Filter looks at the day's top technology news through snapshots and analysis of what the world's media outlets are covering. Washingtonpost.com's new Mon.-Fri. feature is penned by technology reporter Cynthia L. Webb. If a technology story breaks, a company falters or triumphs, or there's a new trend in technology, Filter wants you to know about it.
The Wired piece noted some of the "best" trades being offered up on Michaels' site: "A '70s-era gold couch, at week's worth of drinks in Barcelona, a goatee and 'sophistry bolstered by Hume, Berkeley and/or Kant." USA Today noted that "Dallas Pool is offering a two-hour Segway rental from his shop in La Jolla, Calif., in exchange for an invitation."
All this craze over Gmail comes despite some serious privacy concerns that have been raised about Gmail. The Google service offers up 1 gigabyte of free e-mail storage, but "free" in this case means users must endure Google's computers scanning their incoming messages, with contextual ads being placed along side the message content. Gmail proponents say anyone concerned about privacy can just go somewhere else for an e-mail account, but critics don't like the idea of Google computers mining e-mail content for advertising gold. See my April 2 Filter for more background on the whole privacy debate.
There's No Such Thing as Bad PR
All this publicity about Gmail -- both the good and the bad -- is surely music to Google's ears. After all, the company is in a quiet period ahead of its much-anticipated IPO, so execs can't run around making too many grand claims about the company (Just look what happened to Salesforce.com). Washington Post reporter David Vise wrote yesterday about how Google has been quite active in pumping out product announcements and other publicity-drawing events in a time when it should be hunkering down before its IPO). "It is against the norm to make these announcements and come out with new products during the quiet period," Beal of Websourced told the Post. "It definitely shows that Google is not a company that conforms to the norm."
The Washington Post: Google Isn't Keeping Quiet After IPO Filing (Registration required)
So, are you one of the lucky few to get an early Gmail account? I'd like to hear from you. Send me your thoughts on the Google mail service. And if you're not one of the anointed few, let me know why you do or don't want firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll post selected comments in an upcoming Filter.
Not a Bad Investment at All, Jeff
Jeff Bezos is sitting pretty. He's already king of wildly successful Amazon.com. And now he must be waiting with bated breath for Google's IPO, since he stands to make a mint on the deal. "If you want to get in on the ground floor of the next hot Silicon Valley start-up company, you'd better cozy up to venture capital king John Doerr. It sure worked ... Bezos, who was able to invest in Google six years ago for 6 cents a share, and may be able to turn that small investment into more than $150 million when the firm goes public. Doerr helped recruit Bezos and another Amazon executive, Ram Shriram, into the network of angel investors who provided the $960,000 in start-up funding that the company needed to get off the ground back in 1998. Doerr is a veteran partner at one of Silicon Valley's top venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers -- which was an early investor in Amazon," The New York Post reported today.
The New York Post: Bezos Wins Again
"You have to give Bezos credit for vision," Benjamin Horowitz, chief executive of Opsware, told Bloomberg. Opsware is a software company Horowitz started with Marc Andreessen of Netscape Communications fame. "Who would have thought in 1998 that the next big thing would be Internet search?," Horowitz said, according to the paper, which said neither Amazon or Google would comment (of course not for Google. It is the quiet period).
Bloomberg via The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Payback For This Angel Investor
It's Gigabyte, With A 'G'
Turns out reports earlier this week that Google was pumping up its already massive 1 gigabyte Gmail storage to a terabyte of storage was wishful thinking. "Numerous users of Gmail -- Google's Web-based e-mail that remains in the testing phase -- noticed that the service indicated a thousand gigabytes of storage space, not the one gigabyte Google had earlier announced was the official allowance. But the storage limit -- nearly a terabyte -- was just a flash in the pan, according to Google. Spokesman Nate Tyler on Thursday confirmed that the problem was a bug, not a feature. 'Gmail offers one gigabyte of storage,' he said," TechWeb reported yesterday. Was it a glitch or more sly PR strategy from the company?
TechWeb: Google Gmail's 1,000GB Of Storage Just A Bug
In other Google news, a row is developing over Google's name. And what better time to bring it up then now, when Google stands to become make billions in an IPO? The Scotsman newspaper (Edinburgh, U.K.) explained more earlier this week: "A DISPUTE over a very large number of zeroes is threatening to distract attention from a $2.7 billion stock sale by the internet search engine Google. News of the deal has brought a threat of legal action from the family of Professor Edward Kasner, who invented the word 'googol' in the 1930s to describe a very big number. He wrote about the concept in a 1940 book, describing a googol as the number one followed by a hundred zeroes. Kasner's great-niece, Peri Fleisher, now insists that the US-based company has gained financially at the expense of the family. She said: 'If we do have a legal right, we're certainly going to exercise that. And now is the time.'" NPR interviewed Fleisher earlier this month.
The Scotsman: Zero Tolerance As Googol Plans To Take Google To Court
One More For The 'Big Brother' Files
There is more that meets the eye in the state-led Matrix data-mining program. The American Civil Liberties Union is blasting the program's early ties to the federal government and revelations that the program was used to create a targeted list of suspected terrorists. The group is asking the feds "to withdraw $8 million in funding for a Florida contractor that developed a list of 120,000 potential terrorists soon after the Sept. 11 attacks," The Miami Herald reported today, following up on an ACLU press conference.
"We know there's not 120,000 terrorists out there. What are the consequences going to be for people who are on that list? And who's going to access that information?" said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, according to the Herald.
"The contractor, Seisint, made the list using public records and investigative files as a demonstration of its MATRIX software for sharing information among police agencies, according to records obtained by the ACLU and the Associated Press. Seeking a federal contract, Seisint representatives bragged last year that they helped authorities identify potential terrorists with a scoring system based on age, gender, ethnicity and unidentified 'investigational data.' According to the sales presentation, dated May 2003 and obtained by the Associated Press and the ACLU, the 120,000 names with the highest scores were given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI, Secret Service and Florida state police." Even though 11 out of 16 states that signed up for the project have cancelled their participation, Florida is still participating, the Herald article noted.
The Miami Herald: ACLU Criticizes MATRIX Database That Identifies Potential Terrorists (Registration required)
ACLU's Matrix Page
The Associated Press was first out of the gates on the Matrix news yesterday. Their piece noted, "Public records obtained by The Associated Press from several states show that Justice Department officials cited the scoring technology in appointing Seisint sole contractor on the federally funded, $12 million project. Seisint and the law enforcement officials who oversee MATRIX insist that the terrorism scoring system ultimately was kept out of the project, largely because of privacy concerns."
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: AP -- Database Measured 'Terrorism Quotient' (Registration required)
Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow Jr. provided more details today on how the makers of Matrix got a front-seat ticket to present the technology to the White House: "One day in January 2003, an entrepreneur from Florida named Hank Asher walked into the Roosevelt Room of the White House to demonstrate a counterterrorism tool he invented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Soon to be called Matrix, it was a computer program capable of examining records of billions of people in seconds. Accompanied by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the state's top police official, Asher showed his creation to Vice President Cheney, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Tom Ridge, who was about to be sworn in as secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security, according to people at the meeting."
The Post reported that the "demonstration startled everyone in the room who had not seen it before. Almost as quickly as questions could be asked, the system generated long reports on a projection screen: names, addresses, driver license photos, links to associates, even ethnicity. At one point, an Asher associate recalled, Ridge turned toward Cheney and nudged him with an elbow, apparently to underscore his amazement at the power of what they were seeing. A few months later, Ridge approved an $8 million 'cooperative agreement' from his department to help states link to the computer system."
The Washington Post: Anti-Terrorism Database Got Show At White House (Registration required)
Matrix stands for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange.
A Note From Filter's Editor
There are three zeros between "million" and "billion," but only one key on the standard keyboard separates the "m" and the "b." My normally agile fingers slipped right over the boundary yesterday when I said Symantec would spend $370 billion to buy Brightmail. The correct number, of course is $370 million. That error didn't appear in the Filter column, but it did show up in the Daily Technology e-letter that we send out to folks reminding them about all the great technology news they can read here at washingtonpost.com (sign-up here). -- Robert MacMillan
Filter is designed for hard-core techies, news junkies and technology professionals alike. Have suggestions, cool links or interesting tales to share? Send your tips and feedback to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com.