capabilities either. Within days of the new year Iran tested several rockets with a range of at least 200 km [CBS].

In Xinhua's editorial it states "the United States should learn from its past painful experiences and play a constructive role in the Asia-Pacific instead of recklessly practising militarism". However, China should perhaps be a little less reckless, especially with whom it befriends.

Sharing secrets

In early December Iran claimed it had downed a hi-tech US drone, something which the Pentagon soon acknowledged [Washington Post]. The RQ-170 stealth aircraft later appeared on Iranian TV apparently undamaged, raising questions as to how the Iranians brought the plane down unscathed [Telegraph].

NATO claimed they had merely lost control of the device, though Iran said they had brought the plane down themselves [Press TV]. They even claim that they brought the drone down by hacking, something the Pentagon disputes [Fox News / D Mail]. The technology to hack such an aircraft would have to be sophisticated and the Iranians, not known for their prowess in the hacking community may well have needed some help from a friendly ally. Some unamed officials with the military give the hacking theory some credence, and suggest either Russia or China may have been complicit.

Pictures shown on television would have been particularly unnerving to Pentagon officials [Guardian / Business Week]. The plane was in pristine condition and may reveal particularly sensitive secrets. Such information would not only be useful to Iran but many other nations. In fact Iran has claimed that Russia and China have requested to see the drone and Iranian officials already begun to reverse-engineer the drone and decode its technical information.

It would not be the first time China has got it hands on sensitive US military information. After a US F-117 Stealth fighter was downed in the 1999 Kosovo war, China is believed to have obtained parts and incorporated some of the technology in its own J-20 stealth fighter [BBC / tvnewswatch: China stole stealth fighter technology / tvnewswatch: China's stealth fighter takes to air / tvnewswatch: US - China accused of aggressive spying].

China accuses the US of playing with fire, but is itself playing a dangerous game as it cozies up with Iran, Pakistan and North Korea as well as becoming belligerent in the South China Sea as it tangles with Vietnam, Japan and others.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Stephen Lawrence killers jailed for life

Gary Dobson and David Norris have been convicted and jailed for a minimum of 15 years and two months and 14 years and three months respectively for the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence 18 years ago.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, [pictured in 2000 above left to right] both of south London, denied murdering the teenager but after a trial lasting around six weeks a jury delivered a guilty verdict at the Old Bailey. The case had been a long time coming for the parents of Stephen Lawrence who had waited years to see justice. But outside the court the mother of the murdered teenager said the verdict was not a cause for celebration. "How can I celebrate when my son lies buried?" Doreen Lawrence told reporters [BBC].

The trial, based mainly on forensic evidence, showed that both the accused had been at the scene of the murder. Scientists found a tiny bloodstain on Dobson's jacket that could only have come from Lawrence. They also found a single hair belonging to the teenager on Norris's jeans.

Scientists recovered the material from the clothes of the suspects which had been seized in 1993 and used advanced techniques to match them to the victim, tests which were not available to the original case scientists.

Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death by a gang of white youths in Eltham, south-east London, on 22 April 1993. A murder trial against two suspects, Neil Acourt, then 17, and Luke Knight, who was 16, was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service in July 1993, citing insufficient evidence. A private prosecution was also brought the following year against Acourt, Knight and three others, Jamie Acourt, David Norris and Gary Dobson, but this failed to bring about a successful conviction. Charges against the original two suspects were dropped before the trial due to lack of evidence, and the three remaining suspects were acquitted at the trial when the judge ruled that the identification evidence given by Lawrence's friend and witness Duwayne Brooks was inadmissible.

However earlier this year new scientific evidence was submitted and in May the Crown Prosecution Service gave the go ahead for a new trial [BBC].

In opening the proceedings Judge Mr Justice Treacy had warned jurors not to discuss the case with "curious friends and family" and banned them from consulting the Internet, so as not to jeopardise a fair trial.

Such research would have revealed a chequered history for both the suspects. As well as holding racist views and a fascination with knives, facts that were presented to the jury, both Dobson and Norris had been arrested and charged with several crimes since the murder.

Dobson was jailed for five years in 2010 for drugs trafficking. He is among a small number of men to have been tried twice for the same crime after the Court of Appeal quashed his 1996 acquittal for the murder. Norris was convicted in 2002 of a separate allegation of racially threatening behaviour. Both individuals were also convicted in November 2000 after pleading guilty to stealing 14 beer kegs valued at £1,000 from a pub in Essex. Described by their lawyer as "unemployable" since being named among the five suspects in the murder of Stephen Lawrence, each were fined £100 with £60 costs.

[Sky / BBC]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Low Emission Zone forces thousands off roads

From today, Tuesday 3rd January, thousands of older transit vans, lorries and 4x4 vehicles will be banned from driving anywhere in London after phases 3 and 4 of the Low Emission Zone comes into force.

Most diesel vehicles registered before 2002 are affected by the new restrictions unless owners pay for an expensive special particle filter to be fitted. The alternative is to buy or new or second-hand vehicle or face heavy fines of between £200 and £500 per day.

While those who own affected vehicles registered inside the London boroughs have been informed of the changes, those beyond London's borders may be oblivious to the new restrictions.

Black cabs also affected

The latest restrictions imposed on London's motorists apply no only to 4x4s, transits, large vans and minibuses, it also affects many black cabs.  It is estimated that around 2,600 cabs, or 10% of the total fleet, will become unlawful as their licence plates expire.

In the past few months many motorists have received letters which for many is a death sentence to their life on the road. Transport for London [TfL] has sent details of how the LEZ will be expanded to include motorhomes, 4 wheel-drive vehicles and transit vans. Those with older diesel vehicles will be forced to modify their vehicle, buy a newer vehicle or face fines of at least £100 per day.

Punitive costs

Many motorists are understandably irate. The cost of modification would in many cases exceed the value of the vehicle, yet replacement would not be convenient or appropriate. To replace an old Landrover or Daihatsu Fourtrak with newer equivalent may run into thousands of pounds.

Despite their age such vehicles can often run for many years, so to scrap them is far from green. A Daihatsu Foutrak bought second-hand in 2003 for £4,000 is worth very little now, yet even with 120,000 miles on the clock it could easily run another 80,000!

Of course there will have been repairs and replacements. Springs changed, after much off-road wear and tear, and there may have been some body welding. But despite its sturdiness and reliability, new legislation is forcing otherwise reliable vehicles off the road.

No cheap option

Owners of such vehicles could move beyond London's boundaries, and make the choice of never entering the metropolis again. That for many would be a little drastic however. There is the option of finding a friend who is willing to allow it to be parked outside their address, given they live outside the LEZ. But failing that, there is only the choice of selling up and buying a replacement or modifying your old vehicle.

All options are far from cheap. A year's tax, insurance, MoT and sundry motoring costs [excluding fuel] might have been around £700 to £1,000. The introduction of this new policy may add between two and six thousand pounds to this. While there are a few complaints on web forums, particularly from Landrover owners living just within the borders, there has yet to be any major backlash concerning the new rules.

Green tax

There are no other LEZs in the UK, but they are common elsewhere with around 50 in the rest of Europe. This seems to be a scheme which is likely to widen as environmental causes are used to squeeze the motorists' wallet. [TfL / Low Emission Zone map - PDF / Low Emission Zones in Europe]

The Green Party said the mayor should have enforced the the new rules sooner and Liberal Democrats at City Hall have called for the introduction of a "Berlin style" Clean Air Zone which excludes specified vehicles from Inner and Central London.

"A Berlin style Clean Air Zone in central London and a big switch to electric buses, taxis and vans should be key priorities for the Mayor in 2012," says Mike Tuffrey, the party's environment spokesperson.

Yet London is one of the cleanest cities in Europe. The London Air Quality Network regularly tweets the quality of the capital's air, yet rarely does it register anything above LOW pollution levels.


London Mayor Boris Johnson insists the policy is important. "Delivering cleaner air is key to my goal of creating a better quality of life for Londoners," he was recently quoted as saying. Meanwhile a TfL statement issued in the Mayor's name confirms implementing the next phase of the LEZ "is part of a comprehensive set of long-term sustainable measures being introduced by the Mayor to tackle the biggest sources of pollution." However the statement appears to contradict claims made by the Mayor's campaign team last April that the third phase was being "imposed" on London by the European Commission and that drivers faced "EU fees" for not complying.

The result of the ill-thought out regulations is that from today thousands of vehicle owners are now without transport, or with a large bill in their pocket if they took out the option of purchasing another vehicle. This at a time when the country faces further financial crises [BBC / MayorWatch].

DPF problems

There are added concerns that complying with the new rules by buying a filter, or even purchasing a new vehicle with such a filter fitted, may create additional problems for motorists.

A report on BBC Watchdog suggests that owners who only do a few miles in their vehicle may create problems for themselves. A diesel vehicle could save money on fuel consumption. But nearly all new diesel vehicles including cars are fitted with an eco-friendly car component which is leaving some motorists with huge bills to pay.

The Diesel Particulate Filter or DPF is fitted to the exhaust to trap the soot and reduce emissions. Introduced to bring cars in line with new EU green emissions rules it can become an issue if a vehicle is used solely for city driving.

The DPF usually cleans itself when the engine runs at high speeds, a process called regeneration. If this does not happen, a warning light indicates that the filter is getting blocked. It must then be cleared by driving the car at high revs for a sustained period of time. This is easily done on the open road but is much more difficult to do around town.

There are few roads in London where a sustained speed of over 64 km/h can be achieved for the required 15 minutes to clean the filter. The result is that many motorists are finding themselves with large bills to pay for having a blocked filter cleaned or in some cases replaced [BBC].

Fire risk

There are other concerns too. In the US a failing DPF is believed to have started a major forest fire after sparks ignited nearby bracken [DieselNet]. There have also been cases of fires beginning in the filter itself. In 2011, Ford recalled 37,400 F-Series trucks with diesel engines after fuel and oil leaks caused fires in the diesel particulate filters of the trucks. No injuries occurred before the recall, though one grass fire was started. A similar recall was issued for 2005-2007 Jaguar S-Type and XJ diesels, where large amounts of soot became trapped in the DPF. In affected vehicles, smoke and fire emanated from the vehicle underside, accompanied by flames from the rear of the exhaust. The heat from the fire could cause heating through the transmission tunnel to the interior, melting interior components and potentially causing interior fires [Wikipedia].

In Britain the Automobile Association advise motorists not to buy vehicles with a DPF fitted if they are using it mainly for "stop/start driving" in a city or elsewhere. Those having such a filter fitted may also find some reduction in performance and fuel economy.

Vehicles affected for the first time are: larger vans and other specialist vehicles such as horse boxes and light utility vehicles (between 1.205 tonnes unladen and 3.5 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight); minibuses (5 tonnes or less Gross Vehicle Weight with more than 8 passenger seats); and motor caravans (between 2.5 and 3.5 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight), which will have to meet a Euro 3 standard for PM to drive in the zone without charge.

Vehicles already affected by the LEZ: HGVs and other specialist vehicles including motorised horseboxes and motor caravans over 3.5 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight; and buses and coaches over 5 tonnes Gross Vehicle Weight with more than 8 passenger seats will have to meet a Euro IV standard for PM to drive in the zone without charge.

The LEZ affects all vehicles of the relevant weight and age even if they are used for private purposes. However cars, motorcycles and vans weighing under 1.205 tonnes unladen weight are not affected by the LEZ.

tvnewswatch, London, UK