April 2007 Archives
Courtesy of Sunday's New York Times, we have a report on the next frontier for mobile phones... enhanced bar code scanning functions. The Times even included a sidebar with instructions on how to activate the functionality on many phones. Honestly, I would have written this off as another April Fools prank (like Google's tradition of poking fun at itself), except that I actually recognize the new jack codes from overnight delivery packages. (Engadget weighs in with a heavy thumb on the snark scale and gets somewhat rebuffed by its own commenters.)
Here's the odd part -- absolutely no mention of the :CueCat in the entire article. Was everyone at the NYT asleep at the switch around 1999/2000? In a wired, digitally archived world, how could collective amnesia wipe out the privacy disaster foisted on an unsuspecting public courtesy of Radio Shack and trusted entities like Wired? Digital:Convergence, Inc., the original creator/designer of the :CueCat, is long gone, with its patents picked up by LV Partners, a "technology portfolio management" company.
Perhaps the new codes create fewer privacy concerns. The original :CueCat was doomed because devices each had unique IDs (that were quickly hacked, destroying the value of the system to merchandisers). Even with at least three sources for the codes, I don't see how the situation is all that different. All the codes still run through those central servers and generate the same demographic data -- and mobile phones have even more personally identifying information than a :CueCat did.
UPDATE: It seems that I needed to do a little more research... as NotAMonkey helpfully noted in the comments, NeoMedia licensed its patents to Digital:Convergence back in 2000 (when :CueCat was being launched). That information is not necessarily the end of the story, but it does eliminate some of my original speculations. To the extent that Digital:Convergence secured its own patents for "improvements" to the NeoMedia patents (and there wasn't a license-back provision drafted in 2000), there could still be a patent mess waiting in the wings -- but that turn of events is a little less likely than I'd originally expected.
Perhaps LV Partners already has licensed out the relevant technology and is reaping the financial rewards. If not, I'd expect a slew of lawsuits to start raining down on Qode / NeoMedia Technologies , QR Code / Denso Wave , and Semacode -- the technological overlap between :CueCat and these new codes is blazingly obvious to me as a somewhat casual observer.