Weekend news roundup

19 Dec 2011

A trawl through some of the tech stories covered in the weekend papers around the world, including a glimpse into the life of billionaire Sean Parker, how BlackBerry maker RIM is responding to porn allegations regarding its smartphones, Apple being part of a US/EU e-books investigation and the unresolved digital divide in the US.

BlackBerry in a stew over porn allegations

The Sunday Telegraph reported that BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has been summoned to a meeting by Ofcom after it emerged that children are able to view pornography on the smartphones.

The paper reported it is understood that the problem is unique to the BlackBerry, which has become increasingly popular among young users in recent years.

Leading mobile networks will join RIM at the summit called by the telecommunications regulator.

“It was brought to our attention that there was a problem,” an Ofcom spokesman said.

“It is to do with the way in which the BlackBerry operating system works. We are very concerned and want to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”

The mysterious Mr Parker

Sean Parker is a lot of things to a lot of people with an opinion. The one thing everyone can agree on about the man who has played a pivotal role in the formation of Napster, Facebook, Plaxo and most recently, Spotify, is that the young billionaire is an enigma.

The New York Times carried a fascinating interview with the tech entrepreneur and gave a glimpse into his high-octane lifestyle.

Parker, the paper reported, is a self-educated polymath who decided as a teenager to liberate himself from what he called “the shackles of conventionality” and found himself at the forefront of two of technology’s most important trends: the digital distribution of entertainment, and social media. At 19, he helped found Napster, the online music-file sharing service that roiled the recording industry. At 24, he joined Facebook as its president after sending an e-mail to Mark Zuckerberg, a founder and chief executive.

Digital dilemma for Apple

The Observer reported that Apple’s struggle to defeat Amazon looks set to be exposed by a major European e-book inquiry. The paper reported that the deal the iPad maker struck with publishers could be threatened by an inquiry into the prices people in the EU pay for their digital reading.

Regulators, both in Europe and the United States, are worried that shoppers may be overpaying. This month, both the European commission and the US Department of Justice have announced investigations into e-book sales. They are to lift the lid on a power struggle between the publishing industry and Amazon that could determine the shape of the book trade for years to come.

The European commission will probe the “agency” deals signed between Apple and five of the biggest publishers: Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan.

The digital divide in America

The San Jose Mercury News carried an interesting interview with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, which revealed the extent of the digital divide in the US.

For many years, that term referred to access to the internet. There are still huge gaps here. According to the Pew Foundation, less than 50pc of African-Americans, Latinos, the elderly and rural populations have broadband access. And only about 46pc of low-income families have broadband compared with 90pc of high-income families.

But in recent years, it’s become clear among academics, community organisers and government policymakers that addressing the issue of access is just the first step, not the whole solution, to the digital divide.

Once connected, some people don’t have the skills to make full use of the internet, or don’t participate in social and civic life online because they’re too busy working two jobs to make ends meet.

The barriers are numerous and complex, meaning the problem remains persistent, and not subject to a single, easy fix.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years