Short Takes: September 5, 2014

Short Takes: September 5, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including Steve Ballmer's best writing, Microsoft pushes EU to drop Google settlement and fight harder, Microsoft lofts an Xbox fragrance (not really), Google and Twitter infiltrate our government, Apple's two-step side-step, Samsung's new phones, a Facebook privacy check-up, and Google refunds in-app purchases made to children.

Steve Ballmer wrote the BSOD text

Sometimes you just hear a story that warms the cockles of your heart. This isn't such a story. And I'm not even sure what a cockle is. But it's pretty neat: Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer actually wrote the text that appeared on the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)—really, the Stop Error—in Windows 3.1 back in the day. The story, which comes from everyone's favorite Microsoft insider, Raymond Chen, is that Ballmer, then head of Microsoft's Systems Division, didn't like the text that engineers were using on the Blue Screen. So they said, if you can write a better one, go for it. So he did, they loved it, and it was added to Windows. And now I challenge you to find a better story that encompasses Ballmer's career at Microsoft. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Microsoft, other firms push EU to drop Google search settlement

Microsoft is leading a consortium of companies in calling on European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia to drop his proposed "catastrophic" settlement with Google and force the search giant to do more to stop harming competition. Almumia desperately wants to put this case behind him before he steps down later this fall, but he's facing an increasingly vocal and hostile crowd of competitors who believe he's simply letting Google off the hook with ineffectual remedies for its search engine abuses. Microsoft and co. aren't the only ones down on this settlement, either: Fully one-third of Almunia's Commission colleagues think he's not doing enough to curb Google's search abuses. In fact, some say that his proposed settlement will simply "aggravate" that abuse.

Destiny Fragrance: The new fragrance by Xbox

Smells like space victory.

Google, Twitter infiltrate the White House

Executives from Google and Twitter have taken senior technology posts with the Obama administration, marking the first time that enemies of the state have infiltrated our government. Or something. Google's Megan Smith will become the White House CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and Twitter's Alexander Macgillivray will become deputy CTO. It is wise for president Obama to embrace Silicon Valley, but then it would have been even wiser to do so before late in year 6 of his lame duck presidency. But I suspect the appointments are indirectly related to recent news that the web site was hacked in July. And if there's anyone who knows more about getting hacked than people from Google and Twitter, well ... Oh right, Apple.

Apple's two-step authentication side-steps the second step

Lost in Apple's description of the "hack" that resulted in nude celebrity photos "flooding" the Internet—we were so chaste before that, thanks Apple!—is the fact that the Cupertino consumer electronics giant has finally been bitten in the butt by its long-standing strategy of putting user experience before user safety. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed my contention that those celebrities would never have been hacked if they used two-step authentication with OneDrive instead of iCloud to back up their photos. Why? Because OneDrive's two-step authentication actually works. So now Apple will implement fixes to the way iCloud security works, and one of the changes is that two-step authentication will actually kick-in more frequently, as it should. They'll figure it out.

Samsung launches new smart phones

I think. Like the rest of you, I'm ignoring this one.

Bend over, please, it's time for your Facebook privacy checkup

Yep, you're a quart low. Facebook this week started rolling out a new three-step "privacy checkup" that, let's face it, everyone using the service needs to spend some time on. The goal, of course, is to make sure that what you're sharing on Facebook is only shared with those you intend to share with. And because this is Facebook, you are of course rewarded with a blue cartoon dinosaur when you've completed the checkup. Because that makes sense. But seriously, Facebookers. Use this.

Google to refund $19 million in in-app purchases made to children

And the only shocker here is that the refund is only $19 million; maybe Apple users really do spend money more frequently and less prudently. Google settled a case with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission this week and has agreed to refund $19 million in feeds to parents whose children inadvertently (or otherwise) made in-app purchases with real money. The case is very similar to one that Apple recently faced, and for the same reasons: It simply doesn't do enough to protect people from apps (usually games) that hide real fees inside of "free" apps. That's changing, fortunately: The next versions of both Android and iOS make this practice much less subtle, and both firms are working to identify these apps explicitly. "We're glad to put this matter behind us so we can focus on creating more ways for people to enjoy all the entertainment they love," a Google spokesperson said, clearly referring to in-app advertising.

But Wait, There's More

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