:::: MENU ::::

Apple building barriers in the EU Single Market

pixelmator-bbeditBack in October 2011, when I still lived in London, I bought two pieces of software for my Macs in the Mac App Store – BBEdit, then priced at £34.99, and Pixelmator, then priced at £20.99*. Those apps have been upgrading happily enough through the App Store system until today.

Today I reinstalled my iMac, wiping the hard disk and installing Mac OS Yosemite from scratch, and then I went to the App Store to re-download and install BBEdit, Pixelmator and others… and they were nowhere to be found.

The reason, it turns out, is that a month ago I changed my App Store location from the United Kingdom to Germany** to download the Cambio Carsharing App onto my iPhone (i.e. not even the Mac!) because as Cambio’s cars are not to be found in the UK, its app is not available in the UK App Store. Why such a discrepancy needs to persist is beyond me – a regular British visitor to Germany could quite legitimately want to see where Cambio’s cars are located.

But anyway, when installing the Cambio App through the German App Store I also had to change the credit card I have listed with Apple as well, and that struck me as rather odd. I have a Visa card from the UK Building Society Nationwide, but the address associated with the card and the account is in Germany. The Apple App Store refused this as a payment card for the German App Store. This is the screenshot of what happens:

credit-card-de

 

So not only are the App Stores national, but so to are the associated credit cards! Is that at all necessary within the European Union?

And then what about the Apps – BBEdit, Pixelmator and the others?

The way to retrieve them, it turns out, is to revert the App Store account to the UK version – requiring of course the UK Visa card to do so(!) – and then the Apps are once more available for download:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 15.31.28

 

The problem would of course then be that if I no longer had a UK Visa card then there would be no way at all to retrieve these Apps. Remember these are Apps that I have legitimately purchased and, when I switched from the UK to the German App Store in the first place, I received no warning that my purchases will not be retrievable. If for some reason I had closed my UK bank account when moving to Germany then none of my purchases could have been retrieved at all***.

Yes, I understand that some rights restrictions mean that still, legally, national law applies to some digital purchases – especially music and films. But please tell me how software to edit text (BBEdit) and photos (Pixelmator) that is available in precisely the same form across the EU should not be portable across the EU, and hence within national versions of the App Store? It’s not as if Apple is technically incapable of tracking what Apps were purchased in which stores.

And tell me as well, why should a German Visa card be needed for the German App Store, and a UK one for the UK App Store?

The next time you hear a politician whining about red tape, and legal barriers to the Single Market, remind them of this Apple case. This is a private company that is deliberately making it difficult for consumers within the EU Single Market. This isn’t a legal problem – it is a problem of the company’s mentality.

* – make what you wish of my computer and software choices. This is essentially a blog entry about consumer rights, and I have chosen these two apps as examples as they are reasonably expensive paid-for apps.
** – note that I have lived in Denmark in between, but for whatever reason had never needed a Denmark-specific app and had hence not encountered this problem.
*** – the caveat to this is that once an App is installed on a Mac, it updates correctly through the Mac App Store, regardless of which national version of the App Store is currently being used. It is only that an App cannot be reinstalled that way.


European Disputes – live stream

bc862012-0a9c-4bdc-9f3e-81a2549121db

This morning I am a speaker at European Disputes, part of the Internationales Literaturfestival. My panel, with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Ulrike Guérot, György Dalos, Hubert Védrine and moderated by Wolfgang Herles will be live streamed below, 1015-1145. The full programme is here.

Pose questions on Twitter using the tag #EUdisputes.


Building an organisation to defend EU-wide rail

NightTrainsThe Vindobona EuroCity train has been connecting Berlin with Vienna daily since 1957. But from mid-December this year the route will cease to exist. This service that operated across the Iron Curtain is being seen off by liberalisation and the profit drive of EU railways. The Paris – Berlin night train, the only direct train between the EU’s two founding powers, will be axed at the same time. The Copenhagen Night Train runs for the last time this month. Philip Oltermann tells the story of the decline in The Guardian here.

The story about why this is happening is a complicated one, but at its core is the change in the nature of Europe’s railways – from being public services with a public ethos, to competitive, profit making businesses. The EU itself is behind this change, forcing railways to separate their networks from their operations to try to promote competition. This change has worked to a certain extent for rail freight, but when it comes to passengers it means long distance services that run only a couple of times a day, and are borderline profitable, become too complicated and cumbersome to operate and are cut from the timetables. Track access charges – i.e. the cost to a rail company to run a service on a neighbouring country’s tracks – are often cited as the reason.

Why then is no-one acting to save these services, and to offer passengers an alternative to flying?

My conversations with policy makers in Brussels tend to come up with the rather bland “There’s no political will to fix this” as an answer. I take this as shorthand for “No-one has lobbied me about this issue.” Rail companies and manufacturers do lobby a lot, but passengers do not.

The organisation that should work on this issue is the European Passengers’ Federation. The problem is that they have a single member of staff, based in Gent, and they do not seem to actually campaign. Other organisations I have contacted or investigated have no transport policy person (Friends of the Earth EU, Greenpeace EU), do not deal with modal shift to rail (Transport & Environment), do not deal with rail consumer rights (BEUC), or care about EU wide issues but not about rail (European Movement FR and DE).

The challenge then is to actually build an organisation, or build a position within an organisation, to be able to work on this issue. I can do what I can as an individual rail traveller using my blog and Twitter to inform people about what is happening, and to pester them about it, but I cannot myself be an organisation that lobbies and campaigns.

The very minimum that has to be sorted out in EU-wide rail for the next five years is:

  1. Complete transparency of track access charges, for all routes, in an open data format. If these charges are indeed the reason cross border services are axed, then we need to know how high the charges are. Partial systems like RNE CIS exist, but as track operators are either public bodies or monopolies full access to all charging information is vital.
  2. An EU-wide timetable system. Deutsche Bahn’s Reiseauskunft is the de facto EU-wide timetable, but it is only as good as the data that national operators give it. Italian regional trains are, for example, missing from it, and it also now prioritises DB’s bus services rather than competitors rail services. If you run a train on a track in the EU then the timetable for that train must be made available for all, 3 months ahead of the train’s departure.
  3. Full ticketing information for all services, with APIs. If I want to book Amsterdam to Warsaw, or Frankfurt to Kosice, I should be able to get one price from a single website, and for that to include all reduced price tickets. No such website currently exists (despite the efforts of Loco2, Capitaine Train and others), as railways do not systematically make ticket data available in the same way as airlines do. Some trains – like DB’s CNL Night Trains – cannot be booked at all through third party websites. So if you run a train on track in the EU you have to make all ticket data for it available for third parties to use, to allow end-to-end ticket booking to be possible. Make trains as easy to book as flights!
  4. Clear rules for what happens when there is a delay. If the train run by one company is delayed, meaning you miss a connection onto a different company’s service, what happens? If it’s a High Speed Train in the Railteam network you should be OK, but if it is not, and especially if you had to book two separate tickets due to the lack of proper booking websites (see point 3 above) you can easily be stuck.

Beyond that there are more complicated issues that will actually require some money to fix, or deal with competition between rail and other transport means. These are:

  1. Introduce cross border services where tracks exist but services do not. At borders like Ventimiglia, Port Bou, Hendaye and Villa Opicina no through services run, and even changing at the border is complicated due to timetables that are not aligned, or regional services that stop a few kilometres from the border. The EU needs to make a systematic analysis of every cross border line, ranking each, and moving towards the idea of a European core network of passenger services, with stipulations of how often regional and long distance services should run.
  2. Rebuild 15 cross border lines. Michael Cramer, the German Green MEP, has listed 15 cross border lines that once existed [PDF here], but no longer do, and require only minimal investments to re-open. EU Regional Funds could be used for this purpose, but only of course if services will run! (see point 1)
  3. Examine competition between transport modes. Rail operators – not least in Germany – have long complained that VAT on rail tickets (and not on airfares), coupled with high track access charges, are killing services, especially after the deregulation of the long distance bus market in Germany (see more on InterConnex axing services here). Fair competition when it comes to taxation rates, and access to infrastructure, would be a good start.

This is how a sort of manifesto for EU rail passengers could look for the next 5 years, with pressure applied systematically to new Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, and MEPs in the Transport Committee.

Now I just need to find the right person or organisation to make all of this happen…

Graphic by Jon Worth. Copenhagen, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome refers to night trains. Wroclaw and Vienna refers to day trains. Made with Creative Commons images – DSC01196 by taschenschieber, TrenHotel Chamartín by VivirElTren.es, Maarsbergen 1778 CNL 404473 uit Kopenhagen by Rob Dammers, PKP Cargo SU46-037 / 5 630 013 in Cottbus by Tegeler and BB 36007 Fr B It & Rame Thello entière by 8Uhr.


7th November, Berlin – Dany Cohn-Bendit, Ulrike Guérot at European Disputes

ilb14_DISPUTE#2_log_WEBOn Friday 7th November I am a panellist at a conference entitled “European Disputes” that is part of the Internationales Literaturfestival in Berlin. I’m on a panel with both Dany Cohn-Bendit and Ulrike Guérot – that’s quite a privilege!

Ulrike is one of Germany’s sharpest minds on EU matters, and Dany is former leader of the Greens in the European Parliament and 1968 radical, and capable of making speeches like this:

The event runs between 1000 and 2030 in the Otto-Braun-Saal of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Potsdamer Strasse 33, 10785 Berlin [map]. You can download the whole programme here, and more info about the event is here. I’ll be tweeting about it on #EUDisputes. It’s free to attend, so do come along! 


Review: Raleigh Nightflight 8G Men 2013

NightflightA year ago, immediately after moving to Berlin, I made one of the biggest single purchases I’ve ever made – a new bicycle, a Raleigh Nightflight 8G Men 2013, purchased from Radhaus Pankow for €649 (recommended price: €799). For 2014, Raleigh released a slightly updated Nightflight 2014, and I presume will do the same in 2015, but with so many features in common I think it is still worthwhile to write up my experience.

It is worth noting that I bought this bike, rather than any other, not out of any sentimental reasons (my father grew up near Nottingham, the original home of Raleigh bikes – although this bike is actually made in Germany), but because it offered the best features for the price. I was looking for a fast city bike, without suspension forks, and with a hub dynamo, LED lights, mud guards, and pannier bag rack.

Overall – 9/10
This is the best bike I have ever owned, by some distance – admittedly compared to previous city bikes I have owned that cost half the price. It is always good to ride, and does everything you might ever require of a city bike, and is reassuring to know I can jump on it and it will be reliable and functional every time. I have had no serious problem with the bike, and use it at least every other day. Continue Reading


Photo sharing on Twitter – making sure as many people as possible see your photos

For years I’ve been using Twitpic to share photos on Twitter, but now it’s closing down I need a new solution. It’s a great shame Twitpic is closing for two reasons. First, it allowed you to get a RSS feed containing all your Twitter pictures and that was handy for other purposes, and secondly, I am a big supporter of third party services for Twitter – I want as diverse as possible application environment on Twitter, not just everything run by Twitter itself.

Anyway, so what am I going to do instead? My starting point was to test what works.

I registered the Twitter account @PhotoTestEU and tweeted pictures using that account. I included pictures from Twitter’s own image uploading system, yfrog, CloudApp, Droplr, img.ly, Mobypicture, and Twitpic (for comparison) – these are all the image uploading options in Tweetbot for Mac, my favoured Twitter client. I additionally tweeted a pic from Hootsuite, and pasted in links to pictures first uploaded to Flickr and Instagram.

I then looked at these tweets in a number of ways – at Twitter.com, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite in a computer browser, in Tweetbot on my Mac, in the Fenix for Android and Twitter for Android, and in Twitter for iOS. The test was to see whether the images appeared in the stream, required an extra click but were obviously images, or appeared simply as links. These are the results (click to enlarge):

twitter-apps-pics-lowresThe basic result is a simple one: only images uploaded to Twitter’s own photo share service appear in the stream across all platforms and apps. Beyond that, Flickr, Hootsuite and Twitpic appear in the stream on some platforms, but by no means all.

The result then: if you want to maximise the number of people who will see your photos, then just use Twitter’s own photo sharing, not a third party service.

But that’s not all… What happens if you want to do anything else with the images you share onto Twitter, to use them for other purposes – automatically? That was the joy of the RSS feed from Twitpic – you could use this as an input for IFTTT and do all sorts of super things.

So, not to be deterred, and sadly aware that Twitter has removed its own RSS support, I found this code from Fogcat that makes an RSS feed out of a Twitter stream. With a bit of messing around I tweaked the code to deliver Twitter images into to the RSS stream, using this tip. The RSS stream I will then use for photo sharing is here. I’ve then filtered this stream in four different ways using Yahoo! Pipes (1, 2, 3, 4) to make 4 separate RSS feeds. The relatively unfiltered feed is used in IFTTT to backup photos I share on Twitter to Dropbox. The three more narrowly filtered streams are connected to three Photo Albums on Facebook, and to Flickr too, also via IFTTT.

So my photo sharing system is complete – whatever picture I upload onto Twitter, it will also – completely automatically, and according to the rules I have set – end up where I want it on Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Yes, it took me hours to work out, but from now on when I’ve snapped the perfect shot I can rest assured it will end up where I want it!

 


The best Twitter app for Android

5144798765_7d9bc93fff_zThis is a blog entry written as a result of frustration.

I am an extremely intensive Twitter user (@jonworth has 12k followers, follows close to 5k, and has produced 54k tweets) and I recently switched from an iOS to an Android phone. A vital question was hence: what is the best Twitter app for Android? Friends gave me plenty of suggestions, and I have tried all of them out, and review the 11 apps suggested to me in detail here.

The short answer is that there is no perfect Android Twitter app, but that some of them are better than others (and none of them are better than Tweetbot on iOS…).

The apps were tested on a Fairphone running Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. Each app was used for at least one whole day, in a variety of situations – at events, while on the road, as a means to follow news as well as to write tweets, and were assessed according to my own Twitter needs. All tests were conducted in the first half of October 2014.

The criteria used to assess the apps were: Twitter List Viewing, Twitter List Admin (can accounts be added to lists), Can RTs be seen, BitLy Link Support, Alternative image upload tools, Text Mute Filters, Hashtag previews, Notifications, Streaming, Saved Searches, Speed, and Multi account support.

Short reviews of each app are provided below, and a table of each of the criteria used can be found at the very end of the blog post. If you think my review is unfair in some way, or you have more to add, please do comment, and if necessary I will update the blog entry accordingly. Continue Reading


Malmström, TTIP, ISDS and disappearing tweets

This tweet by @BenC42, at 2110 this evening, alerted me to a potentially interesting development in the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP):

This pointed me to a press release from the S&D Group in the EP, dated today but not timed, where David Martin MEP welcomes words by Trade Commissioner nominate Cecilia Malmström that she is willing to remove investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) from TTIP (one of the most controversial aspects of the proposed trade deal).

Then at 2217 comes this tweet from Malmström:

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 22.35.30

This is however only a screenshot (from Tweetbot, my Twitter app, hence why it looks different to the tweet above from @BenC42), because the tweet was deleted within minutes. This was the original URL of it.

Malmström then followed up with this reply to me:

I am trying to get to the bottom of this, because the document that seems to have been the basis of the S&D Group’s Press Release – be that the right version or the wrong version – does not seem to be available in public.

Even if the wrong version of a document ended up going to the EP from the Commission it’s nevertheless interesting that ISDS was potentially going to be dropped in an initial draft, and at the very least this is administratively embarrassing to the Commission.

If I get more background information about this case I will update the post accordingly. Thanks so far to @BenC42, @GlynMoody, @ibuscke and @MalmstromEU herself for the clarification.

[UPDATE – 26.9.14, 2256]
Turns out that what Malmström would claim is the wrong version of the document – which is actually her written answers to the EP before her hearing next week – has been put up on his website by the Green MEP Sven Giegold here. The text that’s caused the fuss is this (my emphasis):

As the President-elect Juncker has committed himself to in his Political Guidelines – and I quote –, “the Commission will negotiate a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the United States of America, in a spirit of mutual and reciprocal benefits and transparency. Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards or our cultural diversity will not be sacrificed on the altar of free trade. No limitation of the jurisdiction of courts in the EU Member States will be accepted in this context; this clearly means that no investor-State dispute settlement mechanism will be part of that agreement.” I fully support this approach of the President-elect and will work in this sense in the negotiations, which are ongoing and where this issue is on the table.

[UPDATE – 28.9.14, 1600]
I have had a crazy schedule the last few days, so haven’t updated this until now, but a few things have happened in the last 36 hours…

This tweet by Nicholas Whyte on Saturday afternoon

examines Juncker’s statement on this issue, that are rather similar to the words used by Malmström, and that statement from Juncker is dated 15th July, confirmed here by Juncker’s Chef de Cabinet Selmayr. So, is this whole thing a storm in a tea cup?

On Sunday Tagesschau in Germany have started reporting on this (text of the news story in German here – and better late than never, only 36 hours after this blog entry first went up!), and that Malmström has sent a re-drafted version of the document in question to the EP. Tagesschau says it has the document, but does not link to it, and Giegold has not published it either. The document should be available tomorrow (Monday) in any case.

Lastly, and slightly tangentially, David Meyer has written a piece about letters from Malmström obtained by a Freedom of Information Request in the USA regarding data protection, seeming to indicate she was undermining Viviane Reding on this issue. While not directly related to TTIP, looking to be too close to the USA might make Malmström’s hearing in the EP next week extra bumpy.

[UPDATE 29.9.14, 1015]
Euraffex has more on the story here. The section of their piece entitled “A new version – the mystery continues” is the crucial one. The new version of the document sent to the EP now makes no commitment from Malmström herself to get rid of ISDS, but lays this firmly with Juncker’s earlier statements, as explained above.

[UPDATE 29.9.14, 1535]
So perhaps it wasn’t just an administrative error of the “wrong version” after all. From Malmström’s hearing:


Pages:1234567...232