Archive for July, 2008

Government launches data mash-up

The UK government has launched a competition to find innovative ways of using the masses of data it collects.

It is hoping to find new uses for public information in the areas of criminal justice, health and education.

The Power of Information Taskforce – headed by cabinet office minister Tom Watson – is offering a £20,000 prize fund for the best ideas.

To help with the task, the government is opening up gigabytes of information from a variety of sources.

This includes mapping information from the Ordnance Survey, medical information from the NHS , neighbourhood statistics from the Office for National Statistics and a carbon calculator from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

None of the data will be personal information, the government is keen to stress.

Mr Watson is hoping to attract a wide range of people from “the technology community we already work with, to hard-core coders to adolescents in their bedroom”.

He admits that throwing open public data could be a risk but he believes that it will yield results.

“If someone comes up with a great idea we will make a prototype and then hopefully a fully-fledged piece of technology that will make peoples’ lives better,” he said.

“I strongly believe in co-design and in the digital age it makes sense to work with citizens to make public service better,” he added.

To help inspire ideas the team behind the idea has put dozens of examples of innovative ways of reusing public information on its Taskforce wiki.

These include a website which maps crimes around the UK, the FixMyStreet website, which allows users to alert other to litter, vandalism and graffiti in their local environment, and the prototype RateMyPrison, which invites those who visit friend and families in jail to comment on the experience.

Technology commentator Bill Thompson was one of the first to see the Show Us a Better Way website, which details the competition.

“It’s great to see a government department with enough sense to realise that it doesn’t have all the good ideas,” he said.

“There are terabytes of expensively accumulated information sitting in databases, but it goes unused and unexploited because of restrictive licenses and lack of awareness,” he added.

The government will evaluate the ideas over the course of the summer.

Source – BBC

 


Virgin rapped on broadband speeds

A complaint lodged by BT about the speeds of Virgin Media’s broadband service has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The challenge centred on its advertisement Hate to Wait?, which ran in the national media and featured download times for songs and TV shows.

BT argued that Virgin’s usage caps meant that downloads during peak times would be slower than advertised.

The ASA has agreed and ordered Virgin to make it clear that speeds will vary.

Confusing megabits

In its adjudication it said that the advert did not make it clear that customers on Virgin Media’s lower speed packages would be able to download TV shows at the speeds advertised only during off-peak hours.

It ruled that Virgin Media needed to clarify that download times would be restricted during peak hours.

Virgin Media argued that, for users of its M 2Mbps (megabits per second) package, a TV show downloaded during peak hours would take only a few minutes longer to download.

But it did admit that users would be subject to its so-called traffic management system, which caps data usage during peak hours.

It said that the issue would affect only users of the 2Mbps service.

Customers on its L 4Mbps package could download 60 songs and/or two TV shows before reaching caps while those on the XL 20Mbps package could download 614 songs or nine TV shows before their speeds would be subject to caps, Virgin said.

“We believe our Hate to Wait? campaign provided a simple and transparent comparison between broadband speeds for consumers looking to choose between Virgin Media’s M, L and XL broadband packages,” Virgin Media said in a statement.

On a secondary issue, Virgin admitted that it wrongly used the term “megabits” when referring to the size of the files being downloaded and agreed to change it to the correct “megabytes” term.

It also agreed to amend the ad to reflect the fact that it would take some customers longer to download a TV show than stated.

The issue of so-called traffic throttling, where internet service providers place limits on the amount of data users can download, has become more pertinent with the growth of video-sharing sites and TV catch-up services such as the iPlayer.

In the US some providers are banning access to file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent and in the UK the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) is in talks with providers, including Virgin Media, about banning heavy users of file-sharing sites.

“ISPs are responding to the growth of online video services and capping is also a way of migrating customers onto faster and more expensive tariffs,” said James Garlick, analyst with Screen Digest.

Virgin Media believes traffic-throttling is vital to ensure a good service.

“Our traffic management policy helps ensure the majority of customers receive the quality of service they expect from our fibre-optic broadband product by managing demand from the heaviest users at certain times of the day,” said a spokesman for Virgin Media.

The broadband arena in the UK has become hugely competitive and the ASA has received a steady stream of complaints, sometimes from consumers but often from rival providers, about the speeds of both fixed and mobile broadband.

“There are lots of factors which affect speed. Consumers are concerned about it but often it is competitors keeping an eye on each other,” said a spokesman from the ASA.

Source – BBC


Dell offers ‘Windows Vista Bonus’

Dell is actively promoting a Microsoft licensing loophole to channel partners eager to keep selling PCs installed with Windows XP, after Microsoft’s official cut off.

The Dell channel blog is pointing resellers to the loophole in the Windows Vista license that enables business customers to downgrade from the unwanted Windows Vista to its dated, but comfortable and better-supported predecessor.

According to the blog: “Dell can sell what we’ve branded ‘Windows Vista Bonus’ which allows us to preinstall XP Professional with a Vista license (on select system categories). This lets customer’s upgrade to the Vista platform when they’re ready. And yes, Dell will support both OSs.”

Dell, meanwhile, is also making Windows XP available as an image to those partners using the company’s Custom Factory Integration service.

The blog was designed to coincide with the last day Windows XP was officially available from Microsoft. From now on, you can only get Windows Vista. Officially.

Dell has taken a leading position in continuing to offer Windows XP. Earlier this month Dell vowed to keep selling PCs running the operating system until “at least 2009″.

Dell’s stance of not just offering Windows XP directly but actively telling its huge ecosystem of resellers how they, too, can game Microsoft’s system and continue selling Windows XP demonstrates a significant shift in the OEM’s relationship with Microsoft.

With chief software architect Bill Gates’ departure fresh in the air, it should be remembered how, under Gates’ tenure last decade as chief executive, Microsoft exploited its position as supplier of a popular PC operating system to play hardball with PC OEMs on licensing Windows.

During the US Department of Justice’s antitrust trial, IBM revealed that Microsoft had delayed giving IBM access to Windows 95 simply because IBM refused to kill its own OS/2 operating system or agree to not bundle its SmartSuite rival to Office on IBM PCs.

Source The Register


David Cameron: Innovation must be at the heart of public policy

In a major speech on innovation at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), David Cameron said:

“I passionately believe that if we are to take on and beat the great challenges of our time, we need the culture of public policy-making to have innovation at its heart. That’s the way to get the best results. And that’s the way to get value for taxpayers’ money…

“We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce ‘open standards’ that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components. So never again could there be projects like Labour’s hubristic NHS supercomputer. And we will create a level playing field for open source software in IT procurement and open up the procurement system to small and innovative companies…

“We’re going to move from a top-down system to a bottom-up one. Where money follows the needs and wishes of individuals and the users of services – not the priorities of the bureaucracy. Where we don’t ask, where does the voluntary sector fit in? – but rather: where doesn’t the voluntary sector fit in? Where we in government concentrate on the results that public services deliver, not prescribe the processes they have to follow.”

Conservative Party policies to set public data free include:

• Spending Transparency, so every public body must publish every item of Government expenditure over £25,000, increasing accountability to the taxpayer.

• Standardised Local Government Information, so it can be collected and used by the public and third party groups to create innovative applications and public services about local services like sports clubs.

• Crime Mapping, so the public can see a constantly updating picture of crime in their area, increasing the accountability of local police and politicians

• A level playing field for open source software, opening up procurement which could result in savings to the taxpayer of hundreds of millions of pounds per year.


NHS loses yet more unencrypted patient data

The NHS has once again admitted to losing thousands of patients’ personal records on an unencrypted laptop.
This time the guilty party was the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust. The laptop – containing names, dates of birth, postcodes and treatment details of 21,000 patients – was stolen from a manager’s car on 18 June.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is reportedly investigating the loss and the manager involved has been suspended.

When asked by PC Pro this morning whether the Trust had now ensured that all laptops containing sensitive patient data had been encrypted, a spokesman told us: “It’s not an area we’re prepared to go into. We’re not about to discuss our security measures.”

It’s the second time in recent weeks that the NHS has compromised patients’ privacy on stolen laptops. Six laptops containing details of 20,000 patients – including 3,000 children – were stolen from St George’s hospital in Tooting, London.

And last month, the Scottish Ambulance Service admitted details of almost 900,000 emergency calls had gone missing in transit.

Source PC Pro


Brits a prime target for Nigerian and adult spam

British surfers are most likely to be targeted by Nigerian 419 fraud and pornographic spam, according to a new study by McAfee.

McAfee asked volunteers from around the globe to act as spam honeypots for 30 days, getting them to sign up for get-rich quick schemes and reply to any spam emails that entered their inboxes.

Predictably, the participants saw an explosion of spam in their inbox, with one UK volunteer receiving 5,414 junk messages over the month.

McAfee’s claims that spam “poses a very real threat and is showing no signs of slowing down” have to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, considering that it asked the volunteers to deliberately engage with the spammers, and also disabled the anti-spam portion of their security software.

Nevertheless, the study reveals that the British volunteers were the most frequent recipients of the Nigerian 419 scams, where typically an African dignitary promises to share his long-lost wealth with you if you hand over your bank account details.

Asked why Brits are still targeted by this infamous con, McAfee’s security analyst Greg Day claims, “the obvious reality is it’s still predominantly going out in the English language,” adding that “maybe the US is a little more used to them and so aren’t being targeted as much.”

Almost one in five of the spam messages received by UK trialists were of an adult nature, putting Britain second only to the US in the porn spam stakes.

McAfee claims one of the British participants, a software developer, traced the IP address of one of the spammers back to an address on the same street as the White House. Perhaps the president is seeking a lucrative sideline during his final few months in office?

Source and Article from PC Pro