Professional social networking website LinkedIn Corp rolled out a Chinese language version of its website on Monday, a move that could further spur its expansion into the world’s largest Internet market even as the company acknowledged it will have to patrol what some of them say on its website.
LinkedIn Chief Executive Jeff Weiner acknowledged in a blog post on Monday that the company would have to censor some of the content that users post on its website in order to comply with Chinese rules.
But Weiner said the benefits of providing its online service to people in China outweighed those concerns. He vowed that the company would be “transparent” about its practices as it builds its presence in a country it said is home to one in five of the “knowledge workers” that are LinkedIn’s core audience.
“Extending our service in China raises difficult questions, but it is clear to us that the decision to proceed is the right one,” Weiner said.
Foreign Internet companies face difficulties operating in China. Beijing censors sensitive terms from the Internet and blocks social networks Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, a widespread effort that analysts say is geared towards maintaining the Communist Party’s hold on power and preserving social stability.
LinkedIn’s arguments about trade-offs for the greater good are reminiscent of Google’s justification for its controversial 2006 decision to launch a self-censored version of its search service in China.
Four years later, Google reversed course and relocated its search engine to Hong Kong from mainland China, following a dispute with the Chinese government over what Google said was increasingly onerous censorship and cyber-attacks it said originated in China.
The Chinese language website that will be available on Monday is a “beta,” or test, version of the site. LinkedIn is still in the process of getting a license to operate the Chinese language site, which will require that the company maintain server computers in China that will store data about its Chinese users, according to a source familiar with the matter.
LinkedIn already has more than 4 million users in China who use its English language website, but the company has signaled that it is interested in making a broader expansion in the country.
Weiner said the Chinese language site would help LinkedIn reach 140 million professionals in China, providing the potential for the company to significantly expand its current audience of 277 million members.
The company’s expansion into China comes as LinkedIn is trying to transform itself from a social network used primarily by job seekers and by recruiters into a more full-fledged online hub for professional workers.
LinkedIn has recently begun encouraging its members to write career-related articles and post them on the website, a move the company hopes will boost the amount of time users spend on its site.
Weiner said that China’s restrictions on content would be implemented “only when and to the extent required.”
“LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship,” Weiner said.
Over 90 million people play Candy Crush Saga every day. Say whatever you like about London- based social game developer King, but its headline game is an unquestionable success. Like many games (most games, perhaps) it iterates upon previously existing formulae rather than being a breakthrough, unseen innovation. Like many games, the real DNA of its success can only be analysed honestly if we first admit that one of the dominant genes involved was luck. Still; 90 million players. About 1.3 per cent of the entire population of the planet try to clear candies and jellies at least once a day. Whether you consider that to be a depressing reflection of the state of humanity or not is entirely subjective; whether you consider it to be a remarkable business success is not. King’s got a touch of magic in its sweet jar.
Now King wants to convert that magic into cold, hard cash, so it’s going to float on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s proposing an initial public offering valued at $500 million, but given that its net income last year was $568 million (on revenues of $1.9 billion), everyone involved will clearly be hoping to make a killing off an early spike in share value.
When any company announces an IPO, it’s reasonable to ask why it’s happening. There are two ways for an entrepreneur to “exit”, cashing in his or her chips on the company that’s been built. One is by being acquired by a bigger firm (like the recent purchase of a major stake in Supercell by Puzzle & Dragons publisher GungHo). The other is an IPO. In both cases, there are two clear reasons for cashing in – the first one, which everyone always claims to be pursuing, is to raise more money to facilitate further growth and make your company bigger and better. The second is shadier but not uncommon. You reckon you’ve taken the business as far as you can – organic growth is looking rocky from here, maybe you sense a change in the market or an oncoming headwind, and you want to grab as much cash as you can while the going is good, before your valuation starts to heavily decline.
“Take the money and run” isn’t an uncommon reason for a sale or an IPO, although none of the parties involved would ever be so gauche as to admit to such a thing. Still, the logic underwriting such a thing is cold and undeniable. If you can sense that your company is facing rocky ground and its valuation has likely peaked, you want to make sure you get as much of a return on your holdings as possible before they become devalued. Laws and rules force lots of disclosure of financial data, of course, so you can’t hide a decline that’s already started – but if your instinct says next year won’t be as good as last year, now’s the right time to sell, and “instinct” doesn’t appear on SEC-mandated documents.
Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are. I think this IPO is actually a little late – it’s going to occur just as King is on a downslope – but it’s far better timed than the easiest comparison, Zynga. Zynga launched on the stock exchange far too late, after it had already become obvious that the company was completely hobbled by the rapid transition from Facebook to smartphones in social gaming. Its IPO was a flop from an investor’s perspective, although plenty of people still made a lot of money from it – it certainly made more money than it would have if they’d waited around until the depths of the company’s troubles became apparent. On its current timeline, King will be IPOing while it’s still within touching distance of Candy Crush Saga’s peak.
“Is King taking the money and running? Yes, I think they are”
I foresee two problems, both of which ought to ring huge alarm bells for investors interested in the company. The first is that Candy Crush Saga’s peak is just that – a monolithic, dramatic peak climbing up out of a landscape of foothills and gentle valleys. There are no other peaks in sight. King’s other games do “okay”, but nearly 80% of its revenue comes from Candy Crush Saga, whose 90 million daily users figure is six times greater than the daily users figure for the firm’s second-place game, Pet Rescue Saga. There is nothing on the horizon which might replace Candy Crush Saga; once you start descending from that peak, the danger is that you end up back in the foothills with no more peaks to ascend. There’s simply no evidence, let alone proof, that King is capable of recreating the lightning-strike success of Candy Crush Saga. Bluntly, I don’t think King believes it can manage that either – because if the firm and its investors genuinely believed that they could repeat the success of Candy Crush, they would IPO after doing so, knowing that a company with a proven ability to turn out enormous hits is vastly, vastly more valuable than a company with one lucky strike and a string of also-rans to its name.
The second problem is Zynga itself. The stock market has already had one market-leading social game company perform absolutely dismally after flotation. Investors now know that this sector, while it’s exciting and interesting and extremely profitable, is also insanely volatile, completely hit- driven and largely subject to the rapidly changing whims of technology. On the surface, the F2P model is far more investor-friendly than the old-fashioned boxed game model, since you actually get a steady revenue stream from your products rather than a single burst of revenue after a couple of years of expensive development. In practice, though, you still need to keep turning out hit titles in order to ensure revenue growth (which is all the stock market gives a damn about). Few studios have shown any capacity for doing that – there are laudable exceptions like Supercell and Nimblebit, but most mobile gaming studios are still dining out on single successes. King has Candy Crush Saga; Rovio has Angry Birds; GungHo has Puzzle & Dragons. None of these companies have managed to create another game as popular as the one that made them famous – lacking a track record, each of them can fairly be considered a one-hit wonder until proven otherwise.
What about recent controversies around King? The company’s aggressive approach to trademarks, its reputed cloning of games and so on have done nothing to endear it to the gaming world and cultivated an atmosphere of negativity around the company. I would caution against reading too much into the likely impact of such stories on an IPO, though. Investors, bluntly, don’t really care if a company stands accused of not being terribly innovative, as long as the results are good. They certainly couldn’t care less about trademark spats with independent developers, I fear. Such issues are important and relevant to those directly involved, but of no consequence to the IPO prospects of a company like King.
What they do, however, is set mood music around the firm. Being seen as a bit ruthless is no bad thing, but I suspect that investors burned by Zynga will be quick to note the parallels between the sort of behaviour of which King stands accused, and the sort of behaviour in which Zynga engaged. The two companies are, in my mind, very similar both in culture and in approach. Neither was founded out of any attachment to games as a medium, a culture or an artform; both are simply entrepreneurial vehicles to exploit a potential market, and as such, it’s to be expected that both would struggle to adapt and succeed at points where they encounter obstacles that can only be surmounted by creativity rather than by management bullet points or business model refinement.
That’s not entirely a criticism, by the way; in a capitalist economy, there’s no sin to creating a business just to exploit a gap in the market. If the market in question happens to be a creative medium, one has to expect significant blowback to this approach. Moreover, there’s a limited lifespan to such a strategy – a company in a creative sector which is not founded on creative principles cannot expect to significantly outlive the market conditions it was originally designed to exploit.
In summary, I find it hard to view King’s IPO as anything more than Zynga 2.0. It is better-timed, certainly, but the companies involved are similar enterprises facing similar challenges – and thus far, demonstrating a similar lack of capacity to overcome them. Zynga is much, much further down the slope from its peak than King, so of course there remains a reasonable possibility that King can surprise us all with a second title on the scale of Candy Crush – and by doing so, establish itself as a genuine leading light of this new market. For all the negativity poured upon the company of late, I honestly hope King can make lightning strike twice for itself. I don’t like Candy Crush Saga personally, but that’s a subjective view – objectively, I cannot find a trace of the supposed immorality, grasping and nastiness of which the game regularly stands accused, and can’t help but recall all the awful stuff of which Flappy Bird also stood wrongly accused when it dared to be a break-out mobile gaming success. King faces problems down the line and I question whether it represents a good investment opportunity for anyone – but should it overcome those issues and prove itself capable of the creativity required to replicate its Candy Crush success, it would be churlish to call that anything other than a fresh triumph for UK game development. Fingers crossed that it happens.
BlackBerry Ltd Chief Executive John Chen directed pointed words at T-Mobile US Inc earlier this week, calling ill-conceived a promotion run by the company that encourages customers using BlackBerry smartphones to upgrade to iPhones.
T-Mobile US, which is majority owned by Deutsche Telekom AG, sent out emails to some of its customers last week, pitching free iPhone 5s and touting the promotion as a, “great offer for BlackBerry customers.”
That sparked a brouhaha in social media forums after some of the telecommunications company’s loyal BlackBerry customers reacted angrily to the offer, which they perceived as a slight.
The backlash prompted T-Mobile US Chief Executive John Legere to respond publicly. In a Twitter posting on Sunday, Legere said T-Mobile would continue to support BlackBerry smartphones and he assured BlackBerry users they do not have to give up their devices or “loyalty.”
In a blog post on Tuesday, BlackBerry CEO Chen slammed the T-Mobile US offer as a, “clearly inappropriate and ill-conceived marketing promotion,” and he thanked BlackBerry users for their loyalty to the company.
“Your partnership with our brand is appreciated by all of us at BlackBerry, and draws a sharp contrast with the behavior of our longtime business partner,” Chen said in the posting, noting that T-Mobile had not discussed its promotion with BlackBerry.
T-Mobile US later said it is happy to work with BlackBerry and will by Friday offer speedy and free shipping of BlackBerry devices to T-Mobile customers who order them.
BlackBerry, a one-time pioneer in the smartphone industry, has been struggling to claw back market share lost to Apple Inc’s iPhone, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy devices, and other smartphones powered by Google Inc’s Android operating system.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company’s new line of BlackBerry 10 devices has so far failed to win back market share, and Chen is attempting to reshape the company and focus less on the handset segment, and more on the company’s services business.
Chen has stressed, however, that the handset business remains a core component for BlackBerry as the company attempts to engineer a turnaround.
Chen called on T-Mobile US to “find a way forward that allows us to serve our shared customers once again.”
In a SamsungTomorrow blog post, Samsung showed icons for Speed, Outdoor, Curiosity, Fun, Social, Style, Privacy, Fitness and Life that could be part of the Galaxy S5 Samsung is expected to unveil on Feb. 24 in Barcelona at its Unpacked5 event.
The minimalistic-looking icons are each labeled with a superscript 5, hinting at the updated phone. The blog and the icons are part of an updated invitation to Samsung’s Unpacked5 event, which was first announced Feb. 4.
Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone line has long included the custom TouchWiz interface. The new, simpler-looking icons could be part of a back-to-basics approach by Samsung.
While the coming Galaxy phone will surely run Android, there’s been a lot of speculation at how far it will move away from pure Android. Some analysts predict the TouchWiz interface in the Galaxy phone line could be replaced by the Magazine UX seen in Samsung’s new Pro tablets. The Magazine UX has reportedly dismayed Google as it moves to reduce Android fragmentation in the market. In January, the well-known and usually spot-on news site evleaks tweeted photos of three smartphone UI screens that some analysts believe could be used with the Galaxy S5. Two of the three break the screen into panels along the lines of what Magazine UX does on Pro tablets, with square elements or tiles as seen in the Windows Phone UI.
Perhaps the icons in Samsung’s latest blog could adorn a Magazine UX-like interface on the Galaxy S5, but it’s not really clear what Samsung intends to do.
To some, it might not seem to matter much at all what Samsung does with the coming interface, but when Apple updated a new UI for iOS 7 last year, the tech world stood up and took notice. Reader comments on the new Samsung blog noted that Samsung’s new icons seem to imitate the flat design of Apple’s iOS 7.
What might matter more than the graphic design of the Samsung icons is the inclusion of icons labeled fitness and outdoor. Samsung may be prepping a direct link to smartphone apps for fitness and health monitoring that link over Bluetooth to its wearable devices, such as the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which could be updated on Feb. 24 as well.
Samsung appears to be looking to create a wireless ecosystem of devices, probably with its smartphones as a hub reaching to wearables.
“It’s safe to assume that Samsung is looking at the next Galaxy smartphone device as the hub for peripheral function devices like Gear and FitGear,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. “It makes sense to put hooks [in the form of icons] into the system that Samsung will ultimately need.”
Gold said it will interesting to see if Google adds similar icons to its own pure Android future releases “so as not to fork Android even further.”
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel, said that Samsung still faces a choice on peripherals and wearables like Gear or rumored Samsung smart glasses, to keep them compatible with only Samsung smartphones and tablets or to make them compatible with Android products from various manufacturers. Either approach has merits, but each requires a different strategy.
“All apps that access location need to request permission from the Android platform,” Janne Lindqvist [cq], who led the research project, said via email. “The problem is that people don’t pay attention to these default disclosures.”
Android phones display a flashing GPS icon when apps are trying to access the user’s location. But few people notice or understand what the icon is telling them, the researchers found.
The app they developed is designed to fix that, by making it clearer to users when other apps are accessing their location data. They tried several methods, including a message that flashes on the device’s screen reading, “Your location is being accessed by [app name].”
There’s no obvious way in Android for an app to monitor whether other apps are accessing location, the researchers said, but they discovered they could exploit a method in the Android Location API as “an effective side channel.”
They’re are in the process of readying their app for the Play Store. It doesn’t have an official name yet, but the working title is the RutgersPrivacyApp. “I’m happy to hear suggestions for a better one,” Lindqvist said.
They tested the app with a small group at Rutgers University in New Jersey. They said it was the first study to examine how people respond when apps tell them they’re being tracked.
The issue of apps collecting data isn’t new, and recent disclosures about government surveillance have shown that intelligence agencies might also be tracking data from apps. A recent report said mobile versions of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter were of interest to government spies.
Other research from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania has shown that seemingly harmless apps like Angry Birds and Dictionary.com have gathered some surprising types of information about their users, like their location and device ID.
At Rugers, the researchers wanted to learn how disclosures about location affected users’ attitudes towards apps. They tested the app on several Android devices, using a variety of apps including Firefox and Tunein Radio.
Participants said they were surprised at some of the apps that accessed their location, and that some apps accessed their location more frequently than they would have expected.
Lindqvist hopes to make Android users more aware of location tracking so they can make better decisions about their privacy. He would also like Google to provide better privacy controls and notices in Android.
He said he focused on Android rather than Apple’s iOS partly because the process of publishing an app in the Google Play Store is simpler, he said.
Twitter Inc has purchased 900 patents and inked a cross-licensing agreement with IBM, making peace with Big Blue and bulking up on its intellectual property portfolio as it takes on larger rivals Google and Facebook.
The agreement announced on Friday comes after International Business Machines Corp accused Twitter in November – on the eve of its high-profile initial public offering – of infringing three of its patents. At the time, it underscored how few patents the six-year-old social media company possessed in relation to more established rivals.
A cross-licensing agreement will help safeguard Twitter against similar claims in the future.
IBM is one of the industry’s largest research spenders and stockpilers of intellectual property, a consistent leader in U.S. patent filings and the owner of some 41,000 patents.
Twitter is following on the heels of Facebook, which itself faced similar claims before its own 2012 IPO. The world’s largest social network has since gone on a patent-buying spree, acquiring intellectual property from tech bellwethers, including Microsoft Corp and IBM.
“This acquisition of patents from IBM and licensing agreement provide us with greater intellectual property protection and give us freedom of action to innovate on behalf of all those who use our service,” Ben Lee, Twitter’s legal director, said in a joint statement with IBM on Friday.
Gears of War will continue to turn, as Microsoft has acquired the sci-fi shooter franchise from Epic Games. Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer confirmed, saying the deal covers the intellectual property, all existing games and assets, and the rights to continue the franchise in the future.
As for who will make the Gears of War games with Epic out of the picture, that task has been entrusted to Microsoft’s Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, under the leadership of the studio’s general manager Hanno Lemke. Spencer called it “a big vote of confidence” for not just the studio but the Vancouver development scene. (Microsoft closed its nearby Victoria development studio last month.)
Future development on the franchise will be led by Rod Fergusson, who was a producer on the first three Gears of War titles. While Fergusson has a long history with Gears of War, his appointment at Black Tusk has to be considered surprising. Just four months ago, Take-Two announced that Fergusson was launching a new Bay Area studio to work on a new project for the publisher.
“It’s kind of nice he can tie the franchise, the culture, bring it all together, and really help with the talent we already have up at Black Tusk to get the franchise going with a new organization,” Spencer said.
Fergusson released a statement on his new appointment, saying, “I’m extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise. I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.”
“[I]f you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that.”
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has had to find a new studio to take over a blockbuster sci-fi shooter IP. In 2007, Bungie struck a deal to split off from the Xbox maker, leaving the Halo franchise in need of a new developer. Spencer said there were lessons to be learned from the successful transition of the Halo series to 343 Industries, and mentioned Lemke would be speaking with 343′s Bonnie Ross about her experiences.
“We’re not announcing anything right now, but I think if you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that,” Spencer said. “But it does give me confidence knowing that we’ve done this once with 343.”
343 cut its teeth on the Halo franchise with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an Xbox 360 remake of the original Xbox launch title Halo: Combat Evolved.
Whatever else changes with Gears of War, one thing that will likely stay the same is the technology powering the franchise. Spencer declined to say whether the deal requires Microsoft to use the Unreal Engine for future Gears games, but he did say the company was a big fan of the technology.
“We’ve used the Unreal Engine in our development of the Gears franchise and other franchises,” Spencer said. “Unreal is important for us. So I don’t see us moving away from Unreal. I have confidence in the Unreal Engine going forward, and it’s important to the franchise.”
Spencer also noted that a Black Tusk teaser trailer shown at E3 was built using Unreal. And even though that clip–a man rappelling down the side of a present-day skyscraper before swinging in an open window to clobber a gun-toting guard–looked decidedly unlike Gears of War, Spencer called it a concept piece, and not a project that is being shelved as a result of the IP acquisition.
“This obviously isn’t something that started yesterday in terms of our discussions with Epic,” Spencer said. “Hanno’s been involved for quite a while, so he’s known that this is something we could land. And the leadership team there obviously knew as they started to build their road map for what they would be focused on. I wouldn’t say things have been shelved. Obviously, this will become a big focus of the studio and something that will be critical to them driving forward. There’s not really something that was on the road map that all of a sudden goes away.”
When Microsoft opened Black Tusk in 2012, studio representatives said it was not working on an existing franchise, but instead was “looking to build the next Halo” from the ground up.
Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
At least two Chrome extensions recently sold by their original developers were updated to inject ads and affiliate links into legitimate websites opened in users’ browsers.
The issue first came to light last week when the developer of the “Add to Feedly” extension, a technology blogger named Amit Agarwal, reported that after selling his extension late last year to a third-party, it got transformed into adware. The extension had over 30,000 users when it was sold.
A second developer, Roman Skabichevsky, confirmed on Monday that his Chrome extension called “Tweet This Page” suffered a similar fate after he sold it at the end of November.
Skabichevsky accepted an offer to sell the simple extension for $500 because he didn’t have time to improve it anymore.
“A woman named Amanda who contacted me said they wanted the extension ‘for further development’,” Skabichevsky said via email. It was weird because the extension’s code is open sourced so anyone can work on it, “but I sold it anyway, thinking it would be better for the world. I was so wrong!”
Agarwal’s story is similar. He sold his extension for a four-figure sum after being contacted by a woman.
“A month later, the new owners of the Feedly extension pushed an update to the Chrome store,” he said Thursday in a blog post. “No, the update didn’t bring any new features to the table nor contained any bug fixes. Instead, they incorporated advertising into the extension.”
“These aren’t regular banner ads that you see on web pages, these are invisible ads that work the background and replace links on every website that you visit into affiliate links,” Agarwal said. “In simple English, if the extension is activated in Chrome, it will inject adware into all web pages.”
Converting a trusted and popular extension into an aggressive advertising tool is more efficient for adware pushers than creating an extension from scratch and building a large user base they can later target, because it brings a quicker and most likely bigger return on investment.
The “Add to Feedly” and “Tweet This Page” extensions have been removed from the Chrome Web Store this weekend, supposedly by Google. However, the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s not clear if any other extensions from the Chrome Web Store were resold and exhibit the same behavior.
“By joining Google, our team will merge with some of the best abuse fighters in the world,” wrote Impermium CEO and cofounder Mark Risher said in a post on the company’s website .
“As sites gain in popularity, criminals and miscreants are never far behind, and Impermium has worked hard to defend some of the largest and fastest-growing sites,” Risher added. Though he thanked customers and investors among others, Risher did not say what would happen to Impermium’s current customers.
It’s unclear whether Google acquired the company and its technology or mainly its staff, a trend known popularly as “‘acqui-hiring.” A number of technology companies have acquired startups mainly to add talented engineers to their staff. Google could not be reached for comment.
On Twitter, Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of product for Google+,welcomed Risher and the Impermium team to Google. On his Google+ page, Horowitz wrote that Google’s spam and abuse teams are industry-leading and world-class. “Impermium should fit right in,” he added.
Impermium defended its customers against account hacking, account compromise, and other threats. The company claimed that its system used “patented statistical and machine learning models and proprietary threat intelligence from more than 1,500,000 worldwide sites to provide real-time protection for top enterprises around the globe.”
Google announced earlier this week that it was paying US$3.2 billion in cash to acquire Nest, a maker of smart smoke alarms and thermostats, in what is seen as a bid to expand into the connected home market.
Branch Media, based in New York, will join a Facebook group called Conversations, Branch cofounder Josh Miller wrote in Facebook post.
Facebook’s pitch to the 2-year-old company was to “build Branch at Facebook scale,” Miller wrote.
Terms of the deal weren’t immediately available.
The Branch software package allows users to host invitation-only conversations about Web-based content. Potluck is a mobile app that allows friends to chat about various topics.
“Although the products we build will be reminiscent of Branch and Potluck, those services will live on outside of Facebook,” Miller wrote.
Branch Media is backed by a group of investors including Twitter veterans Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jason Goldman, who run investment firm Obvious.
“You may have noticed our social media properties were targeted today,” Skype said in a Twitter post late Wednesday. “No user info was compromised. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”
Skype’s Twitter account, blog and Facebook page appeared to have been attacked by the SEA, a group that supports the Syrian government, according to reports. The Skype blog was still inaccessible late Wednesday and redirected users to the Skype home page.
The SEA reproduced in a Twitter message a copy of what appeared to be its message using the Skype account on Twitter. The message read: “Don’t use Microsoft emails(hotmail,outlook),They are monitoring your accounts and selling the data to the governments.More details soon #SEA”. It did not figure by late Wednesday on Skype’s Twitter feed.
SEA later posted on Twitter contact information purportedly of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, stating: You can thank Microsoft for monitoring your accounts/emails using this details.
The attack on Skype’s social media accounts appears to be linked to disclosures through newspapers by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that Internet companies allegedly provide the agency real-time access to content on their servers for surveillance purposes.
The SEA has targeted previously many high-profile websites and Twitter accounts. In August, an attack purportedly by SEA on Melbourne IT, an Australian domain registrar, affected the websites of The New York Times, Twitter and other top companies.
There are more than a million apps on Apple Inc’s App Store and Google Inc’s Play store, the two dominant marketplaces for apps, which see billions of downloads each year.
This year, the most downloaded apps were new takes on communication, gaming, and entertainment, according to mobile app experts.
“2013 was a really interesting year in terms of maturation, milestones and new trends,” said Craig Palli, chief strategy officer at Fiksu, a mobile marketing company based in Boston.
“The most downloaded apps were in familiar categories, but offered new twists,” he added.
While old favorites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — available for iPhone, Android and other devices – continued to be popular ways of communicating with friends, Snapchat eclipsed them in downloads in 2013, becoming the sixth most downloaded free app of the year on the App Store, according to Apple.
“Snapchat went from being a niche app to achieving much more critical mass, so much so that Facebook was reportedly willing to spend billions of dollars to acquire the company,” said Palli.
With Snapchat, users can send photos and videos that disappear shortly after they are viewed.
Launched in 2011, the app’s user base continued to grow rapidly in 2013, with over 13 million people using the app in October, according to the latest available estimates from global information and measurement company Nielsen. In December alone, over 400 million pieces of content were shared through the app, according to Snapchat, based in Venice, CA.
Vine, a video sharing app released earlier this year by microblogging company Twitter Inc, was the fourth most downloaded free app in 2013. The app, for iPhone, Android and other devices, allows users to share videos under six seconds in length. Nielsen estimates over 6 million people in the US were using the app in October of this year.
Snapchat and Vine fall into a category that mobile analytics firm Flurry calls camera-enhanced messaging, which they said grew eightfold in 2013.
Social networks are used by 73 percent of online adults in the U.S., according to a study released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The study was based on 1,445 adult Internet users interviewed from August 7 to Sept. 16 this year.
The full survey sample totaled 1,801 adults over age 18. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.9.
Facebook was the dominant social networking site, boasting an audience of 71 percent of online U.S. adults, growing from 67 percent late last year.
While Facebook was a universal favorite, some 42 percent of online adults used multiple social networking sites, the study said. Pinterest attracted women, Twitter and Instagram were heavily used by young adults, African Americans and city dwellers, and LinkedIn was favored by college graduates, older users and high-income households.
Usage of all Facebook alternatives grew, according to the survey. LinkedIn was used by 22 percent of U.S. adults online, Pinterest by 21 percent, Twitter by 18 percent and Instagram by 17 percent.
The engagement levels varied, with 63 percent of Facebook users visiting the website at least once a day, and 40 percent visiting multiple times. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, had 57 percent of users visiting once a day and 35 percent logging in multiple times. Around 46 percent of Twitter users visited at least once, and 29 percent multiple times.
Once viewed as a social networking platform for college students, Facebook is now attracting a larger number of Internet users aged 65 or more, according to the survey. Facebook is used by around 45 percent of U.S. Internet users aged 65 or more, growing from 35 percent late last year.
Twitter and Instagram are becoming more popular among African Americans and users aged 18 to 29. Around 34 percent of African American Internet users in the U.S. adopted Instagram, growing from 23 percent last year. The site was used by 37 percent of users aged between 18 and 29, growing from 28 percent in the comparable period last year.
The Pew survey does not include information related to usage of sites such as Google+, Tumblr, Reddit and Vine.
Social news hub Reddit enjoyed a major get when it interviewed Barack Obama last year. The big get for 2013 was reaching 90 million unique visitors a month, according to the company, on par with the likes of eBay. This season, even Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates joined its Secret Santa gift exchange.
Now, the self-dubbed “Front Page of the Internet” is going for a milestone it has been trying to reach since its founding in 2005: profitability.
After years of experimenting with paid subscriptions and display advertising, Reddit, with just 28 employees, has begun pouring resources into building an electronic bazaar.
Company executives say they increasingly believe such a venue is the answer to their long search for reliable revenue, complicated in part by their fans’ mistrust of advertising.
If Reddit Gifts, as the burgeoning bazaar is known, brings sustainable profitability, it would mark a turning point for an outfit that has exerted an outsized and sometimes controversial influence on Internet culture yet languished financially.
Reddit estimates over 250,000 items have been purchased over the holiday, mostly as part of the 50 or so mostly geek-oriented Secret Santa gift exchanges – where zombie- or fantasy-themed presents, say, change hands – that users have created.
Although Reddit won’t disclose details about how much money it has made from Reddit Gifts or its overall financial performance, it takes a 15 to 20 percent cut of every purchase.
Usually priced between $10 and $25, the goods reflect Reddit’s young and geeky user base, from collages of cats in steampunk apparel to coffee mugs branded by Imgur.com, a repository of funny Web pictures, to an entire category dedicated to bacon-related products. More than 250 merchants supply gifts curated and “up-voted” by the community, much as articles and links are elevated on the Reddit site itself.
The gift exchange made headlines this month after Gates signed up and surprised a Reddit user by sending her a travel book and a stuffed cow, symbol of the charity he donated to in her name.
The company, which is hoping to position itself as a bona fide shopping destination year-round, estimates that only 14 percent of its marketplace revenue comes from the Christmas-season gift exchange programs.
Yet those sales alone could put Reddit firmly in the black, said Dan McComas, the head of Reddit Gifts. He added that the company may choose to reinvest funds in e-commerce customer service and infrastructure.
Chief Executive Yishan Wong, a former Facebook executive, said Reddit was “kind of” breaking even and denied that pressure was mounting on his team to turn a profit.
A prominent venture capitalist has put forth a plan to divide California into six new states, including one called “Silicon Valley” that would stretch from San Francisco to San Jose and include the entire region where many of the biggest tech companies have their headquarters.
The plan by Tim Draper, who was an early backer of Skype, Baidu and Hotmail, faces multiple hurdles and would require significant support from among the state’s 38 million residents, and from the rest of the country if it makes it any further. He hopes to put the idea plan on the November 2014 ballot, which would require about half a million signatures. On the face of it, the chances of it being realized are low.
But Draper said splitting California would bring real benefits.
“Something’s not working in our state, and I’m convinced that it is with the existing system, the existing breadth of industry and varying interests. California is untenable and un-governable,” Draper told a sparsely attended news conference at the Silicon Valley school for entrepreneurship that he created and that bears his name. There were about 20 people in the room, although only six appeared to be reporters.
“I’m convinced that the best path for Californians is to create six new states that are unencumbered by trying to balance the interests of people who have very divergent goals and aspirations,” he said.
Draper said he believes the interests of the tech industry in Silicon Valley, the defense and entertainment industries in and around Los Angeles, the farms of the state’s Central Valley, and a growing medical devices business in the south of the state are best served by local governments.
For Silicon Valley, he said tech companies would benefit from a state government that was more “tech savvy.”
The proposal comes at a time of growing discontent in San Francisco and Silicon Valley at the apparent impact of the tech industry. The massive amount of wealth created by companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter has amplified economic disparities in the area and made the local housing market one of the most expensive in the country.
While Draper’s chances of realizing his vision might be slim, the plan will almost certainly serve to continue the debate about the power of the technology industry and how it interacts and is regulated by government.