Page Impressions Ltd Blogcetera: March 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Call to close Google Street View

The director of Privacy International, Simon Davies, is lobbying the Information Commissioner to close Google Street View until the company sorts out privacy-related issues.

The ICO has received a formal complaint based on the the fact that more than 200 reports from members of the public that were identified through Street View, which is a feature of Google Maps.

Before Street View was launched last year, the ICO laid a number of ground rules to which Google said it has abided. But Simon Davies considers that Street View has caused "clear embarrassment and damage" to many Britons.

The ICO, Davies continued, "never grasped the gravity of how a benign piece of legislation could affect ordinary lives" and prompted PI to ask for the system to be "switched off while an investigation is completed".

At issue is what Google promised the ICO when it gave permission for the service to operate in the UK.  He demanded that Google would blur faces and registration plates. However it didn't.

Many of the issues quoted have been trivial, but in at least one case, Google snapped a woman who had moved house to escape a violent partner, but who was recognisable outside her new home. In another, two work colleagues were shown in a compromising position and suffered embarrassment when the snap circulated at their workplace.

Was this a innocent mistake on Google’s part or was the Information Commissioner a little trusting in that Google would do what they said they would do?  Whatever the case, it is time that ICO started to take privacy on the web seriously and take action to safeguard our civil liberties.

Monday, March 23, 2009

BT takes aim at Virgin’s territory.

BT revealed the list of exchanges that will get the 40Mbs fibre technology upgrade today. Twenty seven of the 29 sites are urban areas, with BT trying out just two rollouts in rural areas to "learn lessons from deploying fibre in such environments".

However, Virgin Media claims every one of the 29 sites selected for BT's initial fibre rollout is already covered by its high-speed cable network - meaning BT's initial rollout may do nothing to improve Britain's overall broadband speeds.

A Virgin spokesperson stated , "We already have 50 meg in four areas - Belfast, Watford, Halifax and Oldham”.  Furthermore it would appear that all the other BT designated areas are in Virgin cable areas which are due to be upgraded to the 50Mbs network over the coming year.

While BT's fibre will provide some much needed competition for Virgin, the overlap means Britain as a whole may not see any speed increase as a result of the initial BT rollout, which will cover 500,000 premises by 2010.  The decision to focus almost exclusively on urban areas will increase the “broadband apartheid” between urban and rural areas.  This disparity in service provision is becoming an increasing issue for rural communities, which are suffering disproportionately in the recession.  Access to broadband is being positioned as a right of all not just those who live in our cities.

Ofcom needs to ensure that every UK citizen has equal access to the new fast broadband services and that BT doesn't just use it's power to compete with Virgin at the expense of the whole UK community.

Sky and Virgin slam BBC on Canvas platform project

As I reported last month, the BBC was quick to introduce Project Canvas to replace the now defunct Kangaroo Project.  Now both Sky and Virgin have slammed the proposals.

In a robust response to the interim report from the government on Digital Britain, British Sky Broadcasting says that the plan by the BBC to set technical standards and develop new platforms for broadband video services raises concerns. Virgin Media has also raised specific questions in its response, calling for “regulatory scrutiny” of the implications for competition.

In its published response, Sky says “the suggestion that the BBC should become involved in driving broadband take-up by setting technical standards and developing new platforms raises concerns. As well as the potential for market distortion and illegal state aid, it sets a dangerous precedent and risks distracting the BBC from its core purpose, which is to invest in public service content and to make it widely available to licence fee payers on whichever platforms and services they choose to use.”

The response observes that “The most appropriate role for the BBC in encouraging broadband take-up is to make its content widely available on as many platforms as possible.” It says the core purpose of the BBC is to create public service programming and to make it as widely available and easily accessible as possible, to allow licence payers to access it on whichever platforms and services they choose to use.

“The BBC should not favour one particular platform or technology over another, and should be scrupulously ‘platform neutral’ both in the way in which it makes its content available to different services and in the way it promotes its availability to viewers.”

Sky says that based on previous experience it is concerned about the potential of the BBC “to distort the market by favouring its own distribution platforms and technologies over their competitors”. It observes that this raises potential competition and state aid issues.

The BBC was one of the partners in a joint venture video on demand initiative known as Project Kangaroo that was scrapped after being blocked by the Competition Commission earlier this year.

Sky argues that while claiming to adhere to the principle of platform neutrality, the BBC has for many years promoted the availability of its digital channels to favour Freeview over satellite and cable.

“We are concerned that the BBC is similarly intent on favouring its iPlayer service: through its extensive marketing and promotion; its proposal to entrench further the underlying technology platform by licensing it to other PSBs; and by its unwillingness to supply BBC content to competing on-demand video services like Sky Player,” said Sky.

Programming from the BBC iPlayer is currently only available as a link to the BBC web site from the Sky Player service.

“The BBC’s ‘Canvas’ proposals, currently being consulted on by the BBC Trust, potentially raise similar concerns,” in the view of Sky.

The BBC Trust says that “Canvas will offer a standards based open environment” that is open to anyone that adopts and uses its specifications, which will be “substantially based on standards used within the internet and broadcast industries.”

So far there have been no technical details on these standards or the terms on which they will be made available, for instance to other platforms like Sky, should they wish to use them.

Sky is urging the government to define more clearly the role of the BBC in driving digital and broadband take-up. It observes “The most positive contribution the BBC can make — and one that is entirely consistent with its core purpose — is to distribute its content as widely as possible and promote its availability to viewers in a way that is platform and service provider neutral.”

Clearly Sky has its own agenda to promote, but it is difficult to argue with this logic. While the BBC has promoted Freeview and Freesat as free to view alternatives to satellite and cable television platforms, it also has a responsibility to the majority of digital television homes that have chosen a pay television service.

For its part, Virgin Media, which currently carries a version of the iPlayer service on its cable television platform, has welcomed the intervention of the Competition Commission in the aborted Kangaroo venture. It said “It is important that any future initiatives involving an aggregation of this strategically critical content receive equally rigorous scrutiny.”

Virgin Media said it “notes with interest the BBC’s recent Canvas proposals to create a set of technical standards and, it is suggested, a common user interface for the IP delivery of on-demand programming to the TV.”

“While Virgin Media acknowledges the potential consumer appeal of this proposal, it is not yet clear how the BBC and its partners propose to address critical elements of the service,” it said.

Specifically, it said that it is important that the standards are compatible with cable, as well as satellite and terrestrial television platforms, noting “It is not currently clear whether or not this is envisaged.”

Virgin said the initiative should not “develop in a way that gives the BBC and its partners control, or the ability to exert undue control, over a standardized universal interface.”

The cable company said it is important that “Any such technical delivery mechanism does not become an interface or exclusive ‘gateway’” to catch-up and archive programming from public service broadcasters.

“On the contrary,” Virgin Media observed, “any such content delivered through such an interface should be made available to competing platforms on fair and nondiscriminatory terms.”

In addition to “a rigorous and objective assessment of its impact on other operators and the market as a whole” from the BBC Trust, Virgin Media said it “would welcome wider regulatory scrutiny of the potential implications of Canvas for competition.”

With Canvas, the BBC has the opportunity to lead and involve the industry in creating a genuinely open cross-platform specification for broadband video services that will benefit the market in general.

The responses from Sky and Virgin Media suggest that unless it involves the wider industry, the BBC Canvas project could well face the same competition concerns that killed Kangaroo.

In my view the BBC has no role in spending licencees money in an area which is clearly the domain of the IPTV industry developers.

Privacy fears grow - Are Government and Industry ignoring civil liberties

Google’s Street View service has contributed massively to the concerns of privacy on the internet.  Not only content with publishing views of individuals going about their legitimate business on line, Google recent announcement to use our search activity on their search engine to target advertisements takes the privacy debate to a new level.

Search information is valuable, allowing firms neatly to target ads to a person’s interests to generate billions in additional advertising revenue. Google, the industry leader, stores personal information for 18 months, and they are not alone as Microsoft’s search engine, Yahoo and AOL all retain search requests for 13 months.

But they are not the only people retaining information.  Today’s revelations by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, that a quarter of all government databases are illegal and should be scrapped or redesigned, throws into sharp relief the amount of information that is now available for a whole range of purposes.

The Trust says that storing information leads to vulnerable people, such as young black men, single parents and children, being victimised.

It says the UK's "database state" wastes billions from the public purse and often breaches human rights laws.

But the government says the report contains "no substantive evidence" on which to base its conclusions. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the government was "never losing sight" of its obligations under the data protection and human rights acts.

"It takes its responsibilities seriously and will consider any concerns carefully, adapting existing safeguards where necessary," he added.

The government spends £16bn a year on databases and plans to spend a further £105bn on projects over five years but does not know the precise number of the "thousands" of systems it operates, the trust claims.

In the wake of numerous data loss scandals, the cross-party trust - which campaigns for civil liberties and social justice - examined 46 public sector systems.

It said 11 were "almost certainly" illegal under human rights or data protection laws.

And what is the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, doing about this? Well apparently nothing.  Maybe it is time for the Commissioner to start to earn his salary and start a formal investigation as to exactly what is being stored and retained by both Government and Industry. 

The trouble with civil liberties is that you don’t miss them until they are gone!

Fibre Taxation slowing the UK's broadband future.

The Government is in danger of creating a digital divide by discouraging investment in superfast connectivity unless it reviews the issue of fibre taxation. Despite Government backing next generation Internet applications and the use of fibre optic cable, it has continued to tax the rateable value of the basic infrastructure.

Elfed Thomas, CEO and founder of i3 Group, is calling on the Government to review the issue of fibre taxation ahead of the Digital Britain report expected later this month. He fears the imposition of the tax will create a digital divide between those companies able to afford the rate, and so benefit from superfast connectivity and those unable to offset the tax and thereby relying on the traditional copper networks.

He said: "Now is not the time for the Government to impose this tax. Fibre taxation is an issue which has been around for almost a decade but never before has it been such a potentially hot topic. Its resurgence comes as the Government is expected to back recommendations for the national deployment of dark fibre - to meet the requirement for universal Internet access to at least 2Mbps broadband speeds by 2012 in the Digital Britain report.

Given the Governments expressed commitment to ensure that the entire population has access to a less than ambitious 2Mbs, this is tax is clearly out of step with this aim.  It seems that the Treasury is still unaware of what is meant by “joined-up Government”.  With one branch of Government committed to improving Internet access for all whilst the Treasury tie the hands of industry behind its back by demanding an income from the means to deliver it!

Japan, Singapore, China, Sweden, Denmark and even Italy are rather more enlightened than the UK Government’s piece meal approach.  As I wrote last November in “When will the next generation broadband start to deliver for the UK”, our Government’s current approach and that of BT lacks the vision to deliver genuine advantage for UK plc in this crucial infrastructure.  Gordon Brown needs to get Lord Mandelson and Alastair Darling talking about something other than bonuses for failure in our Banks.

Further information @ H2O Networks site.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Birthday “WWW”

The "World Wide Web", which has completely transformed the way we live, has turn twenty today.  Its inception dates back to 13 March 1989, when a computer scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, at the European Centre for Nuclear Research, popularly known as CERN Laboratory, presented a paper containing means and methods by which particles physics scientists could easily share and find out essential electronics documents. 

At that time, the use of internet was limited to defence and academics domains only and communication was wholly text-based, banking on general newsgroups, along with remote Telnet chat to send messages.   

The document, entitled "Information Management: A Proposal", heralded the worth of simplified iteration of Standard Generalised Mark-up Language, and it described what is now known as world wide web that has annealed into almost every sphere of our lifestyles. 

The paper resulted into the creation of Hyper Text Mark-up Language (HTML), a coding language used to illustrate methods of presenting images and texts in the web format, and when this language get combined with Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Uniform Resource Locator (URL), it builds an essential framework to support sharing of electronic documents in an electronic format.  

In order to mark the twentieth birthday of the web, CERN will be hosting a couple of "short presentations from web veterans, in addition to a keynote speech from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, alongside a demonstration of the original browser". 

So the World Wide Web is no longer a surly teenager.  I wonder what we can expect from this fast maturing character!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Latest Trends online according to Razorfish

Each year Razorfish, an interactive marketing company, publishes its “Digital Outlook Report.”  The report is very interesting for anyone who is interested in making a living from the internet.

The first section identifies the key trends to watch over the coming year before examining them in greater depth.  They are:-

Trends to Watch

1.      Advertisers will turn to “measurability” and “differentiation”
in the recession.

2.      Search will not be immune to the impact of the economy.

3.      Social Influence Marketing will go mainstream.

4.      Online ad networks will contract; open ad exchanges will expand.

5.      This year, mobile will get smarter.

6.      Research and measurement will enter the digital age.

7.      “Portable” and “beyond-the-browser” opportunities will create new touch points for brands and content owners.

8.      Going digital will help TV modernize.

Whilst the document is overly long at 180 pages and does offer a very US centric view, it is definitely worth a look and ties up with many of the issues that I have been looking at over the past three years on this blog.  Get your copy from this link:-  Razorfish : Digital Outlook Report 2009

Google Android paid for apps opens in the UK

Paid for applications will be available to UK Android owners from today, T-Mobile has announced.

For the first time, Android developers will be able to set their own prices for their apps. Previously, only free apps could be made available through the Android Market app store.

Speaking at an Android developer event, Regan Whitehead, mobile internet category manager at T-Mobile UK, said: "When users click on the Android Marketplace icon in the morning there will be a wide selection of paid apps on the market," including offerings from EA Sports and Activision.

Content on the Android Market is rated by users - in a similar fashion to YouTube - so developers who slap a high price tag on their app risk pricing it out of the market, according to Richard Warmsley, head of entertainment and internet at T-Mobile UK.

The store is like "eBay - developers are posting up their apps, they're setting the price, customers are rating independently and choosing what they want to have so it's an open market approach," he said.

The widespread interest in the potential of application marketplaces is hardly surprising, since  Apple revealed last year that it earned $30m in sales of iPhone apps in the first month after launching the App Store.

According to Maani Safa, head of mobile at The Telegraph Media Group, the newspaper's app - which was initially launched on Android - took about four times as long to port it over to the iPhone.

"Apple just make you jump through hoops," he claimed.

Because of these hoops, Safa said the company is "using Android as a trailblazer" - any app it creates will be launched first on Android and then ported over to other platforms because of the difficulties he had working with Apple

"Say you have a commercial deal in place and you want an application to go live on day X with an Android version. You create the application, you click on publish and literally within 10 seconds it's live in the application store, you call up the commercial partner and you tell them it's live ready to go. With the Apple version, you tell them it's date X - it gets to four days before, [Apple] gives you a call and says 'oh, by the way it's not going to go live for another two weeks'. 'Why?' 'It just isn't'."

There are currently more than 1,000 free apps available for Android.

T-Mobile's Warmsley said the top 10 apps downloaded on the G1 since its October 2008 launch are The Weather Channel, MySpace Mobile, ShopSavvy, Daily Horoscope, Free Dictionary Org, Ringdroid, Backgrounds, Barcode Scanner and Save MMS.

Currently, the G1 is only one model of Android phone is available in the UK and is exclusive to T-Mobile. Vodafone has just announced last month that they will begin shipping the HTC Magic Android compatible phone shortly. The phone will be available in the UK, Spain, France, and Germany.  

As regards the G1, T-Mobile's Warmsley said he was unable to put a figure on the number sold in the UK to date, but said that while "it's not a million", in a typical week T-Mobile's current sales rate of the G1 is 70 per cent of the iPhone's sales rate. O2 claims to have shipped more than a million iPhones in the UK.

The typical G1 user is a 32-year-old male, likely to be living in London or the South East - although there are also G1 'hotspots' in Leicester and Nottingham, according to Warmsley.

Additional Reporting from

Monday, March 02, 2009

UK ISP, Cable and Dongle User Numbers - March 2009

Here is an update of the UK ISP market covering DSL and Cable Access market as well as the the Mobile Dongle market in the UK. I have used ITU published data for Broadband usage numbers and Neilson Ratings to get an accurate picture as well all the reports and disclosures for each of the companies shown below. I believe these figures represent a reasonably accurate representation of the genuine adoption of broadband either via DSL, Cable or mobile dongle. Broadband connections included in this data cover download speeds equal to or faster than 256kbit/s.



% of UK Accts.

BT (inc Plusnet)



Virgin Media (inc



CPW (inc AOL)






Tiscali UK






Royal Mail



O2 (Be & Dongles)



3 (Mobile Dongles)






T-Mobile (Dongle)



Vodafone (Dongle)








0.51% UK















Unlike some of the largest UK ISPs, which have seen a decline or slowdown in high-speed services uptake, O2 has actually reported yet another growth increase from Q3-2008's +72,870 net additions to +73,776 for Q4. They're still some way behind 6th place Royal Mail but gaining fast.
Overall O2 outperformed the UK market in difficult economic times with over 10% growth and O2 is also working to increase broadband capacity at several locations around the UK. O2 has benefitted from the development of the growing “Internet Dongle” market. T-Mobile, 3 and Vodafone are also enjoying continued growth. BT is responding to the mobile challenge through BT Openzone (Wi-Fi Hotspots). BT has reported an increase in usage of 13% on Q3, with nearly double the amount of surfing minutes being used. BT Openzone is now available at more than 50,000 worldwide locations through roaming partners. BT FON membership also continued to climb and members now total 163,000.

As BT starts to roll out its 21st Century Network (21CN), they are seeking to work with a whole range of ISP partners such as Royal Mail to offer new services. BT Group has reported 8.1m wholesale broadband DSL connections at 31 December 2008. BT Broadband net additions of 83,000 in the quarter in the maturing broadband market, with a customer base of 4.7m including both BT Broadband and Plusnet.