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Telegram App Adopts Disappear Messages Like Snapchat

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Telegram, which gained notoriety for its encrypted messaging service, just upped its privacy game for users.

The app now lets you send your friends “self-destructing” photos and videos that disappear after a few seconds, the company said in a recentblog post. How long it takes for the media to go away depends on how long you set the timer for.

If this update sounds all too familiar, that’s because it’s similar to Snapchat’s ephemeral pictures and video. Snapchat isn’t unfamiliar to having its features cloned by other apps, however. In the last year, Facebook has rolled out a similar feature to Instagram, WhatsApp and its the Facebook app.

While self-destructing messages are automatic on Snapchat, Telegram requires you to set a timer (anywhere from one second to a minute) telling it when to work its magic before you send the selected media, which can only be viewed on the devices used to send and receive it. The feature doesn’t work on its Web platform.

The app’s latest move, billed as a way to improve privacy, may come at a bad time, given some governments believe the app offers a safe haven for terrorists to spread extremist ideas and plot attacks. After troubles in Russia, Telegram last week found itself banned in Indonesia, where authorities said they detected “thousands of communication activities [on Telegram] leading to terrorist activities.”

 

Spotify Inching Closer To A Deal With Warner Music

July 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Music streaming company Spotify is one step closer to reaching a new licensing pact with Warner Music Inc, the last big music royalty deal it needs before pushing ahead with a U.S. stock market listing, four sources familiar with the situation said.

The parties are positive a deal could be signed by September as major issues such as granting loss-making Spotify a more favorable revenue split in return for making some new albums accessible only to its paying subscribers for a defined period have already been agreed, the sources said.

However, the precise revenue split and the size of a potential guaranteed upfront payment to the label, home to artists including Ed Sheeran and Muse, have yet to be agreed, said two of the sources.

“The negotiations are at a crossroads,” said one of the sources, asking not to be named because the talks are private, adding discussions were taking place daily. “There are still a number of key points that remain to be agreed. If we manage to come to terms on these points, then it could lead to a very quick transaction. If not, any deal would remain at bay.”

Others saw a deal being done by late summer.

“Given the way talks are progressing, I would be surprised if we don’t have a deal in September,” said another source on the other side of the table.

Facebook Exploring Subscription Based News

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc is holding preliminary discussions with several news publishers about how its social media site can better support subscription business models, the company’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement comes a day after TheStreet reported that Facebook plans to launch a subscription-based news product, citing comments by Brown at a conference. Facebook will begin initial tests in October, TheStreet reported.

The feature is likely to allow publishers to create a paywall on Facebook’s Instant Articles and guide readers to a publisher’s home page to opt for a digital subscription, according to TheStreet.

Instant Articles lets publishers post articles directly to the Facebook app.

The idea for a paywall is based on premium and metered plans and has been in the works for a while, TheStreet said, citing Brown at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in New York.

Facebook also started the roll-out of a new tool that allows publishers using Instant Articles to measure how those articles perform compared with their own mobile websites.

Amazon Jumps Into Social Media Shopping With Spark Launch

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc has rolled out a social feature called Spark that encourages members to showcase and purchase products on its platforms, the retail giant’s first clear move into the world of social media.

Spark, which is currently only available for Amazon’s premium paying Prime members, encourages users to share photos and videos, just like popular social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest. The new feature publicly launched on Tuesday for use on mobile devices that use Apple’s iOS operating system.

Spark users can tag products on their posts that are available on Amazon and anyone browsing the feeds can instantly find and purchase them on the platform. Users can also respond to posts with “smiles,” equivalent to Facebook’s “likes.”

“We created Spark to allow customers to discover – and shop – stories and ideas from a community that likes what they like,” said an Amazon spokeswoman.

“When customers first visit Spark, they select at least five interests they’d like to follow and we’ll create a feed of relevant content contributed by others. Customers shop their feed by tapping on product links or photos with the shopping bag icon.”

Amazon has also invited publishers including paid influencers and bloggers to post on Spark. Their posts are identified with a sponsored hashtag.

Samsung Finally Launches Bixby Voice App For Galaxy S8

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung has finally officially launched voice capabilities for its Bixby smart sidekick in the US, about three months after the artificial intelligence technology first became available on its new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus phones. The company had delayed the launch and missed its own promised “later this spring” deadline, at least in the US.

Owners of its newest phones will be able to access Bixby Voice after downloading a software update, rolling out at 9 p.m. PT. South Korean users, who’ve had access to Bixby Voice in the Korean language since May 1, will also be able to now access the English language capabilities. The company didn’t say when Bixby Voice will be available in other countries.

Bixby is Samsung’s new digital voice assistant that debuted on its latest smartphones. It has its own dedicated button on the side of the device, letting you communicate with the artificial intelligence like you’d use a walkie-talkie. The only problem is the voice part of the assistantdidn’t actually work when the Galaxy S8 hit the market in April. What did work with Bixby was its “Vision, Home and Reminder” functions that identify objects in photos, help you track your day and remind you about upcoming events on your calendar.

Rather than launching voice capabilities right away, Samsung said it needed more time to get Bixby ready for mainstream consumers. It has been testing it out with over 100,000 Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus users in its early access preview program. Those participants generated more than 4 million commands and helped Samsung refine Bixby’s capabilities.

One benefit includes “increased comprehension on command variations.” You can, for instance, ask what the weather is like by saying “Show me today’s weather,” “What’s the weather like today?” or “What’s the forecast today?” Samsung says it has improved Bixby’s response times, increased hands-free operations and included a new “read aloud feature.” You can ask it to read the latest email you’ve received.

Samsung also has worked to make Bixby interact better with third-party apps. If you’re using Google Maps, you can use Bixby to change the location of your origin or destination.

Bixby is the latest entrant in the crowded field of digital assistants that already includes Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana. Every tech heavyweight is investing in these assistants because they’re heralded as the future of how we’ll interact with our gadgets. The hope is to build a relationship with you now and ultimately get you to buy more of their products later.

Google’s Mobile App Gets New Look, Feel

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Google has announced a re-tooling of its search app on mobile phones to include a personalized feed of links about hobbies, travel, sports and other topics, a move that puts the search company into more direct competition with social networks such as Facebook.

Google, the world’s largest search engine and a unit of Alphabet Inc, said the changes would begin rolling out in the United States on Wednesday and other countries in the coming weeks.

The new offering is called “Google Feed,” a name that may conjure comparisons to Facebook’s “News Feed,” a feature on Facebook used to browse updates from friends, family and other sources.

Google said, however, that it was not trying to duplicate Facebook Inc, the world’s largest social network. Instead, the company said it wanted to create another place to see a stream of relevant search results.

“This feed is really about your interests … It’s not really about what your friends are interested in,” Ben Gomes, a Google vice president for engineering, said in a briefing with reporters.

Typical updates might include a link to a website with tips about an upcoming vacation spot, or a link to a page about cycling or another hobby, the company said.

Facebook and Google are jockeying for attention online and by extension, for advertising revenue based on those eyeballs. The two Silicon Valley companies are expected to take in some 50 percent of overall online ad spending in 2018, according to research firm eMarketer.

There were no immediate plans to include advertising in Google Feed, Gomes said.

Google Feed will suggest links based on a user’s Google search history as well as data from other Google services, such as YouTube, Gmail and Google Calendar, the company said.

In addition to putting Google Feed on mobile apps, the company is looking at attaching it to web browsers in some form, Shashi Thakur, a second Google vice president for engineering, said during the briefing.

NBC To Host Daily News Show On Snapchat

July 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Comcast Corp’s NBC News plans to offer a twice-per-day news show on Snapchat, the company said on Wednesday, part of its push to attract younger viewers who tend to watch TV on mobile devices.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal invested $500 million in Snapchat owner Snap Inc  during its initial public offering as it seeks to boost its digital offering.

Broadcast news outlets like NBC News face an aging audience. The median age of NBC Nightly News, for example, is 64 years old, according to the Nielsen ratings agency. That is much older than the 18-to-34-year-old demographic that advertisers covet.

Last month, NBC News launched a digital video service, called “NBC Left Field” featuring short documentaries to appeal to social media users.

“This is a concerted effort that is crucial to our future,” said Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News.

“Stay Tuned” will focus on issues of the day and will air at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. EDT on weekdays and 1 p.m. EDT on weekends. The show will also air for specific breaking news events.

The launch of the daily news show comes amid increasing investor skepticism about Snap’s ability to grow and compete with Facebook Inc’s Instagram.

Lloyd’s Of London Sounds The Alarm On Impacts Of Cyber Attacks

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

A major, global cyber attack could lead to an average of $53 billion of economic losses, a figure on par with a catastrophic natural disaster such as U.S. Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Lloyd’s of London said in a report on Monday.

The report, co-written with risk-modeling firm Cyence, examined potential economic losses from the hypothetical hacking of a cloud service provider and cyber attacks on computer operating systems run by businesses worldwide.

Insurers are struggling to estimate their potential exposure to cyber-related losses amid mounting cyber risks and interest in cyber insurance. A lack of historical data on which insurers can base assumptions is a key challenge.

“Because cyber is virtual, it is such a difficult task to understand how it will accumulate in a big event,” Lloyd’s of London Chief Executive Inga Beale told Reuters.

Economic costs in the hypothetical cloud provider attack dwarf the $8 billion global cost of the “WannaCry” ransomware attack in May, which spread to more than 100 countries, according to Cyence.

Economic costs typically include business interruptions and computer repairs.

The Lloyd’s report follows a U.S. government warning to industrial firms about a hacking campaign targeting the nuclear and energy sectors.

In June, an attack of a virus dubbed “NotPetya” spread from infections in Ukraine to businesses around the globe. It encrypted data on infected machines, rendering them inoperable and disrupted activity at ports, law firms and factories.

“NotPetya” caused $850 million in economic costs, Cyence said.

In the hypothetical cloud service attack in the Lloyd’s-Cyence scenario, hackers inserted malicious code into a cloud provider’s software that was designed to trigger system crashes among users a year later.

By then, the malware would have spread among the provider’s customers, from financial services companies to hotels, causing all to lose income and incur other expenses.

Average economic losses caused by such a disruption could range from $4.6 billion to $53 billion for large to extreme events. But actual losses could be as high as $121 billion, the report said.

As much as $45 billion of that sum may not be covered by cyber policies due to companies underinsuring, the report said.

Average losses for a scenario involving a hacking of operating systems ranged from $9.7 billion to $28.7 billion.

Lloyd’s has a 20 percent to 25 percent share of the $2.5 billion cyber insurance market, Beale said in June.

AT&T Offers ZTE’s Blade Spark Smartphone For Only $99

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

These days, low-cost and durable smartphones that will stretch your dollar aren’t too hard to find. Case in point is the newest offering from AT&T and ZTE: the Blade Spark.

Available as a prepaid phone, the Blade Spark features a fingerprint reader, a 1.4GHz Snapdragon processor and Android Nougat 7.1.1. Given that it only costs $99, too, the phone is a good deal for anyone looking for a budget phone.

The Blade Spark (which has a design that reminds me a lot of 2014’s Motorola Moto X from the back) also has a 5.5-inch display, a 13-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing shooter that has its own dedicated button on the edge of the phone to fire off the shutter.

Other devices to consider around this price range is the $185 Motorola Moto G5 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy J3, which starts at $110. For more about budget phones, check out our top 10 picks for cheap phones we love.

Apple Pay Tempts Chinese Consumers With Huge Discounts

July 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

China’s mobile payments market is worth almost $6 trillion, and Apple wants to elbow its way in.

To entice more Chinese to start using Apple Pay, the iPhone maker is offering up to 50 percent discounts off purchases at participating vendors, many of them Western brands. It’s also rewarding users up to 50 times the usual points for designated credit cards, according to Apple’s official Chinese website. The promotion period will run from July 18 to 24.

China is a tough market to break into for Apple Pay, because the Chinese are more familiar with local mobile payment services such as WeChat Pay and Alipay. The two services have a combined market share of 92 percent, and people are so dependent on them that the companies have expanded overseas specifically to cater to Chinese travelers.

Promotions are offered by Apple Pay, but they are subject to varying terms and conditions set out by merchants. While Burger King and Costa Coffee have capped 50 percent discounts at 15 yuan (or $2.22), for example, 7-Eleven set its cap at 10 yuan (approximately $1.48). Starbucks, on the other hand, will take 15 yuan off purchases amounting to 60 yuan (or $8.86) or more.

A Re-organized AT&T To Run Wireless, Media Properties Separately

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

AT&T Inc plans to operate its wireless and DirecTV satellite television businesses separately from Time Warner Inc’s media assets following its $85.4 billion acquisition of the entertainment group.

Buying Time Warner gives AT&T control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros and other coveted media assets. AT&T’s post-merger plans were earlier reported by Bloomberg News.

The deal, announced in October, is seen as a bold move by the telecommunications giant to acquire content to stream over its network. AT&T hopes the programming will give it a competitive edge in a saturated wireless market. The deal also brings a wealth of user data for more targeted advertising.

The reorganization will leave AT&T executives in charge of the combined company. John Stankey, who currently leads DirecTV and other entertainment businesses, will head up the media division and John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer who oversees technology and operations, will run the wireless business, the source said.

AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson will remain chairman and CEO of the combined company after the deal closes, an AT&T spokesman said.

In an emailed statement, AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said no decisions on an organizational structure have been finalized and that Stephenson and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes were still working on them. Time Warner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bob Quinn, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, told reporters this week that the company expects to close the merger by the end of the year. “We are just working through the process,” Quinn said, noting it also needs approvals from some international agencies and the

Only 3 Out Of The Top 500 Online Merchants Accept Bitcoins

July 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

 

If you’ve somehow amassed cache of bitcoins and want to do some online shopping, the bad news is you probably won’t be buying much.

This year, the cryptocurrency is only accepted by three out of the top 500 online merchants, reports Bloomberg. That’s down from five from last year, making using Bitcoin to buy things from merchants a lot tougher.

The lack of merchants is puzzling, given the gains from bitcoins recently — one bitcoin is worth more than an ounce of gold — and may be a sign that the cryptocurrency is better off as an asset than currency.

The Bloomberg report also mentioned that transaction fees could be an issue why the crytocurrency is not widely accepted. With fees climbing, smaller transactions aren’t worth it compared to using other payment methods.

 

Linux Debuts Hyberledger 1.0 Blockchain Software

July 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project officially rolled out the Fabric 1.0, a collaboration tool for building blockchain distributed ledger business networks  such as smart contract technology.

The Hyperledger project, a collaborative cross-industry effort created to advance blockchain technology, said the Hyperledger Fabric framework can be a foundation for developing blockchain applications, products or customized business solutions

Under development for the past 16 months, Hyberledger Fabric 1.0 is ready to be used to create an immutable, secure electronic ledger in industries such as financial services for completing transactions, including clearance and settlement, and healthcare, as a way to validate where electronic patient records exist and who has  access to them.

“Fabric 1.0 will help substantially in both those use cases,” said Hyperledger’s executive director, Brian Behlendorf.

Blockchains can be encrypted or unencrypted, depending on the level of security required, but in both cases the records are auditable because the data in the database cannot be changed and is tied to each authorized participant in the chain. A blockchain, for example, could be used during the clearance and settlement process between Wall Street traders and the banks that support the transactions to verify in real time when each party has received data and agreed to the exchange of funds.

Fabric 1.0 offers a modular architecture allowing components, such as consensus and membership services, to be plug-and-play. It leverages container technology to host smart contracts called “chaincode” that comprise the application logic of the system.

Fabric has been through several release cycles or pilots with 28 of Hyperledger’s member organizations. The include The Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. (DTCC), Fujitsu, GE, Hitachi, Huawei Technologies, State Street Bank, SecureKey, IBM, SAP, and Wanda Group.

There were also contributions from 35 unaffiliated individuals. In total, 159 developers contributed to Hyperledger Fabric, Behlendorf said.

“We had to push this out and encourage companies to start using them in proof-of-concepts and pilots, and some even were happy with the data code at that time and pushed them into production,” Behlendorf said.

“After over a year of public collaboration, testing, and validation… Fabric 1.0 is a true milestone for our community,” Behlendorf said. “Fabric can now advance to production deployment and operations. I look forward to seeing even more products and services being powered by Hyperledger Fabric in the next year and beyond.”

Spotify Inks Licensing Deal With Sony Music

July 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Spotify has pulled together a licensing deal with a second major label, Sony Music Entertainment, according to media reports, setting the stage for a U.S. stock market listing by the music streaming leader.

Recently valued at $13 billion, Sweden’s Spotify is planning a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange later this year or in early 2018, sources told Reuters in May.

Sony agreed to reduce royalties that Spotify must pay in return for the streaming service restricting new albums to paying subscribers for two weeks before offering access to free users, the Financial Times reported, citing a single source.

Sony’s top artists include Adele, Beyonce and Shakira.

Spotify is also in talks with Warner Music Group , Billboard reported.

Favorable royalty terms are crucial for Spotify to attain profitability and to make it a viable long-term holding for investors.

The company reported a 349 million euro ($400 million) operating loss, a 47 percent increase on a year earlier, even as revenue grew 50 percent to 2.93 billion euros.

In April, it signed a multi-year licensing deal with Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, with a similar two-week release window for new albums and a break on the royalties Spotify pays Universal.

It also signed up digital agency Merlin, on behalf of more than 20,000 independent labels.

Last year, Universal held a 28.9 percent share of global music label revenue, Sony Music generated 22.4 percent and Warner 17.4 percent. Independent labels made up the remaining 31.3 percent, MIDiA Research data showed.

Spotify has fended off competition from rival Apple Music, with nearly double the number of paying subscribers.

In March, Spotify said it had more than 50 million paying subscribers and 140 million active users, including free listeners. Apple reported 27 million music subscribers last month, up from 20 million in December.

The company has faced boycotts from some top music artists who have complained its free services undercut the value of their work but the major label licensing deals have gone some way toward easing these tensions, according to analysts.

Spotify declined to comment. Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group did not respond to requests for immediate comment.

Waze’s iOS App Allows User To Customize Voice Prompts

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

“In five hundred feet turn right.”

Sometimes a direction that makes sense on paper can be confusing on the road. But that’s OK because the Google-owned Waze is now letting iOS users record their own personalised directions.

You can access the Voice Recorder feature in Waze’s advanced settings by hitting “Sound & voice.” Tap “Voice directions” and you’ll be given the option to record a new voice. Your custom voice pack comes with a link you can share with friends, family and everyone on the internet.

Bought by Google in 2014 for $1 billion, Waze is a community-powered mapping and navigation app that gives you real-time traffic information and road alerts. The Voice Recorder feature was released on Android last month. And in March it introduced integration with Spotify.

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