Privacy advocates wary of Google Flu Trends

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Google’s new Flu Trends tool, which collects and analyzes search queries to predict flu outbreaks around the country, is raising concern with privacy groups. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act  request asking federal officials to disclose how much user search data the company has recently transmitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, as part of its Google Flu Trends effor. Concern stems from what privacy groups claim is a disturbing lack of transparency surrounding the method Google is using to predict flu outbreaks.Google has publicly stated that all of the data used is made anonymous and aggregated, but there has been no independent verification of how search queries are used and transformed into data for Google Flu Trends, the privacy groups say.

A fast-charging laptop battery that promises to last at least three years without any degradation in performance is coming to the market as an option with Hewlett-Packard laptops. The Sonata battery is the product of three years of development work by Boston-Power and will be rebranded by HP as the “Enviro” battery and offered from early 2009 with select machines. The battery can be charged to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes, which could be useful for travellers who only have a limited amount of time near an electric outlet, and will go 1,000 charges before the battery’s capacity begins degrading. That’s a charge a day for three years — or four years if it’s only used on weekdays — so it should last the average life of a business laptop. Common laptop batteries today start to degrade after 300 charges.

Intel on Wednesday said it finished development work on manufacturing technology that will allow it to produce chips with circuitry just 32-nanometers in size, a billionth of a meter, by the fourth quarter of next year. The new production technology will enable the company to lower costs and power consumption in chips, while adding more speed and functionality. In general, microprocessing speeds are directly related to the number of transistors on a chip, and the smaller the transistor, the more can be packed together on a single chip die. Smaller production technology lowers costs by enabling companies to increase output.

Along with its biggest patch release in five years, Microsoft warned on Tuesday of another potentially dangerous vulnerability in its software. The problem lies within the WordPad Text Converter for Word 97 files. The systems affected include Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2. The company said it has seen limited, targeted attacks. If exploited, a hacker could gain the same rights on a PC as a local user and could remotely execute code. Microsoft is investigating the problem. Microsoft typically releases patches on the second Tuesday of the month. If Microsoft sticks to its schedule, the earliest a patch could be released would be Jan. 13. However, Microsoft has deviated from its patching cycle when a vulnerability is considered particularly dangerous.

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