While eBay vendors have traditionally espoused a ‘yard sale’ mentality about their online buying and selling activities, at least one government is taking a more formal stance.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which handles all of the country’s federal customs, excise and income tax business, is demanding personal information on eBay Canada ‘power sellers’ — those whose income from eBay activities exceeds (C)$1,000 per month — to help determine if those individuals are duely reporting their eBay income for tax purposes.

The CRA is acting on a Federal Court of Appeals ruling last April ordering eBay Canada to release the names and sales figures of power sellers as part of an investigation that began in 2006 into those vendors’ tax returns for 2004 and 2005. EBay fought the CRA ruling all the way to the Court of Appeals and ultimately lost.

“While eBay strenuously objects to these requests made by the [CRA], we are obliged to comply with the legal ruling,” eBay said, in a recent letter to vendors who fall into the ‘power seller’ category.

Recent estimates suggest that about 32,000 Canadians make all or part of their income from eBay sales.

It’s a ‘compact’ in all senses: Small in size, flip-phone format and decorated like a fancy makeup compact.

Of course, the mini monochrome LCD status screen on the outside of the top shell kind of blows the ‘Cover Girl’ cover story… But it’s a handy feature usually found only on more expensive phones — which the Lotus is.

Yes, the LG LX600 Lotus is definitely targeted to women, but it’s not just a plain phone painted pink and bedecked with sequins, the way some phone makers do a ‘lady’s model’.

The Lotus has solid features for the gal on the go who demands performance as well as style.

First, there’s a full QWERTY keyboard, as you’d expect on a serious, working mobile. However, the keys are squished into an odd-shaped space and default to a tall-rectangle shape which is difficult to type on with bare fingers but somewhat easier to use (we imagine) with longer nail tips.

Notable features include a large (for the device’s overall size) 2.4 in. main screeen, a 2.0 megapixel camera/camcorder, a built-in MP3 player with external music controls and integrated GPS. The Lotus is also Bluetooth ready, of course.

The Lotus comes in basic black or pretty purple — but not in pink! We like that. Pink is great for kids or teens. But a woman deserves the kind of elegance and sophistication that this unique ‘compact’ phone delivers.

The LG LX660 is currently available exclusively from Sprint/Nextel in the U.S. at (US)$150 with a two-year service contract.

YouTube, the iconic user-video-sharing site, is softening its stand on advertising.

YouTube once rejected the idea of obtrusive advertising — pre-rolls, big picture-window animations; anything that would diminish the visitor experience — and also promised to pioneer new forms of advertising more amenable to its format than existing models.

Now, YouTube has announced it is expanding its service menu, auctioning off search terms under a new program called Sponsored Videos.

Auctioning search terms gives advertisers preferred placement in search result listings when visitors search for the terms they’ve ‘purchased’. Google and other Internet search specialists have been doing it for years. But users and critics say the practice is unfair and can obscure the best, most useful search results by placing sponsored links above them, on the first page of returns. Most search sites now clearly lable sponsored links and separate them from genuine, ranked results by placing them in a space of their own on the screen.

YouTube’s Sponsored Videos plan will allow video uploaders to bid on search terms to promote their clips. Sponsored videos will appear beside regular search results in the new YouTube search results format.

In other news… YouTube has announced it’s lifting its long-standing ban on commercial content, concluding a deal last week to post full-length motion pictures from studio/distributor MGM.

As YouTube enters a new, more monetized era, users may well be wondering where it will all end.

From: CNet .com —

Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang is stepping down as CEO of yahoo.com. The company, which pioneered Internet search, has been in financial turmoil for months.

As CNet.com’s Stephen Shankland reports, “After reporting a 64 percent drop in net income and warning that the advertising market is softening, Yahoo announced a layoff of at least 1,430 by the end of 2008 in October. The cut follows another in which about 1,000 Yahoo employees lost their jobs in February. In after-hours trading Monday, Yahoo! rose 47 cents, or four per cent, to (US)$11.10. … It’s unclear at this stage what changes will come with a new CEO, but one possibility is another shot at a deal with Microsoft.”

Yang rebuffed a takeover bid by Microsoft (MS) earlier this year when it appeared that the company would go under. MS offered (US)$33 per share for Yahoo but Yang held out for more. And MS CEO Steve Ballmer walked away.

In what might have been a shot at MS, Internet Giant and Yahoo! competitor Google opend talks with Yahoo on a co-operative arrangement involving search and advertising. But that deal was never consummated. Last week, after three months of study, Google lawyers concluded that the potential anti-trust hassles associated with the deal outweighed the potential benefits for Google. And walked away.

Upon hearing that the Google deal had fallen through, Yahoo!’s Yang told reporters at a conference he happened to be attending that the company was essentially for sale to the highest bidder — and specifically suggested that ‘now is the time’ for Microsoft to make another offer. MS’s Ballmer said MS was no longer interested in Yahoo! — but Web watchers say MS really does still want Yahoo! and Ballmer was just tweaking Yang for rejecting MS’s first overture. And, now that Yang is leaving, observers say they expect MS to make a new offer for Yahoo! before the end of this year.

Stay tuned…

Pinnacle, part of the Avid family, made a lot of noise earlier in the year when they released VideoSpin for free download. Unlike the other products I looked at, VideoSpin does not include the ability to create a DVD. Its focus is on creating video for YouTube, Yahoo! Video, or exporting files for use on the web (including Flash Video format), PCs, or portable devices.

VideoSpin is simpler than the other applications, but it still includes some good editing capabilities. It is timeline-based, and allows you to work with video clips, transitions, titles, and still images. It also includes a collection of sound effects that you can incorporate into your video.

One of the things I did with VideoSpin was to create a slideshow. I imported a few dozen jpeg files, set the default duration of still images to four seconds, selected all the images, and dragged them to the timeline in one fell swoop. Next I selected “Make Movie”, selected “YouTube”, told it to create the video, and uploaded it to YouTube – all from within the VideoSpin product.

There is one very minor catch: The “Advanced Video Codecs” included with VideoSpin are available for a 15 day demo, after which they cost $14.99 if you’d like to buy them. And remember, VideoSpin will not create a DVD. However, if you’re looking for the fastest, least expensive way to create simple videos for YouTube or other web sites, VideoSpin is definitely worth a try.

Just visit this quirky site, owned and maintained (as a public relations talking point?) by the Airlock digital design agency of London, UK.

All it really does is display the age of the Internet, to the minute, when you arrived at the page.

By Airlock’s reconing, the Internet was born almost 26 years ago — in 1983. Sounds like a long time ago… But, technically, they’re right.

The Internet’s own uber-reference, Wikipedia, confirms that date: “The first TCP/IP-based wide-area network was operational by January 1, 1983…”

However, tech types will argue over the precise month, day and hour. And most of us who use the Internet today would argue that it didn’t really come of age as a global phenomenon until the mid 1990s. That’s when home and small business users first started using the Net, mainly for e-mail and to post rudimentary Web sites.

Nevertheless… We should all remember to wish the Net a happy 26th birthday when raise a glass to welcome the New Year At midnight on January 1, 2009!

…And it’s time to start making our year-end gift giving and entertaining plans!

To that end, today, we offer the first of a series of Holiday Gift Guide new product snapshots.

In keeping with our overall ‘tech lifestyle’ theme, we’ll provide online shopping sources for all of the items we spotlight under the Gift Guide banner. Just remember to order early to allow for shipping!

That’s not to say that some of the Holiday gift items we feature may not also be available in local stores. If so, call that a bonus! But we’re planning to share our more exotic and ‘out-there’ gift ideas in the Gift Guide.

Gift-giving mainstays — such as cameras, personal electronics, computer accoutrements and so on — will appear under our regular New Products and Review banners.

So… Stay tuned to TLP as the Holidays draw nearer and share the goodies we have for you under our tree!

This kitschy gewgaw gets TLP’s nod as the most-out-there digital accessory we’ve seen this holiday season…

The Bacon Case, from Germany, is a soft, fuzzy pouch, just perfect for your mobile phone or MP3 player. But it looks just like a slice of bacon, even from as close as a couple of feet away.

A guaranteed conversation starter — and not just when the phone you keep in it rings!

The Bacon Case may be a little hard to get in North America. The only source we could track down was Dawanda.com, where the price is (E)$25 plus shipping and handling. The good news is, they do ship internationally!

Happy Holidays!

From: Yahoo! Tech Guide —

The standalone VHS VCR is quietly fading from the consumer electronics scene. Combination DVD/VCRs are still available from the usual big-box and department store outlets, but major makers are preparing to phase-out tape once and for all.

As Yahoo!’s Ben Patterson reports, “…JVC, the last major manufacturer that was still churning out VCRs for world markets, has finally halted production. While some smaller, no-name manufacturers are probably still cranking out VCRs on the cheap (and plenty of big-name DVD/VHS decks are [still] on sale), the days of finding a standalone VCR at Best Buy are long gone. Indeed, only about 280,000 VCRs were shipped in Japan last year, compared to more than six million in 2000, according to TradingMarkets[.com].”

So… If you have own a big collection of VHS tapes, now might be a good time to consider its future. Even if you have a serviceable VCR deck, you might want to keep an eye on the marketplace and get a brand new combo deck before they, too, go the way of the standalone VHS player. Or start saving, now, to repurchase your tape collection — if the titles are available — on DVD.

And think about transferring your personal VHS memories to DVD, ASAP!

Last week, I wrote about the importance of backups in preventing data disasters but that’s only one of the things I worry about. Even if you can recover your data from a recent backup, a few questions remain: Who has your data, what can you do about it, and can you get your computer back?

A few weeks ago, at GTEC, I met up with Stephen Midgley, Senior Director of Marketing for Absolute Software, a successful Vancouver-based company that specializes in laptop recovery and asset control.

Absolute Software’s consumer product, Computrace LoJack, installs on your notebook. About once a day, when connected to the Internet, it transmits a message to Absolute Software. If your computer is stolen, you contact the police, get a report number, and then call Absolute Software. They flag the notebook as stolen in their system. Next time it checks in, they not only know the IP address of the notebook at the time of the check-in, but they also send it an instruction that will cause it to begin reporting in every 15 minutes. Absolute Software then works with the police to help recover your notebook.

I had certainly heard about the product but I must admit that, before meeting Stephen, I didn’t understand why people would buy it. I figured that the thief would simply format the hard drive or install a fresh operating system and that would be the end of it. However, I was wrong: Absolute Software has worked with a number of leading notebook vendors, including IBM, DELL, HP, Toshiba and Acer, to embed an agent right into the BIOS. Assuming your notebook is supported, once you install the software, it activates the agent in the BIOS and even formatting your hard drive will not stop the notebook from reporting in the next time it is connected to the Internet.

Computrace LoJack has some other interesting capabilities. For example, if you have sensitive information on your laptop (which really should be encrypted, but that’s another article), Absolute Software can initiate remote deletion of the information once the stolen notebook connects to the Internet and checks in. The company also has a suite of offerings for corporate use that, in addition to the consumer features, helps companies keep track of their notebook fleet. Since many larger companies lease their laptops, knowing where they are at the end of a lease can save them a lot of money.

According to Midgley, 70 per cent of laptops are stolen by insiders, and across the industry approximately 3 per cent of stolen laptops are recovered. In sharp contrast, with tracking software and the BIOS agent, Absolute software’s recovery rate is around 75 per cent. He also shared some great stories about how police have executed a search warrant to recover a stolen laptop and ended up finding a lot more.

Computrace LoJack is available online for just under $40/year, and that will be an issue for some users. However, when my laptop was stolen the insurance deductable was $500, and it’s hard to put a price on the opportunity to remotely delete sensitive data, recover the notebook, and hopefully put the thief in jail.

Next Monday, I’ll conclude this three-part series with how to protect your data from thieves, overzealous governments and other prying eyes.

When comparison shopping is as convenient as opening multiple browser tabs, and payment is as simple as using a credit card, it’s no wonder online shopping continues to grow in popularity as retail store sales decline.

Surveys commissioned by the U.S. National Retail Federation predict all-but-stagnant growth in store sales this month and next. But online sales are expected to rise by as much as 12 per cent — (US)$44 billion — over the same period last year according to a recent Forester Research study.

U.S. retailers attempted to kick-start the Christmas shopping season this fall by kicking off their annual holiday sales more than a month earlier than usual. The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season came in early October rather than the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, in late November.

But Online retailers aren’t siting back waiting for the stampede to their virtual doors. Shop.org’s 2008 eHoliday Study reveals that almost half of online retail sites surveyed have improved their site search systems and added product videos in anticipation of the holiday shopping season. A third are also publishing customer reviews of products to augment their own basic product descriptions.

Of course, shipping costs are a concern. Online retail watchers say shoppers will likely gravitate toward sites which offer free shipping or wil bundle their purchases to save on shipping costs.

Actually, Apple has released Safari 3.2 addressing at least a dozen security issues, several of which are rated “critical”. In fact, Apple says the upgrade to Safari 3.2 should be treated as highly critical.

Apple says more than one of the vulnerabilities addressed could be used to take full control of a compromised computer.

Details are available at the Safari 3.2 security page.

You can download Safari 3.2 free, from the Apple Downloads page.

Word of the Safari browser update comes virtually on top of the release of a massive security update for the Firefox browser which also fixes a dozen flaws, half of which are rated ‘critical’.