Daily Archives: June 21, 2006

AT&T’s Privacy Policy and the NSA

I wouldn’t describe myself as a conspiracy theorist, but I have a healthy skepticism about conventional wisdom. We should always doubt the official story, especially when the official story is so impenetrable and obfuscatory as to require a team of high-priced lawyers to cut through the cant.

Well, AT&T has drawn my suspicion. First, while the company claims that the intent and meaning of its privacy policy have not changed, the facts seem to argue otherwise, according to a news item published earlier today in the San Francisco Chronicle. Meanwhile, according to a feature article at Salon, it seems that one of the reasons for the change in that policy might be AT&T’s acquiescence in an alleged National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance operation that involves "monitoring network traffic" comprising approximately one third of the Internet bandwidth being shunted between homes and offices across the United States.

Modifying the wording of the privacy policy that applies to customers might be a method of negating or mitigating the effect of lawsuits that could ensue as a result of the stories that are surfacing about AT&T’s alleged participation in the Bush Administration’s warrantless spying on and wiretapping of American citizens.

This leads to some other thoughts, but I’ll save those for another time.

Dell Laptop Goes Up In Smoke, Dude

A Dell laptop computer literally exploded at a conference in Japan, according to a reader of British technology tabloid The Inquirer, which reported the news on its website. Fortunately, nobody was injured as a result of the incident, though Dell’s reputation might have been hurt.

Picking up on the news, Gadgetophile notes that lithium-polymer batteries can become flammable under exacting condition, while a reader at Gizmodo opines that the offending machine looks like one of the models cited in Dell’s battery-recall program.

While some observers wonder whether this incident will cause transportation authorities to ban notebook and laptop PCs on planes, I wonder whether Dell’s marketing mavens will decide to resell suspect models as special-edition incendiary devices for use as fireworks on Independence Day. Some marketing teams always manage to find the silver lining in the smoke-filled room.

Harvard to Ellison: Where’s Our Money?

Throughout his career as a software-industry titan, famed yachtsman and pilot Larry Ellison has engaged in a quixotic rivalry with Bill Gates, occasionally without the Microsoft mogul being aware of it.

As Gates turns his attention increasingly toward philanthropy on a grand scale, though, Ellison appears disinclined to meet the challenge of beneficence. What other conclusion can one draw from news that the Oracle Corp. founder has failed to meet a $115-million pledge to Harvard University to build The Ellison Institute for World Health?

Ellison promised in March of 2005 that Harvard would have the money by September of last year. Harvard is still waiting for Ellison, through his Ellison Medical Foundation, to make good on his word. Professor Christopher Murray, head of Harvard’s Global Health Initiative, is still hoping Ellison will follow through on his promise. Others at Harvard don’t seem as sanguine.

“Larry Ellison never paid us. The donation was never finalized,” said Harvard spokeswoman Sarah Friedell.

Apparently, school officials have spent months unsuccessfully attempting to reach Ellison to discuss the matter. Perhaps he’s not good at returning calls.

Forbes Magazine estimates Ellison’s wealth at $16 billion, making him the 15th-richest man in the world. He also was ranked the seventh-most generous man in America last year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, but that calculation included Ellison’s still-unfulfilled $115- million pledge to Harvard.

Strange Day in Redmond

The software-industry punditocracy of the blogosphere was buzzing earlier today when it learned, from stories first published by Bloomberg and by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), that Martin Taylor, protege of Steve Ballmer and corporate vice president for Windows Live Services and MSN at Microsoft, had left the company.

Taylor’s departure was sudden and atypical. Microsoft issued a terse email announcement:

“We’ve made the difficult decision to part ways with Martin Taylor, but we don’t comment on personnel matters.”

Oh, really? Well, that attempt at refraining from comment appears to say quite a bit. First of all, it strongly suggests that Taylor’s departure wasn’t entirely his own idea. It also indicates that this executive-level exit was not carefully planned and smoothly executed. The public-relations control freaks at Microsoft didn’t get the opportunity to stage manage this announcement. Something unforeseen has occurred within the company’s inner sanctum, but what could it be? At this point, it’s a mystery, but one that will be pursued by many inquisitive minds.

There are some observers who want to believe that Taylor’s departure portends the looming demise of the Microsoft CEO — and the man that so many love to hate — Steve Ballmer. A few commentators point to the close relationship Ballmer and Taylor had established over the years, and they note that Taylor frequently was Ballmer’s go-to guy for major assignments, including Microsoft’s “get the facts” competitive strategy against Linux. Oh, and it should be noted that Taylor and Ballmer also played basketball together on Wednesdays, though I somehow doubt Taylor participated in today’s game.

I don’t think Taylor’s departure is indicative of a bigger boardroom putsch against Ballmer. The suddenness of it, as well as the completely flat-footed handling of the situation by Microsoft’s typically punctilious corporate communications team — Taylor was quoted in a press release that went across the wires yesterday — suggests that something unusual and unforeseen was at play.

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Stay tuned to this blog for attempts at clear, incisive commentary on events, foibles, idiocsyncracies, machinations, peculiarities, and twists and turns of the once-vibrant information-technology industry as it advances toward doddering, stultifying maturity.