Cellphone users can block robocalls

Consumers have a right under a federal law to revoke their consent to being contacted on their cell phones by automated dialing systems, a U.S. appeals court decided on Thursday in a defeat for computer maker Dell Inc.

Reversing a lower court ruling, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania woman, Ashley Gager, who complained that Dell hounded her with more than 40 calls in less than three weeks to collect a delinquent debt after she had sent a letter asking it to stop.

Circuit Judge Jane Roth said Congress intended the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 to protect consumers from unwanted automated calls, a conclusion supported by a 2012 Federal Communications Commission ruling in an unrelated case…

According to court papers, Gager had in 2007 filled in her cellphone number in place of her home number on an application for a Dell credit line, which the Honesdale, Pennsylvania resident used to buy thousands of dollars of computer equipment.

After Gager defaulted, Dell began leaving the automated messages, and continued doing so even after receiving a letter in December 2010 from Gager asking it to stop, the papers show…

“Dell will still be able to telephone Gager about her delinquent account,” Roth said. “The only limitation imposed by the TCPA is that Dell will not be able to use an automated dialing system to do so.”

Robocalls are useful to warn of collective emergencies. That’s it. Everything that remains is audible spam or harassment. Generally from some cheap-ass company trying to keep from paying even minimum wage to part-time workers.

One more facet of the decline in privacy in the Land where Liberty is defined by profit structures.

FBI busts portfolio manager at SAC Capital hedge fund

Steven Cohen
Steven Cohen

U.S. prosecutors on Friday charged Michael Steinberg, a veteran portfolio manager with Steven A. Cohen’s $15 billion hedge fund, with engaging in insider trading in two technology stocks, the most senior SAC Capital Advisors employee to be charged in the government’s long-running probe.

The five-count indictment was announced a few hours after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived at Steinberg’s home in New York City at around 6 a.m. ET and arrested him.

Federal prosecutors are charging Steinberg, 40, with using inside information to make trades in shares of Dell and chipmaker Nvidia that generated about $1.4 million in illegal profits for Cohen’s hedge fund…

SAC Capital spokesman Jonathan Gasthalter said: “Mike has conducted himself professionally and ethically during his long tenure at the firm. We believe him to be a man of integrity…”

In a related civil complaint against Steinberg, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said the information allowed Steinberg to generate $6.4 million in profits and avoided losses for Cohen’s hedge fund.

Steinberg is one of nine current or former employees of SAC Capital who have been charged or implicated with insider trading while working at Cohen’s 2-decade-old hedge fund…

The arrest comes two weeks after SAC agreed to pay a record $616 million to the SEC to settle civil charges of insider trading. SAC neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing at that time.

But the government made clear that that settlement did not preclude further charges.

The DOJ’s policy on Wall Street – in general – is to bust the little fish, negotiate a deal on jail time to get them to testify against the heavy hitters at the top of the pyramid. Then, they settle for a chunk of money from the firm’s coffers. Unfortunately, in an era of untouchable Wall Street bosses, that’s not sufficient to make any changes in behavior.

The name of the game is Never Steal Anything Small. When you have the top man at SAC spending over $100 million for a Picasso for his new $60 million beach cottage – he may whine over the fine; but, staying outside of the slammer is what really counts. He can always hustle more money.

FBI arrests at tech firms for insider trading

U.S. Attorney Preet Bahrara

Four people who worked at technology companies were arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a long-term insider trading probe. A fifth person has pleaded guilty.

James Fleishman, an executive for Primary Global Research, an expert-networking firm, was arrested this morning on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy for allegedly trying to give non- public information to the firm’s clients, including hedge funds, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan.

Also arrested were Mark Anthony Longoria, who worked at Advanced Micro Devices Inc.; Walter Shimoon, who worked at Flextronics International Ltd.; and Manosha Karunatilaka, who was employed at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, the statement said. The charges were unsealed today in Manhattan federal court.

A corrupt network of insiders at some of the world’s leading technology companies served as so-called consultants who sold out their employers by stealing and then peddling their valuable inside information,” said Bharara in a statement.

A fifth man, Daniel DeVore, formerly a supply manager at Dell Inc., was arrested in the same probe and pleaded guilty Dec. 10 to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, according to the statement.

Hey, look! The SEC is actually out on the streets doing what they get paid for.

The real Tablet Wars will have to wait until next year

Even with the much publicized release of the Galaxy Tab this week, it looks like the real battle to upend the iPad won’t happen until next year. Lenovo’s chief executive confirmed that its LePad tablet won’t hit the market until 2011. LG also pushed back the release of its tablet until next year. Both are waiting to launch their tablets with Android Honeycomb, the upcoming release that is designed for tablets. Meanwhile, those who want RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook or a webOS-based tablet will also have to wait until early next year.

This isn’t to say that competitors aren’t lining up offerings right now. Samsung is predicting it can sell 1 million Galaxy Tab devices running Android 2.2 by the end of this year. Acer is expected to unveil new tablets running Android later this month. And Dell has released the 5-inch Streak, which runs an older version of Android.

But Google has said that, currently, Android isn’t designed for tablets. And it looks like Gingerbread, the update that is scheduled to be released any day now, won’t be optimized for tablets. So Android tablets, even if they’re released this year, probably won’t hit their stride until Google releases Honeycomb.

Right now, manufacturers are torn between moving forward and trying to get some traction like Samsung is attempting to do, or waiting until the platform matures, but risk Apple zooming ahead again with the iPad 2. That some like LG and Lenovo are sitting it out suggests they’d rather nail it the first time with the right software rather than put out something that initially disappoints…

The iPad will surely get serious competition and will undoubtedly lose its 95 percent share of the tablet market. But it looks like we’ll need to wait for next year when Android tablets, along with a BlackBerry PlayBook and a webOS tablet from HP, can make a real run at the iPad.

Many of these firms make it sound like they’re getting better at responding to Apple’s R&D opening new marketplaces. I’m not as convinced. It takes a great deal of process management to accomplishment a complete rollout for a breakthrough product like the iPad. It also helps to have an infrastructure like the App Store + apps + designers ready and willing to design for the new platform.

The only product I see stealing market share from the iPad is this. My wife’s arrives Monday.

China’s factories revamping their business models

DONGGUAN — Companies here in China’s industrial heartland are toiling to reinvent their businesses, fearing that the low-cost manufacturing that helped propel the nation’s economic ascent is fast becoming obsolete…

For years, factories here in the Pearl River Delta region have served as the low-cost workshops for global brands, turning this part of China into the nation’s biggest export zone. The city of Dongguan, about 35 miles northwest of Hong Kong, has long churned out toys, textiles, furniture and sports shoes — including hundreds of millions of sneakers a year for companies like Nike and Adidas.

But now, with manufacturing costs rising and China looking to create a consumer middle class, experts say the revamping of this region’s industries could help reduce the nation’s wide income gap and encourage more balanced and sustainable economic growth.

It is my hope that China’s comparative advantage as a low-wage producer does disappear — the sooner the better,” Fan Gang, an economics professor at Peking University, wrote in a recent essay, adding that China needed to upgrade and embark on “the next stage of development…”

There is also the looming prospect that China’s currency, the renminbi, will strengthen against other world currencies in the coming years. That would make goods produced here even more expensive to export, and further erode what manufacturers say are already thin profit margins.

Seeking lower costs, some Pearl River Delta factories are relocating to poor inland regions of China where wages are as much as 30 percent lower than in coastal provinces. Other factories are moving to lower-wage countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam.

But for companies that have invested billions of dollars in factories here, simply packing up and pulling out is not always financially feasible. That is why many owners of Dongguan factories are experimenting with other solutions.

“We’ve decided that we’re not going to be on the low end,” says Roger Lee, the chief operating officer at TAL Apparel, part of the TAL Group.

TAL, which is based in Hong Kong and says it makes one of every six dress shirts sold in the United States, is expanding into supply-chain management for J. C. Penney, one of its big shirt-buyers. Through an extensive computerized system, TAL can stock and restock shirt shelves in all 1,100 of Penney’s retail stores in the United States, as demand warrants.

“Too much inventory kills retailers,” Mr. Lee said. “Now, we’re managing inventory in each store. We get sales data. We know what’s in the warehouse, what’s on the boat. We help reduce inventory…”

TAL is but one example of many in the article. I really recommend reading it.

And I have to track down Professor Fan’s essay on the next stage of development. We’ve spoken before of China skipping stages in growth – and not skipping stages, just accelerating through the maze of the past with the benefit of the world’s experience.

Not that it will sink into the consciousness of consumers or politicians stuck into Cold War punditry. But, the rest of these United States had better learn to develop new commerce and technology and the education to compete with the rest of the world – and especially China – or go the way of the Dodo.

Intel settles anti-competition claim. Shall I get my Wellies?

The sun never sets on that which is Intel
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The Federal Trade Commission and Intel announced on Wednesday that they had agreed to settle charges of anticompetitive behavior that the agency claimed stifled competition in the market for computer processing and graphics chips.

The settlement prohibits Intel from the practice of paying customers to buy its computer chips exclusively or to refuse to buy chips from other manufacturers. It also prohibits Intel from redesigning its chips purely to harm a competitor. Intel also agreed not to retaliate against computer makers if they do business with non-Intel suppliers…

“This agreement provides a framework that will allow us to continue to compete and to provide our customers the best possible products at the best prices,” Mr. A. Douglas Melamed said. In agreeing to the settlement, Intel did not admit to any wrongdoing or that the accusations were true.

And they would stop doing all the things they won’t admit to doing.

Advanced Micro Devices, Intel’s main rival, settled its own antitrust claims against Intel in November with Intel agreeing to pay $1.25 billion…

That Intel didn’t have to admit to doing.

The various legal actions against Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., have brought to light numerous unflattering e-mails exchanged between the company’s top executives and customers.

In particular, communications between Intel and Dell have shown executives talking about rebates bestowed on Dell for its decision to abstain from A.M.D.’s products. In one such exchange, Paul S. Otellini, the chief executive at Intel, described Dell as “the best friend money can buy.”

One looks with pride upon the ethical standards of the captains of American industry – as our ship slides slowly beneath the waves of international commerce and history.

Dell sues 5 Asian firms for LCD price-fixing cartel

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Dell, the world’s third-largest PC maker, has filed a lawsuit against Sharp, Hitachi, Toshiba and two other companies for alleged price fixing of LCD displays.

Dell filed the suit at a U.S. district court in San Francisco on Friday against the group of five firms, which also includes Japan’s Seiko Epson and Taiwan’s HannStar, a spokesman at Dell’s Japan unit said on Monday.

Dell has not decided the level of damages it will seek in the lawsuit, the spokesman said.

Sharp and Hitachi said that they were aware of the suit filed by Dell but declined to comment further. Toshiba and Seiko Epson said they were still making checks on the issue, while no one at HannStar was immediately available for comment.

The suit extends through business relationships covering 14 years. Yes, I know price-fixing is often considered a legitimate business tactic – especially in Asia. I worked for AmerAsian companies for decades.

The questions remains – where was the World Trade Organization? What was the U.S. Department of Commerce doing all this time?

I know the Republicans only consider oil companies and the military-industrial complex worthy of protection. But, you’d think there might be the occasional Democrat appointee to one of these bodies who cared a crap’s worth about American companies and consumers being screwed.

Twitter helps Dell dribble in a sale here, a sale there…

Social media company Twitter is struggling to craft a profitable business model, but the Web-based service has helped Dell Inc chalk up millions of dollars in sales.

Dell said on it has raked in more than $3 million from Twitter followers who clicked through its posts to its Web sites to make purchases. The company, which has posted to Twitter about two years and tracks the sales with proprietary software, made more than $1 million in the past 6 months…

Three million in sales over two years is a pittance for Dell, ranked by IDC as the world’s second-largest PC maker in the first quarter of 2009. Dell posted $12.3 billion of revenue in the first quarter of this year, alone.

But the PC maker has become one of the first public examples of how companies might profit from Twitter.

Twitter does not charge companies for such benefits, but does not rule out doing so in the future.

“For now, monetization of this type of activity remains unknown,” Twitter spokeswoman Jenna Sampson said in a statement. “However, as the network grows, the company will be committing more resources toward profitability…”

Dell said it posts 6 to 10 times a week to its DellOutlet account, which is where the majority of Twitter-based sales have come from. Stephanie Nelson, who manages the account, said almost every post includes a coupon or a link to a sale, and about half of the posts are Twitter-exclusive deals…

Other non-media companies ranked in the Top 100 include Whole Foods Market Inc, Woot.com, Zappos.com, JetBlue Airways Corp.

Well, I guess it’s a reason not to find Twitter so bloody boring.

Dell smartphone too dull for cellular carriers

Dell’s anticipated effort to release a mobile phone has stalled after suffering from “a lack of interest” among cellular carriers. Kaufman Bros. analyst Shaw Wu wrote that Dell’s prototype devices, designed to run software from both Microsoft and Google have so far failed to distinguish themselves from a growing field of competitors.

“From our conversations with supply chain and industry sources, it appears that it ultimately came down to lack of carrier interest,” Wu wrote.

Rumors of a branded Dell mobile phone have been swirling since January, when speculation surfaced that the company might unveil a device at a high-profile event such as last month’s Mobile World Congress.

A representative for Dell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Back to the drawing board is putting it mildly. Why design a spec and standard that’s behind the times?