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Michael Gracie

The curious and contrarian in today’s tech

  • Today Vonage hit new lows as another competitor jumped into the VoIP fray. It’s a new company called Ooma, who is offering free service in exchange for a high-priced phone. Curious – will everyone in Hollywood jump on this since star Ashton Kutcher is involved? Contrarian – the business model is the exact opposite of the cell-phone set (where it seems all the telecomm growth is).
  • Ebay posted some good numbers, but folks are really talking about how their auction business is stagnating. Curious – what is doing well at Ebay, since everyone also seems down on all the acquisitions? Contrarian – a 50% rise in the net is nothing to shrug at, but people are shrugging anyway…I thought the idea of being in business was to make money (but what the hell do I know). Also noted – Ebayers often pay more than fair value for items – please send similar business models my way…please?!
  • A new OS X based worm could soon be on the loose. The anonymous creator said they were tired of hearing about OS X being so secure. Curious – will I soon be sticking my foot in my mouth along with all the other comfy OS X users? Contrarian – if you’re so tired of the cockiness, release the damn thing already (instead of blathering about it).
  • Paul Kedrosky’s new Blackberry has 6 fonts, none of which he likes. Curious – my old Blackberry has 11 fonts…why would Blackberry cut down on fonts? Contrarian – I like BBCasual and I’ll probably never change it…hence I don’t care if it has a memorable name or not.
  • UPDATE: Carlo Longino goes contrarian on Ooma. Meanwhile, I may be waiting a long time for that OS X bug…the “creator” is on the lam.

    Where Vonage’s trouble came from

    vonage.gifVonage’s troubles keep getting worse, but why?

    Questionable business plan – everyone has one of those. It wouldn’t be a plan if everyone wasn’t questioning it, hoping to get their money in at a discount. It is really all about execution, and you have to give the guys credit for getting all those little boxes plugged into those cable modems, and actually working.

    Then there was the IPO – first touted, then despised by institutions, followed by a grassroots effort (a little stinky). Give ’em credit again for getting ingenuitive when adversity was staring them in the face.

    Now, earnings are faltering – the incumbents are running at the space with reckless abandon, and those established telcos have the sales infrastructure to make it happen much more cost effectively than the upstart.

    This doesn’t add up for me. Scrappy startup makes waves with end-around technology. Incumbents scream bloody murder about net neutrality, barely mentioning step-brother VoIP, instead targeting the likes of Google (which actually do pay for bandwidth at their end). Lobbyists rally on behalf of incumbents. Startup gets pummeled.

    What’s wrong with this picture? The timing is just too good.

    Vonage spyware, or renegade affiliate

    Silicon Valley Sleuth says Vonage is using adware in its marketing efforts. This announcement comes on the heels of a piss poor IPO, including spamming subscribers regarding the stock hock.

    I’ll withhold conclusions, as it isn’t apparent whether this is Vonage themselves or the work of a renegade intermediary. But if it is the former, and someone comes up with a way to port existing Vonage numbers to another service, say SkypeIn, someone is in deep doodoo (and no, there is no direct cause and effect relationship here, but the bad PR is not something Vonage needs right now).

    VoIP phishing threat isn’t about VoIP

    As if we didn’t have better things to worry about, now we get to wonder whether an announced security threat is really a threat. The latest case to be overblown (or simple shilled) is that of VoIP phishing. The process has been labeled “vishing,” and portends danger from scammers using voice over IP to steal credit card information.

    Unfortunately, VoIP isn’t the issue – it is the naivete of the person on the other end of the line. Telemarketing has long been a staple of scammers, dialing little old ladies to separate them from their social security money over a new home awning thingamajig or water purification doohickey. VoIP is being targeted because phone numbers, which are used for forwarding calls, are a little easier to come by and slightly more anonymous. Still, a VoIP number won’t be used any longer that the land line formerly connected to a bank of phones for the old time stock pump and dump shops.

    Target credit card holders with a sense of false charges isn’t the only game being played out there either. The same is being done to PayPal users, only mention of VoIP is nowhere to be found in that news.

    My notion is scammers are returning to their roots. They know online threats are well publicized, and that those people willing to pick up the phone are likely less inclined to have heard about them, and more inclined to follow through on some form of disclosure. Like the little old lady buying that new fangled inflatable porta-shed, sight unseen.

    End note: It wouldn’t surprise me if the telcos were cheering on these VoIP “threat” announcements either.

    Phishers get vocal

    Phishers have decided that rather than point someone to a fake website, why not give them a phone number to call for the purpose of grabbing account information.

    The article pointed to VoIP, but it isn’t really the culprit here. Voice over IP services just make the job a little easier for the scammers to get started, while making their tracks easier to cover.

    VoIP trappings of success

    Skype, that free (and quite secure) voice-over-IP program we all know and love, was purchased by eBay for billions. Niklas Zennstrom & Co., who were previously responsible for peer-to-peer file sharing application KaZaA, made out like bandits, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

    Now they are being sued by StreamCast Networks, maker of the Morpheus file-sharing program, for alleged RICO violations.

    I can’t help but think this event is fueled by jealousy and contempt. I am a bit suspicious as well – I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon heard that StreamCast is cutting deals with big telcos and media players.
    (more…)

    How to get your ass kicked by some VoIP geeks

    First step, go to a big voice-over-IP industry conference (in this case, VON) disguised as a telco executive. Then, tell everyone at the conference you are in favor of a two-tier internet, just don’t say it too loud. Beat around the bush with comments like:

    “A content provider is a customer. If they want to buy bandwidth, we want to sell.”

    And follow that up with:

    “If they don’t want to buy, they don’t have to.”

    After you’ve set the crowd into raging frenzy, ask them all out for drinks, but propose exiting through a back door that leads to a dark alley. A solution for your insolence will present itself forthwith.

    As an aside, I am still trying to figure out what all those “content providers” are actually paying for, when they send in those checks for the pipes they are using now.

    VoIP security questioned, without answers

    Internet “security experts” are warning that VoIP calls are less secure than traditional landlines. One notes that the next generation of spam will be through your VoIP voicemail, while another says not to accept calls from strangers.

    I already get five plus “unwanted” voicemails a day from people I barely know, and yes, I am a VoIP user. But I get just as many on my cell. Why? Because I give out my business card every now and then! Call them “strangers” if you must, but I received five times that number of voicemails from folks when I did have a landline (although being too lazy to add my number to the do-not-call registry probably contributed to that).

    “Don’t talk to strangers” is something I learned in kindergarten – its poorly crafted FUD if I do say so. If someone can show me a proof of concept on a VoIP privacy hack, I’ll stand corrected.

    How to stop telco innovation in the US

    As if just letting the wireline incumbents ruffle their plumes wasn’t enough to keep the US in the dark ages of telecomm innovation, why not scare the shit out of the wireless companies while you are at it. They are “the establishment” just like the copper-loving crowd, and their customer service is just as bad, IMHO. So all you have to do to ensure that us American folks don’t ever get any fancy new services is to release a disruptive service for use on wireless networks.

    The Register may call it the end of VoIP for guys like Skype and Vonage. I just say it is another nail in the coffin for US consumers and businesses wanting desperately for something competitive.

    Skype holes – Fact or Fud? (round two)

    skype.jpgResearchers are saying that VoIP applications like Skype could be used for website attacks, and provide a way for malcreants to cover their tracks.

    Unfortunately, they don’t actually say how this would all happen, preferring to describe a standard zombie/botnet network, and how criminals use them. And their suggestion to thwart this yet undetailed weakness – publish VoIP network routing specifications and/or switch to open standards. Hmm.

    Give the criminals a map? Or are these researchers secretly working for the fine and dandy traditional US telco providers?