PhoneGnome Releases API

PhoneBoy and Alec Saunders are writing about PhoneGnome’s newly announced API. I think this is wonderful and have even taken the time to try out one of the user contributed applications that can be used to initiate a call from the PhoneGnome to a designated phone number (such as a cell phone number) and then to a number listed in the user’s phone book – an ideal application for users that have cell phones with unlimited incoming minutes (or who buy local GSM Sims while traveling) or who want to call long distance at VOIP rates. The PhoneGnome product has such great potential, in my view, and hopefully this API initiative will allow it to really take off.

Free 411 Services

Tired of paying for 411 service? A number of companies are offering free directory assistance free of charge, though users have to listen to advertisements – 800-FREE-411 and 800-411-METRO. According to 800-Free-411, operated by Jingle Networks Inc., phone carriers such as MCI can charge up to $3.49 for a similar service, while SBC and Sprint charge up to $2.49. Unfortunately, both services are limited to the US.

Kanguru BioSTOR

I came across an advertisement for Kanguru‘s BioSTOR, a USB 2.0 hard drive with built-in finger print reader that is used to provide access to the encrypted drive. According to Kanguru, there is no software to install (all the software is contained in the drive) and the data on the hard drive is encrypted and so remains protected even if the hard drive is removed from the device. Sounds like a great product, especially for a road warrior that needs to carry a lot of sensitive data around – except for one thing – according to TigerDirect’s website description, the encryption strength is only 40 bits. So what’s the point?

Zfone for Mac now available

Last month I blogged about Zfone. The Mac version is now out for public beta. A Windows version is expected for mid-April. Some aspects remind me of the PGPfone product of the last decade but updated to support the now common SIP protocol used by VOIP applications. However, unlike PGPfone, Zfone is not a standalone client but rather middleware that runs along side, and adds encryption capabilities, to a user’s already existing SIP softphone client.

In a related story, the VOIP and Gadgets Blog reports that Counterpath is set to release version 1.5 of its EyeBeam VOIP and video conferencing client – and one of the features is support for Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP) streams to secure the voice and video connections. While it is still extremely difficult to find a VOIP service provider that supports SRTP encryption, hopefully making the capability available to a wide group of potential users will generate demand and lead to the wider availability of more secure VOIP services.

TigerDirect and Privacy

TigerDirect does business in Ontario both through a retail outlet located in Markham as well as through online sales through TigerDirect.ca. Like other major retailers, TigerDirect advertises prices for some of its products that include the deduction of mail in rebates. However, TigerDirect utilizes a company called OnRebate, located in Florida, to process some or all of its rebates. OnRebate, as a condition of processing a rebate, requires TigerDirect customers to provide a verifiable e-mail address. Also, such customers must consent to receiving OnRebate’s newsletters and promotional material sent by or on behalf of its other third party customers. Canadian privacy legislation requires businesses doing business in Canada to only collect personal information to the extent required in order to provide a particular service. Why is an email address required in order to process rebates when the entire process is typically performed by mail? Is the rebate amount actually a true deduction from the purchase price of an item if the consumer must also provide an email address and consent to receive marketing materials (which both likely constitute additional consideration)? Hopefully TigerDirect has contractually obligated OnRebate to otherwise comply with Canadian privacy law requirements when performing services on behalf of TigerDirect in respect of Canadian customers.

2006-04-04 Follow up: Its been about 3 weeks and I’ve received email confirmation from OnRebate that they’ve “accepted” my rebate application. However, they advise that my cheque should be arriving in 10-12 weeks. Another 2.5 to 3 months. Meanwhile, they took the opportunity (in their notification email) to spam me with advertisements for TigerDirect even though I had specifically advised them that I did not want them using my email for any purpose unrelated to the processing of my rebate application.

Google acquires Writely

In today’s Globe and Mail, Mathew Ingram discusses Google’s acquisition of Writely, a web-based word processor.

This acquisition obviously positions Google to offer an online competitive offering to Microsoft’s $400 Word offering. While there are some downsides to using Web-based applications (such as the fact that they stop working if your Internet access is down, and privacy issues when data is being saved somewhere else), there are also a number of advantages (no upgrades to perform, no bloated client-side application to run, off-site archiving, easier collaboration on documents with remote parties – Writely also offers version control/history functionality). According to the FAQ on Writely’s site, there are no current plans to add advertising. Instead, the current model appears to be free access to basic features and a subscription fee for premium features (such as PDF exporting – hey isn’t that built into WordPerfect and aren’t there free PDF publishing tools around?).

Shaw fires back at Vonage over VOIP tax

Mark Evans writes that Shaw is firing back at Vonage over its complaint regarding Shaw’s $10 per month Quality of Service (QoS) fee for non-Shaw VOIP application. Although this issue has, and should continue to have, important considerations from a competition perspective, I think we also need to continue asking probing questions from a consumer protection perspective. In other words, if an ISP advertises a data connection with no monthly caps on data transfer and with a speed with X megs/sec of speed and then throttles it down selectively depending on the amount of use by a particular consumer, should that not attract some sort of liability from a consumer protection perspective? Likewise, if a service is advertised as providing “Internet access” and then certain ports are blocked, should the ISP not be forced to prominently disclose that information? Finally, the same issue if the ISP gives a higher priority to their services at the expense of competing services that a consumer may be trying to access.

Although not directly related, there’s also the issue of DSL and cable ISP providers advertising speeds “up to X” when (1) not every subscriber can actually obtain services at those speeds (ever) because the last mile links may not support it (my DSL link, which is advertised and sold as a 3 meg service, is actually throttled down to 1.6-1.7 megs due to line quality issues); and (2) the speed during “normal” surfing hours may be much lower due to the use of shared media or other network bottlenecks. We should have mandatory disclosure requirements so that consumers are able to make informed decisions.

P.S., I think its a good thing that Shaw is offering this optional “enhancement” – my concern has more to do with ISPs providing more disclosure on what they are doing so that customers can better understand what they are buying.

VOIP comes to Palm

If you own a Windows handheld or smartphone then you can choose from a number of different SIP software-based VOIP applications and connect to a Voice-over-IP service provider of your choice. You can even download and use Skype. Well, now a new service called mobiVOIP from Mantra Group hopes to bring VOIP to owners of Palm handhelds and smartphones. According to the company, with mobiVoIPâ„¢ patented technology, you can now use Bluetooth, Wifi, EVDO on your PDAs or Smartphones to call your friends. mobiVoIPâ„¢ also is been tested for low bandwidth connections like GPRS and IrDA. The product is currently in beta.