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TECHBITS: X-mas GPS, Plastic Wages, Video Antivirus

November 13, 2007 9:00:00 PM PST
Santa may get a little help finding chimneys in Sweden this year: Global-positioning gadgets were designated the Nordic country's top Christmas gift for 2007.The Swedish Research Institute of Trade, which has handed out the "Christmas Present of the Year" title since 1988, said the small navigation device has evolved from an expensive, complicated tool into a cheap and user-friendly travel buddy.

Last year the instituted chose the audio book, following a poker set in 2005 and a flat screen TV in 2004. Swedes are expected to spend more than $1,000 per person on their Christmas shopping.

Jonas Arnberg, an institute analyst, said the gadget "has now become a component in almost every car. And it's really something that will explode when it comes to mobile phones."

Swedish sales of the devices, which can pinpoint a user's location through Global Positioning System satellites, more than doubled in 2006.

Companies using debit cards to pay contractors, employees worldwide

Paying employees and contractors around the world can be an expensive hassle, after accounting for the cost of wire transfers or possible delays when checks are mailed.

A New York company is promoting a new option: plastic.

Payoneer Inc. is issuing prepaid cards through MasterCard. After obtaining the card, the recipient gets subsequent payments instantly and electronically. As any debit card can, Payoneer cards can be used to buy things or withdraw cash from ATMs in a local currency. And ATM fees, the company says, are often lower than wire transfer fees, and some employers will subsidize new costs their workers incur.

Getty Images Inc.'s iStockphoto is among the early customers and plans to make the Payoneer cards an option for paying photographers commissions on images sold through its site.

"They are in every country in the world just about now, and it has been difficult to get money to those people effectively and inexpensively," said Kelly Thompson, executive vice president for iStockphoto.

Market research firm Mercator Advisory Group estimates that about $11.3 billion in U.S. wages were paid through prepaid cards last year. But until now, they were largely aimed at lower-income individuals who don't have bank accounts.

Payoneer Chief Executive Yuval Tal said he decided to extend the concept to foreign workers and contractors because of the growth in Internet businesses that must pay people worldwide.

Companies remain responsible for any tax withholdings for employees, while contractors and freelancers still make their tax payments. Recipients need a PIN number or a signature to use the cards, and lost and stolen cards can be replaced, along with the funds.

New antivirus protection for the Playstation 3 may not be necessary

Video game consoles, which are increasingly being used to surf the Internet, aren't generally equipped with antivirus protection like PCs.

Security vendor Trend Micro Inc. thinks they should be, though. It has launched software for Sony's Playstation 3 that promises to block malicious Web pages and those dealing in sex, drugs and violence.

The company bills the software as the first of its kind for a home gaming system. It was released earlier this month as part of a PS3 upgrade and will be free until April.

Some industry experts wonder whether consumers will leap for the technology the way they snap up security products for the more vulnerable PC and whether protection for video game consoles is really necessary.

"I think the jury's still out," said Daniel Ives, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey. "Over the coming years, as the console becomes more common in terms of Web browsing, that's when you can really try to gauge what type of opportunity it is for the antivirus vendors."

Tokyo-based Trend Micro's software applies the company's technologies for identifying Web sites that host malicious code and those that serve as launch pads for scams to steal passwords, financial data and other personal information.

The company says video game players are increasingly vulnerable to Web attacks as they use their consoles for more than just gaming. It vows the new software will make PS3 users feel safer browsing the Internet.

In addition to blocking malicious Web sites, parents can use the software to block their children's access to sites that depict illegal activities or sexually oriented material. A password is needed to access that feature.

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