17 December, 2011



Uncharted Golden Abyss has precision aiming on the PlayStation Vita

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 09:41 AM PST

Trying to aim a weapon on a modern handheld gaming device isn’t easy.

But Sony’s demo of the Uncharted: Golden Abyss shows that the PlayStation Vita has a new way to aim more precisely.

It’s called “Intu-Aim,” an aiming modifier. It takes advantage of the gyroscope chip in the Vita. You can use the analog sticks to position your character, Nathan Drake, in front of an enemy. Then you can hit the left bumper to bring up the aiming reticle. If the aim is off, you can then tilt the vita and the aiming reticle will move slowly in the direction you are tilting. It helps when you need just a slight nudge, maybe an eight of an inch or a quarter of an inch, to get on your target faster.

You can still aim in other ways. You can use the dual analog sticks to zero in on a target. You can fine tune with invert aim, sensitivity, and you can turn off Intu-Aim. You can use it for all weapons in the game, which will debut on Feb. 22 with the launch of the Vita in North America.

Check it out in the video below.

Filed under: games

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Why did Zynga’s stock tank on day one? Analyst cites red flags

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

Zynga’s initial public offering was a surprise bomb yesterday, as the social gaming company’s stock fell 5 percent in its first day of trading to $9.50 a share. Some investors might feel like the stock will bounce back on Monday or in the weeks ahead. But at least one analyst is staying bearish.

New York-based PrivCo, a private market research firm headed by Sam Hamadeh, has been prophetic in its skepticism about Zynga. Early this summer, after Zynga filed its papers to go public, PrviCo said that Zynga’s rumored valuation of $25 billion was too high by a factor of four. And last month, PrivCo estimated that Zynga would go out at $10 a share. PrivCo said the Zynga IPO was “busted” because Zynga made a number of tactical errors.

Zynga did not restrict its float, or percentage of shares offered, to under 10 percent as Groupon and LinkedIn did. By doing so, those companies limited the number of shares available and created a lot of demand for the small amount of stock offered. Zynga offered 14 percent of its shares outstanding. Zynga tried to raise $1 billion regardless of price. As pricing was cut, Zynga increased its shares offered, hurting its IPO price.

The size of the underwriter’s overallotment option (or the “green shoe” in Wall Street parlance) was a full 15 percent of the IPO shares, or the 100 million shares offered. These are shares the underwriter may purchase in the first days after the trading. These shares could be purchased in the first days after trading, to keep for themselves or to issue to IPO investors who complained about their allocations. The usual amount in 2011 has 7 percent, so the large green shoe in this case may have intimidated investors.

“Remarkably, with the shares now selling for just $9.50, Zynga may be the first high-profile tech IPO where the underwriters will likely NOT exercise their overallotment option,” Hamadeh said. He noted that IPO investors can simply pick up more shares on the open market for less than the $10 overallotment price.

Longer term, PrivCo says that Zynga is still tied in a five-year one-sided contract with Facebook. That deal forces Zynga to accept a 30 percent tax on Zynga’s virtual goods transactions and a Facebook-exclusive window for new Zynga games. Zynga’s second-quarter financials showed signs that the business had peaked in the near term and that daily active users had begun to decline. Zynga’s stock structure also gave a lot of power to chief executive and founder Mark Pincus, who held a 70-to-1 voting power with his stock. Zynga’s third quarter financials showed that daily active users fell for the second quarter in a row, down 54 million. Zynga’s total books for the third quarter feel for the first time ever.

The last strike, PrivCo said, was a change in accounting principles to accelerate revenue recognition to make a claim of profitability in 2011. If the older principles were used, Zynga would have been closer to a breakeven or might have been operating at a loss. Zynga declined to comment. Typically IPO firms are not allowed to talk about their financials directly after an offering.


Filed under: games, mobile, social

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Chip startup fundings, IPOs and acquisitions are cooling off

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

For a mature and giant industry growing at a few percent a year, the semiconductor industry remains active when it comes to the creation of new startups and the initial public offerings of young private companies. But just as those activities create new companies, acquisitions and mergers count that effect, consolidating the industry into fewer companies, according to a report by the Global Semiconductor Alliance.

So far this year, there has been less overall change for the industry, with a surge of deals in the summer that have now cooled off. For the first 11 months of 2011, 79 chip makers raised $988.2 million, down 16.3 percent from a year ago. And there were 98 semiconductor merger and acquisition deals announced so far this year, down 8.4 percent from a year ago.

The GSA said that in November, seven chip companies raised $22.2 million, the same amount as in October 2011. But the funding total was down 74 percent compared to a year ago. (However, three of the chip companies did not disclose funding this year, compared to one in October and three a year ago). In November, three chip makers went public — Cirtek Holdings Philippines  (PSE: CHIPS), Intermolecular  (NASDAQ: IMI) and InvenSense (NYSE: INVN). Cirtek raised $6.8 million in an IPO on Nov. 18; Intermolecular raised $96.5 million; and Invensense, a maker of gyro chips for the Nintendo Wii remote control, raised $75 million.

In November, the number of mergers and acquisitions announced decreased by two from the prior month to five. A year ago, there were 13 deals. November’s largest deal was Synopsys’ acquisition of Magma Design Automation for $507 million.

The biggest funding in November went to Amalfi Semiconductor, a maker of high-performance radio and mixed signal chips for cellular devices, raised $9.2 million. GaN Systems (a gallium nitride company) of Ottawa, Canada was the only company to raise a first round of investment in a financing led by Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Rockport Capital.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Will they laugh this time? Shervin Pishevar predicts social mobile games to dwarf Facebook games

Posted: 17 Dec 2011 08:00 AM PST

As the founder of Social Gaming Network, Shervin Pishevar squared off against Zynga in the early days of social gaming. But Pishevar veered off into iPhone gaming while Mark Pincus stayed put on Facebook with social games.

The consequences of that competitive battle have played out. Zynga went public at a $10 billion valuation yesterday, while MindJolt acquired SGN for a much lower price in April. But Pishevar isn’t bitter. He offered his congratulations to his friend Pincus and many of his friends whose companies were acquired by Zynga. And he still believes mobile social games will be bigger than Facebook games.

“This is a historic day for a bunch of us,” said Pishevar, now a managing director at Menlo Ventures, in an interview on Friday. “Back in 2007, there were a very small band of entrepreneurs who believed in social gaming. I took the route of mobile and Mark took the route of Facebook.”

Pishevar deserves some cred as a visionary in the space, even if his company didn’t hit the home run.

“The DNA of all of the entrepreneurs are in the successes of this business,” Pishevar said.

He recalls giving a talk at a Casual Connect show in Seattle a few years ago. He predicted social gaming would be a multibillion-dollar business. And the audience laughed.

“That was an amazing cycle to go through,” Pishevar said. “Mobile social gaming will be bigger than Facebook gaming The numbers we are seeing are pretty incredible.”

Now, Pishevar predicts, “Mobile social gaming will be bigger than Facebook gaming in the next three years. It will be a multibillion-dollar business.”

Menlo Ventures is looking for the companies that will be the winners in mobile, where Pishevar said, “Zynga hasn’t cracked the code.” So far, the missing piece of the puzzle is social connectivity, a layer that still has to be built into mobile games and mobile game networks.

Filed under: games, mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Kids (and adults) will have fun learning math with Hungry Fish for iPad

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 08:23 PM PST

Video games for the iPad are an unlikely ally in the fight to help America’s students close the achievement gap in math. But that’s just what startup Motion Math has in mind.

Motion Math is a San Francisco game design studio that creates fun and engaging iPad and iPhone games to teach children mental arithmetic skills. Motion Math: Hungry Fish was released on Thursday, to teach addition and subtraction with the help of a fish who wants to snack on number combinations.

Most educational games teach a single problem-solving method and emphasize the answer. Add 2+2 and you get 4. Hungry Fish inverts mathematical instruction to teach conceptual knowledge.

If the fish is marked with a 7, there are a variety of ways to reach this sum; 5+2, 6+1 or 3+4. Tap the screen to get the fish to chomp on bubbles with the different numbers, collecting points as you go. Part of the fun comes from adding a visceral component to math instruction. And as a result, students learn the process by which they can reach an answer, instead of just memorizing a bunch of number combinations.

“It's both more engaging, and there's a lot of evidence that doing the same thing over and over again doesn't lead to deeper, conceptual knowledge,” Motion Math co-founder Jacob Klein told VentureBeat. Hungry Fish has 18 levels and is even challenging for adults in the later stages, says Klein.

Winning a level allows the player to customize his or her fish with new colors and snazzy fins. Klein says an updated version of Hungry Fish with new levels will be released over the weekend.

Motion Math also commissioned a study to verify the effectiveness of video games in the mathematics learning process. “It’s easy to make something that looks educational,” says Klein. “We wanted to learn from experts in the field.”

Researcher Michelle Riconscente of the USC Rossier School of Education conducted the study, funded by a grant from the Noyce Foundation and Motion Math. Riconscente’s study observed 166  5th grade students who played the Motion Math fractions game and found that they improved their fractions test scores by 15 percent after playing Motion Math for 20 minutes each day for five straight days. The study also found that students’ confidence towards math problems improved after playing the games.

So perhaps parents have one more good reason to buy their kids an iPad or iPod Touch for Christmas this year.

Filed under: mobile

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Left 4 Dead short film rivals Hollywood production values (video)

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:59 PM PST

As the gaming culture matures, a handful of impressive fan films paying homage to popular titles have continued to emerge. First, the “Escape from City 17” Half-Life shorts from two years ago set a new standard with their Hollywood-lite production values, then earlier this year Modern Warfare and Portal received similar treatments. Now another Valve-published game, Left 4 Dead, has been reimagined in this live-action eight-minute film.

Check back shortly for our exclusive interview with the short’s creators from Northern Five Entertainment, the same production company responsible for The Resistance web series that was picked up by Starz Media last year.

Full disclosure: The author of this post is in a relationship with Meagan Marie, who appears as Anya Stroud in this video.

Filed under: games, media, offBeat, video

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Tiny Review iPhone app makes everyday photos into special moments (exclusive)

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 06:07 PM PST

As photos become the new status update, we’re going to see big changes in the way people create, combine and consume words and images. The latest example is from a 500 Startups company called Tiny Review, which unites microblogging and social photo-sharing in its free photo storytelling app. And with a new update for the app out today, the Tiny Review craze is about to take off.

With Tiny Review, users take photos on their iPhone or iPod touch and write short, three-line captions on top of the image, Lolcat style. There’s no 140-character limit like Twitter, but there’s only enough room on each line to write the word “Mediterranean.” It’s a deceptively simple concept, but the results are compelling snapshots of people’s lives that no other app can match.

Today’s Tiny Review update adds the ability to search for photos from a global stream of uploads, find and invite friends from Facebook and Twitter, and share reviews on Twitter.

“The last thing we wanted to do a few months ago was build another photo storytelling app, but then here you are,” Tiny Review co-founder Dick Brouwer told VentureBeat. But as he and co-founder Melissa Miranda explained, you can build a product, but how it is used is beyond your control.

The initial concept for the Tiny Review app came out of the duo’s previous product, Journly. The idea for Journly was was to create a resource for travelers to gather quick tidbits about new cities based on the experiences of other travelers. Rather than relying on a stale guidebooks or reviews sites, travelers could get the latest scoops on hostels, restaurants and places of interest based on their location. Journly, however, never took off.

During a one-day hackathon to generate interest in Journly, a website called Place Poetry was built. Place Poetry asked people to write three-word reviews of locations where they had previously checked-in, but it was web-based, not mobile, and pulled in photos from other websites.

“A lot of people found themselves being quite funny and witty, and it was people who didn’t consider themselves particularly funny,” said Miranda. The experience was engaging and the results memorable, which can hardly be said for writing reviews on a site like Yelp. But people were paralyzed by the notion of creating “poetry” about places. With the name change to Tiny Review, the pressure was diminished and the concept suddenly became more accessible.

Tiny Review was recently picked as a featured app in the iTunes App Store, which helped to drive a ton of new users. But people could only see the photos of other people who were nearby, because the reviews are location-based. Brouwer says there’s been about one Tiny Review photo per user as a result, though he says many people are writing two-to-five Tiny Reviews each day. That should change with the new update. It lets you search for people by their Tiny Review name and follow your Facebook friends, which should open the gates for more photo uploading and sharing.

Adding photo filters from Aviary (as many photo sharing services now do), or creating its own is something Tiny Review could do in the future, Miranda says. The emphasis has been on speed, and Miranda says that photo filters shouldn’t get in the way of people who want their photo sharing to be fast. You can already hack Tiny Review with filtered photos from other apps by saving them into your phone’s photo library and uploading them.

Tiny Review is addictive because the captions turn mundane events and unremarkable photos into something special. “It’s more than a photo and more interesting than just plain text. Together the photo and the caption give context to what’s going on.” said Miranda. “A photo that wouldn’t be interesting on its own — you add a caption and suddenly it’s something else entirely.” One feature of the app update allows the viewer to remove the captions from a photo, and return an image to its original, pristine state (perhaps so they can add a completely different caption).

Miranda said that seeing photos come in on Tiny Review is similar to watching the documentary “Life in a Day,” because you’re able to see life unfold in pictures around a predictable pattern. “Life in a Day” is a documentary made of video clips sent in from around the world documenting their lives on a single day.

In the morning, people share photos about coffee and breakfast, before snapping pictures from their desks, documenting their work lives. “Saturday night is all about drinking, and funny things happen, then Sunday everyone is having brunch and drinking mimosas,” Miranda said. You can see a small slice of this on Tiny Review’s website, and today’s featured photos app update brings this experience to the phone.

The natural competitor for Tiny Review would be another photo-sharing service like Instagram, Hipster or perhaps Twitter. As a business, Tiny Review could disrupt the nascent location-based recommendations category occupied by apps such as Oink, which was recently launched by Kevin Rose, or Stamped, a mobile app created by former Googlers. Oink and Stamped are built around place-based data generated by users, while Tiny Review captures experience and emotion.

Tiny Review is far and away my favorite app of the year for this reason. It transforms ordinary photos into unique and cherished moments, creating a sense of humanity and connection in a world starved for genuine contact.

Filed under: mobile, social

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HP Touchpad 2nd most desired tablet this holiday, says NexTag

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:56 PM PST

For those who wait to shop until the week before Christmas, comparison shopping website NexTag has released its tech gift guides, with an interesting discovery: tablets are ruling the market and pushing other forms of tech down in the ranks.

NexTag sees around 1.5 million buyers everyday and based on that data has released its top ten electronic gifts people are buying. For those upgrading their computers this season, the company also released its top ten desktops and laptops, as well as televisions.

Tablets are the ruling gadget for buyers this season. So much so that sales have dropped in laptops, digital cameras, televisions and camcorders. Laptops have only seen a six percent decrease, but the other devices bottomed out at a 30 percent change. Tablets, on the other hand, have skyrocketed 500 percent in sales, along with PDAs and other handheld technology. NexTag suspects that tablets are responsible for the majority of that increase.

The front runner on NexTag’s tablet list is predictably Apple’s iPad, but an Android does not take second place. Instead, HP’s Touchpad takes number two, and perhaps that’s not as surprising as it seems. On its debut, the Touchpad was met with a less than enthusiastic response. But since HP dropped the price from $499, to $99 for a Best Buy sale, the WebOS tablet is gaining in popularity. The company tried two other sales following the Best Buy success, one pairing the tablet with HP laptops and the other selling refurbished Touchpads on eBay, which were met with similar hype.

Both the Touchpad and the similarly priced ($299) Kindle Fire show consumers’ huge desire for a reasonably priced tablet. Amazon recently announced the Fire was the website’s top selling item, and is the product that appears the most on Amazon wishlists.

In keeping with mobile’s rise in NexTag’s ranks, the company experienced a 50 percent increase to 10 percent in mobile traffic to its site, with a 12.5 percent conversion rate in 2011. In 2010, only 1.8 percent of its mobile traffic actually made it through check out.

See the top ten electronics list below, as well as the laptop guide and a television guide.


NexTag LaptopsNexTag Televisions

Tablet image via Shutterstock

Filed under: mobile

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Square Enix online service hacked, 1.8 million affected

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:54 PM PST

Final Fantasy and Deus Ex publisher Square Enix says unknown parties may have gained unauthorized access to one of its servers in a hacking attempt that has reportedly affected 1.8 million people.

The server in question contains information on the free Square Enix Members service offered in North America and Japan. Square Enix suspended operation of the service on Monday, Dec. 12 after learning of the hacking attempt.

After conducting an investigation into the intrusion, Square says no user login credentials were accessed. “Moreover, we have not found evidence that the individual was able to access any personal information at all,” the company said in a note on the Square Enix Members website.

Square has notified the Japanese government of the attempt and says an email will be sent out to all service members advising them that the incident took place.

The Square Enix Members service will be down for a few more days while the company conducts a broader internal investigation.

This is the second time this year Square Enix has fallen victim to a hacking attempt. Back in May, EidosMontreal.com and other Square Enix-owned websites were allegedly broken in to and around 350 job resumes and 250,000 email addresses were illegally obtained.

VentureBeat has attempted to contact Square Enix to confirm the number of Members users affected and to get an exact ETA on when the service will be restored.

Filed under: games

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eBay counters Amazon with dollars off at Dicks, Toys R Us and Aeropostale

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 05:05 PM PST

Archenemies Amazon and eBay have come to blows and are now embroiling offline merchants in their ongoing battle of e-commerce one-upmanship.

Last week, Amazon incentivized holiday shoppers to check prices offline, using the company’s Amazon Price Check application, but then go home and buy online and save $5 for doing so. The crafty ploy was called “anti-competitive” and drew the ire of retail organizations and politicians alike.

To counter, and come off as the brick-and-mortar-friendly retailer, eBay started a shopping promotion of its own. Friday, the company and its payments platform PayPal kicked off a four-day promotion that rewards online shoppers with up to three $10 in-store vouchers — read: must be redeemed offline — when they spend $100 at partner merchants.

It’s not as if eBay’s deal is the most convenient deal to be had (maybe that’s the point?).

On top of needing to be a PayPal member, you also need to spend a minimum of $100, in a single transaction, at either Toys R Us, Dick’s Sporting Goods or Aeropostale — the partner retailers are customers of GSI Commerce, an eBay-owned company — before Dec. 19. You’ll then need to wait anywhere from three to five days (really, eBay?) for your $10 in-store coupon to arrive via email. Of course, you’ll also have to pick yourself up off the couch and head out to a store to take advantage of the deal. And this all has to happen before Dec. 31. Fun times.

Complicated it may be, but at a time of year when many stop to celebrate peace and goodwill, the eBay deal helps the company come off as a Christmas hero. Amazon, meanwhile, looks like a greedy Grinch. Of course, all of this will be lost on consumers just looking to save money.

via AllThingsD

Image via slworking2/Flickr

Filed under: deals, VentureBeat

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The U.S. Army is creating the helicopters of the future

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 03:34 PM PST

The Pentagon and the U.S. army are showing off some fancy new equipment in the form of a next-generation helicopter.

These gadgets-in-the-sky will include integrated sensors, faster speeds, automatic “pilotless” flights, better countermeasures and lower overall costs.

The military is looking at a 2018 timeframe, according to Dave Weller, the science and technology program manager for the Aviation Program Executive Office. The Army is looking toward a demo craft in 2013 and test flights taking off in 2017.

Here are some specifics the military is aiming for with these new air vehicles:

  • Sensors that are integrated into the airframe
  • High-speed targeting capabilities
  • Optionally automated/autonomous flight
  • A human machine interface for on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection
  • Teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft, including remote control from inside the manned craft
  • Automatic avoidance of obstacles using sensors
  • Hovering and pivoting with tilt-rotor aircraft technology
  • Diagnostic sensors to streamline repairs

Except for the high-speed targeting functions, it sounds a lot like a soccer mom’s Audi: super intelligent, loaded with sensors, and practically (or in some cases, actually) able to drive itself.

“Overall, what we are trying to do is look at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and communications equipment and see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together,” said Systems Integration Division chief Ray Wall Ray Wall in a statement.

Several military personnel stated the Army has approached the future ‘copters with capabilities in mind rather than solutions to specific problems; as a couple representatives noted, the Army is, at this point, looking to the aviation and defense industries for solutions to the problems it is experiencing.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Tweets are free speech, even threatening ones, judge rules

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 03:20 PM PST

Does posting thousands of threatening messages to Twitter targeted at single person constitute online stalking? Legally, the answer is now officially no.

Judge Roger W. Titus ruled, in the case of the U.S. versus William Lawrence Cassidy, that harassing messages posted to Twitter or blog sites are the digital equivalent of soapbox rants, and are thus protected forms of free speech.

In the now-dismissed case, the government had accused the defendant Cassidy of causing “substantial emotional distress” to Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader, by mentioning her in nearly 8,000 troublesome tweets and several blog posts. One such message read, “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”

“While Mr. Cassidy's speech may have inflicted substantial emotional distress, the government's indictment here is directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters,” Judge Titus wrote in his ruling.

Titus likened the tweets to bulletin boards posted on lawns during colonial times, with the logic being that these types of messages can be avoided and are not the same as a harassing phone call, letter or email directed at a person. “If one colonist wants to see what is on another's bulletin board, he would need to walk over to his neighbor's yard and look at what is posted, or hire someone else to do so,” he said.

“This is an area where there has been very little case law,” Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times. “It is likely to be quite influential.”

Essentially, the federal court ruling could set a legal precedent and leave victims of Twitter harassment little legal recourse.

[Image via bloomsberries/Flickr]

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Want Siri on your iPhone 4? Legal, less painful method discovered

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 02:34 PM PST

Thanks to Apple’s mobile operating system update,iOS 5.0.1, anyone with a little technical knowledge and desire can now put Apple’s voice assistant Siri feature to use on their iPhone 4.

The update leaves the phone’s RAM disks unencrypted, which allows you to write a script to extract the files needed to enable Siri on the iPhone 4, according to iPhone hacker MuscleNerd. To implement this hack, iPhone 4 owners must download the iOS update, if they haven’t already done so. If you currently have the update, you must download the revised update from Apple’s site.

The new Siri hack is much less painful than previous methods, which required an iPhone 4S unique identifier and validation tokens to fool Apple’s server running Siri. The new method is arguably superior, since “borrowing” someone else’s unique identifier raises security and legal questions.

While hacking the iOS files is (mostly) legal, Apple probably won’t like it. Until the company rolls out another update, however, you can enjoy Siri on your iPhone 4 without having to purchase a new device.

[Via Cult of Mac]

Filed under: dev, mobile, security, VentureBeat

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Why did Universal get this video yanked off YouTube if it doesn’t have a copyright claim?

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 02:29 PM PST

Universal Music Group recently had a video removed from YouTube because…

Well, that’s a good question, actually. The video was removed without notice and without any copyright violations, and most folks (outside of a small group of contract attorneys) are still struggling to understand why.

UPDATE: YouTube has reinstated the video and has given VentureBeat the following statement: “Our partners do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they own the rights to them or they are live performances controlled through exclusive agreements with their artists, which is why we have reinstated the video.” However, we’re still working to find out why it was taken down in the first place and whether such takedowns might occur in the future.

A company called Megaupload recently shot a long, star-studded music video to promote its product. The music was original, and the company signed contracts with all the stars in the video, including Drake, Will.i.am, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, Snoop Dogg and a host of others.

But then, UMG called YouTube and had the video pulled off the web. Originally, Megaupload was under the impression that UMG had somehow filed a copyright violation claim and a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice.

However, Universal now has admitted the video wasn’t pulled because of copyright issues. In a letter from UMG’s attorneys to YouTube, the studio states, “UMG’s rights in this regard are not limited to copyright infringement.”

In other words, Universal can tell YouTube to remove videos for other reasons — regardless of whether or not the studio has any rights or claims on the content.

Since the two entities entered into a contractual agreement in 2009, UMG can apparently have YouTube take down videos for any number of hidden reasons.

But how does that pertain to Megaupload and their video? How is it fair in any way to Megaupload?

Loads of unanswered questions still surround the issue: What was the real cause for the takedown? Why did YouTube comply with the request? Because of the confusion this situation has created, do YouTube content creators have the right to know about conditions in contracts with third parties that might jeopardize the videos they make?

But mostly, why do all these celebrities love Megaupload so much, anyway?

Megaupload has filed a lawsuit against Universal over the whole debacle. We’ve reached out to YouTube to get a better understanding of why the video was removed and will keep you updated, as always.

Filed under: media

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House committee delays SOPA vote, no new date set

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:56 PM PST

stop_sopa_450The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in charge of the controversial Stop Online Privacy Act decided to delay sending the piece of legislation to the House floor for an official vote today. No new vote date was set prior to Congress adjourning.

The bill gives both the U.S. government and copyright holders the authority to seek court orders against websites associated with infringing, pirating and/or counterfeiting intellectual property. The implication of having the bill pass is that it could drastically change the way the Internet operates. For example, if a website is accused of containing copyright-infringing content such as a song or a picture, the site could be blocked by ISPs, de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business with companies like PayPal.

One reason for the SOPA vote delay has to do with disagreement over a provision allowing the Attorney General to order changes the Internet’s infrastructure to thwart copyright infringement. Rep. Lamar Smith, who introduced SOPA in October and chairman of the committee, said he was open to further exploration of the provision. He added that the committee would resume discussions when Congress is back in session weeks from now.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz moved to delay a vote until technical experts could be brought in. The committee seeks further information regarding security risks associated with altering the Internet's domain-naming system.

Despite several business leaders and tech entrepreneurs speaking out against SOPA as well as similar legislation like the Protect IP Act (PIPA), there wasn’t much protest within the committee regarding the negative effects SOPA would have on Internet business and innovation.

Via Wired

Filed under: media, security, VentureBeat

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HP nixes its huge golden parachutes for fired execs

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:52 PM PST

HP has decided to cut back on the multi-million dollar severance packages it had previously dispensed to executives who were fired.

While some cash compensation will likely still be part terminations, and executives will be allowed to retain vested stock they have earned during their tenure with the company, they won’t be able to take deals involving huge amounts of restricted or not-yet-vested stock options.

In days gone by, many an ousted exec was let go with a huge cash-and-stock cushion to fall back on.

For example, when former HP CEO Mark Hurd was fired last year in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, he walked away with $30 million. His successor, Leo Apotheker, was let go with a $7.2 million cash severance and a $2.4 million bonus, as well as $18 million in company stock. And fired CEO Carly Fiorina was given a $20 million severance package when she and HP parted ways back in 2005.

Altogether, HP paid out more than $80 million between 2005 and September 2011 for fired CEOs alone.

No more, the company now says. Going forward, HP will follow newly amended guidelines for executive severance packages that limit the payments individual former employees can receive in cases where they are fired without a cause.

In its annual financial report, HP stated that the CEO and other executives would be required to return unvested stock options and restricted shares during the termination process. Fired executives will each still have one year after the termination date to exercise any vested stock options they might have.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Zynga closes at $9.50 a share, down 5 percent in IPO debut

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:32 PM PST

Zynga’s initial public offering wasn’t as popular as the company hoped, with the stock closing at $9.50 a share, down 5 percent from its offering price of $10 a share.

The weak performance came after a considerable mix of hype and cynicism about the social gaming company, which raised $1 billion at an $8.9 billion valuation with options included. The stock price opened at $11 a share (up 10 percent) and rose at the outset as high as $11.50 a share (up 15 percent) but then started tanking in the late morning.

Zynga sold 100 million shares at $10, the high end of its expected range of $8.50 to $10 in its IPO. Back in July, Zynga was hoping to raise $2 billion at a valuation of $15 billion to $20 billion.

Zynga’s IPO can be considered a “dog,” as many pundits have been getting ready to say, since Zynga’s name came from founder Mark Pincus’s deceased beloved dog. Only five of 22 U.S. Internet IPOs this year have closed down on the first day, according to Dealogic.

On the other hand, Zynga was founded in 2007, it generated $1.5 billion in revenues to date, and it started the day with a $9 billion market capitalization. That’s not so bad.

Filed under: games, social

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The complete history of Zynga (so far) in handy e-book form

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:22 PM PST

To mark Zynga‘s stock-market debut, we’re releasing a 63-page e-book on the history of the company.

In just five years, social-gaming company Zynga has gone from scrappy, sometimes-shady underdog, to multi-billion dollar company. On Friday, Zynga capped of the first leg of its journey and started another when it went public on the Nasdaq.

VentureBeat’s lead games writer Dean Takahashi has followed the company from its beginnings as Presidio Media in 2007, through lawsuits, hit games, failures and internal drama. This tale was originally published on VentureBeat as a 12 page article. If you’d like a more mobile-friendly version, the $2.99 Amazon e-book is available now. Read it on your Kindle, or any mobile device with a Kindle app.

This book’s narrative is based on extensive interviews and research conducted by Dean since 2008. The story of Zynga is very much about its founder, Mark Pincus. But it's also about the whole cast of characters who surrounded him, the rivals who drove him to succeed, and the industry that challenged Zynga to prove itself over and over.

In this book, we've done our best to triangulate on how Zynga became what it is today — and how it almost didn't happen.

If you’re a game-history buff, check out Dean’s last book, “Xbox: Making of a Bad-Ass Machine” on Amazon and in Apple’s iBookstore.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Angry Birds, happy company: Rovio talks Hong Kong IPO

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 01:09 PM PST

Angry Birds, the two year-old blockbuster game and burgeoning franchise, has propelled its Finnish-maker Rovio to super-stardom. Now, the company is mulling the idea of joining the ranks of public companies — in Hong Kong.

Rovio intends to list its stock on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2013, according to Finnish publication Tekniikka & Talous.

“In Asia there are growing markets — the people and the money,” Rovio’s chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka told Reuters, although he would not confirm the company’s plans for its seemingly inevitable IPO.

The 2013 date obviously conflicts with previous reports and even contradicts Vesterbacka’s own statements. In October, he talked openly about the likelihood of a late 2012 public offering.

Rovio’s long-stated intention is to become an entertainment conglomerate that rivals huge brand names like Disney. To that end, the company has ramped up its merchandising efforts and is developing a feature-length Angry Birds movie.

Rovio opened its first office outside of Finland in Shanghai earlier this year.

Image via jpg3/Flickr

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Apple’s A5 processor produced in Samsung’s Texas factory

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 12:38 PM PST

Apple-TexasWhile most components for Apple devices are made overseas, its A5 processor, which power the iPhone 4S and iPad 2,  is produced in the far away land of… Texas.

The A5 processors are manufactured in a factory in Austin, Tex., according to a Reuters report that cites sources familiar with the matter. It’s a big surprise since Apple usually gets its components through Asian manufacturing companies that can keep their labor costs down, which in turn, brings costs down for Apple.

The $3.6 billion factory, which belongs to Korean electronics company Samsung, is a 1.6 million square foot facility (about the size of 9 football fields). It employs about 3,500 people and is the second non-memory chip production facility owned by Samsung. According to the Reuters report, the facility was expanded to include a production line for such chips when Samsung signed a contract with Apple earlier this year.

Although the information isn’t confirmed, it would make sense for Samsung to produce the crucial Apple A5 chip in Austin. The city has plenty of potential talent that comes from the University of Texas’ engineering schools. Austin is also home to a very large Apple customer call center, which employs thousands of people.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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TechCrunch CEO Heather Harde resigns from the AOL-owned company

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 12:03 PM PST

Heather HardeAOL has lost another executive, as TechCrunch‘s chief executive office Heather Harde leaves the blog AOL bought in 2010.

The departure was confirmed on Friday in a post by Erick Schonfeld, the company’s current EIC. News first broke when TechCrunch founder and former editor-in-chief Michael Arrington tweeted, “Heather Harde has resigned from TechCrunch. Sad day.”

Harde told VentureBeat in an email, “My last official day will be December 31, but I will continue to help support the Crunchies Awards and will attend the event. My immediate plans are to take a break,”

Harde joined TechCrunch as CEO in 2007 after leaving News Corporation, where she acted as the senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions for Fox Interactive Media. TechCrunch itself was founded in 2005 by Michael Arrington, who sold the company in 2010 to AOL. He left this past September to launch his own venture capital firm, CrunchFund. Since Arrington’s departure, both TechCrunch and AOL have experienced employee departures. This includes AOL president of applications and commerce group Brad Garlinghouse, who left in November, and TechCrunch senior editor Sarah Lacey, who is rumored to be starting a blog of her own.

TechCrunch writers MG Siegler and Paul Carr also recently resigned, with Siegler announcing his intent to join CrunchFund and continue at TechCrunch as an Apple columnist.

AOL made significant changes to its editorial vision after acquiring The Huffington Post and adding Arianna Huffington to its staff. In March, the company sloughed off around 400 to 500 writers, leading to even more editorial upheaval. In addition to the moves at TechCrunch, former Engadget employees also left and recently launched technology blog The Verge.

Harde has not yet disclosed what she will be doing next.

Image via CrunchBase

Filed under: media

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Here’s how AT&T and Sprint are using Carrier IQ’s data

Posted: 16 Dec 2011 11:28 AM PST

Moblie carriers Sprint and AT&T have revealed how much they each use data from Carrier IQ, the mobile data monitoring service that’s been raising eyebrows across the globe.

In the ongoing saga of Carrier IQ, we’ve focused a lot of attention on the company but relatively little on how carriers are using the information it gathers. The company collects information on around 150 million cell phones around the world — information about battery performance, app issues and dropped calls.

However, since a video was released that appeared to show the software logging keystrokes, many privacy advocates have become concerned about all the data Carrier IQ gathers, and exactly what wireless carriers are monitoring and using.

In detailed letters to Sen. Al Franken, who has taken a special interest in the Carrier IQ case and requested pertinent information from major carriers, both Sprint and AT&T talk about how they partnered with Carrier IQ. But the companies take very different approaches to working with Carrier IQ and its data.

“We appreciate Subcommittee Chairman Franken's continued interest in protecting consumer privacy and look forward to our ongoing dialogue with the Senator to answer his additional questions,” said Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s vice president of marketing, in an email exchange with VentureBeat.

In its letter to Franken, Sprint says it uses Carrier IQ’s shortcode data diagnostically on around 26 million Sprint devices. It says, however, that the Carrier IQ software doesn’t gather data unless it’s asked to do so, and at any given time, only around 1.3 million of those devices might actually be gathering data.

In AT&T’s letter to Franken, the company says it has been working with Carrier IQ since March 2011. Currently, AT&T says around 900,000 of its devices have Carrier IQ deployed.

What both carriers did stress, however, was that they considered Carrier IQ’s diagnostic data to be critical to improving network speed and reliability, both things that customers are very passionate about. AT&T in particular says that when it logs location, it does so to improve cell coverage in that location.

Also, Sprint and AT&T noted that rather than spying on individual consumers, the companies creates “profiles” of types of mobile device behavior — after all, huge amounts of data like those gathered by Carrier IQ are most useful for businesses when aggregated and categorized to find patterns and trends.

In short, the carriers both claim to be using the kind of data Carrier IQ has previously stated it provides — shortcodes, not keystrokes — in a manner consistent with consumer expectations of security, customer service and privacy.

This hasn’t stopped consumers from taking preemptive action, though. A couple weeks ago, all major carriers as well as Carrier IQ were named in a class-action lawsuit, and the software provider went as far as requesting meetings with the FTC and FCC (and several senators) to answer questions and clear its name.

Stay tuned for more Carrier IQ news as the company’s moment in the spotlight continues to play out.

Filed under: mobile, security

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