Artificial data caps on smartphone usage has caused all kinds of "rabble rabble" in the Internet community, but should mobile phone users really be all that concerned? The answer is a resounding "maybe."
On one hand, smartphone users are consuming more data than ever. Market research firm Nielson Co. combed through 60,000 mobile bills from the first quarter of 2010, and by their calculations, the average user blasts through nearly 300MB of data per month. That's about 230 percent more than last year.
But while data usage is as high as ever, consumers aren't coming anywhere close to the higher-level data caps, like the 2GB limit AT&T recently put in place. That leaves plenty of headroom, though not for users on AT&T's $15/month 200MB data plan.
The big unknown here is whether smartphone data consumption will continue to grow at the same rate, and if it does, that 2GB cap won't seem all that high for very long. This will be especially true if video streaming really takes off, as well as other services that chew through data at a rapid rate.
How much smartphone data do you estimate you're using each month?
Unlike its surreptitious malicious-code-on-a-Street-View-car method of collecting Wi-Fi data, Google has an unintrusive way of accomplishing the task using mobile applications. Google's database of Wi-Fi hot spots is most likely to swell every time a user tracks his mobile phone's location using Wi-Fi triangulation or uses geolocation-enabled web services on a laptop.
This method is unlikely to ruffle any feathers as no payload data is collected. According to Steve Lee, a group product manager at Google, all Wi-Fi data is anonymous and users can prevent the "anonymous location data" from being sent to Google.
It is becoming very difficult to keep track of Google's growing multinational miseries following the infamous Wi-Fi debacle. Google's legal woes in the States seem to mirror its problems elsewhere, with the company facing eight lawsuits in different U.S. states and the Congress mulling “a hearing, at minimum.”
The data imported from the GPS device can now be viewed as a graph alongside the route. Besides graphs based on speed, slope and elevation, the feature also covers “additional information such as heart rate or cadence” in case it is recorded by the device. It is also possible to relive the entire trip by simply hitting the time animation button. Want to preserve the trip for posterity? It is even possible to generate a video of the track.
Google has also done away with the need to open an web browser every time the user is faced with a link to additional information: “For Google Earth 5.2, we’ve added an embedded browser that lets you browse the full web. Click on a link, and the browser pane slides across the screen. When you want to return to the Earth view, just click the “Back” button and you’re back exploring the world!”
The current state of the mobile market, contrary to what some tech commenters might be opining, is anything but ponies and roses. It's a lot like coming home from a hard day of work and finding out that your toilet is leaking--leaking all over your floor, that is. You don't really have the tools to fix it, but you do have a healthy amount of duct tape sitting around.
AT&T's announcement that it's eliminating the unlimited data plans for iPhone and iPad owners is but the black, sticky tape covering up a greater disaster underneath. But that's not what the various Internet commenters would have you believe. To them, the charitable AT&T has graciously swooped down to lower everyone's monthly data fees since so very, very few people will ever push past its first-tier pricing scheme of $25 per month for two gigabytes of data.
This is not some charitable reduction that saves 98 percent of AT&T's user base an extra $5 a month. If you believe that, then by all means, let the carrier come marching right up to your front door with a new contract and a shiny golden ticket to Wonka's candy factory. Because that, sir or ma'am, is just the level of delusion we're talking about.
Last week, Google enraged German authorities by disregarding a deadline for submitting unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had amassed while collecting images for its Street View service. The company excused itself by saying that there were possible legal ramifications of such a handover that it needed to review, forcing the Hamburg data protection supervisor Johannes Caspar to hint at a criminal investigation against it.
“We screwed up. Let’s be very clear about that,” Mr Schmidt told the Financial Times. “If you are honest about your mistakes it is the best defence for it not happening again.” According to Schmidt, disciplinary action is currently underway against the software engineer who wrote the meddlesome code.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has tied up with Google to make bulk trademark and patent data accessible online. The latter has agreed to host roughly 10 terabytes of data free of cost for two years, by when the USPTO hopes to enter into a proper arrangement “with a contractor to retrieve and distribute USPTO patent and trademark bulk public data.” In fact, this is the first time that USPTO's public data in bulk form is being provided free of cost.
“The USPTO is committed to providing increased transparency as called for by the President’s Open Government Initiative. An important element of that transparency is making valuable public patent and trademark information more widely available in a bulk form so companies and researchers can download it for analysis and research,” said Under Secretary of Commerce and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) David Kappos.
The data that can be accessed online at the moment includes patent grants and published applications, trademark applications, and patent and trademark assignments etc.
Even a company of a pleasant disposition like Google can become a touch nettlesome when its rivals are busy playing a high-stakes game of musical chairs, where the winner gets to be the world's leading tech company – Apple snatched the honor from Microsoft on Wednesday. Probably feeling left out and dejected, the company even missed a key deadline yesterday. The German authorities had asked it to hand over the unauthorized Wi-Fi data it had collected during an image-collection campaign for its Street View service. But the internet giant let the deadline pass.
It was kind enough to offer a clarification, though: “As granting access to payload data creates legal challenges in Germany, which we need to review, we are continuing to discuss the appropriate legal and logistical process for making the data available.” This excuse appears untenable given the fact that Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg data protection supervisor, claims to have been assured by the state prosecutor, Lutz von Selle, that the requested data will not be used to compound Google's legal problems.
However, Google's failure to comply with the request has actually compounded its problems, as it has given rise to a criminal investigation against it. The company also enraged regulators in Hong Kong by missing a Monday deadline for furnishing similar data collected in that neck of the woods.
The ruckus began when Google fessed up to “inadvertently” collecting 600 gigabytes of “fragmentary data” from open Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, and offered to destroy the data instead of making it available for scrutiny. Although data protection watchdogs in Australia, Ireland and Denmark gave the nod for the data to be destroyed, most countries have requested that it be preserved for the sake of possible legal action in the matter.
About four years ago, Bryan St. Germain, then 22-year old son of Bob St. Germain, used his Verizon cell phone to connect to the Web. What Bryan didn't know at the time was that the two-year promotional plan his father signed up for -- a plan which allowed for free downloads -- had passed, and he was now being charged per kilobyte.
The result? Little St. Germain racked up a $12,000 phone bill on his father's account, and then another $6,000 to be added to next month's bill. Apparently Bryan had been tethering his cell phone to his laptop because it was quicker than his father's dial-up service, but certainly not less expensive. Now four years later, Bob's debt incurred by his son sits in collections and the dispute between him and Verizon rages on.
"If there's extreme activity on your account, they should let you know," Bob said. "Nobody should get surprised like I did."
Sounds reasonable, but is Verizon really at fault? The wireless telco begs to differ, pointing out that it goes to "great lengths to educate" customers about their products and services so situations like this don't end up happening. But it did happen, and the question is, should Bob be forced to pay off his debt, which Verizon offered to cut in half?
"The wireless industry is extraordinarily competitive and customers have choices," Verizon wrote in a letter to the Boston Globe. "We work to win, and keep, customers every day--and we understand our customers don't like surprises. Neither do we--it's bad business. Which is why we clearly explain service plan details in brochures, during the purchase process, in our customer agreements and again through confirmation letters. We provide access to tons of account information through the MyVerizon Web page, and by dialing #BAL (balance information), #DATA (data usage), and #MIN (available minutes)."
Verizon went on to explain that customers have "numerous tools through the Internet" at their disposal to manage their family's cell phone usage, such as setting voice and messaging allowances and receiving free text alerts when a family member near or reaches their limits, among other things.
Should Bob be forced to pay the four-year-old bill, or should Verizon drop the charges? Hit the jump and sound off!
How jaded have we become when we automatically assume that an "unlimited" data plan isn't really unlimited at all, but capped at whatever amount the ISP deems is high enough that no one will notice? So imagine our surprise when we caught wind that AT&T's Mark Siegel told GearLog.com that "unlimited is unlimited" when asked about the iPad's 3G data plan.
That's great news for soon-to-be iPad owners holding out for the 3G version to ship. Watch Netflix videos around the clock if you want, and never worry about receiving a letter that you've exceeded your "unlimited" quota. It's hard to believe that we're actually excited about this, but blame it on the ISPs who up to this point had us questioning what the definition of "unlimited" is, never mind what the definition of "is" is.
Apple will begin shipping 3G-capable iPads later this month for $629 (16GB), $729 (32GB, and $829 (64GB). AT&T's 3G data plan for the iPad runs $30 per month.