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Sony Wants To Capitalize On The ‘Selfie’ Boom

July 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Sony Corp said that it has plans to invest 35 billion yen ($345 million) to increase production of image sensors for smartphones and tablets, as the company courts handset makers to get more orders for front-facing camera sensors, used to take selfies.

The Japanese firm said it will increase production of stacked CMOS sensors at two factories on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, while completing work on a factory in northwestern Japan it bought from Renesas Electronics Corp for a total investment of 35 billion yen.

Sony, which currently supplies image sensors for the main camera in Apple Inc’s iPhone said the investment will allow it to raise production by 13 percent to 68,000 wafers a month by August 2015, a step closer to its mid-term goal of 75,000.

Imaging sensors are an area of strength for Sony, which leads the market ahead of Omnivision Technologies Inc, whose sensors are mostly used in front-facing smartphone modules that typically have lower specifications than the main rear camera.

Sony told Reuters in March that it was looking to supply more sensors for front-facing cameras as smartphone makers were looking to improve their quality in response to consumers taking more ‘selfies’, or self-portraits, as well as video calls.

Of the total investment, 9 billion yen will be spent this year, which will come out of the 65 billion yen capex budget for semiconductors announced in May. The remaining 26 billion yen will be spent in the first half of the fiscal year starting next March.

 

Twitter Pressed To Release Diversity Data

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is urging Twitter to release its employee diversity information, which its Silicon Valley peers such as Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook have already done.

The Rainbow Push Coalition, founded by Jackson, has also asked Twitter to signal its commitment to inclusion by hosting a public community forum to address the company’s plan to recruit and retain more African American talent.

The coalition and black empowerment group, ColorOfChange.org, plans to launch a Twitter-based campaign to challenge the company, the coalition said in a statement late last week.

On Friday at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit, ColorofChange will lead a “Black Twitter” plenary session where activists will push out the petition campaign over Twitter and other social media.

Tech companies have been under pressure to release employee diversity data since Jackson took up the campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of African-Americans in Silicon Valley companies, starting with a delegation to Hewlett-Packard’s annual meeting of shareholders.

“….Twitter has remained silent, resisting and refusing to publicly disclose its EEO-1 workforce diversity/inclusion data,” according to the joint petition by the coalition and ColorOfChange.org.

The diversity reports are typically filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and companies are not required to make the information public.

Twitter has not commented on the matter.

 

 

China’s Rush To The Internet Is Slowing

July 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

China’s once furious pace to get on the Internet is slowing, with the country adding only 14.4 million new Internet users in the first half of 2014, the lowest half-year growth in eight years.

There were 632 million Internet users in China in June, according to the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

Although China has long reigned as the country with the world’s largest Internet population, the services are still struggling to take off in the rural areas, where about 450 million people never go online, said the CNNIC in its bi-annual report.

Total Internet penetration in China is at 46.9 percent. This is far lower than the U.S, which has a penetration rate of 87 percent, according to Internet World Stats.

Many of these non-Internet users in China have low education levels, and have little need to surf the Web, the research group added. To increase adoption, the CNNIC recommended that the country focus on teaching rural elementary students Internet skills.

The slowing growth in Internet usage in China follows a rapid rise in the Internet population there, from just 94 million over a decade ago. Most of the growth has taken place in the country’s urban areas, where the Internet market has begun to mature.

In June, China had 527 million users who went online with mobile phones, which have now overtaken PCs, including both notebooks and desktops, as the most popular way to reach the Internet, the CNNIC said.

Online messaging, search engines, and news are the country’s top Internet services. But social networking sites are facing a decline in popularity, with their user numbers falling by 7.4 percent to 257 million in the last six months. The sites are struggling to innovate, and meet the demands of users, CNNIC said in its report.

 

Google’s Growth Will Be In A Shift To Mobile

July 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc  is the more properly positioned than any company to benefit from the shift to mobile, increased local advertising and wearables, analysts said after the search giant posted its 18th straight quarter of 20 percent-plus revenue growth.

At least eight brokerages raised their price targets on the stock on Friday by as much as $75, to a high of $745.

The company, which is also set to benefit from the so-called “internet of things”, said that second-quarter revenue rose 22 percent to $15.96 billion, beating the average analyst estimate of $15.61 billion.

Growth was driven by the company’s core search business, YouTube and product-listing ads, which combined to drive three times as much mobile traffic for merchants compared with last year, Jefferies analysts wrote in a note.

Brokerage Jefferies maintained its “buy” rating and $700 price target on the stock.

Of the 46 analysts covering Google, 36 have a “buy” or a higher rating on the stock and 10 have a “hold”. There are no “sell” ratings, according to StarMine data.

Google earns most of its revenue from advertising.

The number of “paid clicks” by consumers on ads serviced by Google increased 25 percent year-on-year in the quarter.

However, the average price of the ads declined 6 percent as ad rates on mobile phones are typically cheaper than traditional online ads because of their smaller screens.

“Google is successfully transitioning its business from PC to mobile, and is arguably in a more favorable position in mobile than it was in PC, which should eventually be reflected in a higher multiple,” Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler wrote in a client note.

Google also owns Android, the world’s most-used mobile software, and YouTube, the most popular video-streaming service.

Other online companies such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc  are also revamping their advertising businesses to take advantage of the shift to mobile devices.

But Google has established unusually deep competitive “moats” around its business through scale, aggressive product innovation and substantial investment, RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in a research note.

Google’s capital investment budget has topped $17 billion over the past five years, and the company has spent about $13 billion on research, according to analysts.

The company is also spending big to push into new markets with innovations such as wearable computers, ultra high-speed internet access and home automation – the “internet of things.”

 

 

Google Ends Real-name Requirement For Google+

July 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google+ may attract some new — and certainly anonymous — users after Google announced it was abolishing its real-names policy for the profiles in the service.

Since its introduction, Google’s social network has required that people use their real names in Google+ profiles, as part of an effort to help other people find them through the service.

“You need to provide both your first and last name for your Google+ profile,” the guidelines said. One could be an initial, but not both.

While that may have been a good idea for some, Google conceded Tuesday that it has also excluded people who don’t want to use their real name.

Google’s policy of trying to tie YouTube users’ accounts to their Google+ accounts has also sparked criticism among people who want to leave YouTube comments, or otherwise use the service, more anonymously.

For those reasons and others, Google said Tuesday that on Google+ there were no longer restrictions on the names people could use.

“We know you’ve been calling for this change for a while,” the company said in a blog post. The names policy has led to “unnecessarily difficult experiences” for some users, Google said, adding, “for this we apologize.”

In online comments on the Google+ page, people applauded the change. Others said it was too little, too late, or questioned whether it would lead to more spamming or cyberbullying behind the cloak of a fake name.

“Translation: It’s safe to come out and play again comment trolls,” one person wrote.

To clean up YouTube comments, Google overhauled the commenting system last year, to push “better quality” comments higher up. But shortly after making the changes, Google reported an increase in spam.

 

Will Germany Regulate Google?

July 16, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

German officials are planning to clip the wings of technology giants such as Google through heavier regulation.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the country’s Federal Cartel Office would be given powers to curtail Google’s influence, were it decided that it had got too big for its boots.

A document obtained by the newspaper says that under the new rules, technology companies would be treated and regulated like utilities such as electricity and water and subject to the same anti-competitive pricing laws governing their advertising.

Proposals to legislate the internet as a utility are at the heart of the debate that’s under way in the US right now, where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is coming under increasing pressure to classify ISPs as “Title II” utilities in order to protect net neutrality.

In Europe, a commitment to net neutrality is already in place, and any German legislation would only serve to further solidify the country’s commitment to avoiding technology strangleholds.

Full details of the 30-page document are yet to be released, with varying reports of its potential impact, ranging from “last resort” to “all out regulation”.

The German government has always been militant in matters of data protection. In 2013, it warned consumers against using Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system due to perceived security risks, suggesting that it provided a back door for the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Of course, this might have had something to do with the fact that German chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the first high-profile victims of NSA surveillance, with some reports saying that the NSA hacked her mobile phone for over a decade.

Courtesy-TheInq

British Watchdog Investigates Facebook Over Emotions Study

July 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The British data watchdog is looking into whether Facebook Inc violated data-protection laws when it gave permission to researchers to conduct a psychological experiment on its users.

A Facebook spokesman acknowledged that the experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users in 2012 had upset users and said the company would change the way it handled research in future.

The study, to find if Facebook could alter the emotional state of users and prompt them to post either more positive or negative content, has caused a furor on social media, including Facebook itself.

“We’re aware of this issue and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances,” the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) spokesman Greg Jones said in an email.

Jones said it was too early to tell exactly what part of the law Facebook may have infringed. The company’s European headquarters is in Ireland.

The Commissioner’s Office monitors how personal data is used and has the power to force organizations to change their policies and can levy fines of up to 500,000 pounds ($839,500).

Facebook said it would work with regulators and was changing the way it handled such cases.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it,” Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld said in an email.

“The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”

 

Get Ready For More Ads On Twitter

July 2, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Get ready to see  see more ads on your Twitter feed that link to mobile apps in the Apple and Google stores.

After a test period, Twitter said that it was globally deploying its “mobile app installs” program, which allows companies to promote their mobile apps in users’ feeds.

Twitter began testing the program with a limited number of advertisers in the U.S. in April — tests that the company says went well. Participants in that program included mobile ride-hailing service Lyft and games publisher Electronic Arts.

The program lets companies publish links to download mobile apps. These ads are meant to appear like regular posts in users’ feeds.

Mobile app ads have become very successful for Facebook, helping to drive the download of roughly 60 percent of the top-grossing apps in Apple’s App Store, according to Facebook.

Twitter, for its part, is looking to better monetize its service amid sagging user growth. The company has yet to turn a profit.

Twitter already lets advertisers target their ads by users’ interests, keywords, favorite TV programs, language and other criteria.

Advertisers promoting their mobile apps will be able to leverage those capabilities too, Twitter said.

 

 

Is Microsoft Word Vulnerable TO Spearphishing Attacks?

July 2, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Cisco has discovered spearphishing malware in Microsoft Word that uses an exploit targeting the software’s Visual Basic Scripting for Applications feature.

Cisco’s investigation into the malware identified a group of attacks by the same threat actor, with Cisco exposing the threat actor’s network after it had discovered a Microsoft Word document that downloaded and executed a secondary sample, which began beaconing to a command and control server.

“While basic, the Office Macro attack vector is obviously still working quite effectively,” Cisco technical lead Craig Williams said in a blog post. “When the victim opens the Word document, an On-Open macro fires, which results in downloading an executable and launching it on the victim’s machine.”

Williams said that this threat actor seemed to target high-profile, rich industries such as banking, oil, television and jewellery companies and victims of the attacks were duped into opening an email attachment in the form of an invoice, written specifically for the recipient.

“The message [was] a fairly simple phish email which includes a fake name and an attached Microsoft Word document. However, this was simply the outer layer of the onion so it’s best, we think, to start from the beginning,” Williams said.

“This particular phishing attempt was noticed in Cisco’s email corpus due to the email attachment’s poor block rates at most antivirus engines.”

“For the duration of this campaign there is one thing that remained consistent: at best, a few antivirus engines may have generically detected the attached malware but more often than not coverage was provided by a single vendor, or no coverage was provided at all.”

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Aereo’s Future Uncertain After Supreme Court Defeat

July 1, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Following last Wednesday’s adverse Supreme Court decision, Aereo will halt its online service, which lets its subscribers watch “over the air” broadcast television via the Web.

“We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps. All of our users will be refunded their last paid month,” wrote CEO Chet Kanojia in a letter to customers posted on Aereo’s home page.

Kanojia, who advised customers with questions to contact the company via email at support@aereo.com or via its @AereoSupport Twitter account, also encouraged them to stay involved with the company’s legal fight on the website ProtectMyAntenna.org. “Our journey is far from done,” he wrote.

Aereo rebroadcasts over-the-air television through antenna farms, but the Supreme Court ruled that the web-based video streaming service violates the copyrights of TV networks and sent the case back to the lower courts.

Aereo infringes on the performance right section of copyright law because it sells subscribers a service that lets them watch TV programs over the Internet at “about the same time” they’re broadcast over the air, wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the 6-3 majority.

Aereo, which was sued for copyright infringement by ABC, CBS and other broadcast TV networks, argued that it rents each subscriber an antenna and a DVR service, and that they individually choose which programs to watch. Unlike cable and satellite TV services, which pay royalties to some networks, Aereo does not give thousands of people access to the same TV show at the same time, Aereo had argued.

The Supreme Court reversed an April 2013 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which had determined that the Aereo service was legal because the company uses several legal technologies, including mini TV antennas, DVRs and a Slingbox-like streaming service.

In his letter, Kanojia called the Supreme Court’s decision “a massive setback for consumers.”

“The spectrum that the broadcasters use to transmit over the air programming belongs to the American public and we believe you should have a right to access that live programming whether your antenna sits on the roof of your home, on top of your television or in the cloud,” he wrote.

 

Google Wants Closer Relationship Between Chromebooks, Android Devices

June 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Chromebooks will soon be capable of receiving notifications and running applications from Android smartphones and tablets.

Google is working on bridging the gap Chromebook laptops and Android mobile devices, making app and data exchange seamless, said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, during a speech at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco.

Users will be able to run Android applications such as Vine, Evernote and Flipboard on mobile devices or Chromebooks, Pichai said. In an on-stage demonstration, the applications were transferred from a smartphone to Chromebook.

“We’ve been working on this project for a while,” Pichai said. “We want this to be intuitive for users.”

Other demonstrations highlighted how the Chromebook was linked to Android smartphones. A Chromebook showed notifications about an incoming call and text message on a smartphone, and also showed an alert that the smartphone battery was low. This is similar to how smartwatches display notifications and music playlists from Android smartphones.

Chromebooks are primarily aimed at users who do most of their computing on the Web. A handful of smartphone-like features such as Google Now have been added to the Chromebook, whose users are also able to download movies from Google Play to watch offline.

Chromebooks have larger screens than Android mobile devices and one challenge is to port touchscreen mobile applications to Chromebooks for use with mice and keyboards, Pichai said.

Developers may have to modify code to work on different screen sizes and input mechanisms. Google hopes to make it easier for developers to change code so the applications can be adapted for Android and Chrome interfaces, Pichai said.

The feature updates will be delivered to Chromebooks later this year, Pichai said.

The Android and Chrome OSes are based on Linux, but are built as different operating systems. Google will continue to make adjustments to the OSes so mobile devices and PCs can connect and work seamlessly, Pichai said.

“We are investing a lot more in this area,” Pichai said.

 

 

YouTube To Debut Weekly Radio Show On Sirius

June 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

YouTube is making a foray into radio with a weekly show on satellite radio service Sirius XM that will feature the online video website’s most popular and emerging artists, the companies said on Thursday.

The show called The YouTube 15 will be hosted by Jenna Marbles, one of YouTube’s most popular stars whose videos on how to talk to your dog and other snippets from her life drew more than 13 million subscribers to her channel.

YouTube’s radio show will debut July 11 on the SiriusXM Hits 1 channel, which plays pop, R&B, rock and hip-hop.

It is the first time YouTube, owned by Google Inc, has partnered with another platform on a show about music.

The show is aimed at exposing listeners to a curated selection from the vast library of YouTube music videos, said Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer for SiriusXM.

The selection of songs will reflect “what’s trending and very popular” to familiarize listeners with top hits on YouTube, he said. “Equally importantly, you are going to hear new and emerging music that many people for sure will not have heard.”

 

 

Police Increasingly Turning To Mobile Spyware For Monitoring

June 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Governments are increasingly relying on malware for mobile devices to spy targets, raising questions over the possible misuse of such tools, a new study suggests.

The Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, and Kaspersky Lab both published analyses of a surveillance product called Remote Control System (RCS) from Hacking Team in Italy.

Hacking Team is one of a handful of companies, including the Gamma Group, specializing in what are essentially malicious software programs designed to intercept data but intended for governments and law enforcement.

The Citizen Lab has long expressed concern in other published research over the use of the tools by governments, which it has concluded have been employed to suppress speech and monitor political opponents in the past.

Over time, the cost of the spying toolkits has fallen and they are now within reach of nearly all governments, the Citizen Lab said in its writeup.

“By dramatically lowering the entry cost on invasive and hard-to-trace monitoring, the equipment lowers the cost of targeting political threats for those with access to Hacking Team and Gamma Group toolkits,” the group wrote.

The latest research looks into the exploitation techniques for an Android component of RCS and the command-and-control infrastructure behind it.

The Citizen Lab identified a suspicious Android APK (application installation package) that was a functional copy of the news application “Qatif Today” intended for people in Saudi Arabia. A version of it had been modified to also deliver a payload created by Hacking Team.

A link to what appeared to the malicious APK was tweeted, which led to a Dropbox file that is now gone, The Citizen Lab wrote. If installed, the Hacking Team module requests permissions such as reading and writing SMSes, monitoring GPS location and the ability to process calls.

The Citizen Lab found other Android Hacking Team Android implants that tried to access local stores of chats in applications such as Facebook, Viber, Skype, Line and QQ.

A source leaked to The Citizen Lab a group of documents that describes how the RCS works, giving the research group broad insight into how tracking targets works. The group cautioned the documents have not been verified, but the information did not contradict its own RCS research.

Kaspersky Lab wrote on its blog that it uncovered “a huge infrastructure that is used to control the RCS malware implants.”

Kaspersky scanned the entire IPV4 Internet address space, using a special “fingerprinting” method it developed that can identify RCS command-and-control servers.

It found 64 RCS command-and-control servers in the U.S., the most of any country, followed by 49 in Kazakhstan, 35 in Ecuador and 24 in the U.K. Other countries with double-digit numbers of control servers included Canada, China and Colombia.

 

2GB RAM Upgrade Coming For New Google Glass Explorers

June 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Google will soon roll out an upgraded version of Google Glass with 2GB of RAM, angering early participants of its Glass Explorer Program stuck with the older model.

Google Glass currently comes with 1GB of RAM, but to improve performance Google will begin shipping a new version with 2GB of RAM, it said in a post to Google Plus.

The announcement angered some existing Glass owners. Some demanded a free upgrade to the 2GB version in comments on the posting. Others said they would be willing to pay a small fee for an upgrade, while one acknowledged that if further hardware updates were planned, it wouldn’t make sense for Google to upgrade all users each time. “Getting a final consumer version would be swell though,” he added.

Google does not plan to upgrade existing users’ devices, it said.

“Throughout our open beta program, you can expect to see us make changes here and there. We won’t be swapping devices, but you’ll continue to see improvements with our software updates,” a Google representative said in a comment on the posting.

The company does replace broken or defective Google Glass devices, however, prompting Google Plus user Jake Weisz to identify a loophole in the no-upgrades policy. “If defective Glass units get free upgrades to 2GB, you will see a lot of ‘defective’ models this month,” he wrote.

In May, Google broadened its Explorer Program, making Glass available in the U.S. to anyone over 18 years old for $1,500. Before that, users who wanted to buy Glass required an invitation from Google. On Monday it extended the offer to U.K. residents over 18, who can purchase Glass for $1,700.

Google is upgrading the Glass software as well as the hardware. It is adding an easier way to frame shots for photos, with the addition of L-shaped corners bracketing the image in the viewfinder screen, and adding two new Google Now cards, one to remind users where they parked their car and another to let them know when packages are arriving.

The company also announced 12 new Glassware apps from partners, including Shazam, a music recognition app that can be triggered with the words “OK Glass, recognize this song,” and 94Fifty Basketball, a training aid that works with a sensor-equipped basketball to offer feedback after each shot.

 

New Software Aims To Simplify Websites Privacy Policies

June 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Have you ever tried to decipher a website’s privacy policy only to give up after reading through paragraphs of dense, legalise? Privacy-focused companies Disconnect and TRUSTe have released a new browser add-on that attempts to translate those policies into easy-to-understand terms.

The companies’ Privacy Icons software, unveiled on Monday for a pay-what-you-want fee, analyzes websites’ privacy policies, breaking them down into nine categories, including location tracking, do-not-track browser request compliance and data retention policies.

The software then displays, as a browser add-on, nine color-coded icons, with green, yellow and red icons signifying the level of concern about the website’s privacy policy in each area.

More transparency on privacy policies is needed, said Casey Oppenheim, co-CEO at Disconnect, which also makes software that blocks online tracking requests. The average website privacy policy averages more than 2,400 words, takes 10 minutes to read and is written at a university-student reading level, according to the TRUSTe Privacy Index.

“The end goal is to help individuals regain control of their personal information online,” he said. “As a means to that end, we definitely hope that this project will inspire companies to improve their data practices and compete, even more, on the basis of privacy and security.”

The software, available now for recent versions of Chrome, Firefox and Opera and with versions for Internet Explorer, Safari, and mobile browsers available soon, attempts to simplify website privacy policies.

“In the case of the Privacy Icons we hope to make data practices more transparent, so that people can make more informed choices when it comes to visiting websites and using services,” Oppenheim said. “If a person feels comfortable sharing all their information with a certain site after seeing it has all red icons, that’s better than the alternative, which is sharing all their information without any understanding that’s happening.”

While more transparency may be good news for Web users concerned about privacy, the bad news is that many of the Web’s top destinations get some red marks from Privacy Icons.

Google.com, the world’s most-visited website, according to Alexa’s February rankings, received red marks in the data retention category, for no stated policy on when it deletes user data, and in the precise location category, for tracking users’ geolocation.