Originally created 12/13/04

Techbits: Adware wars, Grammy iTunes and more



SAN FRANCISCO - Online DVD rental leader Netflix Inc. is putting social networking on its marquee of coming attractions for next year.

In its latest move to fend off competitive threats, Netflix will let subscribers invite friends to peek at DVDs they've watched and read their opinions of the movies. If the invitation is accepted, the sender automatically gets reciprocal rights to read the friend's lists and reviews.

The concept copies an online networking approach popularized by such Web sites as LinkedIn, Friendster and Tribe. Those services connect people with common friends, hobbies and professional interests.

Netflix, facing competition from Blockbuster Entertainment Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., began testing its networking system last week and plans to expand it to all 2.3 million subscribers next month.

The company has long encouraged subscribers to post DVD reviews openly but those capsules appear in a scattershot manner and generally don't provide much information about the writer. Under the new system, people can focus on the picks and pans of those whose opinions they value.

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SEATTLE - Is all fair in love, war and adware? A federal court may help decide - as far as adware goes, at least - in a case involving software from one company uninstalling a rival's computer code.

Avenue Media, based in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, is suing New York-based DirectRevenue in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

According to court documents, Avenue Media noticed in mid-November a considerable drop in the use of its product, the so-called Internet Optimizer. Avenue Media, which says it has lost millions of users and thousands of dollars in advertising as a result, blames DirectRevenue's software, which included a tool to delete Avenue Media's.

In a response this week, DirectRevenue said that Avenue Media had signed a distribution agreement with one of its subsidiaries to distribute DirectRevenue's technology. DirectRevenue claims that agreement inferred the right to uninstall rival products.

Both companies make technology, commonly known as adware, that directs users to advertisements based on their Web-surfing habits. Such software usually piggybacks onto users' machines when they download free programs, such as online games.

Many people consider adware to be a major annoyance because it can skew search results toward paid listings and blast pop-up ads.

-Allison Linn, AP Business Writer.

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BOSTON - Life expectancy is no longer a business concern merely for insurance companies and undertakers. A telecommunications company has more than a passing interest now that it offers a lifetime of unlimited calls over the Internet for $999.

RNK Telecom consulted actuarial tables in setting the suggested one-time price for its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service plan, said Richard Koch, president and chief executive.

Another life-and-death issue factored into the offer announced this week: What if the customer dies and the phone service provider doesn't find out? Would service remain available for years at the company's expense?

"I doubt that when someone dies, the last words on their lips will be, 'Tell RNK I died,'" Koch said.

RNK has agreed to make the service transferable to heirs. It also promises to switch customers over to any new technology that renders VoIP obsolete.

With rivals' VoIP services costing $25 to $30 a month, RNK's lifetime deal potentially could pay off after about three years. RNK hopes to profit by selling other products on top of the lifetime service.

"As new things evolve, we'll have a ready customer base," he said.

RNK, a Dedham-based regional telecommunications wholesaler, is initially limiting its offer to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York. The plan covers calls to U.S. and Canadian locations, along with 20 other countries and another 21 foreign cities.

-Mark Jewell, AP Business Writer.

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TOKYO - You can play games, shop and find love on the Internet. So why not sniff your favorite fragrance as well?

A new service being tested by NTT Communications Corp., Japan's top telecommunications company, sends data that trigger the release of one of 36 scents - blends of natural oils, such as eucalyptus, sandalwood and basil.

A test version functions as a horoscope reading.

Punch your birthday into the computer, and different data for the scents are relayed over the Net to an attached device that resembles a crystal ball with a strawlike nozzle.

The "good luck" mixture changes, depending on your sign. Cancerians get a waft of chamomile, lavender and vetiver oils, which according to a Japanese horoscope expert is a perk-up odor. Pisces get lavender, clary sage and lemongrass.

The machines and software were developed by Mirapro Co., a machinery parts and computer chip company. Prices are still undecided, and overseas sales are not yet planned, company officials said.

The concept isn't entirely new. About five years ago, U.S. startups attempted to develop similar technology. But in the dot-com bust they faded like the pleasant smell of the ocean on the return from the beach.

-Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer.

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LOS ANGELES - In a sign of digital acquiescence for music industry, organizers of the Grammy Awards are letting voting members hear nominated songs for free through the Apple iTunes Music Store.

The Recording Academy will initially test the scheme with one, as yet unchosen award category, likely a major one such as "New Artist," "Album of the Year," "Record of the Year," or "Song of the Year."

The Academy wants to make nominated music more accessible to voting members. In the past, members had to visit a chapter office to listen to the tunes.

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BANGALORE, India - India's second-largest cellular carrier provider is promoting a video-streaming service by offering a new Bollywood movie in its entirety - free for a day.

"Rok Sako To Rok Lo," or "Stop, If You Can," was to be available to Bharti Tele-Ventures customers in 11 Indian cities on Thursday, provided their phones have EDGE, a technology for mobile phones to connect to the Internet and transfer data at high speeds.

Depending on customer feedback, the company may air more movies and possibly charge a fee.

Theater owners shouldn't worry, though. The offer is limited to the first 200 people who connect, and the movie cannot be copied or replayed.