May 6, 2012: What’s the number one rule of a résumé?
Well, we’ve got a tech-heavy post this week, but that’s only because there are so many big stories involving the technology world. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
It only took new Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson four months to get shareholders calling for his dismissal. And what was the grave offense which put him in such hot water? Something any college graduate should know better than to do: padding his résumé. Yahoo! stocks have been plunging since the revelation the struggling internet giant’s head embellished his resume, adding a second bachelor’s degree in computer science when the only one he actually earned was in accounting. One of the company’s top shareholders, hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb, caught the false statement and immediately began prodding Yahoo! to fire Thompson. As Loeb argued, allowing Thompson to remain with the company would make Yahoo! as a whole look as though it endorsed dishonesty, calling the veracity of its own official filings into question. In contrast, Yahoo! representatives have been working to downplay the incident, saying that they would review the “inadvertent error.” Apparently the “inadvertent error” has already been featured in a number of other documents, including a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and several of Thompson’s past employers’ websites. Thompson has been doing little to help matters, sending company employees a vague, unapologetic E-mail on Friday:
I am sure you have seen the reports of questions raised regarding my undergraduate degree. As we said yesterday, the board is reviewing the matter and, upon completion of its review, will make an appropriate disclosure to shareholders. In the meantime, I’m doing what I hope all of you are doing — staying focused on our customers, our shareholders, our team and moving Yahoo! forward, fast.
While Yahoo! certainly has enough business to handle without Thompson’s shenanigans, it’s hard to avoid the impression that he’s trying to push this issue under the rug. The board of directors can’t be looking forward to dealing with the probe, either. After all, if Thompson is fired, Yahoo! would have to hire its fifth CEO in five years.
Google has been dealing with its own problems as of late. As we discussed last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been preparing for a court battle with Google over allegations that the company abused its power over the world’s leading search engine to hurt its competitors by manipulating search results. They have also been battling over reports that Google willfully bypassed security measures in Apple’s competing browser, Safari, planting cookies on users’ computers in violation of their user agreement. Google and the FTC are apparently nearing a deal on a fine for that bit of activity, with the amount possibly exceeding $10 million. Such a punishment would be the first of its kind for infringement upon consumers’ online privacy.
As if that wasn’t enough, the king of search engines has also been mired in a massive lawsuit against Oracle, which alleges, among other things, that Google violated its copyrights and patents by duplicating Java packages in its Android phones’ operating systems. The copyright portion of the trial has ended, and on Friday the jury told U.S. District Judge William Alsup that they reached a unanimous decision on three of the four questions posed to them, but that they had reached an impasse on the fourth. Rather than accept a partial verdict, however, Alsup sent the jury home for the weekend to prepare for further deliberations on the final question on Monday. While Alsup says that he’s still willing to accept a partial verdict, he would greatly prefer a full decision. Either way, it won’t be the end of the lawsuit, as the second phase is set to evaluate possible infringement of Java patents, while the third would deal with the damages to be awarded.
Facebook, on the other hand, is aiming for a banner year, especially given that its initial public offering (IPO) is due later this year. On Thursday, the company finally set the estimated per-share price at $28-$35 for its entry into the investment market. This comes shortly after Facebook stunned technology analysts by purchasing two applications in the last month. On April 10, Facebook bought Instagram, a mobile photo-sharing site, for a whopping $1 billion. (Yes, that’s billion with the letter “b.”) Now they’ve added the (now former) iOS and Android application Glancee, which helped users to discover nearby Glancee users who shared similar interests or common friends. With the company now getting its first “buy” ratings from investment firms after having set an estimated IPO price, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is preparing to cement his position among the world’s richest, possibly passing even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s $15.7 billion as of March. The company itself looks to hit a record valuation of $96 billion, which would be the all-time high for a company making its IPO, shattering the $60.2 billion record set by the United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1999.
Still, not all is bright in the world of Facebook. Some analysts are speculating that with the speed at which the tech world changes, the internet titan could be a faded memory in as little as five years. And yesterday, the blogosphere exploded with reports that Facebook was censoring comments based on whether automated anti-spam software algorithms deemed them to be “irrelevant or inappropriate.” The problem, analysts say, is that the programs are far too liberal with what they block, shutting down apparently innocuous comments like this one by prominent blogger and author Robert Scoble:
I’m so glad I didn’t start a media business. It’s actually really tough to get new and interesting stories and to avoid falling into drama. People forget that Techcrunch was built step-by-step as a new publishing form was taking shape. PandoDaily doesn’t have that advantage and, is, indeed, facing competition from social networks that is quite good indeed.
I no longer visit blogs. I watch Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, along with Hacker News, Techmeme, Quora. These are the new news sources.
Plus, Pando Daily actually doesn’t have enough capital to compete head on with, say, D: All Things Digital or The Verge, both of which are expanding quickly and have ecosystems behind them.
Facebook’s PR department worked throughout much of the day yesterday to explain away the situation, but given the fury with which much of the tech community looks upon any hint of censorship, any long-term automated filtering such as this may have dire long-term consequences for Facebook, regardless of whether it is done to “protect the millions of people who connect and share on Facebook every day.” And it doesn’t help when the algorithm generates false positives abound. Apparently, the comment “I’m a married man” prompted the below response.
Of course, many would argue that a little bit of censorship on Facebook might not be such a bad thing. It’s hard to ignore the case of Alex Boston, a 14-year-old from Georgia who was victimized by cyberbullying from May 2011 onward. According to Boston’s father, two of her classmates made a Facebook page under Boston’s name to spread rumors about her and to insult her friends. It attacked her on a number of levels, using an “About Me” section to say that she spoke both English and “Retardish,” naming false sexual exploits, providing links to racist YouTube videos, and claiming that she smoked marijuana.
When Boston’s father confronted the school about it, officials said there was nothing they could do because all of the activity took place off school grounds. The police claimed that their hands were tied, as well, since Georgia has no laws against cyberbullying that takes place away from school property. They advised the Boston family to ask Facebook to remove the page, but to no avail. Left with no other options, the Boston family decided to file a lawsuit against the two teens for libel and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The teens’ parents are also implicated in the suit, since they provided the means for their children to engage in this activity. (Following a CNN story on the lawsuit last week, Facebook finally removed the phony page.)
While punitive damages are included in the lawsuit, Alex and her family are well aware that they won’t see much monetary benefit from the civil case, since the teens’ families only have normal personal assets. Instead, it’s more a matter of stopping the activity and setting a precedent to deter future cyberbullies, according to Natalie Woodward, one of the Bostons’ attorneys.
It’s hardly the first time a cyberbullying case has been taken to court. In 2005, Justin Layshock of Pennsylvania created a fake MySpace page that indicated one of his teachers hid beer under his desk and smoked marijuana. Layshock was suspended from school, but a federal judge later forced the school to overturn the suspension, saying that they failed to demonstrate how Layshock’s activities disrupted school operations. Also in 2005, Kara Kowalski of West Virginia, on the other hand, failed in her quest to beat a five-day suspension for suggesting that another student had a sexually transmitted disease — the appeals court in her case dismissed the argument that the school shouldn’t punish her for actions she took in her own home. In June 2011, Jason Medley of Houston, Texas sued three of his daughter’s classmates who filmed themselves making false sexual remarks about his daughter and posted it to Facebook. The case was settled with an apology and a small donation to charity.
Outside of Alex Boston’s case, the most recent high-profile cyberbullying case comes from northern Indiana. Three eighth-grade girls were expelled from their school after they were found using Facebook to discuss plans to kill their classmates. To make matters stranger, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped into the fray in late April, filing a lawsuit… against the school that expelled the girls. According to ACLU lawyers, the use of emoticons and humorous online shorthand makes it clear that the comments were in jest, and that there was no legitimate plan to inflict harm on anyone. As ACLU attorney Gavin Rose said, “The legal analysis asks whether a reasonable person viewing the conversation would conclude that the girls were about to inflict imminent harm. I think the use of emoticons and other forms of Internet-speak are simply one factor demonstrating that that was not the case.”
Gavin’s statement has since been deridingly called the “emoticon defense.” Between discussing the best weapons to use for the killings and compiling a “hit list” of specific students and a teacher whom they wanted to slay, the girls used one emoticon, “:D” a single time, along with a few pieces of standard internet shorthand like “LOL.” But no one else was laughing at posts like, “I wanna light someone on fire.” Nor did others find humor in evidence-hiding strategies like wrapping a box cutter handle in a towel to avoid fingerprints or dumping bodies in a bathtub full of acid. Given that several of the threatened students have remained away from school in the days that followed out of fear, the ACLU’s lawsuit on the cyberbullies’ behalf has stunned their victims, to say the least.
Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that the FBI is seeking immediate backdoor access to Facebook, as well as the websites of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Twitter… along with the entire rest of the internet. As bureau representatives say, the shift from telephone to internet communication has made it nearly impossible for them to track suspected evildoers’ activities. This would represent a drastic expansion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), passed in 1994, that requires telecommunications companies to make their services wiretap-friendly. This expansion would target individual websites in addition to service providers. This would, of course, require extra coding for anyone who creates a website or an application that allows communication, and it could be especially toxic after the hostile reaction to the SOPA and PIPA bills (which we analyzed at length earlier this year). The heads of projects like Zfone, which is specifically designed to scramble VoIP communication from end-to-end in order to protect users’ privacy, are sure to fight any possibility that the government could intrude on such privacy. Besides, as the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s public policy and regulatory counsel Ross Schulman said, “New methods of communication should not be subject to a government green light before they can be used.”
We could talk about a number of other stories here, as well. We could go into Verizon’s planned 911 texting service, the fall of the Amazon Kindle amidst declining sales and Target’s intent to stop selling them due to a “conflict of interest,” Microsoft’s rumored $99 Xbox package and the test production of its Xbox Next, or yesterday’s come-from-behind Kentucky Derby win by long shot I’ll Have Another.
And hey, we never really got into the political scene this week, even though jobs reports were low again, sending the stock market and oil prices tumbling (fueling a Mitt Romney attack, which Barack Obama deflected by blaming Republicans); in the meantime, Obama accused Republicans of opposing student loan programs, a charge that some GOP members flatly denied while others argued that well-paying jobs are ultimately more important to students than lower loan rates.
Heck, we could even talk about some of those classic offbeat news items, like the strange humming noise that, apparently, only Canadians can hear, last night’s “Supermoon,” China’s proposition to use pig feces as a power source, or even the 35th anniversary of the original Star Wars release. (As the official Star Wars site says, “May the 4th be with you.”) But hey, I guess we kind of have talked about all those things now, haven’t we?
Other articles of interest:
Killing unlimited data plans has helped make U.S. carriers billions
Recover From Google Penguin Update: Get Better At Links
Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive: which one is right for you?
Man says Best Buy employee used old phone to falsely out him
Air France Flight 447: ‘Damn it, we’re going to crash’
How to Muddy Your Tracks on the Internet
Cocaine Tampons: Cindy Davidson Of Utah Finds Cocaine In Her Tampon Box
Crystal Meth, Horrifying Gallery Showing How Drug Leaves Faces And Lives Ravaged
JoeyBra: Genius New Bra Hides iPhone And Other Valuables
Breast cancer is rare in men, but they fare worse
Bird flu can spread in mammals, study finds
Idaho infant dies from whooping cough amid regional outbreak
Wash. uses emergency cash to curb whooping cough
Pre-Term Birth Endangers Millions of Babies
Why College Football Should Be Banned
Heiress was OK with John Edwards’ affair, but didn’t want to pay for it
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