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Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was developing a work-focused version of its social networking tools to try and convert its consumer success into a new stream of revenue from businesses.

On Friday, the company continued that push by quietly launching its new Work Chat app for Android, which lets users message workmates using an interface that’s almost identical to Facebook Messenger. Users can send messages to individuals or groups of co-workers, and include cute stickers to punctuate their point.

Work Chat also lets users place voice calls to colleagues in their network. As with Messenger, those calls use Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection rather than the telephone network, but it should connect coworkers without requiring them to use a shared telephone directory or make international calls.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store, but people can only log into it if they have a Facebook at Work account. The only way to have one of those is to work for a company that Facebook has allowed into the private testing of its new enterprise-focused tools. According to an article from TechCrunch, 300 companies are testing the enterprise social network, and the company plans to launch it officially by the beginning of next year.

Facebook at Work will be a major entry by the social networking company into the crowded space of business collaboration. It’s going head-to-head with established players like Microsoft’s Yammer and upstarts like Slack.



Google+ Re-designed and Re-focused

November 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google  hasn’t given up on running a social network. The company gave Google+ a redesign focused on people getting together around shared interests.

When Google+ launched in 2011, it was designed as a competitor to Facebook, focused on connecting people with their friends through a series of “circles.” That proved unsuccessful, but people started using the service to discuss things that they’re passionate about, like books and astronomy. Google has built its new design around promoting both its Community groups and its Collections of user-curated posts about specific interests.

Users can opt into the new design (which appears to be rolling out gradually) by signing into the service on the Web and responding when they get a prompt that offers it. Luke Wroblewski, a product director at Google, said in a post to the social network that Google+ apps for iOS and Android will be out in the near future.

The redesign doesn’t have all the features of the old Google+, so people who rely on things like Events will have to stay on the old design (which they can flip back to with the press of a button). It’s not clear whether Google will bring all of the social network’s functionality forward into the new design, but Wroblewski said the company isn’t done developing the product.

All of this comes as Google has been demoting the social network from its previous place at the center of the company’s products. Earlier this year, it brought cloud-based photo editing and storage capabilities that previously were tied to Google+ into Google Photos, a standalone service. Hangouts, the chat system that used to be tied to Google+, now has its own website.



Facebook To Widen Safety Check Tool Feature

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s Safety Check tool to alert friends and family about their safety was activated for the first time after the terror attack in Paris on Friday, with a large number of users reporting they had benefited from it.

But that move drew widespread criticism online that the company had been partial, as it had not activated the feature in other locations recently hit in terror attacks, notably the twin attacks in Beirut on Thursday.

The social networking company was also criticized for releasing a photo filter that allowed users to show support for the people of Paris using the colors of the French flag on their profile pictures, with some people online charging the company with double standards for not releasing similar filters for the terror attacks in Beirut and other locations. One user, Hubert Southall, offered to design filters for users, saying that Facebook “needs to include all affected nations.”

Facebook’s current travails highlight the minefields a global company can encounter as it tries to accommodate sensitivities across the countries it operates in, where users’ priorities can be different and there is often the tendency for certain groups to feel they are not important enough for a giant multinational.

In the wake of the controversy over the activation of Safety Check in Paris, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg assured its users that the tool would be turned on more frequently in the future during human disasters. “Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page.

The Safety Check tool asks users believed to be in the location of an emergency if they are safe and lets them inform their friends by clicking a button. People also can check in on users who they believe are in the emergency area. The tool was first used in a “very early version” in Tokyo during the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster and later after recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal as well as Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific and Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines.



Facebook Tests Disappearing Messages Feature

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has confirmed that it is conducting a small test of a Snapchat-like feature, enabling users to send messages that will automatically disappear.

“We’re excited to announce the latest in an engaging line of optional product features geared towards making Messenger the best way to communicate with the people that matter most,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. “Starting today, we’re conducting a small test in France of a feature that allows people to send messages that disappear an hour after they’re sent. Disappearing messages gives people another fun option to choose from when they communicate on Messenger.”

This should sound familiar to Snapchat users who are accustomed to their messages disappearing shortly after they’re sent.

Users can turn the Facebook feature on by tapping an hourglass icon in the upper right corner of the Messenger screen. Tap the hourglass again to turn it off.

Facebook is testing disappearing messages for iOS and Android users in France only. While the feature may be available in more countries over time, Facebook didn’t have any current plans to share.

This may be a good defensive move for the social network.

Facebook has been struggling to retain, or even attract, younger users who are being lured away by apps like Instagram and Snapchat.

To deal with this problem, Facebook tried to buy Snapchat for a reported $3 billion in late 2013. The offer was turned down, though.

Then in early 2014, Facebook tried to go after Snapchat’s users by unveiling a new mobile app called Slingshot. The app was designed to enable users to instantly share photos and videos with multiple friends.

Now that Facebook is taking a different tack, the question is whether it can steal away Snapchat’s user base.






Will The xCodeGhost Malware Wreak Havoc On IOS Devices

November 13, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

A security firm has released a list of ongoing and incoming threats that cover a range of things from Apple’s iOS to the Internet of Things (IoT).

In its third report this year, Quick Heal warns that Apple users in particular better brace themselves for impact as more and more malware writers who’ve earned their stripes targeting Android users turn their attention to iOS.

“As the number of iPhone owners rises across the world, iOS has become a new potential target for Android malware authors and hackers. It is expected that Android malware will soon be altered to attack iOS users as well, and jailbroken iOS devices will be the first wave of targets for these attacks,” explained the firm (PDF).

“Recently, the ‘XcodeGhost’ malware was found on the Apple App Store and this is just the beginning of such attacks.”

In a section on wearables, Quick Heal predicts hackers will increasingly target fitness trackers, something that other security researchers have already warned about.

A lot of space in the report is reserved for Android-flavoured threats, and users are offered advice on protecting themselves such as if there is an option to use a password over a touch sign-in, then you ought to take it.

“A group of researchers have discovered a serious security flaw in the Android Lollipop version running on devices right now. This flaw allows attackers to bypass the lockscreen of an Android smartphone by using a massive password and thereby exposing the homescreen,” it explains.

“The attack essentially works by opening the in-built camera application and afflicts people using a password to protect their Android device and lock their screen.”

The most significant Android threat is a rascal called Android.Airpush.G, which claims 30 percent of the bug pool and is the kind of adware thing that makes you want to take a hammer to your phone screen. The second most prominent issue is Android.Reaper.A, which can haul in a large data harvest when in place.

Quick Heal is not the only security company in town, and a post on the Symantec website also seems set to put the fear into the Apple user community. That post, read it here – if you dare, says that the Mabouia ransomware is capable of causing a problem for Mac and PC users alike.

Fortunately, Mabouia is a proof-of-concept attack that a researcher shared with both Apple and Symantec. Symantec says that the PoC effort achieves at least one first.

“Mabouia is the first case of file-based crypto ransomware for OS X, albeit a proof-of-concept. Macs have nevertheless already been targeted by ransomware in the form of browser-based threats,” it explained.

“For example, in 2013, researchers at Malwarebytes discovered browser-based ransomware that targeted Safari for Mac users through a malicious website. The website directed Windows users to a drive-by download, while Mac users were served JavaScript that caused Safari to display persistent pop-ups informing the user their browser had been “locked” by the FBI for viewing illegal content.”



Facebook Wants To Keep Tracking Non-members

November 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook announced that it would appeal a court ruling ordering it to stop tracking the online activities of non-Facebook users in Belgium who visit Facebook pages, or face a 250,000 euro ($269,000) daily fine.

Belgium’s data protection regulator took the U.S. company to court in June, accusing it of trampling on EU privacy law by tracking people without a Facebook account without their consent.

At stake is the so-called ‘datr’ cookie, which Facebook places on people’s browsers when they visit a site or click a Facebook ‘Like’ button on other websites, allowing it to track the online activities of that browser.

“We’ve used the ’datr’ cookie for more than five years to keep Facebook secure for 1.5 billion people around the world,” a spokeswoman said.

“We will appeal this decision and are working to minimize any disruption to people’s access to Facebook in Belgium.”

The Brussels court ordered Facebook to stop tracking non-Facebook users in Belgium within 48 hours or pay a daily fine of 250,000 euros to the Belgian privacy regulator, said Margot Neyskens, spokeswoman for Bart Tommelein, Belgian secretary of state for the protection of privacy.

“Facebook can not follow people on the internet who are not members of Facebook which is very logical because they can not have given permission to follow them,” Tommelein said in an emailed statement.

Facebook says the cookie only identifies browsers, not people and helps it to distinguish legitimate visits from those by attackers.

The company has also argued that since it has its European headquarters in Ireland it should be regulated solely by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.


Snapchat Daily Video Viewing Business Booming, Closing In On Facebook

November 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The number of videos viewed each day on Snapchat has tripled since May to 6 billion as the messaging app is erasing the gap with social media giant Facebook Inc, according to a report in the Financial Times that cites people close to the company.

The Financial Times said that Snapchat confirmed the 6 billion figure but had declined to comment further.

Facebook said last week that it had doubled daily video views to 8 billion from 4 billion in April, according to the report, which notes that social networking groups are vying for eyeballs in the fast-growing video segment.

Facebook’s daily video viewing number is made up of both desktop and mobile views while Snapchat’s is entirely made up of smartphone users, the report notes.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said in May that the company plans to have an initial public offering but did not specify when that would happen. In 2013, Snapchat turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to acquire the company.


Microsoft To Block SHA-1 Hashing

November 9, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Software Giant Microsoft has joined Mozilla and will consider blocking the SHA-1 hashing algorithm on Windows to keep the US spooks from using it to spy on users computers.

Redmond had earlier said that Windows would block SHA-1 signed TLS (Transport Layer Security) certificates from January 1, 2017, but is now mulling moving up the date to June.

There have been concerns about the algorithm’s security as researchers have proven that a forged digital certificate that has the same SHA-1 hash as a legitimate one can be created. Users can then be tricked into interacting with a spoofed site in what is called a hash collision.

In October, a team of cryptoanalysts warned that the SHA-1 standard should be withdrawn as the cost of breaking the encryption had dropped faster than expected to US$75,000 to $120,000 in 2015 using freely available cloud computing.

Programme manager for Microsoft Edge Kyle Pflug wrote in his blog that Redmond will coordinate with other browser vendors to evaluate the impact of this timeline based on telemetry and current projections for feasibility of SHA-1 collisions.

Mozilla said in October that in view of recent attacks it was considering a cut-off of July 1, 2016 to start rejecting all SHA-1 SSL certificates, regardless of when they were issued, ahead of an earlier scheduled date of January 1, 2017.



YouTube’s Android App To Support Virtual Reality

November 9, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

YouTube unveiled two new features for its Android app that expand the video site’s use of virtual reality, giving the new technology its biggest platform yet.

The app now supports VR video – a format that gives viewers what the company says are more realistic 360-degree perspectives of films.

To view it, a user would call up a virtual reality video on the YouTube app, click a button on the video for VR mode, and place the phone in Alphabet Inc’s “Cardboard” device, a handheld gadget made from the standard box material that creates a VR viewing experience.

Makers of virtual reality content can upload VR videos compatible with the Cardboard viewer directly to YouTube. YouTube said there are about a dozen VR videos, including one stemming from the “Hunger Games” movies.

YouTube also announced that viewers can see its vast library of videos with a more limited virtual reality experience, also using Cardboard. YouTube said that the videos will resemble what a viewer would see on an IMAX theater screen.

Neil Schneider, executive director of VR trade organization Immersive Technology Alliance, noted that YouTube introduced 3D video in 2009 and was also an early adopter of high-definition video.

“It’s not surprising they would take the angle of adding virtual reality,” he said.

Schneider said the public can expect to see an explosion of high quality content, but said amateur content might be more difficult to come by because the gear to create VR content is typically expensive.

But Jay Iorio, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers who is experimenting with creating films for Cardboard and Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, said he would not be surprised to see VR recording capabilities on smartphones.

“The equipment I have right now, people will probably have on their phones in a couple years,” he said.

Oculus Rift is scheduled for release next near and is expected to cost between $300 to $350. Cardboard costs between $5 and $50.




Facebook Sees Monthly Users Swell To Over 1.5B

November 6, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Facebook sailed past another milestone, reporting Wednesday that its base of monthly active users surpassed 1.5 billion for the first time.

Facebook crossed the 1 billion monthly user mark in September 2012, so it’s taken about three years to add the last half billion. It took just over two years to amass the half billion before that. For comparison, Twitter has about 320 million monthly users.

Facebook announced the figure with its earnings results for the third quarter, which came in better than expected. Revenue was $4.5 billion, up 41 percent from a year earlier, the company said, while net profit was $896 million, up 11 percent.

Excluding charges, Facebook’s profit was 57 cents a share, better than the 52 cents a share analysts were expecting, according to a poll by Thompson Reuters.

Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users at the end of September, up 14 percent from the same time last year. Mobile monthly active users were 1.39 billion, it said.

The social network announced another milestone in August, when it said the number of people who accessed Facebook in a single day passed 1 billion for the first time.

“When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

The company’s net profit had declined in the two previous quarters, largely because costs increased as it invested in new areas like virtual reality. But costs rose less sharply this past quarter — by 68 percent, compared to 82 percent in the second quarter — and net profit was up again.





Amazon Opens Bookstore In Seattle

November 4, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net Inc has opened its first physical book store in Seattle, the company has announced.

The brick-and-mortar store, Amazon Books, is a physical extension of with books being selected based on customer ratings and pre-orders on

Popularity on Goodreads and curators’ assessments are also considered for short listing the books. The in-store and online prices of the books would be same, Amazon said on Monday.

The store will also have an option to test drive Amazon’s devices such as Kindle, Echo, Fire TV and Fire Tablet.

Amazon Books, which is located in Seattle’s University Village, will be open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, the company said.



Facebook Introduces ’2G Tuesdays’ To Employees

October 30, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook would like for its employees to experience the pain of a slow, really slow, connection.

On Tuesdays, Facebook employees can opt in to use a slower mobile Internet connection to give them a better understanding – and a good dose of empathy – for users in emerging markets saddled with slow network speeds.

Called “2G Tuesdays,” the program is set up to ask employees, on their Facebook news feeds, if they want to use the slower connection. Of course, the company still wants its employees to be productive so the experiment only lasts for an hour.

Most smartphones today use 3G or 4G connections, enabling them to quickly download pages and stream video without interruptions or bobbles. In comparison, a 2G connection might mean it takes a minute or two to download a single web page.

“People are coming online at a staggering rate in emerging markets and, in most cases, are doing so on mobile via 2G connections,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email to Computerworld. “But on the lower end of 2G networks, it can take about two minutes to download a webpage. We need to understand how people use Facebook in different Internet connections in all parts of the world so we can build the best experience for them.”

She made it clear that the program is voluntary but should offer a good lesson.

“We hope this will help us understand how people are using Facebook on slower connections, so we can build a better product for all of the people using it,” she added.

For the past few years, Facebook has been focused on bringing Internet connectivity to people without access through its Free Basics project.






LG’s Dual Screen Smartphone Goes On Sale This Week

October 28, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

The unique in appearnce LG V10 smartphone running Android 5.1 (Lollipop) went on sale online Tuesday on AT&T and today on T-Mobile, with in-store purchases coming a few days later.

What primarily sets the V10 apart is its distinctive dual-screen and its dual-selfie, front-facing cameras that show off LG’s interest in trying new technologies. Some reviewers have called those features “gimmicky” or even “oddball,” but analysts said the features also demonstrate a capable manufacturer willing to try new things.

he dual-screen feature is composed of a second, tiny screen at the top of the display, just above the main 5.7-in. touchscreen. That second screen is always on and is designed to enhance productivity by giving access to favorite apps and notifications.

The dual, 5-megapixel front-facing selfie cameras will offer either standard, 80-degree or wide-angle 120-degree selfies to eliminate the need to pan the smartphone or use a selfie stick, AT&T said.

AT&T will charge $250 for the V10 on a two-year contract or $29 per month on a 24-month plan. T-Mobile will charge $600 outright or $25 per month on a two-year payment plan. In-store sales start at T-Mobile on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 at AT&T. Verizon Wireless will also carry the phone, but hasn’t posted pricing or other details.

LG said Monday it will kick in a 200GB microSD card, extra battery and battery-charging cradle for free on orders at all three carriers from Oct. 27 to Nov. 15.

Whether LG’s tendency to experiment with the V10 (as with its previous curved-screen Flex models) will matter in sales is unknown. In a fiercely competitive Android smartphone market,LG ranked sixth globally in the second quarter of 2015, with just under 4% of the overall smartphone market, according to IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.


Facebook Goes TechPrep To Increase Diversity

October 26, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is adding to its benevolence jar with a thing called TechPrep that it expects will help the poor and disadvantaged to embrace and master technology.

The cynics among us would link this to Facebook and the drive for more members, because members mean money, but fortunately they are out of the office.

This has been a good week for Facebook in terms of positive things, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg being crowned the industry’s biggest LGBT Ally, an award that he welcomed.

TechPrep is part of this inclusive side of Facebook, and fittingly it has been introduced by Maxine Williams, global director of diversity at the firm. TechPrep is pitched at technological learners, parents and guardians who need better computer skills, and Facebook is working with the McKinsey Institute on the initiative.

“At Facebook, we’re working on a number of initiatives to widen the pipeline and build an inclusive culture. After looking closely at the data, we realised that one challenge is a lack of exposure to computer science and careers in technology, as well as a lack of resources for parents, guardians and others who want to learn more,” she said.

“In the US, this lack of access is prevalent in a number of under-represented groups, including black and Hispanic communities. Today, we’re excited to introduce TechPrep, a resource hub where under-represented people and their parents and guardians can learn more about computer science and programming and find resources to get them started.”

Facebook will curate training packages to suit needs. The firm also referred to research which found that computer science education can empower people, and that parts of the community are easily disillusioned by training and teaching.

“77 percent of parents say they do not know how to help their child pursue computer science. This increases to approximately 83 percent for lower income and non-college graduate parents or guardians,” added Williams.

“Yet being encouraged to pursue computer science by a parent or guardian is a primary motivator for women, blacks and Hispanics. Lower awareness of computer science in blacks and Hispanics is driven by less access to people in computer science and computer science programs, and is a major driver of black and Hispanic drop-off when pursuing programming as a career path.”

Facebook is already in the process of boosting its in-house diversity, as are many of its peers. The technology industry is currently white man heavy, and this is not a good thing.



Steve Ballmer Believes In Twitter

October 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Ex Microsoft Corp  Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has purchased a 4 percent stake in Twitter Inc, according to his spokesman, making him the third-biggest individual shareholder in the social media company.

Ballmer’s stake is worth more than $800 million based on Twitter’s $21 billion market value. Only co-founder Evan Williams and Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal have greater stakes among individual investors.

Friday Ballmer tweeted from a non-verified account that he built up his stake over the past several months.

His tweet lauded Twitter’s new ‘Moments’ feature, which curates the best tweets of the day, and Dorsey’s appointment as permanent CEO last week.

“Good job @twitter, @twittermoments innovation, @jack Ceo, leaner, more focused,” the tweet said. “Glad I bought 4% past few months.”

Twitter declined to comment. Ballmer himself did not return requests for comment.

Ballmer, who bought the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team after retiring as Microsoft CEO in February 2014, has a personal fortune of about $21.5 billion, making him the 35th richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Ballmer now owns more of Twitter than co-founder and CEO Dorsey, who has a 3.2 percent stake, according to Thomson Reuters data. Williams is the largest individual shareholder with about 7.5 percent, followed by Alwaleed with about 5.2 percent.

Like @alwaleedbinT move too,” Ballmer’s tweet said. Alwaleed and his investment firm, Kingdom Holding Co 4280.SE, said earlier this month they had raised their stake in Twitter to more than 5 percent.

Ballmer’s investment is a sign that Twitter’s efforts to revive growth under Dorsey is being appreciated, Monness, Crespi, Hardt, & Co Inc analyst James Cakmak said.

“I think it’s just another point of evidence that the step that they are taking to redirect the business toward growth is resonating,” Cakmak said.

Twitter has made several new announcements since Dorsey, who also served as CEO in 2008, returned on a permanent basis last week. On Tuesday, Twitter said it will lay off about 8 percent of its workforce and on Wednesday, it hired Google Inc executive Omid Kordestani as executive chairman.

FBN Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi said Ballmer’s stake could be indicative of widespread confidence in Dorsey and his strategy.