In an effort to move further into e-commerce and compete with Amazon Inc’s retail offerings, Facebook announced that it is testing several ad features that allow users to shop directly through its app.
Few users make purchases on mobile phones because it is slow and cumbersome, but Facebook hopes to win over more ad dollars by smoothing the process. Mobile purchases make up less than 2 percent of all retail sales, according to research firm eMarketer.
“We’re looking to give people an easier way to find products that will be interesting to them on mobile, make shopping easier and help businesses drive sales,” said Emma Rodgers, Facebook’s head of product marketing for commerce.
Among the new features are ads that take a user through a specific brand’s products without redirecting them to another site. For example, a user who clicks on an ad from a boutique could see an expanded page that displays numerous clothing items.
Businesses on Facebook will also be able to display products for purchase directly on their own pages. And users will be able to purchase products directly on Facebook through a “buy now” button that will be more widely available.
The 1.5-billion-member social network has also added a new section on its app that takes users directly to a shopping page where they can browse among numerous brands from a select group of small businesses that will gradually expand.
“From Facebook’s perspective, they’re addressing a pain point for retailers,” said Catherine Boyle, an analyst at eMarketer. “They will attract serious ad dollars with this offering.”
The Obama administration will not pursue legislation at this point to ban the encryption of communications by many technology services and product vendors, but will work on a compromise with industry, a senior U.S. official said.
“The administration is not seeking legislation at this time,” Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said in a statement before a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Comey had previously asked for a “robust debate” on encryption of communications, saying that the technology could come in the way of his doing his job to keep people safe.
In his testimony, he said that the government is “actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of their encrypted products and services.”
Civil rights groups and the tech industry have asked President Barack Obama to take a stand against any dilution of encryption, including mandating the creation of backdoors for law enforcement, citing the right of individuals to use encryption for their privacy and security.
In a recent letter to Obama, Ed Black, president and CEO of industry body Computer & Communications Industry Association wrote that he was aware of an ongoing discussion within the administration regarding the growing availability of strong encryption in consumer products and communications systems, and its implications for criminal and counter-terrorism investigations.
“Technical and legislative policy proposals, from mandates to incentives, are being debated by a variety of stakeholders,” Black wrote.
The company confirmed that it suffered a security breach over a period of several months from late 2013 to early 2014, affecting approximately 4.6 million customers. But in a statement, Scottrade said it had no idea that the breach had occurred until law enforcement officials told them about it.
The FBI notified Scottrade of the breach in August but asked that the company hold off on disclosing the attack until it had wrapped up another part of its investigation. The company was cleared to disclose the breach at the end of last week and began informing customers last Friday.
To its credit, Scottrade said that it believes attackers obtained only clients’ names and street addresses — not the social security numbers, email addresses and other sensitive data stored in the compromised system. According to the company, the attackers didn’t compromise Scottrade’s trading platforms, and clients’ funds were untouched.
People who had a Scottrade account prior to February 2014 may have been affected by the breach. Those people who Scottrade knows were affected will be notified of that by email. The company isn’t suggesting that users change their passwords, since it believes that they remained encrypted during the attack.
As is expected in these sorts of cases, Scottrade is offering affected customers a free year of identity theft protection. It’s not clear how much good that will do, since the data was taken more than a year ago, but offering that sort of service is something consumers expect from a breach response at this point.
Looking forward, the company said that it has secured the intrusion point the attackers used to get into its systems, and conducted an internal investigation with the help of an unnamed computer security firm. The company also said that it has further secured its network.
GE, in partnership with The Slate Group’s podcast network Panoply, is running “The Message,” a fictional eight-episode podcast that will follow the decoding of a 70 year-old message from outer space. The cryptologists decoding the message turn to a real ultrasound technology developed by GE to decode the messages.
“It’s science fiction meets real science,” said Andy Goldberg, GE’s global creative director.
The idea for the series stemmed from the company’s historic “GE Theater” television series, which was hosted by Ronald Reagan, then an actor, in the 1950s.
GE is producing its own podcast series, rather than running ads on other podcasts because it specifically does not want the shows to come off as advertising, but rather as a way to raise brand awareness, Goldberg said. The 40-60 minute spots, which begin Oct. 4, will be advertisement-free and will be available for download for free. Goldberg declined to comment on how much GE is spending on the podcasts.
GE is among a number of firms whose interest in podcasts has increased since last year’s airing of “Serial,” the hit podcast chronicling a murder investigation.
“It flipped a switch for us that podcasting was no longer going to be informational pieces but could be entertainment,” Goldberg said.
Podcasts are a small, but growing part of the digital media marketplace. Seventeen percent of teens and adults listen to one podcast per month, up from 15 percent last year, according to Edison Research.
The medium has gotten so much initial interest, that the Interactive Advertising Bureau held its first “podcast upfronts,” for companies to promote their podcasts to advertisers in September.
While GE’s move is novel, it is likely that more advertisers will follow rather than just run ads during podcasts, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. It is like the next iteration of “native advertising,” where companies create sponsored content to promote their offerings, he said.
T-Mobile USA is on a mission to stop data thieves, which it says are taking advantage of the company’s unlimited high-speed data plan through excessive tethering — the use of smartphone data service on other devices.
The carrier offers unlimited 4G LTE on smartphones, but limits data usage through tethering to 7GB a month under a Smartphone Mobile HotSpot feature, which reduces speed beyond that limit. If a customer needs more LTE tethering, he or she can add on more.
But CEO John Legere has accused some users of “hacking” the system to swipe high-speed tethered data, by strategies like downloading apps that hide their tether usage, rooting their phones or writing code to mask their activity.
“It’s a small group — 1/100 of a percent of our 59 million customers — but some of them are using as much as 2 terabytes (2,000GB!) of data in a month,” Legere wrote.
“I’m not sure what they are doing with it — stealing wireless access for their entire business, powering a small cloud service, providing broadband to a small city, mining for bitcoin — but I really don’t care!,” he added.
Legere said the company was going first after the 3,000 users who know exactly what they are doing, as they can compromise the network experience for other T-Mobile customers. The company claims to have developed technology that can detect the people who choose to break its terms and conditions.
Erring customers will be warned, and then lose access to the company’s unlimited 4G LTE smartphone data plan, and be moved to an entry-level limited 4G LTE data plan, according to a support page.
AT&T now says it will continue its already-announced fiber optic network expansion to 100 cities, moving away from comments by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson after President Obama voiced support for net neutrality last month.
The move brought a strong response from critics who say the carrier’s fiber optic plans are mostly bogus and were designed as a competitive play against the ongoing Google Fiber rollout. The purported delay in AT&T’s investments was quickly seen as an empty threat.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent Nov. 25, AT&T said won’t limit future fiber-to-the-premises deployments to 2 million homes as part of its $49 billion deal to acquire DirecTV. That contrasts with what Stephenson said Nov. 12.
“To the contrary, AT&T still plans to complete the major initiative we announced in April to expand our ultrafast GigaPower fiber network in 25 major metropolitan areas nationwide.” Robert Quinn, AT&T senior vice president for regulatory matters, said in the letter.
In his Nov. 12 appearance at a Wells Fargo investors conference, Stephenson had said AT&T would stop fiber rollouts beyond the 2 million for the DirecTV deal: adding: “We can’t go out and just invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities other than these 2 million not knowing under what rules that investment will be governed.” The 100 cities are included in the 25 metro areas AT&T cited in its letter to the FCC. Stephenson later said to Fox Business Network that it might be two to three years before AT&T starts investing again in fiber optic network rollouts to 100 cities.
Since it won’t limit its fiber deployment to 2 million homes, AT&T also told the FCC that it didn’t need to provide documents surrounding any decision to delay. AT&T also redacted from public view any details on its fiber rollout in the letter.
The company released Rooms on Thursday, its answer to the craze around posting and sharing anonymously. People can use any name they want and don’t need a Facebook account. The app contains rooms geared around various topics, all of which require an invite link to enter. Providing an email address is optional, for the purposes of having accessed rooms restored if the user deletes the app.
The app is only available on iOS. Plans for other platforms like Android or Windows Phone were not disclosed.
The app is not just about anonymity. With it, Facebook hopes to provide a discussion board-type platform where users can chat about shared interests outside of their usual social circles. It’s a concept that has been super popular since, oh, the web’s been around.
“One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
“From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues — you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends,” the company said.
But the app’s ability to succeed likely depends on the number and diversity of rooms created by its users, and whether the app’s focus on visuals and photos appeals to them. There’s also no desktop version.
The app was developed as part of Facebook’s Creative Labs project, which has also released stand-alone apps like Slingshot and Paper.
Facebook stresses that Rooms will let users create a unique identity separate from their Facebook account. Your name can be “Wonder Woman” in the app, Facebook said.
I tried out the app, and was even able to use “Mark Zuckerberg” as my name. (A short “hello” post of mine then immediately generated several “high fives.”)
Facebook, however, may share information about Room users within the companies and services operated by Facebook, which would include Facebook itself and other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the Rooms terms of service.
BlackBerry’s new qwerty Passport smartphone quickly sold out just hours after going on sale online last Wednesday, with another 200,000 back orders waiting in line, BlackBerry CEO John Chen proudly announced.
Chen didn’t indicate how many units were sold online, but said ShopBlackBerry.com sold out the Passport in six hours, with Amazon.com selling iout in 10 hours before customers began leaving online orders that had reached 200,000 as the day it debuted. The device has a price tag of $599 unlocked.
“That’s extremely good receptivity” for Passport, Chen said.
But that wasn’t Chen’s only good news in what he called a “very solid” second quarter that ended Aug. 30 with an earnings loss of $11 million, or 2 cents per share, compared to an 11-cent per share loss the previous quarter. Still, revenues were $916 million for the quarter, down from $966 million in the previous quarter, and well below the $1.5 billion reported for the same quarter a year ago.
Chen predicted profitability for BlackBerry by mid-year 2015, possibly in the first fiscal 2016 quarter that starts in March 2015. “You can see a progressively good trend going forward,” Chen said.
Chen said that large companies, especially in banking and government, are coming back to BlackBerry for its smartphones and BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 software for security and management. They are coming for “stability,” he said.
“The product is broader and deeper and has history with most customers,” Chen added. “I have spoken to many executives and people are very interested in working with us. Our technology works and works well. Governments use it and major banks use it. We’re winning them back — knock on wood, I don’t want to be overconfident — and we’re starting to see that with very big companies.”
He also predicted more interest in BlackBerry once it launches its next operating system, BlackBerry 12, on Nov. 13 at an event in San Francisco.
The company posted a number of successes, including what it called a “normalized” use of cash of $36 million in the recent quarter, compared to $255 million in the prior quarter.
An intruder stole log-in credentials from the company’s vendor and used the credentials to remotely access the point-of-sale systems at some corporate and franchised locations between June 16 and Sept. 5, the company said.
The chain is the latest victim in a series of security breaches among retailers such as Target Corp, Michaels Stores Inc and Neiman Marcus.
Home Depot Inc said last week some 56 million payment cards were likely compromised in a cyberattack at its stores, suggesting the hacking attack at the home improvement chain was larger than the breach at Target Corp.
More than 12 of the affected Jimmy John’s stores are in Chicago area, according to a list disclosed by the company.
The breach has been contained and customers can use their cards at its stores, the privately held company said.
Jimmy John’s said it has hired forensic experts to assist with its investigation.
“Cards impacted by this event appear to be those swiped at the stores, and did not include those cards entered manually or online,” Jimmy John’s said.
The Champaign, Illinois-based company said stolen information may include the card number and in some cases the cardholder’s name, verification code, and/or the card’s expiration date.
Google had been mulling HTC as a potential Nexus tablet partner since last year and HTC engineers have been flying to the Googleplex in Mountain View in recent months to work on the project, the report said.
Google’s decision to pick HTC reflects its long-term strategy of building a broad base of partners from device to device to prevent any one manufacturer from gaining a monopoly, the report said.
That may also be one of the reasons why Google chose HTC over bigger rivals Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, maker of the Nexus 10 tablet.
Google and HTC declined to comment on the report.
As in-vehicle electronics become more sophisticated to support autonomous driving, cameras, and infotainment systems, Ethernet has become a top contender for connecting them.
For example, the BMW X5 automobile, released last year, used single-pair twisted wire, 100Mbps Ethernet to connect its driver-assistance cameras.
Paris-based Parrot, which supplies mobile accessories to automakers BMW, Hyundai and others, has developed in-car Ethernet. Its first Ethernet-connected systems could hit the market as soon as 2015, says Eric Riyahi, executive vice president of global operations.
Parrot’s new Ethernet-based Audio Video Bridging (AVB) technology uses Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach automotive Ethernet controller chips.
The AVB technology’s network management capabilities allows automakers to control the timing of data streams between specific network nodes in a vehicle and controls the bandwidth in order to manage competing data traffic.
Ethernet’s greater bandwidth could provide drivers with turn-by-turn navigation while a front-seat passenger streams music from the Internet, and each back-seat passenger watches streaming videos on separate displays.
“In-car Ethernet is seen as a very promising way to provide the needed bandwidth for coming new applications within the fields of connectivity, infotainment and safety,” said Hans Alminger, senior manager for Diagnostics & ECU Platform at Volvo, in a statement.
Ethernet was initially used by automakers only for on-board diagnostics. But as automotive electronics advanced, the technology has found a place in advanced driver assistance systems and infotainment platforms.
Many manufacturers also use Ethernet to connect rear vision cameras to a car’s infotainment or safety system, said Patrick Popp, chief technology officer of Automotive at TE Connectivity, a maker of car antennas and other automobile communications parts.
Currently, however, there are as many as nine proprietary auto networking specifications, including LIN, CAN/CAN-FD, MOST and FlexRay. FlexRay, for example, has a 10Mbps transmission rate. Ethernet could increase that 10 fold or more.
The effort to create a single vehicle Ethernet standard is being lead by Open Alliance and the IEEE 802.3 working group. The groups are working to establish 100Mbps and 1Gbps Ethernet as de facto standards.
The first automotive Ethernet standard draft is expected this year.
The Open Alliance claims more than 200 members, including General Motors, Ford, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen. Jaguar Land Rover, Renault, Volvo, Bosch, Freescale and Harman.
Broadcom, which makes electronic control unit chips for automobiles, is a member of the Open Alliance and is working on the effort to standardize automotive Ethernet.
China’s anti-monopoly regulator on Wednesday said Qualcomm Inc. is under suspicion for overcharging and abusing its market position, allegations which could see the U.S. chip giant slapped with record fines of more than $1 billion.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also said it was in talks with another U.S. technology firm, InterDigital Inc, about a possible settlement to a separate anti-monopoly probe as the regulator focuses on the rapidly evolving information technology market.
Foreign firms from drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline to Apple Inc are facing tougher scrutiny in the world’s second-biggest economy as China targets key industries to protect consumers from bloated prices and second-rate products.
In its first public statements about the Qualcomm investigation, the watchdog said it began making inquiries after receiving complaints that the San Diego-based company was charging higher prices in China than it does in other countries.
“We received reports from relevant associations and companies that Qualcomm abuses its dominant position in the market and charges discriminatory fees,” Xu Kunlin, who heads the NDRC’s anti-monopoly and price supervision bureau, told a press conference in Beijing.
The NDRC dual investigations are part of a focus on information technology providers, especially companies that license patent technology for mobile devices and networks.
Industry experts say the NDRC, which is also the government’s main economic planning body, is trying to lower domestic costs as China rolls out its faster 4G mobile networks this year.
Earlier this month, the China Mobile Communications Industry Association said it had filed a complaint against Qualcomm for overcharging for use of its patents.
Under the anti-monopoly law, the NDRC can impose fines of between 1 and 10 percent of a company’s revenues for the previous year. Qualcomm earned $12.3 billion in China for its fiscal year ended September 29, or nearly half of its global sales.
Robocoin announced on Tuesday that later this month it will install the first automated teller machines in the United States that will allow users to buy and sell bitcoin, the latest step into the mainstream for the digital currency.
The kiosks, to be installed in Seattle, and Austin, Texas, are similar to ATMs but have scanners to read government-issued identification such as a driver’s license or a passport to confirm users’ identities.
The ATMs will allow people to swap bitcoin for cash, or deposit cash to buy more bitcoin by transferring funds to or from a virtual wallet on their smartphones.
Bitcoin was launched in 2008 and is traded within a global network of computers. It is not backed by a single company or government and has no assets behind it, but its release is tightly controlled, mimicking a central banking system’s control over the minting of money.
Robocoin, based in Las Vegas, installed its first bitcoin ATM in Vancouver last fall and will also start operating one in Calgary, Alberta, later this month. Robocoin also is planning to install ATMs in Asia and Europe.
A bitcoin is currently worth about $636, but its value has fluctuated widely as the currency’s visibility has increased. Last September, a bitcoin was worth around $150. By late December the value was near the $1,000 mark.
Users can buy products and services online on sites including Overstock.com or in a handful of stores.
The currency’s reputation took a hit last week when two of its best known exchanges suspended withdrawals. One of them, Slovenia-based Bitstamp, said Friday it planned to allow redemptions to resume.
Sprint Corp promised to gradually bump up wireless data speeds far in excess of those offered by bigger rivals like Verizon, as it hopes to use recently acquired wireless airwaves to regain market share.
At its research labs on the outskirts of San Francisco, Sprint on Wednesday outlined plans to expand Spark, a service it is now building with speeds of 50-60 megabits per second, which is being rolled out initially in five cities: Los Angeles, Tampa, Miami, Chicago and New York.
In comparison, Verizon Wireless says it provides customers data speeds of 5-12 megabits per second but its high-speed network covers 303 million people.
After losing subscribers for years, No. 3 U.S. mobile service provider Sprint is looking to distinguish itself from rivals AT&T Inc, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US, which are ahead of it in high-speed upgrades.
“Sprint has a much broader set of spectrum in more markets than their competitors,” said Andy Castonguay, principal analyst at Machina Research. “Their spectrum holdings give them a unique advantage.”
But he cautioned a lot of Sprint’s plans seemed theoretical for the moment and the industry has to see the technology in action to understand the impact on the consumer. With rapidly increasing bandwidth, other issues such as power consumption, battery life and heat will come to the fore.
“It’s going to push the boundaries of power consumption and antenna design. It’s going to be very interesting to watch the next generation of devices,” he said.
Sprint demonstrated to reporters at its Burlingame labs ultra-fast wireless data speeds of 1 gigabits per second, about 16 times faster than its current peak speeds and rivaling the fastest wireline speeds.
It also showed off potential applications of ultra high-speed wireless, from online multiplayer gaming to simultaneous streams of video based on next-generation “4K” TV technology.
AT&T shrugged off Sprint’s claims but declined to comment on its own speeds.
“A demo counts as much as making a touchdown with no other players on the field,” AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said.
Last Friday, the cloud software vendor announced a “hackathon” would be held at the conference, with US$1 million going to the developer or team who creates the top prize-winning mobile application with Salesforce.com technology.
“It’s not going to be easy — $1 million is going to bring out the best of the best,” Salesforce.com said in Friday’s announcement. “So don’t wait until Dreamforce! You’re going to want to get started now. With Force.com, Heroku, ExactTarget Fuel, Mobile Services and more — you’ve got a killer array of platform technology to use.”
Salesforce.com will also be providing some “pretty amazing new technology” for use at the show, the announcement adds.
In order to participate, developers have to either register for a full conference pass or a special $99 hacker pass.
The hackathon reflects Salesforce.com’s long courtship of developers to its development technologies, its AppExchange marketplace and recent efforts to build out more tooling for mobile application development.
Developers taking part in the hackathon will have plenty of competition, with some 20,000 programmers expected to attend Dreamforce overall. A “Hack Central” area will be open around the clock, supporting coders who want to work until the wee hours on their application.
In order to qualify, an application can’t have been previously released. The entries will be judged on four criteria counting 25 percent each: innovation, business value, user experience and use of Salesforce.com’s platform.
The second-place finisher will receive $50,000, with $25,000 going to the third-place winner. Fourth and fifth place will get $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.
Some 120,000 people are expected to register for Dreamforce this year. While some of that total will be watching online rather than in person, Dreamforce is now operating at a scale rivaling Oracle’s OpenWorld event, which happened last month.