December 10, 2013
Those of us who have worked in IT have an idea just how complicated and frustrating computing systems are to set up and maintain. To the rest of the world, though, it seems like the process of implementing even a large system should be much more straightforward than it is. Those tasked with having a certain infamous healthcare website built can probably sympathize with the plaintiff in a case Business Insider calls to our attention in, “Bridgestone Sues IBM for $600 Million Over Allegedly ‘Defective’ System that Plunged the Company into ‘Chaos.’”
According to Bridgestone‘s suit, the huge system they paid IBM $75 million to build for them suffered from “system-wide failures” from day one, and has cost the tire company greatly in cash and hassle. For its part, IBM insists the problems resulted from Bridgestone failing to hold up their end. Not only did the company try to implement the system before it was ready, says Big Blue, they were guilty of “repeated failure” to do what IBM told them needed to be done for the system to work properly. (The article does not specify what, exactly.)
Personally, I am inclined to sympathize with IT pros, even those at the biggest firms. However, I think we must acknowledge that the convoluted nature of computing systems sets the tech category up for trouble in a world where consumers expect quick-and-easy service with a smile.
The article reminds us:
“When it comes to massive multimillion custom-built computer systems, problems frequently happen. Half of IT projects with budgets of over $15 million dollars run 45% over budget and are 7% behind schedule, according to research from McKinsey. IBM seems to have its share of troubled projects. In August, Pennsylvania killed a contract with IBM because, as of July, the project was $60 million over budget and over three years late.”
Will IBM find a way to overcome such troubles? Perhaps Watson can help find the answer.
Cynthia Murrell, December 10, 2013
December 4, 2013
The article titled ‘Fatal Flaws’ in Google’s Revised Search Antitrust Overhaul, Says Foundem on The Register reports that Google has still not made sufficient concessions to the European Union’s demands. Google has been defending itself against allegations of ‘abuse of dominance’ in Europe, an argument which circles around the tendency for search results filtered through Google to often lead to its own services. The latest attempt to reach a deal resulted in Google’s proposals being leaked. The article explains that this new proposal has been found wanting:
“UK-based price comparison site Foundem has long battled against Google’s alleged abuse of dominance in Europe. It is one of the best known complainants in competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia’s long-running investigation into the multinational Google. The company’s co-founders Adam and Shivaun Raff said today the revised proposals “suffer from all the same flaws” as Google’s previous submission to the EC – which was rejected after a formal market test attacked the fundamental weaknesses of that offer.”
Especially attacking the Paid Rival Links addendum to the proposal, the Raffs made it clear that they felt Google was stifling the competition. They even suggested that the Paid Rival Links were assumed to be for show, an outlandish request by Google that could be thrown out in the second proposal in order to show that some concessions had been made. Apparently Google saw things differently.
Chelsea Kerwin, December 04, 2013
November 27, 2013
I read “HP’s Meg Whitman Ordered to Face Autonomy Charges.” Hard on the heels of Hewlett Packard’s quarterly results, the company has to explain to one disgruntled shareholder why the Autonomy deal went south.
The write up states:
In the latest $1 billion (£647m) lawsuit, HP shareholders accused HP’s management team of ignoring warnings before it bought Autonomy for $11.3 billion (£7.3bn) in 2011 and that the company’s financial numbers had been exaggerated. It is also claimed that HP tried to get out of the deal before it closed. The company later took a nearly $9 billion write-down largely connected with the purchase.
The deal put a burr under some digital cowpokes’ saddles. HP paid $11 billion for Autonomy. At the time of the deal, Autonomy was an $800 to $900 million a year company. Some months after the deal closed, the canny HP management took an $8 billion write down on the Autonomy deal.
According to the Tech Week Europe article:
The investors allege that HP’s management was negligent because of the $8.8 billion (£5.7bn) write-down on the deal HP announced in November 2012. HP officials blamed ‘accounting irregularities’ by Autonomy executives in the months leading up to the deal. The investors allege that the resulting drop in HP’s stock price effectively wiped billions of dollars from the company’s market value. The FBI are said to be investigating the allegations, as is the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
In the meantime, the HP deal has not generated the big time payoff that someone at HP assumed would result from the deal. HP, like many other search vendor buyers, seems to be learning that:
- Search is an expensive business to fund. Those marketing, research, and support costs are brutal. Most of the failed search vendors ran into financial trouble despite the ministrations of different CEOs. Maybe Autonomy was managed better? Interesting question.
- Search, by itself, is not a compelling product or service to many potential customers. As a result, search is no longer search. Search embraces dozens of functions from text mining to the ubiquitous and fuzzy Big Data. HP is now trying to market lots of search related products and services. My hunch is that this is a bigger job than trying to sell $11 billion worth of key word search licenses.
- Companies that are not really software centric do not understand the oddities of the enterprise search sector. My view is that MBAs at outfits like HP assume that their Swiss Army knife budgeting and managing skills are going to “fix up” an outfit like Autonomy. Billions will flow as a result of the MBA approach. Who needs a PhD with an aptitude for math to run a mere search company. HP is coming to grips with its own shortcomings in the vision and motivation departments of Autonomy.
An ironic twist to the tale is that HP licensed the hugely complex, expensive, and cumbersome Verity system. With the purchase of Autonomy, HP became the owner of Verity’s technology. The six figure license deal for Verity is now free when viewed one way. On the other hand, that Verity technology cost HP billions of dollars.
And what about the founder of Autonomy? Dr. Michael Lynch has set up an investment company called invoke capital. The company took an interest in Darktrace, a security firm. Dr. Lynch, according to the Financial Times,
…is also a defendant in a suit by HP’s shareholders relating to the acquisition. A court in San Francisco this month gave HP a deadline of January to complete an internal audit, a decision welcomed by Mr Lynch.
The year 2014 may hold more fodder for business school case studies about Hewlett Packard and Autonomy. I am eager.
Stephen E Arnold, November 27, 2013
November 27, 2013
The article Google Gets Total Victory Over Authors Guild: Book Scanning Is Fair Use on TechDirt celebrates the decision that Google’s scanning project was fair use. Judge Denny Chin made the decision that Google Books was transformative, “opening up new fields of research.” The decision also revolved around the point that the digitized books were not replacing traditional books.
The article explains:
“Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already — they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book.”
Furthermore, any individual who made such an attempt would actually need a hard copy of the book anyway since some sections are blacklisted. The ruling also looked at the opportunities available through the technology, like preserving texts, allowing for more comprehensive research and enabling access to more people. The article is particularly hard on The Author’s Guild leader Scott Turow, who was foolish enough to try and fight Google.
Chelsea Kerwin, November 27, 2013
November 26, 2013
Oops. It appears that the legal department over at AOL has some studying up to do. Techdirt reports, “AOL Unclear on the Concept: Threatens Startup for Properly Using Creative Commons Content.” It seems the startup in question, Pro Populi, is using content from AOL-owned CrunchBase in its People+ app. That data is covered by a Creative Commons CC-BY attribution license, which means commercial use is fair game as long as the content is properly attributed. That did not stop AOL from sending Pro Populi a cease-and-desist notice.
Apparently, the company is trying to get around the very specific provisions of the CC-BY license by pointing to a clause in their API terms, which says it reserves the right to force users to stop using content at any time. However, as writer Mike Masnick succinctly points out:
“That clause is completely bogus. AOL can decide to forbid someone from using the API if they feel it violates their terms, but they cannot ‘terminate’ the license to use the content. The content is free to use under the license, and there’s nothing AOL can legally do about it — other than lie and be a bully, which appears to be the choice the company has made.”
So, how does one cope with big companies chasing windmills? Why, call in a defender like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of course. The article continues:
“Thankfully, EFF is now representing Pro Populi and has sent a detailed letter explaining all of this to AOL. Hopefully, next time, their lawyers will actually understand their own licenses before misrepresenting them in bogus threat letters.”
Perhaps, though the profit motive is often much stronger than common sense. Will AOL learn its lesson, or will the bullying continue?
Cynthia Murrell, November 26, 2013
October 1, 2013
I read “Google Offer May End Search Engine Case, Says EU Antitrust Chief.” Details are, well, sparse. Here’s a statement I noted:
Google proposed concessions in September, hoping to end a case which could otherwise lead to a fine of up to 10 percent of its global revenue, or $5 billion. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told lawmakers in the European Parliament on Tuesday he believed the company’s offer made it easier for web users to see results from Google’s rivals in Internet searches. While he said he could not lay out the precise concessions offered by the U.S. company, he said they went a long way to addressing the antitrust authority’s concerns fully.
I recall reading that Google has made changes to its core search engine. A representative write up about these modifications appeared in “Google Alters Search to Handle More Complex Queries.” Again specifics to satisfy my curiosity eluded me. I did note this passage:
The company made the changes, executives said, because Google users are asking increasingly long and complex questions and are searching Google more often on mobile phones with voice search.
My view is that few outside of Google “know” what tweaks the ad-supported Web search system receives. In fact, I am not sure members of the search team know what changes have been made by other members of the search team over night. Google teams are not in one building or even in the same country and time zone.
My view is that Google is faced with a big challenge. As mobile usages outpaces desktop access, there is a looming revenue challenge. A typical search for a popular topic like “rental car” can present ads on the top of the page, in the left hand column, and sometimes at the bottom of the page. A mobile device screen is not suitable for high density ads which obliterate the allegedly “objective” and “relevant” results. I am not too good at math, but it seems that Google either has to charge more for mobile services, ramp up the marketing data and monetize that, figure out ways to generate more revenue, or do some fancy dancing to get more money from advertisers who think I want a video to run when I click a link displayed on a mobile device.
The notion of “tuning” is one that is not at the top of big thinkers minds. The concept of “precision” means zero to many legal eagles. The idea of “relevance” is also murky.
In short, ad supported online search is an advertising vehicle. Changes are designed to satisfy advertisers and stakeholders. Assuming that * any * ad supported search results are delivering information which satisfy traditional precision and recall methods or that the results are “objective” in the manner of the old SDC Orbit or Dialog Information systems were “objective” is fantasy in my opinion. Researchers beware. Some Web site operators may want to be on their toes as well.
Stephen E Arnold, October 1, 2013
September 26, 2013
I suppose school librarians can become jaded just like anyone else, but this story is fairly remarkable. L.A. Now reports, “13 School Workers, Librarians Indicted in Textbook Theft Ring.” The scam enriched participants at the expense of students in Los Angeles County school districts already strapped for cash. The scam-runner is said to have paid out over $200,000 to his thieves. Reporter Richard Winton tells us:
“A 37-page indictment unsealed Thursday tells of a book-selling scheme in which book buyer Corey Frederick recruited two librarians, a campus supervisor and a former warehouse manager, among others, to allegedly steal thousands of books from schools in Los Angeles, Inglewood and Bellflower.
“The scheme ran from 2008 to December 2010, prosecutors said.
“In return, the operators of ‘Doorkeeper Textz’ in Long Beach would pay the employees from $600 to $47,000 for acquiring textbooks, which were district property.
“In some cases, prosecutors allege Frederick would resell the books through other intermediaries back to the institutions from which they were originally stolen weeks before.
“Prosecutors, according to court records, allege the participants pilfered at least 7,000 textbooks from the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.”
The scheme only came to light, years later, after a sharp eye in the Inglewood district noticed something amiss and alerted authorities. Frederick and his recruits were (allegedly) able to pursue the strategy because no organized tracking system was in place. In fact, prosecutors cannot determine just how many books were stolen. I hope this will prompt the districts affected (or, really, any group tasked with managing public resources) to embrace well-organized tracking systems and inventory databases. We have the technology to prohibit this sort of thing, or to at least make it harder to get away with. Let’s use it.
Cynthia Murrell, September 26, 2013
September 23, 2013
Suddenly, Google’s actions in Europe make a lot more sense. ZDNet reports on a recent claim from the company in, “Google: We Are Above UK Privacy Laws.” This is an interesting development in our increasingly globalized, digital society.
At the heart of the matter is a legal action brought forth by a group of British users of Apple‘s Safari browser, who charge Google with illegally tracking them online. The company doesn’t bother to deny the allegations, but does insist it cannot be prosecuted outside its home country. As for U.S. officials, the FTC already found that Google did, indeed, circumvent Safari privacy settings. The write-up explains:
“The FTC charged Google with placing advertising tracking cookies on computers and devices without authorization. The firm was fined $22.5m by authorities in the United States after the FTC’s ruling. In response to the campaign group’s allegations, the search engine giant says in legal filings that as an American firm, British privacy laws do not apply, and so the matter cannot be brought to a U.K. court. . . . The tech giant does not believe the case is of a serious nature, and according to the claimants, said ‘the browsing habits of internet users are not protected as personal information, even when they potentially concern their physical health or sexuality.’”
To the cynical (or realistic) among us, this stance comes as no surprise. Still, seeing it in print is a little startling, as a few claimants quoted in the article attest. On the heels of Google’s recent “admission” about privacy expectations within Gmail (prompting outrage at many news outlets but given some perspective here), this assertion does nothing to help Google’s reputation on confidentiality.
For those of us who approach the Internet with the idea that nothing that traverses it is truly private, Google’s position on privacy is a shruggable revelation. This stance on international prosecution, though, is intriguing; I am curious to see where it will lead.
Cynthia Murrell, September 23, 2013
September 22, 2013
In the Java-related battle between Google and Oracle, a court ruling has not settled the issue. Oracle is appealing the decision by the U.S. District Court of Northern California, which found that the Java APIs Google used to build Android are not copyrightable. Meanwhile, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison seems to have made the issue personal; in a recent CBS interview , Ellison painted the way in which Google CEO Larry Page approached the issue as “evil.” Writer Seth Rosenblatt reports:
“After saying in the public Google+ post published Sunday that Google doesn’t like to get into public battles with other companies, Schmidt then said that ‘Ellison’s claims that Google “took [Oracle's] stuff”‘ are ‘simply untrue.’
‘”That’s not just my opinion,’ Schmidt wrote, ‘but the judgment of a U.S. District Court.’
“After briefly summarizing the ruling against Oracle, Schmidt placed the public spat in the context of the ongoing clashes over patent reform.
“‘Patents were designed to encourage invention, not stop the development of new ideas and technologies,’ he said.”
I have to agree with Page on the patent /copyright issue. There is a lot of work to be done to bring those systems back into alignment with their original goal—to encourage innovation. (As opposed to stifling it, which seems to be the result more often than not these days when it comes to software.)
I suppose Ellison has a right to his opinion on Page’s moral alignment, but it looks like the industry may be on Google’s side (at least this time). The Electronic Frontier Foundation has submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals an amicus brief [PDF] outlining their support for the original ruling. At the heart of the matter is the role that the open nature of APIs play in furthering innovation, something we hope the appeals court will not take lightly.
Cynthia Murrell, September 22, 2013
September 5, 2013
Philip Favro at e-discovery 2.0 holds that the often overwhelming eDiscovery process could be tempered with the help of our judiciary system, he shares in “The Need for a More Active Judiciary in eDiscovery.” Hmm, would this apply to secret judicial proceedings?
“In a recent article published by the University of Kansas Law Review, Professor Steven Gensler and Judge Lee Rosenthal argue that many of the eDiscovery challenges facing lawyers and litigants could be addressed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner through ‘active case management’ by judges. According to Professor Gensler and Judge Rosenthal, a meaningful Rule 16 conference with counsel can enable ‘the court to ensure that the lawyers and parties have paid appropriate attention to planning for electronic discovery.’
“To facilitate this vision of a more active judiciary in the discovery process, the Advisory Committee has proposed a series of changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of these changes are designed to improve the effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) discovery conference and to encourage courts to provide input on key discovery issues at the outset of a case.”
The article goes on to describe the changes proposed by the University of Kansas Law Review advisory committee. For example, they suggest that Rule 26(f) discovery conferences be required to include a discussion of any issues surrounding electronically stored information (ESI). See the post for more details. Favro emphasizes that, were these recommendations to be implemented, their success would depend on whether the courts take them seriously. Will judges find it worth the effort?
Cynthia Murrell, September 05, 2013