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Facebook Testing New Stripped Down Version Of Its Mobile App

January 28, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Facebook is testing a scaled down version of its mobile app that requires far less data, which could boost usage of the social networking service among people with weaker Internet service or older phones.

Facebook “Lite” is available for devices running Android 2.2 and up. The size of the free app is 252 kilobytes, and it’s meant for 2G networks in areas with limited connectivity. Users can perform a bunch of basic functions like post status updates with photos, comment on people’s posts, message friends, have group conversations, and receive notifications. Posts from the news feed are meant to load quickly.

Early reviews on the Google Play store for the app have been positive, with many praising its low data and battery usage.

Facebook launched the app over the weekend in parts of Africa and Asia, said a report in TechCrunch. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment further.

The Lite app appears to be related to Facebook’s Internet.org project, which seeks to provide free access to Facebook and other basic Internet services in developing countries. The Internet.org app is already available in a handful of countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Colombia. In addition to Facebook, the app provides access to other services like the weather, Wikipedia, and health and educational information. Carriers can charge users for paid access to other services. In addition to Facebook, other founding partners of Internet.org include Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung.

With the Lite app, Facebook might be testing people’s responsiveness to a set of basic Facebook services without the ancillary ones. It may also help Facebook learn how it could further improve the functions of its Internet.org app.

Facebook tested a different stripped down version of its site in late 2009 and early 2010, although only for the desktop. It was shut down in April 2010.

 

 

Facebook Going After Hoaxes, Fake News Stories

January 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc said it has put measures in place  to clamp down on “hoaxes” and fake news stories that can spread rather rapidly  on its 1.35-billion member online social network.

The company said it had introduced an option to allow Facebookusers to flag a story as “purposefully fake or deceitful news” to reduce the distribution of news stories reported as hoaxes.

Facebook said it will not remove fake news stories from its website. Instead, the company’s algorithm, which determines how widely user posts are distributed, will take into account hoax reports.

“A post with a link to an article that many people have reported as a hoax or chose to delete will get reduced distribution in the News Feed,” Facebook explained.

Facebook has become an increasingly important source of news, with 30 percent of adults in the U.S. consuming news on the world’s largest social network, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Facebook cited stories about dinosaur sightings and research supposedly proving the existence of Santa Claus as examples of fake news stories.

Facebook said “satirical” content, such as news stories “intended to be humorous, or content that is clearly labeled as satire,” should not be affected.

 

 

Twitter Acquires Marketing Start-up ZipDial

January 21, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Twitter Inc announced plans to acquire Indian mobile phone marketing start-up ZipDial, reportedly for $30 million to $40 million, as the U.S. microblogging service looks to expand in the world’s second-biggest mobile market.

Bengaluru-based ZipDial gives clients phone numbers for use in marketing campaigns. Consumers call the numbers and hang up before connecting and incurring charges, and then receive promotion-related text messages.

The start-up’s clients include International Business Machines Corp, Yum! Brands Inc’s KFC and Procter & Gamble Co’s Gillette.

The service capitalizes on a local tradition of communicating through so-called missed calls. A person may give a friend a missed call to signal arrival at an agreed destination, for instance, without having to pay the cost of a phone call.

Such “unique behavior” was behind ZipDial, the start-up said in a statement announcing the Twitter deal.

Twitter did not disclose terms of the purchase. Techcrunch, citing unidentified sources, reported the deal at $30 million to $40 million.

“This acquisition significantly increases our investment in India, one of the countries where we’re seeing great growth,” Twitter said in a statement.

The acquisition is the latest in India by global tech giants who have snapped up companies in a fledgling startup scene, concentrated in the tech hub of Bengaluru in southern India.

Last year, Facebook Inc bought Little Eye Labs, a start-up that builds performance analysis and monitoring tools for mobile apps. Yahoo! Inc bought Bookpad, whose service allows developers to add document viewing and editing to their own applications.

 

 

Alibaba Piloting Social Networking For Businesses

January 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , the world’s biggest e-commerce company, is piloting a mobile messaging app geared toward merging social networking with business, an Alibaba spokeswoman said, as the company expands its enterprise services.

The app, called DingTalk, was quietly made available in December and is still in beta testing, according to its website.

Capable of carrying conference calls and group messaging, DingTalk targets small- and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are already Alibaba’s customers. The company has 8.5 million active sellers on its various e-commerce platforms, according to Alibaba’s initial public offering prospectus.

It is not Alibaba’s first stab at a mobile messaging app and others have become hot property in the tech sector. The company’s arch-rival, Tencent Holdings Ltd,  operates WeChat, known as Weixin in China, which has 468 million monthly active users and was estimated to be worth as much as $64 billion by brokerage CLSA.

Underscoring the appeal of such apps, Facebook Inc  in October completed its $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.

But Alibaba’s previous attempt at a mobile messaging app, Laiwang, is seen by many analysts and industry observers as a dud, with the Chinese market dominated by Tencent’s WeChat.

By going for smaller companies, DingTalk is chasing a target audience that already includes many Alibaba clients. This fits with its broader enterprise strategy, including the Alibaba Cloud Computing business, which also serves Alibaba’s merchants as well as other companies.

“DingTalk is a versatile mobile communications app that fills a gap in the market for corporate mobile messaging,” the Alibaba spokeswoman said.

 

 

Facebook Launches New Mobile App Offering Free Internet

January 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Facebook Inc has rolled out a new mobile phone application that gives Colombian users free access to a handful of online services, broadening Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s effort to boost Internet usage in developing markets.

Colombia is the first nation in Latin America to receive the new Internet.org service, in partnership with local mobile phone provider Tigo, but the aim is to push the application across the region.

The tools offered by the service provide a foundation Colombians can use to “build their own prosperity” Zuckerberg said at a presentation in Bogota with President Juan Manuel Santos.

“By giving people these basic tools for free, you’re creating an equal playing field,” Zuckerberg said, referring to entrepreneurs who could use the free Internet to start or grow a business.

Internet.org will offer more than a dozen services via the Android operating system, including online encyclopedia Wikipedia, weather websites, job listings and health information, as well as Facebook’s own social network and messaging service.

Access to the application’s services is free, but links that lead to information on other websites will require users to pay data charges.

The service may even aid the country, which has 21 million Facebook users, as it seeks an end to 50 years of war with Marxist rebels, Zuckerberg said.

“Just giving people the tools of connectivity is important by itself in creating communication and a tighter social fabric in creating peace,” the 30-year-old CEO said.

The service, first launched in Zambia back in July, will eventually be available via other mobile providers.

Facebook has partnered with more than 150 wireless providers over the past four years to offer free or discounted access to its social network, but the new app is the first time the company has added services beyond its own website.

 

 

Facebook, Xiaomi Discuss Potential Partnership

January 14, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Mark Zuckerberg and Xiaomi Inc CEO Lei Jun held talks about a potential investment by Facebook in China’s top smartphone maker ahead of its $1.1 billion fundraising last month, but a deal never materialized, several people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The discussions, at a private dinner when Zuckerberg visited Beijing in October, were never formalized, three of those people said, as the two CEOs weighed the political and commercial implications of Facebook - which has been banned in China since 2009 – buying into the Chinese tech star now valued at $45 billion.

One individual with direct knowledge of Xiaomi’s fundraising said the mooted Facebook investment was “not huge,” but the talks underscore how ties between U.S. and Chinese companies have deepened as China’s tech industry matures.

A Facebook investment in Xiaomi would have raised the international profile of the popular handset maker dubbed “China’s Apple” by its fans and linked it to a U.S. social networking phenomenon with more than 1.3 billion users.

Facebook, for its part, has long harbored ambitions to expand into the world’s most populous country, potentially with partners. One of the individuals said Facebook and Xiaomi began discussing a possible investment in mid-2014.

Xiaomi’s Lei was partly put off by the potential for political fallout at home of selling a stake to Facebook while the U.S. social network is still banned in China, two of the people said, adding Xiaomi also feared a tie-up with Facebook could threaten its relationship with Google Inc, a crucial business partner. Xiaomi’s phones are built on Google’s Android operating system.

Xiaomi ultimately announced last month it raised $1.1 billion from investors including Hong Kong-based tech fund All Stars Investment; DST Global, a private equity firm that has invested in Facebook and Alibaba Group; Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC; Chinese fund Hopu Management; and Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital.

The fundraising valued Beijing-based Xiaomi at $45 billion just three years after it sold its first smartphone. The company had revenue of close to $12 billion in 2014.

Zuckerberg has eyed China as a critical piece of his vision to connect the global population. But, like Google and Twitter, the social networking giant has been blocked by China’s internet censors, who cite national security concerns.

 

 

 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation Aims To Thwart Online Harassment

January 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the non-profit digital rights advocacy group known for its strong public stances on topics like Net Neutrality, piracy and privacy, widened its scope by identifying online harassment as a digital rights issue that stands in the way of true freedom of speech.

The big problem, as EFF co-authors Danny O’Brien and Nadia Kayyali readily acknowledge, is that it’s hard to address online harassment without pushing up against the Internet’s cardinal benefits of open communication and free discourse.

“Unfortunately, it’s not easy to craft laws or policies that will address those harms without inviting government or corporate censorship and invasions of privacy—including the privacy and free speech of targets of harassment,” writes the EFF. “[But] there are ways to craft effective responses, rooted in the core ideals upon which the Internet was built, to protect the targets of harassment and their rights.”

The (long) post goes on to lay out exactly what the EFF means by harassment — defined as “[what] happens when Internet users attract the attention of the wrong group or individual.” Escalating levels of harassment, from inundating a target with horrific violent or sexual imagery all the way up to death threats, is frequently used to silence women, minorities and members of any other disadvantaged population, which makes it run counter to the whole “equality of speech” thing the Internet is supposed to be all about.

“The sad irony is that online harassers misuse the fundamental strength of the Internet as a powerful communication medium to magnify and coordinate their actions and effectively silence and intimidate others,” the EFF wrote.

The EFF’s primary answer — in addition to better, more specific and more fairly-enforced laws — is to give users more control. The nonprofit group’s advice ranges from helping communities to better police their own social streams, collectively, rather than let each individual monitor their own, all the way up to opening more APIs for citizen developers to build their own anti-harassment tools.

 

 

Hackers Divulge Swiss Bank’s Confidential Emails

January 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A hacker claiming to be responsible for a cyber attack on Banque Cantonale de Geneve on Friday published confidential client information after the Swiss bank failed to meet demands for payment.

In the latest case of a breach of customer information at a financial firm, an anonymous person or group using the Twitter moniker Rex Mundi said it had hacked the Genevan cantonal (state) bank’s servers and downloaded more than 30,000 emails by Swiss and foreign clients.

Hours after the hacker’s 1700 GMT (12 noon EST) ultimatum expired, the bank issued a statement saying that the intercepted material had been published, but added that it represented “no particular financial risk for clients or the bank”.

“At first analysis, this information is hardly critical, is obsolete or corresponds to foreseen contents about which it has already informed a significant number of clients concerned.”

BCGE spokeswoman Hélène De Vos Vuadens said that at this stage it appeared that all of the 30,000 mails which the hackers claimed to have intercepted had been published, including some affecting foreign clients.

She said that all the information was from clients’ inquiries over the Internet and did not involve their accounts, which require several passwords or codes to access.

The hacker had earlier posted names, addresses and messages to the bank from two people it said were BCGE clients, and said the remainder of the data it had stolen would be make public later on Friday if it was not paid 10,000 euros ($11,779).

“We chose not to give in to blackmail and chose instead the path of transparency,” the bank’s spokeswoman said.

 

 

WhatsApp Announces That It Has More Than 700M Users Now

January 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Mobile messaging platform WhatsApp has amassed more than 700 million monthly active users and appears to be on track to reach 1 billion in about a year, a target Facebook set when it acquired the company in 2014.

The announcement comes about 11 months after Facebook acquired the app for $16 billion, a move that reflected the importance that Facebook places on mobile users.

The latest WhatsApp milestone is significant because it also highlights the recent rise of messaging apps as a more popular and economical option than SMS text messaging, which has suffered declines of nearly 5% in countries such as the U.K. In France operators saw SMS traffic on Jan. 1 decline by 10% to 20% compared to last year, while the use of MMS, messaging apps and other data traffic rose, according to local media.

“We’re thrilled to share that WhatsApp has more than 700 million monthly active users,” CEO and co-founder Jan Koum wrote in a post on Facebook. “Additionally, every day our users now send over 30 billion messages.”

Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp received European regulatory approval in October following a U.S. nod in April. At its close, the deal was worth about $21.8 billion due to Facebook stock gains.

When the acquisition was announced in February 2014, WhatsApp had over 450 million monthly users, 70% of whom accessed the app on a daily basis.

WhatsApp has been steadily growing by about 25 million users per month. Itannounced April 22 that it had passed the half-billion mark, with new users in countries including Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia. In December 2013 it had 400 million users.

WhatsApp’s growth pace suggests it will reach 1 billion about a year from now, in December or January. When the acquisition was announced, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed hopes that WhatsApp would hit that threshold.

 

 

Mega To Launch Anti-spying Chat Service

December 31, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Kim Dotcom, founder of the file-hosting service Mega, is gearing up to roll out an encrypted video-calling and chat service that will protect its users’ communications from government surveillance.

“Mega will soon release a fully encrypted and browser-based video call and chat service including high-speed file transfers,” the entrepreneur known as Kim Dotcom said in a tweet.

Kim Dotcom is positioning the service as a more secure way to chat and collaborate online free of government surveillance or spying, partly by virtue of Mega being based in New Zealand. Kim Dotcom has been teasing the app for some time, though now it appears nearly ready for prime time.

“No U.S.-based online service provider can be trusted with your data,” Kim Dotcom said in a separate tweet. “They must provide the U.S. government with backdoors,” he said.

Documents leaked last year by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have indicated that the governments in the U.S. and in the U.K. have accessed user data from online service providers.

Kim Dotcom did not give a precise launch date for the new service. MegaChat appears to be its name, judging from an earlier demo. He did not respond to a request for further comment.

Kim Dotcom made a point of singling out Microsoft-owned Skype as a less secure competitive service. But Skype does use encryption for all Skype-to-Skype voice, video, file transfers and instant messages.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp also added end-to-end encryption late this year. It’s part of a larger trend of companies seeking to better protect their users’ messages from outside snooping, either by the government or by malicious groups.

But encryption and other added security measures can also make companies a compelling target for snooping. Tor, TrueCrypt and Tails topped the NSA’s cryptographic “most wanted” list of 2012, according to documents leaked by Snowden.

 

 

Oracle Agrees To Acquire Datalogix

December 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

On Monday, Oracle agreed to purchase Datalogix for an undisclosed sum, saying that together the companies will provide marketers with a richer understanding of what consumers do, say and buy, allowing them to measure the effectiveness of their different campaigns and advertising channels.

Oracle plans to link the Datalogix service, which provides the spending data to customers through a cloud-based tool, to its other cloud-based services via Oracle Identity Graph. This, it said, will allow it to connect consumer identities to build better profiles that can be used to personalize online and mobile services — and even to target them offline and via the TV.

It made no commitment to maintain the existing Datalogix product roadmap, saying that it was still reviewing its plans. The companies set no timeline for completing the deal, which they said must meet customary closing conditions including obtaining regulatory approval.

 

 

Google Looking For Partner To Build Self-driving Cars

December 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

After nearly 3 years, Google is still searching for partners in the auto industry to help it build self-driving cars.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed to Computerworld that company executives don’t want Google, known for its search service, the Android platform and Maps, to get into the car-making business.

While it has been working on the software to run a self-driving car, Google is still seeking a partner to put that vision into cars that can be put on the market.

That news comes the same day that Google unveiled the first build of its self-driving vehicle prototype.

In a Google+ post, the company noted that it will be trying out the prototypes on a test track over the next few weeks. The goal is to have autonomous prototypes driving around northern California in 2015.

“We’ve been working on different prototypes-of-prototypes, each designed to test different systems of a self-driving car — for example, the typical “car” parts like steering and braking, as well as the “self-driving” parts like the computer and sensors,” Google explained in the post. “We’ve now put all those systems together in this fully functional vehicle — our first complete prototype for fully autonomous driving.”

The post added that Google’s cars will have manual controls for drivers “for a while longer.” The question of whether drivers will be able to override the vehicles’ controls long-term remains open, however.

The spokeswoman would not say if Google is talking only with U.S. auto makers or if it is looking worldwide. She also would not say if the company is still negotiating with auto makers or if it has any signed deals in place.

“We don’t particularly want to become a car maker,” Chris Urmson, director of Google’s autonomous car project, recently told The Wall Street Journal. “We are talking [with] and looking for partners.”

 

 

 

Tor Believes A Network Disruption Is Coming Soon

December 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The Tor project said it could face attempts to disrupt its network in the next few days through the seizure of specialized servers.

The project did not name the group or agency that may try to seize its directory authorities, which guide Tor users on the list of distributed relays on the network that bounce communications around.

“We are taking steps now to ensure the safety of our users, and our system is already built to be redundant so that users maintain anonymity even if the network is attacked. Tor remains safe to use,” wrote “arma” in a post Friday on the Tor project blog. The “arma” developer handle is generally associated with project leader Roger Dingledine.

Rather than take a direct route from source to destination, data packets on the Tor network, designed to mask people’s Internet use, take a random path through several relays that cover user tracks.

Unless an adversary can control a majority of the directory authorities, he can’t trick the Tor client into using other Tor relays, according to the Tor project website. There are nine directory authorities spread across the U.S. and Europe, according to arma.

The project promised to update the blog and its Twitter account with new information.

Users who live under repressive regimes look to Tor as a way to escape surveillance and censorship. But the network has also been used by illegal websites including online sellers of drugs, like the underground drug market Silk Road. A second version of the market, Silk Road 2.0,was launched a few weeks after the first was seized by law enforcement in October 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Millions use the Tor network at their local Internet cafe to stay safe for ordinary Web browsing, as also banks, diplomatic officials, members of law enforcement, bloggers and others, according to the Tor project.

 

 

Study Finds Android Apps Frequently Using Permissions Granted

December 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Android apps really take advantage of those permissions they ask for to access users’ personal information: one online store records a phone’s location up to 10 times a minute, French researchers have found. The tools to manage such access are limited, and inadequate given how much information phones can gather.

In a recent study, ten volunteers used Android phones that tracked app behavior using a monitoring app, Mobilitics, developed by the French National Institute for Informatics Research (INRIA) in conjunction with the National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL). Mobilitics recorded every time another app accessed an item of personal data — the phone’s location, an identifier, photos, messages and so on — and whether it was subsequently transmitted to an external server. The log of the apps’ personal information use was stored on the phone and downloaded at the end of the three months for analysis.

The volunteers were encouraged to use the phones as if they were their own, and together used 121 apps over the period from July to September. A similar study last year used a special iOS app to examine the way iPhone apps access users’ personal data.

Many apps access phones’ identifying characteristics to track their users, the researchers said. One of the few options users have to avoid this tracking is a switch in the “Google Settings” app to reset their phone’s advertising ID. That’s not much help, though, as apps have other ways to identify users. Almost two-thirds of apps studied in the three-month real-world test accessed at least one mobile phone identifier, a quarter of them at least two identifiers, and a sixth three or more. That allows the apps to build up profiles of their users for advertising purposes.

Location was one of the most frequently-accessed items of data. It accounted for 30 percent of all accesses to personal information during the test, and 30 percent of the apps studied accessed it at some point. The Facebook app recorded one volunteer’s location 150,000 times during the three-month period — more than once per minute, on average, while the Google Play Store tracked another user ten times per minute at times. Often, the only use apps make of such information is to serve personalized advertising, as was the case with one game that recorded a user’s location 3,000 times during the study.

 

 

Facebook Drops Bing From Search Results

December 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Facebook Inc has discontinued including results from Microsoft Corp’s Bing search engine on its social networking site.

The move, confirmed by a company spokesperson, comes as Facebook has revamped its own search offerings, introducing a tool on Monday that allows users to quickly find past comments and other information posted by their friends on Facebook.

The decision may reflect the increasing importance that Facebook sees in Web search technology, a market dominated by rival Google Inc.

Searches on Facebook have long been geared toward helping users connect with friends and to find other information that exists within the walls of the 1.35 billion-user social networking service. But for years, Facebook’s search results also included links to standalone websites that were provided by Bing.

“We’re not currently showing web search results in Facebook Search because we’re focused on helping people find what’s been shared with them on Facebook,” a company spokesperson told Reuters. “We continue to have a great partnership with Microsoft in lots of different areas.”

Microsoft was not immediately available for comment.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has flagged search as one of the company’s key growth initiatives, noting in July that there were more than 1 billion search queries occurring on Facebook every day and hinting that the vast amount of information that users share within Facebook could eventually replace the need to search the Web for answers to certain questions.

“There is more than a trillion posts, which some of the search engineers on the team like to remind me, is bigger than any Web search corpus out there,” Zuckerberg said on a conference call with analysts in July.

Microsoft’s Bing is the No.2 Web search provider in the U.S., with a nearly 20 percent share of the market according to industry research firm comScore.

Facebook and Microsoft have a longstanding relationship dating back to Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook, for a 1.6 percent stake in the company, in October 2007. As part of that deal, Microsoft provided banner ads on Facebook’s website in international markets.