Forget the Avengers and the Justice League: this season’s rootin’-tootin’ action team-ups include several major companies — including AOL, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo — are banding together with a new plan to fight digital piracy, that ongoing problem for media-makers in this modern age. There is also a coalition of groups coming together to sue the National Security Agency for all that recently uncovered “unconstitutional dragnet electronic surveillance.” Meanwhile, staffers at Facebook and Buzzfeed are having a public squabble over a Buzzfeed story last week that was based on a Stanford University study and called “The Number Facebook Doesn’t Want You To See.” This prompted a Facebook engineer to fire back and say the story was “just plain wrong.” And so it goes.
Other academic studies are also popular this week. A recent one from researchers at Northwestern and MIT’s Sloan School of Management takes a look at just who writes negative product reviews online. The study, called Deceptive Reviews: The Influential Tail, presents evidence that many product reviews on a private-label retail site were written by people who did not actually purchase the product in question. As for croaking and squawking of another kind, researchers from the University of Puerto Rico are using iPods to automatically record endangered species. All this automated data acquisition is part of the ARBIMON system— which stands for automated remote biodiversity monitoring network and you can hear samples of some of the audio it’s analyzed here, including the musings of the cute little coquí frog.
The Verge site is reporting that Microsoft is still working on its prototype smartwatch and has moved the project over to the team behind its Surface touchscreen tablet computers. Speaking of small computers, there’s another tiny model that’s joining the ranks of the Raspberry Pi and other barebones PCs. CompuLab’s Utilite computer is about the size of a pack of index cards and starts at $100. Also getting smaller: the price tag on a BlackBerry Z10. BlackBerry CEO said it was the right time to adjust the price on the Z10, now that the newer Q10 model has arrived. Things are not so booming for Intel’s Thunderbolt technology either, as Acer is the latest laptop maker to ditch the high-speed communications port for the slower but less-expensive USB 3.0 jacks.
Need entertainment? If you find yourself looking up actors, movie trailers and other cinematic tidbits on the IMDb site, you can now follow through and buy tickets right in the mobile app for Android and iOS. Apple, perpetually rumored to be working on a TV-type product to enhance or build on its Apple TV box, may be working on a feature that lets viewers skip commercials for those who prefer to stay in front of their screens at home at chill without the shill. (Not to be outdone, Google is also said to be talking to media companies about getting content for its own online TV service.)
On the mobile front, two unfortunate smartphone incidents have recently occurred. Apple is investigating reports of an electrocution that happened when a woman in China answered a call on her iPhone 5 when it was plugged into the charger. This follows reports last week of a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone that spontaneously exploded in the pocket of a Swiss teenager and causing third-degree burns.
And finally, out in space, NASA’s Hubble telescope has discovered a new moon orbiting the planet Neptune, and a small moon at that. Goodnight, moon!