Drivers Face Prison For Using Mobiles

Mobile, Travel 1 Comment »

New legislation that is to be brought in will now mean motorists caught driving whilst on a mobile handset could be sent to jail for up to two years. The change in policy has come about as the altered laws involving mobiles and driving that were introduced in September are said not to have had the desired effect on motorists.

Using a mobile phones while driving was first banned in 2003, but since then thousands of drivers ignore the law each day, despite an increased £60 fine and penalty points being introduced in September.

Under the new guidelines most motorists caught using mobile handsets whilst driving will still face the increased fine and penalty points that was introduced in September. The changes however will give courts more power against anyone who has an accident whilst on their mobile, the result of which could be a dangerous driving conviction and a two year jail term.

Increased penalties do not solely apply to accidents but any driving that falls short of what is deemed safe. Sending text messages, speeding and over taking whilst on a mobile could therefore result in the increased penalties. The laws also include using Sat-Nav devices whilst driving.

Motorists who cause death on the road could additionally be prosecuted for manslaughter, a charge that carries penalties up to life imprisonment.

The change in policy comes at a time when the safety of using mobile hands free kits whilst driving has also been thrown into question, with one large transport company already banning employees from using them.

Findings from the Transport research Laboratory had suggested that driving whilst using a mobile handset could be more dangerous than drink driving. Other reports have also suggested using a mobile behind the wheel puts a drivers concentration at the same levels as the drink drive limit.

With hands free kits also being declared unsafe, it is suggested that it is actually speaking to someone not in the car themselves that is deemed distracting and is therefore dangerous.

“What we think that is to do with is that the passenger can see the traffic around you and can maybe pick up on your body language cues, and then modify the conversation accordingly.” Said Dr Nick Reed

I agree with the fact that driving whilst using a mobile phone is not only irresponsible but can impair someone’s driving ability, but to make such a stark comparison to drink driving is more a scare tactic in my opinion.

I can understand how concentration levels may temporarily drop whilst a mobile call is taken, but this is for the duration of the call, and no way does someone remain under that reduced state of awareness for anything like the length of time a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol does.

If talking on a hands free kit is distracting, so too is talking to passengers, however I doubt the government will advise against car sharing!

Drivers who do answer a mobile whilst driving certainly do not set out on their journey with the intention of breaking the law, and it is a split second decision to answer the call. This does not justify it, but this point is intended solely to make the comparison with a driver under the influence who sets out intentionally breaking the law, knowing full well his ability to drive will be impaired for the entire duration of their journey. Yet people who do use a mobile handset could still end up with a two year jail term along side people the steal, rape and murder.

It is the culture of using electronic device behind the wheel that needs to be tackled, and with increased policing this culture would change.

“We’d like to see police on the streets taking action. The best deterrent is for a motorist to be either pulled over themselves or know someone else who has been stopped.” RAC

Unfortunately increased penalties which result in jail terms will only send otherwise law abiding members of society to an already overcrowded prison system, whilst proper criminals get increased parole, home sentencing and ASBO tracking.

UK Broadband Speeds

Technology 5 Comments »

The UK watchdog Ofcom toady upped the pressure on internet service providers who consistently provide slower broadband speeds than those advertised. It is estimated that thousands of internet users are not getting anything near the broadband speed they signed up for, and it seems frustrating bottlenecks are a common problem for broadband users.

Ofcom have warned that broadband firms could face formal action if they fail to provide accurate information about the broadband speeds that customers receive. It was said that an opt out clause should be written into broadband contracts so if specific information about the speed on a users line is not provided they can cancel the broadband contract without penalty.

Ofcom has said that new regulations should come into place in early 2008 and should ensure that broadband providers don’t oversell broadband packages in advertisements.

As part of the new plans Ofcom suggestion ISP contact customers two weeks after installation to provide them with information on their actual line speed, allow customers to switch to a different provider if unhappy with the service they are getting, and commercials should give more prominence to the factors that affect broadband speeds.

That said broadband speeds are not always the sole responsibility of the ISP, and factors ranging from telephone wiring, to distance of exchange, to computer maintenance can all affect the speed of a customers broadband package.

I have a BT broadband package which is up to 8Meg, and I for one have been receiving significantly lower broadband speeds than this. You can check out you speed using you home PC or by using your postcode with the Broadband Speed Test from BT. BT now say my line supports 6.5 Meg, it is in fact lower still!

The Ofcom warning comes at a time when Britain has been warned its economy will suffer if an ultra-fast internet network is not developed. Currently most of Britain’s existing network is based upon old copper wiring instead of more efficient fibre optics.

Google Knol to competes with Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers

The Interwebs No Comments »

As part of Googles expansion into new areas on the web, the search giant has released an open academic project in Google Knol. Live in beta sceptics have said that the project which is aimed at competing directly with Wikipedia, is a way of increasing revenue as Wikipedia entries currently feature so high within Google search results.

With the project aimed at getting people to contribute knowledge it will function very much like the existing Wikipedia, but will address several key floors its rival has been criticised about recently. With Knol entries, authors of articles will build up professional reputations by preventing articles from being edited by participants unknown to the author, and by disallowing multiple contributions to a single topic, both of which differ in Wikipedia.

Google have also stated that they will not serve as an editor and will leave this solely to the discretion of the author of the article. It does mean that different Knols could exist on the same subject whose credibility would directly compete with each other, but Google has stated that this will only lead to more credible articles.

Google will also allow authors to serve adverts on their written pages,

“If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads,” said Udi Manber, Google vice president.

Recent statistics have demonstrated the popularity of free information sites, with Yahoo answers now said to draw 120 million users worldwide. Yahoo Answers, with 400 million Answers is the second most popular education/ reference site behind Wikipedia. Yahoo Answers has however recently attracted criticism regarding the quality of answers it provides, and is said to actively encourage bad research.

The quality of Wikipedia articles has also been scrutinised with several high profile cases demonstrating government institutions editing articles to reflect them in a more positive light.

These criticisms of the top two educational/ reference sites is said to be every teacher’s worst nightmare, and by locking articles to the author Google is certainly attempting to create a more accurate knowledge base. However it is thought that academics wont be willing to contribute to a project where the credibly of competing articles will be judged but the masses. Academics are already very weary where they publish content and I think it remains to be seen whether Google Knol will be a platform that inspires confidence to academic authors.

Bebo signs API deal with Facebook

Social Networking, The Interwebs No Comments »

Social networking site Bebo yesterday announced plans to link up with rival Facebook that will allow software developers to create applications that can be used across both sites. With nearly 100 million the move will provide developers with the opportunity to develop compatible features for both networks.

Recently The Shelf documented plans from Google to create Open Social, a similar cross network development strategy for which a number of big social networking sites signed up for, excluding Facebook. Open Social was supported by Myspace which alone has 110 million users.

Facebook had huge success after first opening up its network to developers, and now within a few hours the same application could be run on Bebo. Since Facebook started to allow third party applications six months ago thousands of applications have been developed for the social networking site.

As part of the deal however Bebo profiles will not be able to link directly to Facebook users, a step that acknowledges both Facebook and Bebo audiences use each social network for differing purposes.

“We think people use social networks for different things: Facebook is a great social utility, whereas you use Bebo to share media and entertainment.”

Bebo is part of the Open Social alliance as well and is the only network to complete deals that cross both alliances. The interaction of both APIs will be live by early 2008.

AskEraser : The Privacy Of Search Data On The Interent

The Interwebs No Comments »

I read today about a new feature of the search engine Ask that is aimed consumers who are becoming increasingly concerned about their online privacy. AskEraser will allow users to opt for the deletion of personal search query data that would otherwise get stored on Ask’s servers.

It is not uncommon for search engines to store personal search data from users, but in an online culture that increasingly involves using search engines to quickly and effectively find desired content, users are becoming ever more concerned about the lack of privacy that comes with using them.

Advertising too plays a massive role on the internet and adverts on search results are no exception. With access to user data advertisers can better target their intended audience, meaning an increased return on the investment of advertising. In essence better placed adverts are more likely to generate sales, and on the basis of this stored user search data is a valuable commodity.

As search engines are becoming a necessity for more and more people this search data is ever present, and it is the misuse of this data by search engines that people are growing increasingly concerned about.

An extra concern has been highlighted with several high profile cases recntly where personalised search data has been requested by government institutions in civil law proceedings, challenging the existing privacy policy most search engines endeavour to abide by. This does raise the concern of how secure user data is, even when protected by a strict privacy policy.

In August 2006 AOL was also forced to publicly apologise after it released the search queries of more than 650,000 of its US subscribers to help in academic research. Users names were not released however the search queries released did contain personally identifiable data.

Facebook too recently came under fire when a new advertising system, discussed on The Shelf last month, led to over 50,000 complaints on privacy invasion from its users.

Such high profile cases can however lead to change. Recently Facebook altered its targeted adverts that were previously severed on the social network based on past purchases. This is now an optional service, and as such users can opt-out of the recieving such adverts.

Search engines too have are going to increasing lenghts to calm concerns of how personal search data is used. Over the past year the big players in the search industry have now confirmed they will delete search histories after a set period of time, ranging between a year and 18 months.

With this latest development, the launch of AskEraser, Ask is hoping that by giving users the chance to delete search query data almost immediately, (in contrast to market leader Google who waits 18 months), they will attract a new breed of users who are more concerned about their privacy online. By being the first search engine to physically erase information about a user’s searches from its servers Ask is certainly going where no engine has previously been, and is AskEraser demonstrates an innovative way to differentiate itself from other search engines.

According to internet measurement firm comScore, ‘Ask accounted for 4.7% of US searches during October. Google took the lion’s share with 58.5%, with Yahoo accounting for 22.9% and Microsoft for 9.7%.’ Whether the addition of this service will change those figures dramatically remains to be seen, and I for one remain sceptical.

My scepticism stems from major drawback to the service, and that is that Ask has just signed a five year agreement with Google to deliver ads alongside its search results. As part of the deal search data will be sent to Google in order to choose relevant ads, and Google is under no obligation to erase the data sent to it, regardless of the user’s AskEraser settings.

Google has also stated that it has no plans to implement such a tool in the future, so for now search data form search queries on Ask, for which ads are served, is still being stored by Google.

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