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Ghost Push Malware Giving Android A Hard Time

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Put your Android whatever back in its sand bucket. It is facing another threat. This one is spooky sounding and has been dubbed Ghost Push by Yang Yang and Jordan Pan of the Trend Micro security labs outfit.

The threat presents itself to people who download things from untrusted third-party stores, which is not everyone, and seems to behave in a way that is sophisticated – unlike perhaps people who download things from untrusted sites. Ghost Push is not new and neither is this method of infection.

“Halloween is still a month from now yet Android users are already being haunted by the previously reported Ghost Push malware, which roots devices and makes them download unwanted ads and apps. The malware is usually packaged with apps that users may download from third-party app stores,” said Yang and Pan.

“Further investigation of Ghost Push revealed more recent variants which, unlike older ones, employ routines that make them harder to remove and detect.”

Pan and Yang said that there are some 20 variants of Ghost Push in the wild, and that the threat has been active since April. It has ramped itself up during September and is presenting the worst side of itself in India and Indonesia, where 32 and 24 percent of infected devices can be found.

Trend does not think that this ghost theme is related to the XcodeGhost malware that bothers iOS users, but it does think that someone quite sophisticated is behind the attacks.

“It is likely that a team of cyber criminals are behind Ghost Push and they are not exactly new to the malware creation industry,” the researchers wrote.

“This group has already published 658 different malicious applications (1,259 different versions) in third-party app stores unrelated to Ghost Push. One of these apps has infected more than 100,000 devices, two more than 10,000 and seven more than 1,000.”

Third-party download sites are the reason for most of the affected devices and applications, but Yang and Pan said that a couple made it through to the official Google Play store.

“We also found two legitimate apps unrelated to Ghost Push that the same creators published on Google Play, which have since been removed,” they said, explaining that these apps accumulated some 10,000 downloads before being pulled.

“These show that this group possesses ample technical knowledge to effectively victimise thousands of devices and evade detection,” Yang and Pan said.

Once a device is infected the malware can launch other applications and services and steal personal information.


Facebook Users Cautious Of New ‘Dislike’ Button

September 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook users took to the social media site to express concern over the company’s decision to test what Facebook Inc Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg called a “dislike button” – and not everyone liked the idea.

In a town hall-style question and answer session earlier in the week, Zuckerberg took questions from users about topics ranging from virtual reality to his wife’s pregnancy. Yet most Facebook users fixated on his announcement that the 1.5-billion user social network was working on adding a button other than “like.”

Users flooded Zuckerberg’s official Facebook page with nearly 3,000 comments largely about the dislike option. While some said they would use Facebook more if the button were introduced, others said it would lead to cyberbullying and more negativity on the site.

“Please don’t put a dislike button, as much as there is times I would love it, would much rather express my thoughts in words to be completely direct on my opinion,” said user Andrea Robichaud.

Users have been asking for a dislike button for several years, Zuckerberg said, though it may not necessarily be named dislike or be represented with a thumbs down. He added that the company was preparing to test a version of the button.

“Not every moment is a good moment,” Zuckerberg said.

The button’s aim, he said, would be to express empathy on posts that may reference topics where “like” is not the appropriate response, such as the refugee crisis or the death of a loved one.

Some users offered alternative suggestions that they thought would minimize harassment on the site, such as adding a “sympathy” button instead or allowing users to opt out of the “dislike” button on their posts.

Others took a more humorous approach. Vince Vogel suggested Facebook offer “public smile, private smile, private frown and public frown” instead of like and dislike.



Twitter, Stripe Team Up To Expand ‘Buy’ Button

September 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Payments processing company Stripe Inc unveiled a new tool on that will connect retailers and brands to sell on platforms like Twitter Inc and tap an increasing number of consumers shopping on mobile apps.

Twitter’s adoption of Stripe’s new product, Relay, is expected to help the microblogging site further dabble in e-commerce and generate revenue through its “buy buttons,” which lets shoppers buy a product and enter payment and shipping information without leaving Twitter’s platform.

Twitter has been struggling to increase its audience and in July said its number of monthly average users grew at its slowest pace since it went public in 2013.

“Almost two-thirds of our users say they bought something specifically because of what they saw on Twitter. … As mobile and social (media) continue to grow, consumers are going to discover and transact right in the apps where they spend their time every day,” Nathan Hubbard, Twitter’s head of commerce, said at a launch event in San Francisco, where both companies are based.

Stripe, which makes software that helps businesses accept various types of payments on websites and in apps, counts grocery-delivery startup Instacart, ride-sharing app Lyft and e-commerce platform Shopify among its clients.

The payments company’s new Relay product functions as a universal sell button for retailers, allowing companies like eyewear brand Warby Parker to list products in a single place and sell them directly on Twitter as well as other e-commerce platforms like ShopStyle.



Researchers Uncover Android Ransomware That Changes PIN Codes

September 14, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Researchers at security company ESET have uncovered a type of malware that changes an Android device’s PIN, the first of its kind in a constantly changing landscape of ransomware attacks.

For most users, the only option to get rid of the malware is to reset the phone to its factory settings, which unfortunately also deletes all the data on the device.

The malware calls itself “Porn Droid” and bills itself as a viewer for adult content. It has been seen only on third-party Android application marketplaces or forums for pirated software, wrote Lukas Stefanko, an ESET malware analyst.

But after it’s installed, users see a warning supposedly from the FBI that they’ve allegedly viewed “prohibited pornography.” It asks for a $500 fine to be paid within three days.

To change the device’s PIN, Porn Droid needs administrator-level access to the phone.  Stefanko wrote that the malware uses a new method to obtain that high level of access.

When Porn Droid runs, it asks people to click a button. “After clicking on the button, the user’s device is doomed,” Stefanko wrote. “The Trojan app has obtained administrator rights and now can lock the device. And even worse, it sets a new PIN for the lock screen.”

Other kinds of Android malware locked the screen by keeping the ransonware warning in the foreground using an infinite loop. But that could be remedied by using a command-line tool, the Android debug bridge, or deactivating admin rights in Safe Mode, according to Stefanko.

In the case of Porn Droid, if someone tries to deactivate the admin privileges, the malware uses a call-back function to reactivate them, Stefanko wrote.

The malware is also coded to try to shut down three mobile antivirus products: Dr. Web, ESET’s Mobile Security and Avast.

More advanced users may be able to get rid of Porn Droid without resetting and erasing all data on their phone. It is possible to remove the malware if a user has root privileges to the device, and some security software can stop it, Stefanko wrote.






Amazon Makes ‘Dash’ Button Free

September 4, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net Inc announced that its ‘Dash’ button, which allows customers to place orders instantly, will now be effectively free.

The company’s Prime members can now purchase the button for $4.99 and get the amount discounted on their first purchase using the button, the e-commerce giant said on Wednesday.

The button will now be available to all Prime members – those paying $99 a year for two-day delivery and other benefits.

The company said it will add 11 more brands to the button, bringing the total to 29.

The ‘Dash’ button, launched earlier this year, allows Amazon’s Prime members to order a product with just a push, using a WiFi connection, and can be hung or hooked anywhere in the home.



Microsoft Tests News Reading App

August 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Microsoft is quietly working on an app thats geared toward people who want help keeping up with today’s barrage of news.

The app, called NewsCast, hasn’t been formally announced, but it was first spotted by Neowin’s Brad Sams. It takes in articles from around the Web and starts reading summaries of them to users in an ongoing playlist. Users can save articles for reading later and view the full text of any article NewsCast pulls in using a built-in browser or a distraction-free reading view.

It’s all designed to keep users up to date on the latest news while they’re commuting and don’t want to be staring at tiny text on their phone.

According to a publicly accessible webpage for the app, NewsCast is a proof-of-concept product from the Bing News and Speech teams and seems to be testing only inside Microsoft. The teams are “trying to validate several hypothesis”[sic] with the app, though it’s not clear what they’re testing. Collecting feedback from users is a major focus of NewsCast’s current build — tapping a feedback button in the app opens an email that includes a three-question survey about what users like, dislike and want from it in the future.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company going after mobile news summaries. Facebook is reportedly testing its own Twitter-like news app, and Yahoo has received accolades for its News Digest app, which gives users bite-sized summaries about current events.



Microsoft To Begin Android, iOS Skype For Business Beta

August 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft is set to begin inviting users to test the new iOS and Android apps of Skype for Business, the enterprise communications software whose latest version was rolled out several months ago.

The preview will include a number of benefits including a redesigned in-call experience. The new call screen features larger buttons to make it easier to manage a call on a phone’s smaller screen. The app’s new dashboard is designed to make communication easier by pulling a user’s most recent conversations, upcoming meetings and the ability to search all their contacts into one place.

Video calls will now fill the screen on a user’s phone, so it’s easier for them to see their colleagues. Furthermore, the new app’s design is supposed to simplify the video, content and IM panes and make navigating between them easier.

Getting access to the preview apps will be a somewhat involved process. IT administrators can visit and nominate up to four end users each to test the iOS and Android apps. Administrators have to apply by Friday to be considered for the first testing batch. After that, Microsoft will evaluate the nominations and pick out a group of testers for the applications.

Users who have the Lync 2013 app for iOS or Android will get automatically upgraded to Skype for Business when the app launches later this year. It’s compatible with deployments of Lync Server 2013, Skype for Business Server 2015 and Skype for Business Online.

Skype for Business was officially released in April for Windows PCs, but Microsoft has been slower to update and rebrand other platforms. Windows Phone owners already have access to a new Skype for Business app, which launched last month.



Facebook Activates New ‘Send Message’ Feature For Businesses

August 7, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc unveiled new features will allow businesses to privately communicate with customers through messages as part of the social networking company’s push to make its Messenger app a stand-alone platform.

Businesses can now include a “send message” button in ads that appear in Newsfeed that allow Facebook users to click a button and send messages, which are private. If users post a comment on a business’ Facebook page, then the business can privately message that person

The features are part of Facebook’s efforts to convince more small and medium-sized businesses – especially those in emerging markets, such as India, Brazil and Indonesia - to advertise on its platform.

By giving them direct access to customers, the world’s largest social network hopes to show that advertising on Facebook directly leads to increased sales.

To encourage quick responses, Facebook will award “very responsive to messages” badges on business pages that respond to 90 percent of messages and respond on average within five minutes. People will, however, still be able to block private messages from businesses.

The features will be especially valuable in southeast Asia, Facebook wrote in a blog post. About twice as many Thai and Singaporean users use Facebook messages to communicate with businesses each month and most Southeast Asia users follow some company pages.

Facebook hosts more than 40 million active small and medium business pages, it said, with more than 1 billion page visits each month.


Will Region Locking Cost Nintendo In The Long Run?

June 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

There’s something genuinely surreal about sitting down to write an article about region locking in 2015. It feels archaic and almost nostalgic; I might as well be writing something about blowing into cartridge ports to get games to work, or bemoaning the long load times for cassettes. Yet here we are. Years into the era of digital distribution, long after we reached the point where it became technically harder to prevent customers from accessing games from anywhere in the world than it is to permit the same, region locking is back in the news. Thanks, Nintendo.

The focus of this week’s headlines is the Humble Bundle promotion which Nintendo is running for a number of indie titles on 3DS and Wii U. It’s a great deal for some excellent games and is raising money for a solid cause; plus it’s wonderful to see console platform holders engaging with the Humble Bundle approach, which has been so successful at bringing indie games (and other creative works) to wider audiences on the PC. It ought to be a win, win, win for Nintendo, gamers and indie developers alike.

Unfortunately, though, the bundle only works in the Americas; North America and some bits of Central and South America. Customers elsewhere are entirely locked out, a matter which has been a source of deep frustration not only to those customers, but also seemingly to Nintendo’s own staff working on the project. The result is that what ought to have been a straightforward PR win for the company has turned bittersweet; there has been more widespread news coverage of the region locking debacle in the past few days than there has been for the bundle itself.

Although this is a terrible shame for the developers involved – and I sincerely hope that Nintendo can pull its thumb out of its backside and launch an international version of the bundle in short order – no sympathy is due to Nintendo in this situation. It’s a problem entirely of the company’s own making; the firm made a deliberate and conscious decision to embrace region locking even as the internationalisation of digital distribution made that look increasingly ridiculous, and until that stubbornly backwards piece of decision making is reversed, it’s going to continue causing PR problems for the firm, not to mention genuine problems for its most devoted customers.

Remember, after all, that the rest of the gaming world has ditched region locking en masse – Sony gave it up with the PS3, even making it painless to use digital content from different regions by creating multiple accounts on the same console, while Microsoft made region locking optional on Xbox 360 (making a bit of a mess where some publishers enforced it and others didn’t) before ditching it entirely on the Xbox One. At the same time Nintendo, ever the merry contrarians, went the opposite direction, not only maintaining region locking on the Wii and Wii U, but even extending it to the 3DS – in contrast to the company’s prior handheld consoles, which had been region free.

The idiocy of a region locked handheld is staggering; these are systems which are quite simply at their best when you’re traveling, yet lo and behold, Nintendo don’t want you to buy any games if you go on holiday or on a business trip. The excuses trotted out were mealy-mouthed corporate dishonesty from start to finish; it was all about protecting customers, honest, and respecting local customs and laws. Utter tosh. Had those things been a genuine issue, they would have been an issue in the previous decades when Nintendo managed to sell handheld consoles without region locking; they would also have been an issue for Sony and Microsoft when they removed region locking from their systems.

In truth, there’s only one reason for region locking in this day and age – price control – and Nintendo’s calculation must have been that they had more to lose from the possibility, real or imagined, of people buying cheaper 3DS games from countries overseas, than they had to lose from annoying a chunk of their customer base, be they keen gamers who wanted to try out titles unlikely to be released in their regions, expats who want to play games brought from their home countries or parents who find that a game bought in the airport on the way home from holiday results not in a pacified, happy child on the flight but in an angry, upset child with a game that won’t work.

In Nintendo’s defence, Satoru Iwata has recently been musing publicly about dropping region locking from the Nintendo NX, whenever that turns up. That the company is clearly planning to move down that path does rather confirm that it’s been fibbing about its motivations for region locking all along, of course, which might be why Iwata is being cautious in his statements; it’s a shame if such face-saving is the reason for Nintendo failing to keep up with industry moves in this regard, because the company is going to keep being periodically beaten with this stick until the problem is fixed.

Admittedly, there would be problems with removing region locking from its existing consoles – not least that Nintendo’s agreements with publishers probably guarantee the region locking system, so even if it could be patched out of the 3DS and Wii U with a software update, that can’t happen legally due to the contracts it would breach. What Nintendo could and should do, however, is to offer gamers a gesture of good faith on the matter by dropping region locking from all its first-party software from now on – and perhaps emulating Xbox 360 era Microsoft by making it optional for third-party publishers as well. I can envisage no legal barrier to that approach; it would earn the company enormous kudos for responding to its audience and dealing with the problem, and would cost them precisely nothing. There aren’t that many easy PR wins floating around the industry right now; Nintendo should leap on this chance to show itself to be on the customers’ side.

Wheels turn slowly in Kyoto, though, and it’s probably too much to expect the company to react in a startup-like way to the region locking issue. In some ways it’s Nintendo’s strength that it reacts slowly and thoughtfully rather than jumping on every bandwagon, but in recent years, it’s also been a weakness far too many times – and the thoroughly wonderful software that the company has been turning out in the past few years, perhaps the finest line-up it’s produced in decades, has been regularly undermined by bad decisions in marketing and positioning of its platforms, many of which can be traced to a failure to understand where the market is and where it’s moving.

Region locking isn’t the biggest problem. Fixing it would be cheap and easy but would hardly be a panacea for Nintendo’s issues – but it’s a problem that’s symptomatic, emblematic even, of the broader problems Nintendo has with putting its customers first and applying the same care and attention to its corporate aspects which it always applies to its software development. Fix a problem like this in a proactive, rapid way, and we might all start to believe that the company has what it takes to get back on top.


Google To Ad ‘Buy’ Button To Mobile Search Results

May 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google will add a “buy” button in its search results on mobile devices in the coming weeks, according to a report last Friday in the Wall Street Journal, a move that could give online shoppers an easier way to buy products on small screens.

The change might also give consumers an alternative to mobile apps from companies like Amazon and eBay, though it might jeopardize retailers’ ability to directly market to their customers.

The buy button will appear on Google’s search results pages when people search for certain products on mobile devices, said the report, which cited unnamed sources. If users click on the buttons, they’ll be taken to another Google page where they can choose among sizes and colors, select shipping options and complete the purchase, the report said.

Google reportedly will let shoppers enter their payment information just once, store it, and automatically load it for future purchases on Google’s shopping pages.

The products will still be provided and sold by the retailer and not by Google. Macy’s is in talks with Google to take part in the launch of the button, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Representatives of Google and Macy’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The buttons will accompany only sponsored search results, not regular results driven by Google’s basic search algorithm, the report said. At first they will only appear with a small percentage of Google’s search traffic.

Over time, the buttons could help Google expand its search service beyond information and links to also encompass an online storefront.



Microsoft Strips Down Nano-Server

April 22, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft is going great guns in the server market having recently announced the Nano Server, a “minimal footprint” Windows Server, and Hyper-V containers, which provide virtual machine isolation capabilities to containers.

Nano Server is even more stripped-down than Windows Server Core with the GUI stack, 32 bit support (WOW64), MSI and a number of default Server Core components all being put in the dustbin.

You can’t do local logons, Remote Desktop and WMI and PowerShell are the only tools available to manage the creature.
Microsoft is also working on better remote tooling and is coming up with a set of management tools for the nano. It is planning work on PowerShell’s Desired State Configuration, file transfers and script authoring and debugging.

Cutting all this stuff out has made it more efficient, secure and availability. Redmond said that the Nano Server has 93 percent lower VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) size.

It also gets 92 percent fewer critical bulletins and requires 80 percent fewer reboots than a typical Windows Server. It is also a bit quicker to setup: from bare metal to running Nano Server takes 3 minutes.

Hyper-V containers also will offer the system a fair bit of isolation that was only available to “dedicated physical or virtual machines”.


Microsoft Confirms Windows 10 Will Support 8K Resolution

March 27, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Software King of the World Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system will support screen resolutions that will not be available on commercial displays for years.

At the WinHEC conference Microsoft revealed that Windows 10 will support 8K (7680*4320) resolution for monitors, which is unlikely show up on the market this year or next.

It also showed off minimum and maximum resolutions supported by its upcoming Windows 10. It looks like the new operating system will support 6″+ phone and tablet screens with up to 4K (3840*2160) resolution, 8″+ PC displays with up to 4K resolution and 27″+ monitors with 8K (7680*4320) resolution.

To put this in some perspective, the boffins at the NHK (Nippon H?s? Ky?kai, Japan Broadcasting Corp.) think that 8K ultra-high-definition television format will be the last 2D format as the 7680*4320 resolution (and similar resolution) is the highest 2D resolution that the human eye can process.

This means that 8K and similar resolutions will stay around for a long time and it makes sense to add their support to hardware and software.

NHK is already testing broadcasting in 8K ultra-high-definition resolutions, VESA has ratified DisplayPort and embedded DisplayPort standards to connect monitors with up to 8K resolution to graphics adapters and a number of upcoming games will be equipped for textures for 8K UHD displays.

However monitors that support 8K will not be around for some time because display makers will have to produce new types of panels for them.

Redmond will be ready for the advanced UHD monitors well before they hit the market. Many have criticized Microsoft for poor support of 4K UHD resolutions in Windows 8.



Is Nintendo Going Mobile?

March 18, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Nintendo has formed a comprehensive new alliance with DeNA that will make every one of the company’s famous IPs available for mobile development.

The bedrock of the deal is a dual stock purchase, with each company buying ¥22 billion ($181 million) of the other’s treasury shares. That’s equivalent to 10 per cent of DeNA’s stock, and 1.24 per cent of Nintendo. The payments will complete on April 2, 2015.

What this will ultimately mean for the consumer is Nintendo IP on mobile, “extending Nintendo’s reach into the vast market of smart device users worldwide.” There will be no ports of existing Nintendo games, according to information released today, but, “all Nintendo IP will be eligible for development and exploration by the alliance.” That includes the “iconic characters” that the company has guarded for so long.

No details on the business model that these games and apps will be released under were offered, though Nintendo may well be reluctant to adopt free-to-play at first. The information provided to the press emphasised the “premium” experiences Nintendo currently offers on platforms like Wii U and 3DS. Admittedly, that could be interpreted in either direction.

However, Nintendo and DeNA are planning an online membership service that will span Nintendo consoles, PC and smart devices. That will launch in the autumn this year.

This marks a significant change in strategy for Nintendo, which has been the subject of reports about plans to take its famous IPs to mobile for at least a year. Indeed, the company has denied the suggestion on several occasions, even as it indicated that it did have plans to make mobile a part of its core strategy in other ways.

Analysts have been offering their reflections on the deal, with the response from most being largely positive.

“Nintendo’s decision to partner with DeNA is a recognition of the importance of the games app audience to the future of its business,” said IHS head of gaming Piers Harding-Rolls. “Not only is there significant revenue to be made directly from smartphone and tablet consumers for Nintendo, app ecosystems are also very important in reaching new customers to make them aware of the Nintendo brand and to drive a new and broader audience to its dedicated console business. Last year IHS data shows that games apps were worth $26 billion in consumer spending globally, with handheld console games worth only 13 per cent of that total at $3.3 billion.

“The Nintendo-DeNA alliance is a good fit and offers up a number of important synergies for two companies that are no longer leaders in their respective segments.

“DeNA remains one of the leading mobile games company’s in Japan and, we believe, shares cultural similarities with Nintendo, especially across its most popular big-brand content. The alliance gives Nintendo access to a large audience in its home market, which remains very important to its overall financial performance. Japanese consumers spend significantly more per capita on mobile games than in any other country and it remains the biggest market for both smartphone and handheld gaming. While the partnership gives Nintendo immediate potential to grow its domestic revenues through this audience, gaining access to DeNA’s mobile expertise is important too to realise this potential.

“This alliance makes commercial sense on many levels – the main challenge will be knitting together the cultures of both companies and aligning the speed of development and iteration that is needed in the mobile space with Nintendo’s more patient and systematic approach to games content production. How the new games are monetised may also provide a challenge considering the general differences in models used in retail for Nintendo and through in-app purchases for DeNA.”

In a livestreamed press conference regarding the DeNA deal, Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata reassured those in attendance that the company was still committed to “dedicated video game systems” as its core business. To do that, he confirmed that the company was working on a new console, codenamed “NX”.

“As proof that Nintendo maintains strong enthusiasm for the dedicated game system business let me confirm that Nintendo is currently developing a dedicated game platform with a brand new concept under the development codename NX,” he said.

“It is too early to elaborate on the details of this project but we hope to share more information with you next year.”



Android Malware Fake Shuts Down Phones To Steal Data

February 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Next time you turn switch off your Android mobile phone, you might want to pop the battery out as an extra precaution.

Security vendor AVG has spotted a malicious program that fakes the sequence a user sees when they shut off their phone, giving it freedom to move around on the device and steal data.

When someone presses the power button on a device, a fake dialog box is shown. The malware then mimics the shutdown animation and appears to be off, AVG’s mobile malware research team said in a blog post.

“Although the screen is black, it is still on,” they said. “While the phone is in this state, the malware can make outgoing calls, take pictures and perform many other tasks without notifying the user.”

The malware requires an Android device to be “rooted,” or modified to allow deep access to its software. That may eliminate a lot of Android owners who don’t modify their phones.

But some vendors of Android phones ship their devices with that level of access, potentially making it easier for the malware to get onto a device.

This malware is unlikely to show up in Google’s Play Store, since Google tries to block applications that have malicious functions. But it could be a candidate for one of the many third-party app stores with looser restrictions.


Ford Wants To Partner With Tencent For Hi-tech Drivers In China

February 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Ford Motor Co  wants Tencent Holdings Ltd to customize its popular chatting app for the firm’s cars in China, as automakers in the world’s largest market woo drivers that care about high-tech features as much as engine size.

Rivals including Daimler and Nissan Motor Co Ltd are also looking at ways to give drivers safe, hands-free access to mobile apps in China, home to the world’s largest number of smartphone users. WeChat is China’s most prevalent chatting app, with about half a billion active monthly users.

“There’s a demand from our customers,” David Huang, a senior engineer who heads Ford’s Asia Pacific connected services unit, told Reuters. “People want to stay connected, stay informed and stay entertained all the time, even when they’re driving.”

Ford is in talks with Tencent over the business aspects of putting the app in its cars, Huang said. Tencent declined to comment.

Cars are becoming a key battleground for technology industry giants, including Google Inc and Apple Inc, as they seek to develop a market where drivers will be online while on the road. China could be on the front line of that battle as predominantly first-time car buyers in the country are also early adopters who understand more about technology than engine specifications.

Huang said Ford envisages drivers syncing their phone to the car’s software system and controlling specific WeChat functions, chosen by Tencent and then certified by Ford as safe, through voice commands or limited use of buttons.

Making WeChat and other apps convenient, safe and legal to use while driving could help automakers gain market share in China, especially as auto sales growth eases in a slowingeconomy. Yale Zhang, managing director of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said connectivity was a key deciding factor for Chinese customers buying a car.