Beginning Monday, November 24, and continuing for the next two weeks, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is offering 25 unique apps in a special section of the App Store called Apps for (RED). All proceeds from the sale of these apps are going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. Apple has also agreed to donate a portion of its Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales from both retail and online stores worldwide to the Global Fund.
(RED) was founded in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver as a means to bring an end to AIDS in Africa, where about two-thirds of the world’s 35 million people who have HIV/AIDS live. Co-founder Bono said:
"Apple isn’t just in the fight to end AIDS. They are setting a new bar for business, giving $75 million and counting to the Global Fund as part of their partnership with (RED)."
Among the special versions of apps available for this period are:
Read more: Apple Goes (RED) in Battle Against AIDS (NASDAQ: AAPL) - 24/7 Wall St. http://247wallst.com/technology-3/2014/11/24/apple-goes-red-in-battle-against-aids/#ixzz3K5QJXKRI
The No. 2 official at the Justice Department delivered a blunt message last month to Apple Inc. executives: New encryption technology that renders locked iPhones impervious to law enforcement would lead to tragedy. A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting.
At issue is new technology that Apple, Google Inc. and others have put in place recently to make their devices more secure. The companies say their aim is to satisfy consumer demands to protect private data.
But law-enforcement officials see it as a move in the wrong direction. The new encryption will make it much harder for the police, even with a court order, to look into a phone for messages, photos, appointments or contact lists, they say. Even Apple itself, if served with a court order, won’t have the key to decipher information encrypted on its iPhones.
The meeting last month ended in a standoff. Apple executives thought the dead-child scenario was inflammatory. They told the government officials law enforcement could obtain the same kind of information elsewhere, including from operators of telecommunications networks and from backup computers and other phones, according to the people who attended.
Technology companies are pushing back more against government requests for cooperation and beefing up their use of encryption. On Tuesday, WhatsApp, the popular messaging service owned by Facebook Inc., said it is now encrypting texts sent from one Android phone to another, and it won’t be able to decrypt the contents for law enforcement.
AT&T Inc. on Monday challenged the legal framework investigators have long used to collect call logs and location information about suspects.
In a filing to a federal appeals court in Atlanta, AT&T said it receives an “enormous volume” of government requests for information about customers, and argued Supreme Court decisions from the 1970s “apply poorly” to modern communications. The company urged the courts to provide new, clear rules on what data the government can take without a probable cause warrant.
Relations between the federal government and Silicon Valley have soured since revelations about government surveillance by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden —and the criticism of some technology companies that followed.
The new security measures threaten to alter the government’s post 9/11 efforts to intercept terrorists and other suspected law breakers. Last month, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said new Apple and Google encryption schemes would “allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”
Robert Hannigan, the head of GCHQ, Britain’s version of the NSA, wrote in the Financial Times earlier this month that U.S. technology companies “have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us.”
As recently as 2012, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was on a first-name basis with then-NSA head Keith Alexander, published emails indicate. He and other Google executives participated in classified cybersecurity briefings on hacking threats facing the U.S.
In March, Mr. Schmidt declined a personal request by President Barack Obama for technical staffers from Google and the government to discuss what the NSA does and doesn’t do, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
At a public hearing in October, Mr. Schmidt said NSA snooping would wind up “breaking the Internet.”
Tech companies say concerns that they too easily turn over data to the U.S. government are costing them business overseas.
The dispute resembles the so-called Cypto Wars of the early 1990s, when the Clinton Administration sought to regulate certain encryption schemes like weapons and require that they include a key that could be unlocked by law enforcement. Tech firms resisted, arguing that people should be able to encrypt their information to safeguard it.
A federal appeals court mostly ended the dispute in 1999, when it ruled computer code, including encryption schemes, is protected speech under the First Amendment.
Over time, Washington and Silicon Valley repaired relations. Tech companies generally responded to government requests for data following the 9/11 attacks.
Then came Mr. Snowden’s revelations, beginning in June 2013. The former NSA contractor released documents showing the NSA scanned Internet traffic extensively, suggesting tech companies were complicit in the snooping. Other documents revealed that the NSA had intercepted traffic between Google’s overseas data centers, infuriating Google executives.
In June 2013, Mr. Snowden provided reporters with documents describing a government program called Prism, which gathered huge amounts of data from tech companies. At first, tech-company executives said they hadn’t previously heard of Prism and denied participating. In fact, Prism was an NSA code word for data collection authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Tech companies routinely complied with such requests.
More than a year later, tech executives say consumers still mistrust them, and they need to take steps to demonstrate their independence from the government.
Customer trust is a big issue at Apple. The company generates 62% of its revenue outside the U.S., where it says encryption is even more important to customers concerned about snooping by their governments.
These days, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook stresses the company’s distance from the government.
“Look, if law enforcement wants something, they should go to the user and get it,” he said at The Wall Street Journal’s global technology conference in October. “It’s not for me to do that.”
In early September, Apple said the encryption on its latest iPhone software would prevent anyone other than the user from accessing user data stored on the phone when it is locked. Until then, Apple had helped police agencies—with a warrant—pull data off a phone. The process wasn’t quick. Investigators had to send the device to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, and backlogs occurred.
Apple has long encrypted customer communications through its iMessage and FaceTime services, introduced early this decade. That decision prompted separate complaints from law enforcement.
Shortly after Apple’s announcement, Google said it had adopted a similar encryption scheme on phones using the newest version of its Android operating system, which was released in October.
The announcements set off alarm bells at the FBI, the Justice Department, and other law-enforcement agencies. Officials feared that other companies would follow suit, making even more communications paths difficult to investigate.
Since the Snowden revelations, Google, Facebook Inc. and YahooInc. had begun scrambling information transmitted between their overseas data centers to block NSA spies from listening in. Microsoft Corp. fought a government request for information about users of its Ireland data center, arguing the government had no jurisdiction outside the U.S.
Twitter Inc. this fall sued the government, arguing a recent settlement between the Justice Department and other tech firms restricts what it can say about government data requests.
Soon after Apple’s announcement, the FBI requested a meeting. The task of speaking for the government at the Oct. 1 meeting fell to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the Justice Department’s second-ranking official. Mr. Cole had previously brokered the settlement about disclosures of government data requests. Apple was represented by General Counsel Bruce Sewell and two other employees, according to people who were there. The following account of what happened at the meeting is based on recollections of those people.
In his fourth-floor conference room, Mr. Cole told the Apple officials they were marketing to criminals.
At one point, he read aloud from a printout of Apple’s announcement, quoting a section in which the company said that under the new system Apple couldn’t cooperate with a court order to retrieve data from a phone even if it wanted to.
Mr. Cole offered the Apple team a gruesome prediction: At some future date, a child will die, and police will say they would have been able to rescue the child, or capture the killer, if only they could have looked inside a certain phone.
His statements reflected concern within the FBI that a careful criminal can shield much activity from police surveillance by minimizing use of cellphone towers and not backing up data.
The Apple representatives viewed Mr. Cole’s suggestion as inflammatory and inaccurate. Police have other ways to get information, they said, including call logs and location information from cellphone carriers. In addition, many users store copies of a phone’s data elsewhere.
During the hourlong meeting, Mr. Sewell said Apple wasn’t marketing to criminals, but to ordinary consumers who store growing amounts of data about themselves on smartphones and are increasingly suspicious of tech companies. Many of those customers are outside the U.S., the Apple representatives said, where phone users want to shield information from governments that are less respectful of individual rights.
If the government wants more information from Apple, the company representatives said, it should change the law to require all companies that handle communications to provide a means for law enforcement to access the communications.
Mr. Cole predicted that would happen, after the death of a child or similar event.
More than once, Mr. Cole suggested there had to be a technical solution—a way to design a phone so that police, with a court order, can access information, without compromising security.
“We can’t create a key that only the good guys can use,” Mr. Sewell responded.
After the meeting, Mr. Cole told colleagues he didn’t expect Apple to back down.
The two sides agreed to a follow-up meeting between technical experts from Apple and the Justice Department. At that meeting, Apple laid out ways in which the government could still collect information about specific phones. But its representatives acknowledged that under the new system, there will be more information on the phones that can be hidden from investigators, even with a warrant.
Later in October, Mr. Comey, the FBI director, criticized the new Apple and Google encryption schemes in a speech, saying the pendulum had swung too far toward protecting privacy, at the expense of law enforcement.
At Apple, Mr. Cook believes consumers will push the pendulum further toward protecting privacy. At the Journal conference, he made a prediction: Consumers will appreciate efforts to protect their privacy once “something major happens.”
“When that happens everybody wakes up and says, ‘Oh my God,’ and they make a change,” he said. “What that event is, I don’t know, but I’m pretty convinced that it’s going to happen.”
During discussions inside the White House, some officials disagreed with Mr. Comey’s approach, according to people familiar with those talks. They had urged the FBI not to speak out publicly, arguing the best chance at a policy change was through quiet negotiations, these people said. Obama administration officials say they plan to keep talking with the tech companies about the issues.
In the debate over phones, government officials repeatedly cite kidnapping or child-abuse cases, in an effort to make law enforcement the focus of the debate, rather than national security. Terror suspects with better-protected data are a serious concern, officials say, but they believe catching criminals is a better public argument to make.
In his October speech, the FBI’s Mr. Comey cited the case of a murdered boy, whom he didn’t name, as one example where data taken from a phone was critical to solving a crime.
That boy, it later emerged, was 12-year-old Justin Bloxom, who was murdered in 2010 in Mansfield, La. His mother, Amy Fletcher, says she has no doubt that phone evidence was critical in convicting his killer. “Everything that was done was done through texts from a damn cellphone,” she says.
Investigators quickly focused on Brian Horn, a cabdriver and convicted sex offender. Mr. Horn’s cellphone was recovered by investigators and sent to the FBI for analysis. The texts showed Mr. Horn lured the boy into his cab by pretending to be a 15-year-old girl looking for sex.
Mr. Horn’s lawyer, Daryl Gold, calls the phone “a crucial piece of evidence.” Before investigators recovered it, he said, “They had a totally circumstantial case.” Mr. Horn was convicted and sentenced to death. He is appealing.
Write to Devlin Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org, Danny Yadron at email@example.com and Daisuke Wakabayashi at Daisuke.Wakabayashi@wsj.com
The Web—that thin veneer of human-readable design on top of the machine babble that constitutes the Internet—is dying. And the way it’s dying has farther-reaching implications than almost anything else in technology today.
Think about your mobile phone. All those little chiclets on your screen are apps, not websites, and they work in ways that are fundamentally different from the way the Web does.
Mountains of data tell us that, in aggregate, we are spending time in apps that we once spent surfing the Web. We’re in love with apps, and they’ve taken over. On phones, 86% of our time is spent in apps, and just 14% is spent on the Web, according to mobile-analytics company Flurry.
This might seem like a trivial change. In the old days, we printed out directions from the website MapQuest that were often wrong or confusing. Today we call up Waze on our phones and are routed around traffic in real time. For those who remember the old way, this is a miracle.
Everything about apps feels like a win for users—they are faster and easier to use than what came before. But underneath all that convenience is something sinister: the end of the very openness that allowed Internet companies to grow into some of the most powerful or important companies of the 21st century.
Take that most essential of activities for e-commerce: accepting credit cards. When Amazon.com made its debut on the Web, it had to pay a few percentage points in transaction fees. But Apple takes 30% of every transaction conducted within an app sold through its app store, and “very few businesses in the world can withstand that haircut,” says Chris Dixon, a venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz.
App stores, which are shackled to particular operating systems and devices, are walled gardens where Apple, Google , Microsoft and Amazon get to set the rules. For a while, that meant Apple banned Bitcoin, an alternative currency that many technologists believe is the most revolutionary development on the Internet since the hyperlink. Apple regularly bans apps that offend its politics, taste, or compete with its own software and services.
But the problem with apps runs much deeper than the ways they can be controlled by centralized gatekeepers. The Web was invented by academics whose goal was sharing information. Tim Berners-Lee was just trying to make it easy for scientists to publish data they were putting together during construction of CERN, the world’s biggest particle accelerator.
No one involved knew they were giving birth to the biggest creator and destroyer of wealth anyone had ever seen. So, unlike with app stores, there was no drive to control the early Web. Standards bodies arose—like the United Nations, but for programming languages. Companies that would have liked to wipe each other off the map were forced, by the very nature of the Web, to come together and agree on revisions to the common language for Web pages.
The result: Anyone could put up a Web page or launch a new service, and anyone could access it. Google was born in a garage. Facebook was born in Mark Zuckerberg ’s dorm room.
But app stores don’t work like that. The lists of most-downloaded apps now drive consumer adoption of those apps. Search on app stores is broken.
The Web is built of links, but apps don’t have a functional equivalent. Facebook and Google are trying to fix this by creating a standard called “deep linking,” but there are fundamental technical barriers to making apps behave like websites.
The Web was intended to expose information. It was so devoted to sharing above all else that it didn’t include any way to pay for things—something some of its early architects regret to this day, since it forced the Web to survive on advertising.
The Web wasn’t perfect, but it created a commons where people could exchange information and goods. It forced companies to build technology that was explicitly designed to be compatible with competitors’ technology. Microsoft’s Web browser had to faithfully render Apple’s website. If it didn’t, consumers would use another one, such as Firefox or Google’s Chrome, which has since taken over.
Today, as apps take over, the Web’s architects are abandoning it. Google’s newest experiment in email nirvana, called Inbox, is available for both Android and Apple’s iOS, but on the Web it doesn’t work in any browser except Chrome. The process of creating new Web standards has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, companies with app stores are devoted to making those stores better than—and entirely incompatible with—app stores built by competitors.
“In a lot of tech processes, as things decline a little bit, the way the world reacts is that it tends to accelerate that decline,” says Mr. Dixon. “If you go to any Internet startup or large company, they have large teams focused on creating very high quality native apps, and they tend to de-prioritize the mobile Web by comparison.”
Many industry watchers think this is just fine. Ben Thompson, an independent tech and mobile analyst, told me he sees the dominance of apps as the “natural state” for software.
Ruefully, I have to agree. The history of computing is companies trying to use their market power to shut out rivals, even when it’s bad for innovation and the consumer.
That doesn’t mean the Web will disappear. Facebook and Google still rely on it to furnish a stream of content that can be accessed from within their apps. But even the Web of documents and news items could go away. Facebook has announced plans to host publishers’ work within Facebook itself, leaving the Web nothing but a curiosity, a relic haunted by hobbyists.
I think the Web was a historical accident, an anomalous instance of a powerful new technology going almost directly from a publicly funded research lab to the public. It caught existing juggernauts like Microsoft flat-footed, and it led to the kind of disruption today’s most powerful tech companies would prefer to avoid.
It isn’t that today’s kings of the app world want to quash innovation, per se. It is that in the transition to a world in which services are delivered through apps, rather than the Web, we are graduating to a system that makes innovation, serendipity and experimentation that much harder for those who build things that rely on the Internet. And today, that is pretty much everyone.
—Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter @Mims; write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever since the debut of the iPad nearly five years ago, pundits have been talking about the possibility of a post-PC professional existence. But I’m actually living it; I haven’t touched a personal computer in six months and I’m more productive than ever.
If you could peek over my shoulder at the device I’m writing this column on, you might call me a liar. By all appearances, my notebook computer, with its 13-inch screen, trackpad and keyboard, is a PC.
And yet Gartner, the most influential company charged with determining what is and is not a personal computer, has declared that my Samsung ElectronicsChromebook 2 isn’t a PC. Gartner doesn’t include sales of Chromebooks in its quarterly tally of how many PCs are sold.
“We define a PC as a device which is capable for both content consumption and creation, regardless of form factor,” says Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner’s lead PC analyst.
I guess I’m not a content creator.
Chromebooks, in case you haven’t touched one—and market research indicates that you haven’t—are Google ’s answer to Windows and Mac computers. Gadget reviewers who use Chromebooks only when they are paid to often describe them as more limited than a typical PC. But people who use Chromebooks regularly are more likely to observe that they can do pretty much everything that the average PC user needs.
To be fair to Gartner, many Chromebooks, including my own, have the same innards as smartphones so, at least on paper, they seem underpowered. Samsung’s Chromebook 2 has the same processor, amount of memory and even number of screen pixels as Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5. The only reason the Chromebook 2 works as a PC is that Google’s Chrome operating system is incredibly lightweight—smaller and less taxing on hardware.
I don’t mean to shill for Chromebooks. It’s just that Google is in the vanguard of creating PCs that function like smartphones: light, portable, always on, always connected and relying on the cloud to do their heavy lifting. It’s pretty obvious that in the not too distant future, Apple and Microsoft are going to free their fans from the PC in the same way.
Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has said that he does 80% of his work on an iPad. I bet it would be 100% if the iPad possessed the characteristics that allow you to create content rather than just consume it: true multitasking and fast switching between applications, plus a bigger screen. But there’s evidence that a larger, so-called iPad Pro is coming. And I bet that Apple eventually will give us a version of its mobile operating system that makes iPads true replacements for notebooks, even those made by Apple.
Then there’s Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which is a full PC in tablet form, one of the many two-in-one notebooks that PC makers have been rolling out lately. From the processing power these hybrid devices pack to their snap-on keyboards, they are clearly designed to get real work done.
Yet were I a Surface Pro user, I still wouldn’t be using a PC, according to IDC, Gartner’s leading competitor for tallying how many PCs are sold each year. But Gartner does consider the Surface Pro a PC. According to Jay Chou, IDC’s senior analyst in charge of tracking PCs, the firm doesn’t consider anything with a detachable keyboard a PC. His firm does consider Chromebooks to be PCs, even though the Surface Pro 3 is far more powerful than most Chromebooks.
That Gartner and IDC can’t even agree on the definition of a PC speaks volumes about the strange times in which we live. Is a smartphone stretched into the shape of a laptop a PC? No, says Gartner. What about a PC crammed into the shape of a tablet? Nope, counters IDC.
These delineations are ridiculous from the perspective of the end user. That’s because most of us are entertaining ourselves and getting work done in the one place absolutely all of these devices can access—the cloud.
I store and edit all my photos in the cloud, which also is where all my media are streamed from. Unless you’re editing video, building 3-D models, playing elaborate games or dependent on legacy Windows applications that your company hasn’t moved to the cloud, you don’t strictly need a PC anymore.
At this point in history, booting up a full-fledged PC operating system to write an email is like using a nuclear sub to go on a weekend fishing trip. And a good Chromebook can be had for $300. Personally, I’d rather spend my technology budget on the one thing I truly can’t do without—my smartphone. Surveys indicate that in this respect, I’m typical of every generation to follow the baby boomers.
In short, I’m done with PCs—at least as they are conventionally defined. And I think the majority of long-suffering PC users would be too if they weren’t so accustomed to thinking of computers in the same way they have for decades. Building new technology is easy compared with changing the habits of those who use it.
—Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter @Mims and write to him at email@example.com.
Microsoft Corp. may not be cool, but its sales continue to defy expectations by growing at a much faster clip than those of its business-technology peers.
Microsoft’s revenue rose 11% from a year earlier in the three months ended Sept. 30, excluding Nokia ’s mobile-phone business that Microsoft purchased last spring.
Meanwhile, competitors in corporate technology—such as International Business Machines Corp. , Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. —posted shrinking or slow sales growth.
“Microsoft is bucking the trend,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets.
Microsoft’s stock rose 3.1% in after-hours trading Thursday following the release of its financial report for the fiscal first quarter. The company’s stock price has reflected strong revenue and profit growth in the past year.
Shares climbed 33% in the past year through Thursday’s market close, far outpacing the S&P 500 stock index over the period.
The company’s market value recently surpassed that of Google Inc. for the first time since June 2013.
The latest quarterly results continue a charmed first year in office for Satya Nadella , who in February was named chief executive, only the third in Microsoft’s history.
Mr. Nadella has focused on many of the same lines of business as his predecessors, and earlier investments in cloud computing and the Xbox videogame console have paid off under his watch.
Mr. Nadella has won over Wall Street with his willingness to cut jobs, favor innovation over existing businesses and de-emphasize products outside Microsoft’s core offerings.
In the most recent quarter, Microsoft’s revenue from software for business customers rose more than 9.5% from a year earlier.
The company had robust growth in both newer offerings such as Microsoft Office 365 (an online version of the popular desk-jockey software suite) and mature products like the version of Windows for computer servers.
Cloud software sold to businesses—primarily Office 365, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM sales tool and the Azure cloud-computing service—more than doubled to $1.18 billion, or roughly 5.1% of total revenue for the quarter.
But Microsoft executives said during a conference call that customers for Azure, which lets corporate IT departments and software developers rent computing horsepower and storage capacity by the hour, also buy the company’s traditional corporate software.
Microsoft’s mobile business remains a trouble spot. Sales of Windows-powered Nokia smartphones rose, but the company continues to lose market share toApple Inc. and manufacturers of phones that run Google’s Android operating software.
Microsoft made less money than it did a year earlier from its mobile-phone operating software business, largely because Android-phone makers such asSamsung Electronics Co. sold more of their inexpensive phones, which generate lower fees for Microsoft. Android phone makers pay Microsoft a royalty for Microsoft patents used in the Google operating system.
Sales of Windows operating software for personal computers also declined, but less than in prior quarters, driven by improving demand for PCs since their 2013 swoon.
Microsoft’s latest quarterly results continue a charmed first year in office for CEO Satya Nadella. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The company made more headway with its other consumer hardware products.
Revenue more than doubled for the Surface tablet computer, which sold poorly when it launched two years ago. The Surface Pro 3, released in June, received a more positive reception, the company said. The newer device is positioned more as a laptop replacement than a tablet computer.
Microsoft also sold twice as many Xboxes as a year ago, it said, helped by a $100 price cut for the latest model.
Despite Microsoft’s recent successes, Google tends to get the buzz once reserved for the Redmond, Wash., company.
In an interview, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood was unfazed. “I wasn’t that cool in high school, either,” she said.
Overall in the quarter, Microsoft revenue was $23.2 billion, including the Nokia business, compared with $18.5 billion a year ago. Net income fell to $4.5 billion, or 54 cents a share, from $5.2 billion, or 62 cents, in the same quarter last year.
Microsoft’s profit was weighed down by about $1.1 billion, or 11 cents a share, in costs related to a massive round of job cuts Mr. Nadella pushed through this summer and costs to integrate Nokia’s business into the rest of Microsoft.
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Microsoft’s decline in mobile-software revenue was due to a shift toward lower-cost Windows smartphones.
Write to Shira Ovide at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Web is full of personalized content, whether it’s a Netflix recommendation or the results of a Google search.
But consumers have protested when e-commerce companies have extended their behind-the-scenes personalization to prices, charging different sums for the same goods, or pushing some people toward higher-priced offers.
A new study of top e-commerce websites found these practices—called discriminatory pricing or price steering—are much more widespread than was previously understood.
The study, by a team of computer scientists at Northeastern University, tracked searches on 16 popular e-commerce sites. Six of those sites used the pricing techniques; none of the sites alerted consumers to that fact.
Among the study’s findings: Travel-booking sites Cheaptickets and Orbitz charged some users searching hotel rates an average $12 more per night if they weren’t logged into the sites, and Travelocity charged users of Apple Inc. ’s iOS mobile operating system $15 less for hotels than other users.
Home Depot Inc. shows mobile-device users products that are roughly $100 more expensive than those offered to desktop-computer users. And Expedia and Hotels.com steer users at random to pricier products, the study said.
“In the real world, there are coupons and loyalty cards, and people are fine with that,” said Christo Wilson, an assistant professor at Northeastern who led the research team. “Here, there’s a transparency problem. The algorithms change regularly, so you don’t know if other people are getting the same results.”
Travelocity, a unit of Sabre Corp. , didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Home Depot didn’t dispute the accuracy of the findings, but the home-improvement retailer wasn’t “intentionally steering search results,” said company spokesman Stephen Holmes.
Many factors could influence what a customer sees on the company’s sites, Mr. Holmes said, including prior browsing and purchase history, the location of the store, and whether the customer is on mobile or not.
Home Depot didn’t charge users different prices for identical products but showed more-expensive products to people who shopped using a smartphone, the researchers found.
Chris Chiames, vice president of corporate affairs at Orbitz Worldwide Inc., said in an email that the company clearly advertises its loyalty programs and other deals. He said the discounts some members see on the site apply to just a small proportion of hotels—fewer than 5%. So, it wouldn’t make sense, and might even be misleading, to advertise lower prices to all members, he said.
“The Northeastern study states that ‘overall, most of the experiments do not reveal evidence of steering or discrimination,’ and so we are curious as to why a handful of exceptions to searches on thousands of hotels is the basis of this paper’s conclusions, or even worthy of a story,” Mr. Chiames added. “Would you be as interested in a Kmart ‘blue light special’ deal that was made available to shoppers who happen to be in a certain store at a certain time?”
Moreover, some deals are priced by Orbitz’s hotel partners, he added. “The hotel might have limited inventory of that price, and so they choose to display the rate on a more-limited basis, akin to the flash sale,” he said.
On Orbitz and Cheaptickets, also owned by Orbitz Worldwide, consumers who registered through the websites’ free log-in were shown a tab labeled “members only” that offered lower hotel prices. The company didn’t advertise that users could receive discounts for logging in.
Orbitz has been accused of price discrimination in the past. A 2012 Wall Street Journal investigation found the company charged Mac users as much as 30% more than PC users for a night’s lodging. The company discontinued the practice, which it characterized as a month-long experiment. The Northeastern researchers confirmed the company no longer discriminates between Mac and PC users.
Expedia and Hotels.com, both units of Expedia Inc., don’t show different prices because of users’ differing characteristics but because the company constantly refines its pricing strategies using a method called A/B testing, the researchers said. Shoppers are randomly placed in a group that highlights either less or more costly hotels. “Either way, the user has no idea what bucket they’ve been placed in,” said Northeastern’s Mr. Wilson.
One group of users, for example, were shown an average hotel listing price of $187 a night. The other group saw prices that were $17, or roughly 10%, less.
“Presenting different booking paths and options to different customers allows us to determine which features customers appreciate most” said Expedia spokesman Dave McNamee, in an email. “Pricing is not manipulated by Expedia.com.”
Consumers have long protested price discrimination. In 2000, Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos apologized for an internal research program in which consumers were shown different prices for identical products. He called the experiment a “mistake.” (Amazon and eBay Inc. weren’t included in the Northeastern study because those companies’ services have little power over the prices they charge, the researchers said.)
Staples Inc. varied its online prices based on users’ locations, according to a 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal. The researchers didn’t examine Staples but pointed out that retailers might vary prices by region because the cost of procuring a given product can differ in different parts of the country. They didn’t study geographic variations for that reason.
In their study, the Northeastern researchers devised a statistical method to weed out what they called “noise,” or legitimate factors that might cause prices to vary—a technique they hope will be used in future studies of online personalization.
The research team recruited 300 beta users, who allowed the researchers to track their experience on different sites.
The team also developed hundreds of fake accounts to see whether historical purchase patterns and clicks through the sites had an impact on price personalization. They didn’t examine the impact of consumers’ overall Web-browsing behavior on pricing because they would have no way to know how e-commerce sites tracked participants across the Web.
Write to Elizabeth Dwoskin at email@example.com
Apple says its investigation indicated certain celebrity online photo accounts were hacked in a targeted attack, and it hasn't found a breach in its iCloud or "Find my iPhone" systems. The incident comes just a week before Apple is set to unveil its latest iPhone that could push the company deeper into health and finance.
One week before Apple Inc. AAPL +0.78% Apple Inc. U.S.: Nasdaq $103.30 +0.80 +0.78% Sept. 2, 2014 4:00 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 52.78M AFTER HOURS$103.26 -0.04 -0.04% Sept. 2, 2014 7:59 pm Volume (Delayed 15m) : 787,391 P/E Ratio 16.58 Market Cap $613.76 Billion Dividend Yield 1.82% Rev. per Employee $2,214,380 110.00107.50105.00102.50 09/03/14 Nokia Plans to Unfurl New Mobi... 09/02/14 KKR to Buy Stake in Smart-Home... 09/02/14 Apple Denies iCloud Breach More quote details and news » AAPL Your Value Your Change Short position plans to show off its new iPhone, the company is battling to preserve its reputation for protecting users, following the leak of nude photos of celebrities from its online services.
Apple on Tuesday denied that its online systems had been breached, deepening the mystery of how the private photos leaked onto the Internet. Apple said certain celebrity accounts were compromised by "a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions."
On Sept. 9, Apple is expected to unveil the latest version of the iPhone, with new features that would increase the amount of private, valuable information stored with the company.
Apple has said the new iPhone's software will feature a way to collect and share health-related data. Another new feature is expected to allow users to pay for real-world items with their iPhone using credit cards stored on iTunes.
Apple moved Tuesday to address reports that surfaced over the weekend that the leaks of the photos could stem from a bug in its iCloud storage service that allowed potential hackers to try an unlimited number of passwords until they stumbled upon the correct one.
Apple said there is a limit on the number of incorrect passwords an iCloud user can enter before its system locks the account. The company declined to specify the exact number of incorrect attempts that would trigger an account lockdown.
"None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple's systems including iCloud," Apple said in its statement.
"We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved."
The FBI said it is "aware of the allegations concerning computer intrusions and the unlawful release of material involving high profile individuals, and is addressing the matter." The agency declined to elaborate.
In the past, Apple has portrayed itself as the more secure alternative to its competitors, famously lampooning the security measures in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system in a television commercial.
Investors shrugged off the news, sending Apple shares 0.8% higher at $103.30.
The hack has exposed Apple to the type of negative publicity that it usually manages to avoid. The company is known to court celebrities, fulfilling special requests and offering dedicated technical support for VIPs.
Actress Kirsten Dunst, who has been identified as a subject of some of the leaked nude photos, took to Twitter TWTR +2.55% Twitter Inc. with a sarcastic post: "Thank you iCloud." She completed her tweet with emojis of a slice of pizza and something often taken on the Internet as a pile of excrement.
Other celebrities identified as possible victims of the hack included actress Jennifer Lawrence and model Kate Upton.
A spokesperson for Ms. Lawrence called the hack a "flagrant violation of privacy" and that the authorities have been contacted and they will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos. Ms. Upton's attorney Lawrence Shire said they intend to "pursue anyone disseminating or duplicating these illegally obtained images to the fullest extent possible."
Apple had more than 320 million accounts for its iCloud service as July 2013. The online system stores photos, music, emails and other data from Apple devices. It also supports other services such as Apple's Find My iPhone feature that allows people to locate phones that are misplaced or stolen.
Apple suggested that users make sure they have a strong password and they enable two-step verification—a security feature that requires users to first type a password and then perform a second step, such as typing in a code received by text message.
Apple said there has been and continues to be a limit on the number of incorrect password attempts a user can try in iCloud before its system locks down the account. Getty Images
Even though the cause of the picture-hack remains unclear, there are enough details to indicate the iPhone-maker could have prevented the intrusion with increased security measures, said Ashkan Soltani, an independent security researcher who has worked with The Wall Street Journal in the past.
The hackers likely still had to guess the passwords, or answers to security questions, of the celebrities whose accounts they breached. Mr. Soltani said Apple appears to have allowed hackers enough chances to guess the right answer.
He compared the shortcoming to an apartment building with a doorman. Even if a burglar steals a resident's key ring, a doorman would likely become suspicious if an unknown person tried all 10 of a person's keys before gaining entry. In this case, he said, "One of the doors didn't have a doorman."
Write to Daisuke Wakabayashi at Daisuke.Wakabayashi@wsj.com and Danny Yadron at firstname.lastname@example.org