economics

January 18, 2011

Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer plans to hand over offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous to WikiLeaks

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:19 pm
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He will disclose the details of ‘massive potential tax evasion’ before he flies home to stand trial over his actions
Rudolf Elmer in Mauritius
Rudolf Elmer in Mauritius: “Well-known pillars of society will hold investment portfolios and may include houses, trading companies, artwork, yachts, jewellery, horses, and so on.” Photograph: Rene Soobaroyen for the Guardian
Ed Vulliamy

The Observer, Sun 16 Jan 2011 00.06 GMT
The offshore bank account details of 2,000 “high net worth individuals” and corporations – detailing massive potential tax evasion – will be handed over to the WikiLeaks organisation in London tomorrow by the most important and boldest whistleblower in Swiss banking history, Rudolf Elmer, two days before he goes on trial in his native Switzerland.
British and American individuals and companies are among the offshore clients whose details will be contained on CDs presented to WikiLeaks at the Frontline Club in London. Those involved include, Elmer tells the Observer, “approximately 40 politicians”.
Elmer, who after his press conference will return to Switzerland from exile in Mauritius to face trial, is a former chief operating officer in the Cayman Islands and employee of the powerful Julius Baer bank, which accuses him of stealing the information.
He is also – at a time when the activities of banks are a matter of public concern – one of a small band of employees and executives seeking to blow the whistle on what they see as unprofessional, immoral and even potentially criminal activity by powerful international financial institutions.
Along with the City of London and Wall Street, Switzerland is a fortress of banking and financial services, but famously secretive and expert in the concealment of wealth from all over the world for tax evasion and other extra-legal purposes.
Elmer says he is releasing the information “in order to educate society”. The list includes “high net worth individuals”, multinational conglomerates and financial institutions – hedge funds”. They are said to be “using secrecy as a screen to hide behind in order to avoid paying tax”. They come from the US, Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia – “from all over”.
Clients include “business people, politicians, people who have made their living in the arts and multinational conglomerates – from both sides of the Atlantic”. Elmer says: “Well-known pillars of society will hold investment portfolios and may include houses, trading companies, artwork, yachts, jewellery, horses, and so on.”
“What I am objecting to is not one particular bank, but a system of structures,” he told the Observer. “I have worked for major banks other than Julius Baer, and the one thing on which I am absolutely clear is that the banks know, and the big boys know, that money is being secreted away for tax-evasion purposes, and other things such as money-laundering – although these cases involve tax evasion.”
Elmer was held in custody for 30 days in 2005, and is charged with breaking Swiss bank secrecy laws, forging documents and sending threatening messages to two officials at Julius Baer.
Elmer says: “I agree with privacy in banking for the person in the street, and legitimate activity, but in these instances privacy is being abused so that big people can get big banking organisations to service them. The normal, hard-working taxpayer is being abused also.
“Once you become part of senior management,” he says, “and gain international experience, as I did, then you are part of the inner circle – and things become much clearer. You are part of the plot. You know what the real products and service are, and why they are so expensive. It should be no surprise that the main product is secrecy … Crimes are committed and lies spread in order to protect this secrecy.”
The names on the CDs will not be made public, just as a much shorter list of 15 clients that Elmer handed to WikiLeaks in 2008 has remained hitherto undisclosed by the organisation headed by Julian Assange, currently on bail over alleged sex offences in Sweden, and under investigation in the US for the dissemination of thousands of state department documents.
Elmer has been hounded by the Swiss authorities and media since electing to become a whistleblower, and his health and career have suffered.
“My understanding is that my client’s attempts to get the banks to act over various complaints he made came to nothing internally,” says Elmer’s lawyer, Jack Blum, one of America’s leading experts in tracking offshore money. “Neither would the Swiss courts act on his complaints. That’s why he went to WikiLeaks.”
That first crop of documents was scrutinised by the Guardian newspaper in 2009, which found “details of numerous trusts in which wealthy people have placed capital. This allows them lawfully to avoid paying tax on profits, because legally it belongs to the trust … The trust itself pays no tax, as a Cayman resident”, although “the trustees can distribute money to the trust’s beneficiaries”.
Now, Blum says, “Elmer is being tried for violating Swiss banking secrecy law even though the data is from the Cayman Islands. This is bold extraterritorial nonsense. Swiss secrecy law should apply to Swiss banks in Switzerland, not a Swiss subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.”
Julius Baer has denied all wrongdoing, and rejects Elmer’s allegations. It has said that Elmer “altered” documents in order to “create a distorted fact pattern”.
The bank issued a statement on Friday saying: “The aim of [Elmer’s] activities was, and is, to discredit Julius Baer as well as clients in the eyes of the public. With this goal in mind, Mr Elmer spread baseless accusations and passed on unlawfully acquired, respectively retained, documents to the media, and later also to WikiLeaks. To back up his campaign, he also used falsified documents.”
The bank also accuses Elmer of threatening colleagues

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June 27, 2010

Blogging behind Vietnam’s bamboo cyberwall

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 5:53 pm
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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (CNN) — Helmet under her arm, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh arrives after traveling 450 kilometers by motorbike, evading the security police, to tell CNN the story of her imprisonment for blogging in Vietnam.

“The first three days I was scared for myself,” she said about her 10 days in prison, during which officers repeatedly asked her about her writing and if she received cash from anti-government groups outside the country.

Vietnamese like Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh are embracing the internet in full force. There are 24 million internet users right now, nearly a third of the population. A decade ago there were 200,000. Internet cafes have popped up all over Ho Chi Minh City, and social networking sites are increasing in popularity along with mobile internet use.

“Internet life grows so fast,” said a popular blogger, who requested anonymity out of concerns for his safety. “Even I, one of the bloggers, could not imagine how fast this could be.

“And nearly everyone, each Vietnamese, has their own blog.”

Like elsewhere, most Vietnamese blogs deal with life, work, humor or technology. But a group of bloggers here also focus on a more dangerous territory in this one-party Communist state: They write about local corruption, land seizures and the increasing influence of China. They complain about the lack of multiparty democracy, too.

In a nutshell, they blog about the sort of issues that can get you into deep trouble in today’s Vietnam.

This is something that Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh — who blogs under the Vietnamese pen name Me Nam or Mother Mushroom — knows well.

Her blog includes writings about her daily life and pictures of her young daughter, but she also expresses her outspoken views against China’s intervention in her country, including Beijing’s financing of a controversial bauxite mine in the Central Highlands.

Those views led to her arrest and imprisonment for ten days in August, for, she said, “abuse of democratic freedoms and infringing on the national benefit.”

When I first got in touch with Nguyen nearly a year later, her phone and movements were still being monitored. E-mail, I had been told, was the best way to get in touch.

“I am willing to tell my story to you,” she wrote to me, saying she would travel from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City to meet us.

Twelve hours later, she sent another e-mail. “Can you sure filming is OK and safe for us?” She feared the security police would prevent her from coming, but she would try.

The next day she arrived, and over the next two hours she told her story.

“I did not know what happened. But the fourth and fifth and the sixth day when they asked me the same questions, I was scared for my mom and my daughter and my husband. I didn’t want to think about them when I was put in prison, because if I ever think about them I wanted to give everything to come to my family.”

As a condition of her release, she agreed to give up blogging, posting a handwritten letter on her site in which she explained that she loved her country, but that the government felt this was the wrong way. After being denied a passport two months later though, she decided to begin again.

“I write another entry on my blog, that I gave up already, but they didn’t leave me alone,” she said. “I have to take the right to say what I think.”

What does she think the government will do if they see her telling her story on CNN?

“I think that they have to think about this,” she said. “Because I just tell the truth … If they arrest me again because I send a message outside to the world, I am not scared. This means that they show to (the) world that we don’t have freedom like they say.”

When contacted by CNN about its policy on freedom of expression on the internet, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry provided the following written response.

“In Vietnam, freedom of information and freedom of speech are guaranteed and practiced in accordance with the law. Such concern as ‘government threatens free expression online and an open internet’ is groundless.”

Nguyen and I have been keeping in touch by e-mail since her story aired on CNN International television one week ago.

“Thank you so much for the film …,” she wrote me on Saturday. “Thank you for coming to report about our country.”

And at the bottom of her automatic signature, the same as on every e-mail I have received from her, it read: “Who will speak if you don’t?”

May 27, 2010

Facebook’s New Privacy Approach Shifts Control Back to User

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:13 pm
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By: Hari Sreenivasan

Facebook unveiled new privacy controls Wednesday, after the social networking site came under heavy criticism in recent weeks for hard-to-use new settings and for making chunks of previously private information public.

Leslie Harris of the Center for Democracy and Technology stopped by the Rundown Wednesday to discuss the new controls. The new approach, Harris says, “completely shifts the paradigm back to user control.”

Among the changes:

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One simple privacy control page will allow you to change the visibility of your profile and content settings. Users can set controls that apply to all information on the site or customize their information. The controls will be applied to all content retroactively.
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Less information will be automatically public in general Facebook searches.
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Applications that run on Facebook will have “dramatically restricted access” to personal data.
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Users will be able to opt out of instant participation, a program that allows partner sites to access user information.

NewsHour producer Joanne Elgart Jennings live-tweeted the Facebook press conference. Read Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s blog announcement of the controls here.

May 26, 2010

In shoppers’ online networks, privacy has no price tag

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:03 am
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On the newest social networking Web sites, you are what you buy:

ilona spent $6.41 at Chipotle.

AshleyMarie got 1 song from iTunes for $1.29 (“Can’t Be Tamed” by Miley Cyrus).

suchitagarwal spent $464.44 at Sta Travel Inc. (“Eurail Global Pass for 15 days!”).

So read recent updates on Blippy, a sort of Twitter for shopping that allows users to automatically broadcast what they bought using credit and debit cards to the rest of the world.

The founders of the network and rival site Swipely say the purpose is to reveal the stories behind America’s stuff and explore how much our purchases reflect our personalities. Are we Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, Target or Wal-Mart, Payless or Prada?

“Part of it, for a lot of people, is simply: ‘I shop; therefore I am,’ ” said Paco Underhill, a consumer researcher and author of the books “What Women Want” and “Why We Buy.” “The ability to consume is part of what their identities are based on.”

But privacy advocates say that users are divulging a dangerous level of personal financial information — Blippy has reported one security breach — and that the sites could become a gold mine for marketers seeking detailed data on potential customers.

Concern about advertiser access has spurred a backlash against social networking, with sites such as Pleaserobme.com exposing the level of personal information on Twitter and users launching a viral campaign to give up Facebook.

“You’re really talking about giving up your innermost secrets to the wider world, and that has consequences,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Five months after Blippy was publicly launched, its users share $1.5 million in transactions every week, and the company says that amount is growing rapidly. Members can give Blippy access to their credit and debit card accounts as well as 15 other online accounts, such as iTunes, Netflix or Amazon. The site compiles a history of purchases, some dating back several years, and automatically records new ones. Members can choose which purchases to make public on their profiles, but the site’s default setting is to share them all with the world.

Blippy co-founder Philip Kaplan calls this “passive sharing” because members don’t have to sign in to use the site; Blippy already knows what you’re doing with every swipe. And friends, or strangers, can join your network and watch your money leave your wallet.
“The thing that makes Blippy really fun are the unexpected conversations that happen around things that you’re buying,” he said. “It’s a whole different dimension from what we’re used to learning about our friends.”

The Internet has turned shopping into an increasingly solitary experience, allowing consumers to click-to-purchase while sitting alone on their couch wearing fuzzy slippers. Part of Blippy’s appeal is that it brings socializing back to shopping, experts say, part of the same trend that has prompted thousands of teenage girls to post “haul videos” on YouTube that show off their closets of stuff.

“Sharing purchases is something that people do online,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But, she said, “people often fail to remember who exactly is in their network at any given moment — even though you’ve created it yourself.”

Ward Cole signed up for Blippy a few weeks ago, even though he thought the idea was “kinda creepy.” The 33-year-old District resident — who is on Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare — said he heard about the site on Twitter and likes to be on the cutting edge of technology.

“It seemed like a little bit of an overshare, but I just kinda wanted to dive in,” he said.

But once he checked out the site, the only account he felt comfortable sharing was iTunes. (“I’ve Got A Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart” by Eric Clapton, and Shakespeare and Monopoly apps for his iPhone.) He might consider linking his Amazon account, he said, but his credit and debit card accounts would be a step too far. He has invited 15 to 20 friends to sign up for Blippy, but he has had no takers.
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For now, the sites say they want to establish a following and worry about making money later — and that concerns privacy advocates: Users are relinquishing personal information without knowing how it might be used in the future.

Three years ago, Facebook experimented with a similar concept called Beacon. When members visited Web sites such as Blockbuster, Zappos and Overstock.com, it published alerts that sometimes ran alongside ads or a person’s photo. The move sparked outrage among users, prompting a petition drive by MoveOn.org and a class-action lawsuit. Facebook eventually axed the program and settled the suit for $9.5 million, which it promised to use to create a foundation to study privacy issues.

But just this week, Facebook and MySpace faced another privacy snag when the Wall Street Journal discovered a loophole that allowed advertisers to track which users clicked on their ads, a violation of the sites’ privacy policies. The companies have promised to fix the problem.

“It’s not just about a private exchange between friends. The business is basically about providing access to you to advertisers and marketers,” said Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy. “There are little strangers listening in.”

The founders of Blippy and Swipely say they are committed to transparency and intend to keep users informed as their advertising plans develop.

When Blippy discovered a technical problem last month that exposed several users’ credit card information to Google for three months, chief executive Ashvin Kumar blogged about the issue and vowed to hire a chief security officer and create a privacy center for users.

“Posting something online is almost as bad as getting a tattoo,” said Underhill, the author. “The act of pulling it off or making it disappear ultimately is expensive, and it’s never complete. No matter what you do about it, it leaves a little scar.”

April 30, 2010

Swiss Seek Tougher Taxes for Bankers Move Comes as Government Pursues Support for a Bill That Would Allow Bern to Settle UBS Case

ZURICH—The Swiss government proposed tougher taxes on bank bonuses in order to shore up parliamentary support for a bill that would allow Bern to meet its obligations in last year’s settlement of a tax case with the U.S. government.

One proposal would compel companies to classify bonuses as a distribution of profits, rather than as personnel expenses. That way, the company would pay taxes on bonuses even if it posted a loss.

Employees receiving the bonuses wouldn’t, however, see any change to the taxes they pay on them, in contrast to the one-time tax on bonuses levied recently in the U.K.

In February, the Swiss government presented an ad hoc law that would lay the legal groundwork for it to hand over to the IRS the names of thousands of U.S. taxpayers who had secret accounts with UBS. Parliament is expected to vote on the bill in June, so that Bern can hand over the names by an August deadline.

That law has been deadlocked in parliament after some Swiss parties demanded the government restrain banker bonuses and strengthen capital rules for UBS and Credit Suisse Group as a solution to the “too big to fail” dilemma.

The debate over bonuses in Switzerland heated up again after UBS paid its top investment bankers huge bonuses for 2009 even as the bank posted a large loss. Soon after, Credit Suisse Chief Executive Brady Dougan cashed in options valued at more than 70 million Swiss francs ($64.4 million).

Switzerland moved more quickly than many countries in requiring companies to subject bonuses to claw-back provisions and to pay out some variable compensation over a number of years, but there is popular pressure to do more. The bonus measures presented Wednesday also include a provision to tax employee stock options at the time they are exercised, instead of when granted. The government didn’t indicate how much money its proposals could raise.

Google Discloses Requests on Users

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:04 am
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By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO

Google Inc. moved to highlight the issue of government censorship and demands for information about Web users, just as the Internet company came under fire from a group of government officials over the way it handles user privacy.

The Silicon Valley giant Tuesday disclosed for the first time the number of requests it has received from government agencies for data about its users. Google also disclosed how many government requests it gets to remove content from its search engine, YouTube video site, Blogger blogging software and other services.

Jessica Vascellaro and Julia Angwin talk to Simon Constable about the letter issued by 10 countries demanding that Google build more privacy protections into its services.

Google is also showing how often it complies with government demands to remove Web content and said it later plans to include how often it turns over data on users. Google’s disclosure tool, an online country map, excluded data for China where Google says numerating the requests would be illegal.

David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said the company decided that “greater transparency” about its activities could lead to less censorship. “We hope this tool will shine some light on the scale and scope of government requests for censorship and data around the globe,” he wrote in a blog post.

Google’s move comes as its critics continue to accuse the company and its peers of being reckless with user data. On Tuesday, a group of privacy commissioners from countries including Canada, France and the United Kingdom held a press conference to push Google to build better privacy protections into its services. On Monday, the group sent a letter scolding Google over privacy.

A Google spokesman said the company “released the tool now because we thought it would be useful in conversations about this trend.”

Google is pushing a broad campaign to try to curb censorship, an issue that contributed to a recent decision to shut down its censored search service in China. While Google faces heightened criticism for not doing enough to explain how it uses the information it collects, the company is trying to draw attention to other entities that seek user data.

Privacy advocates—who have long hounded Internet companies to be more open about how they use what they collect—praised the move. “It puts some numbers behind all the stories we have,” said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital rights non-proft organization.

Others cautioned the raw numbers are hard to interpret, in part because there is little to compare them with. But they said that showing how countries stack up is a first step.

Google says government requests for user data go through Google’s legal team, which examines each to see if it is valid based on the law, narrows the request if possible and complies only when it must legally do so. Some requests are backed by court order; others aren’t.

Associated PressA Google sign at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

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The company says it tries to notify users when information about their accounts has been requested. A Google spokesman said it is sometimes asked for account and log-in information.

The company’s new disclosure tool shows that Brazil made the most requests for user data during the last six months of 2009, with 3,663. The U.S. was second with 3,580. Brazil also led with 291 requests for removal of content, with Germany in second place and the U.S. fourth, behind India.

Brazil’s Ministério Público Federal, its federal prosecution service, said in a statement late Tuesday that it “acts based on reports of crime or complaints received directly from users” or forwarded by a nonprofit dedicated to child safety, according to a translation of the statement.

“The information released today by Google demonstrates the care with which all levels of law enforcement agencies treat electronically protected data,” said a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. She said the number of requests in the U.S. “reflects a targeted approach by law enforcement agencies to effectively root out” crimes by criminals such as identity thieves and child predators.

The Mountain View, Calif., company stressed limitations to the data, which don’t include countries where it receives a small amount of requests or statistics that could jeopardize important investigations. In the case of YouTube, the company said the data doesn’t include requests by government agencies for removal of copyrighted content.

In their Monday letter to Google, the privacy commissioners scolded the company for what they describe as a range of privacy abuses, ranging from inadequate protections in its social-networking service Buzz to its procedures for retaining images it gathers for its Street View mapping services. It calls on Google to create “privacy-protective” default settings and make it easy for people to delete their accounts, among other measures.

“We are increasingly concerned that, too often, the privacy rights of the world’s citizens are being forgotten as Google rolls out new technological applications,” reads the letter, which also asks for Google to issue it a response for how it plans to meet these requirements. “Privacy cannot be sidelined in the rush to introduce new technologies to online audiences around the world,” it states.

A Google spokesman said in its response to the letter Monday that the company has “discussed all these issues publicly many times before” and had nothing to add.

European authorities have been among the Internet giant’s harshest critics when it comes to privacy issues, pressuring the company to shorten the time it retains search logs, for example.

European governments blasted a settlement between Google, authors and publishers over digital books in part over concerns with what Google would do with users’ reading records.

Criticism is the U.S has been building too. A group of lawmakers recently asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google’s roll-out of its Buzz service, which they contend exposed private information about Google users. Monday’s letter also dwells on Buzz, claiming its launch “betrayed a disappointing disregard for fundamental privacy norms and laws.” Days after launching Buzz, Google acknowledged it should have made some user privacy controls more prominent and adjusted the service.

Linking Customer Loyalty With Social Networking

PEPSICO wants to sell its customers sodas whether they are near a grocery store, a restaurant or a gas station. With a new partnership that weaves its loyalty program into the location-based network Foursquare, PepsiCo gets a live notification when its customers are close to those sites, and can present offers that get them into the stores.

The Pepsi Loot app for the iPhone is intended to drive traffic to restaurants that serve Pepsi products.

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“Being able to drive foot traffic into our restaurant partners and our retail partners is a huge opportunity, because that’s where our product is sold,” said B. Bonin Bough, director of social and emerging media for PepsiCo. “Ten blocks mean a lot.”

Through smartphones that signal someone’s location, stores and brands like Starbucks, Tasti-D-Lite, Macy’s and Pepsi are getting live information about when and where people are shopping. Some companies are turning Foursquare into a virtual loyalty-card program, while others are creating their own location applications, offering customers discounts or other rewards for shopping.

“It gives us immediate feedback for what’s going on in the marketplace,” said Margery Schelling, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Foodservice. “That’s invaluable.”

A phone is a simple replacement for a wallet stuffed with loyalty cards, but the real appeal for stores is in the location information provided by Foursquare and other location-based applications. Retailers can track when customers actually enter their stores. Such data can be used to learn things about store traffic, such as when men visit versus women. And it’s easier to note when the most loyal customers visit.

“If you check into work, then you leave work, you check into a bank and then you check into a store, that’s a behavior that, in aggregate, we might use to transform the way we market to you in the offline world,” Mr. Bough said. “We might see dayparts that are more likely for you to check out of some place and go to the store, and we might do advertising during that specific daypart in that specific place.

Because consumers are electing to broadcast their location and signing up for these services, the privacy concerns aren’t enormous, another plus for marketers.

“We believe it’s a real, new opportunity to transform loyalty programs in a way that we haven’t done before,” Mr. Bough said.

Foursquare is sort of a social application meets game. Its members press a button upon arriving at various locations to “check in,” letting them accumulate points — they compete to be “mayor” of a certain site, or the person with the most check-ins at that site, and can unlock badges for completing certain activities. The designer Marc Jacobs, for instance, gave tickets to his fashion show to four people who unlocked a Marc Jacobs shopping badge. Members can also direct Foursquare to list nearby restaurants, banks or grocery stores, and see where their Foursquare pals are at that moment.

In March, Foursquare introduced a tool that lets businesses see who is checking into their locations. It lists data like the total number of check-ins, the male-to-female ratio, the top days and times Foursquare visitors come, and the top visitors.

“Foursquare hopes to tell them a little bit more about their loyal customer — who checks in when, where they go before and after,” said Tristan Walker, director of business development for Foursquare.

Tasti-D-Lite wove Foursquare into its loyalty-card program this year. When someone registers the card online or visits the loyalty Web site, she can click to connect the card with her Foursquare account (along with Twitter or Facebook). Whenever the card is swiped after that, the customer accumulates Foursquare check-in points and Tasti-D-Lite loyalty points at once.

“Imagine the amount of data we now have in order to make better marketing decisions, in order to make loyalty decisions, about our customers, as opposed to the paper punch cards we had before that didn’t do anything for us,” said B. J. Emerson, social technology officer for Tasti-D-Lite.

Starbucks has been offering Foursquare badges when people visit a certain number of stores.

“The next generation of that is potentially understanding a little bit more about loyalty as well,” Mr. Walker said. “We’re driving people to different stores. What about people who visit the same store over and over?”

The location-based opportunity is particularly big for consumer packaged goods brands like Pepsi. Those brands market their product heavily, but they depend on drugstores or restaurants to actually get consumers into stores. With Foursquare and apps that track consumers’ locations, Pepsi can strike a deal directly with the consumer.

Pepsi’s Foursquare program will begin running in June. While the company is still working out details, Mr. Bough said that he expects that when a Foursquare user is near a Pepsi retailer, an offer to enroll the person in a Pepsi rewards system will appear. Once people are enrolled, whenever they check in at a grocery store or drugstore selling Pepsi, they will accumulate rewards points or badges that they can redeem for products or offers or donate toward charities.

Separately, Pepsi Loot, to be introduced in mid-May, focuses on restaurants; about 200,000, including chains like Taco Bell, are participating.

The app shows the participating Pepsi-serving restaurants on a map, includes menus for them, and allows consumers to sign in to those locations (that sign-in is done separately from a Foursquare check-in). Once they do, they accumulate points toward song downloads. The restaurants can layer in offers, too — Shakey’s is giving $3 off a large pizza for people who show the Pepsi Loot app, for instance.

Macy’s, too, has announced that it will use an app from a company called Shopkick to send customers offers when they are in or near the department store.

Rewards will be critical for getting more people to use Foursquare and similar applications, said Amy Manus, director of media at Nurun, a digital marketing firm that did not work on the campaign. “Offering something that is beneficial for consumers is going to be essential in mass adoption,” she said.

Debate Continues Around Facebook Privacy Changes

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 1:13 am
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“Clearly, I much prefer Facebook asks permission before it shares my information with a third party — who wouldn’t?” he wrote. “I think Facebook is choosing the opt-out option because they realize most people would not choose to opt in. I just joined fb recently and I already regret it, I hope people don’t consider me antisocial if I close my account.”

Larry V, meanwhile, was more resigned to the situation. “Whether Facebook ask permission from users to share personal information with third parties vs. opting-out option is meaningless because in the end there is no such thing as privacy in the technology modern real world,” he wrote.

If you want to see how others are weighing in, check out this collection of links from blogger Melissa Venable, including Lifehacker’s post on how to restore your privacy settings on Facebook.

As for me, I’m taking it one day at a time. While I think it’s really useful to see the content my friends are sharing on sites like ABCNews.com and WashingtonPost.com, I’m not surprised by how many people have told me they’re creeped out by the whole thing. Suddenly I’m hearing the phrase “opt-in” uttered by friends and family who’ve probably never discussed online terms of service policies in their lives. I haven’t made any changes to my privacy settings, though I’m glad I reviewed my settings, as well as checked out all of my interests on my profile page, just to be sure I didn’t mind the way they’re now displayed. The only major change I made was adding a new activity to my profile: Monitoring my Facebook privacy settings. I imagine I won’t be the only one.

Today I logged in and was asked to accept connections to/with employers, schools, and other sites related to my profile (previously identified interests and groups). When I chose not to connect the related information dropped out of my profile, but there’s more going on here.

Since this morning, I’ve seen a lot of Twitter traffic about the issue. There are of course pros and cons. ‘Opening up’ Facebook to track interests across the Internet could prove to be powerful in terms of social networking. It could also result in a significant loss of privacy in terms of what anyone might be able to access about anyone else’s activities, interests, etc.

In an effort to inform, here are several perspectives:

I think my own frustration begins with the changes being an opt-out instead of opt-in situation. Also feeling a little left out. As a user should I have been asked what I thought about it? Perhaps we are all along for the ride.

What do you think? Did you change your privacy settings?

March 15, 2010

Man Admits to Letterman Extortion Former CBS Producer Pleads Guilty in Attempt to Extort $2 Million From Late-Night TV Host

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 10:47 pm
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In the letter, Mr. Halderman claimed he needed to “make a large chunk of money” by selling Mr. Letterman a purported “screenplay treatment,” prosecutors said. The screenplay treatment said Mr. Letterman’s “world is about to collapse around him” as information about his private life was about to be disclosed and that the disclosure would lead to a “ruined reputation,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Halderman, 52 years old, later demanded $2 million in a meeting with Mr. Letterman’s attorney, prosecutors said. Mr. Letterman and his lawyer then contacted the district attorney’s office.

“I knew throughout this time I was not engaging in a legitimate business transaction with Mr. Letterman and that what I was doing was against New York law,” Mr. Halderman said. “I understand that my attempt to extort $2 million from Mr. Letterman violated his and his family’s privacy. I promise to respect their privacy in the future.”

Mr. Halderman was arrested in October, a day after Mr. Letterman admitted on CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman” that he had had sexual relations with female members of his staff.

Italy Says Google Trio Violated Boy’s Privacy

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ROME—An Italian court convicted three Google Inc. executives of violating the privacy of a disabled boy by allowing a 2006 video of students bullying the boy to air on the now-defunct Google Video site. The ruling could restrict the way Internet companies operate in Italy.

Google Execs Convicted in Privacy Case

1:32Three Google executives are given suspended jail sentences after being found guilty of invading the privacy of a boy with Down Syndrome in Italy. A fourth has been acquitted. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Judge Oscar Magi in Milan issued six-month prison sentences Wednesday to David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer; Peter Fleischer, its chief privacy counsel; and George Reyes, the company’s former chief financial officer. Messrs. Drummond and Reyes were based in the U.S.; Mr. Fleischer is based in Paris.

The three officials don’t face extradition or jail time, however, because prison sentences of less than three years are automatically suspended in Italy.

Giuliano Pisapia, a lawyer for Messrs. Drummond, Fleischer and Reyes, called the convictions “totally groundless,” and said the executives plan to appeal.

Google plans to discuss the ruling with European policy makers, said a person familiar with the matter.

Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice president for public policy and communications, in an interview called the ruling “at complete odds” with a European law that protects online service providers. “Legislation in Europe and the U.S. is specifically configured to provide safe harbors. If politicians and courts start picking away at that, that is something we are worried about,” she said.

Ms. Whetstone said that Google had been concerned about the case and had been talking to people across Europe, and especially in Italy, about its implications “for a considerable period of time.”

The three men were acquitted of criminal defamation, a charge for which they were also on trial and that would have carried a heavier prison sentence. The court also acquitted Google’s senior product marketing manager, Arvind Desikan.

The ruling sets a legal precedent in Europe for one of the most sensitive issues facing video sites such as Google’s YouTube: whether Internet companies can be held legally liable for content that is posted on video sites by third parties.

“If individuals like myself and my Google colleagues who had nothing to do with the harassing incident, its filming or its uploading onto Google Video can be held criminally liable solely by virtue of our positions at Google, every employee of any Internet-hosting service faces similar liability,” said Mr. Drummond.

David Thorne, U.S. ambassador to Italy, said the U.S. was “disappointed” by the ruling, which he described as a blow to the freedom of the Internet. “While all nations must guard against abuses, offensive material should not be an excuse to violate this fundamental right,” said Mr. Thorne said in a statement.

The video, which was posted Sept. 8, 2006, and removed from the site on Nov. 7 of that year, showed a disabled boy being teased by classmates, said Giuseppe Vaciago, another lawyer for the Google executives. At one point in the video, one of the boy’s classmates tosses a piece of paper at him, Mr. Vaciago added.

Prosecutors argued in court that Google Video, the site that hosted the video, was responsible for its content because management running the site had drafted a plan to sell advertising on it. Mr. Pisapia argued in court that Google Video never actually offered ad space in Italy, and that the executives on trial played no role in the preparation of the marketing plan. During the trial, Mr. Pisapia and other lawyers for Google’s executives denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the case risked infringing on Internet freedom.

In court, the lawyers said Google had removed the video from the site once Italian authorities notified the company about it. Google’s conduct, lawyers argued, complied with European Union norms, enacted in 2000, that draw a line between companies or people who develop content for the Internet and companies that provide platforms to host and disseminate such material.

Twenty hours of video are uploaded on YouTube every minute, according to Google.

Forcing Internet companies to monitor and screen video sites poses enormous challenges to their business models, said Richard Thomas, the former Information Commissioner for the U.K.

“There’s a limit to how much hosts can be held liable for content,” said Mr. Thomas. “It’s like prosecuting a postal authority when hate mail is sent through the post,” he said.

In a statement, Mr. Fleischer said the ruling also raised “broader questions like the continued operation of many Internet platforms that are the essential foundations of freedom of expression in the digital age.”

Google has no plans to scale down its operations in Italy, said William Echikson, a Google spokesman. The company will continue to rely on users to notify it about potentially abusive videos, Mr. Echikson added “We fundamentally believe the community system is the best way of policing the Net,” he said.

—Jessica E. Vascellaro contributed to this article.

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