23 March, 2012



Facebook to employers: this asking-for-passwords nonsense needs to stop

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 09:20 AM PDT


After hearing reports that employers are asking prospective employees for their social media passwords to see their histories, Facebook has responded today by telling those employers to buzz off and users to not give up their passwords.

We first heard about this weird trend earlier this week. Some HR pros apparently have been asking applicants to hand over Facebook login credentials, including user names, passwords, and security questions, or asking applicants to log into their Facebook accounts on a company computer to be looked over. Other recruiters might ask an applicant to add them as a friend on the social network to gain access to their profiles. Thing is, many applicants are complying because the job market is still rough.

Facebook says users should should never have to share their passwords or give access to their accounts to others. Not only does it compromise your data, but it also can expose an employer to legal liability. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan writes:

As a user, you shouldn't be forced to share your private information and communications just to get a job. And as the friend of a user, you shouldn't have to worry that your private information or communications will be revealed to someone you don't know and didn't intend to share with just because that user is looking for a job. That's why we've made it a violation of Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password.

We don't think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don't think it's right the thing to do. But it also may cause problems for the employers that they are not anticipating. For example, if an employer sees on Facebook that someone is a member of a protected group (e.g. over a certain age, etc.) that employer may open themselves up to claims of discrimination if they don't hire that person.

Facebook also said it potentially take legal action against to protect the “privacy and security” of its users. This includes shutting down any application that abuses its ability to collect data on users.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever had to give a social media password to an employer or had to “friend” an employer/boss to keep or get a job.

Woman covering mouth: szefei/Shutterstock

Filed under: social

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The DeanBeat: Video games can be about love, not just violence

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT

For decades, the dominant theme in video games has been violence. That’s not surprising, since violent competitions have been dominant in culture for thousands of years. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Video games can be about love, emotion, and positive motivation, according to a panel of game developers who are trying to make all of that happen.

The panel on “How Designing for Love Can Change the World” was part of the Games For Change summit at the Game Developers Conference a couple of weeks ago. The panel was part of a movement among game designers who want to change the world for the better. They know that sex in games can be common and crude, but love is pretty scarce.

Their goal is to start a conversation about “how to create more love with our art,” said Jane McGonigal, a veteran game developer at Social Chocolate and co-moderator of the panel. She is well-known as the author of the book Reality Is Broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.

“This is about what games could be,” McGonigal (pictured far right) said.

The speakers are also part of a group of researchers, known as the Digital Romance Lab, that is working on games that have to do with love, romance, and flirting. They’re not talking about sex, or porn, per se. Led by Jane Pinckard, who co-moderated the panel at the GDC, the Digital Romance Lab has done things like collect the most romantic moments in video games in the past year. Pinckard is associate director of the Center for Games and Playable Media at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Chelsea Howe (pictured in orange hat) and Michael Molinari (pictured in blue shirt) became a real-life couple while working on a game called The End of Us. Created in a 48-hour Global Game Jam in 2011, the game features two comets that come together and frolic through the void. They become companions until it becomes clear that one of them is going to collide with the Earth. After the collision, only one lonely comet is left to fly through space. The game is about how to deal with a great loss of a love.

Molinari said, “You have to first have something, before you lose. So knowing that, the whole game builds up to this moment of loss.”

People who played the game reacted very emotionally to it.

Howe, design director at Super Better Labs, said the science behind emotion shows that when you feel an emotion, you spread it to six people. In a day, you can affect more than 250 people.

“How do you figure that out and stick that in a game?” Howe asked.

When you affect a player with emotion in a game, you can make an impact on more than 250 people.

One way is simply to give players a way to communicate and enable them to “project themselves into a space that we leave open for them.” Super Better Labs did this with a “secret wall” that players could find and then use to talk to each other.

If love is defined (by psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson) as a “shared positive emotion,” then sharing of games and sharing in games is a way to bring love into them. Howe said some of her favorite games that did this were Ecco the Dolphin, Flower, and Mirror’s Edge. With these games, Howe said, she felt full of hope and wonder while she was playing them.

Martin Hollis (pictured center), a former hardcore game designer who is co-founder of the Digital Romance Lab, said the 5,000-year-old Royal Game of Ur, the oldest board game in the world, was about dominating others. On the panel, he said that Jon von Neumann, the computing pioneer, argued that in game theory, zero sum games mean there are only winners and losers. You might conclude that games are always competitive, alway confrontational.

But Hollis said John Nash, the mathematician depicted in the film A Beautiful Mind, argued that there was another kind of strategy, dubbed non-cooperative equilibrium, where cooperation in games can pay off for the good of all. Hollis also mentioned that actress Eva Gabor said, “Love is a game that two can play and both win.”

Hollis said he hopes that a “change is in the air” regarding the romantic genre in video games — a genre that currently doesn’t exist. Perhaps, he said, we can look back on this moment in 5,000 years and view it as a turning point for love games. He thinks it would be cool to make matchmaking games where you can test whether people are a good match or not. He thinks such games could give some intrinsic motivation, or pleasure from within, by being a skilled matchmaker in a “match two” game.

“Games have been about war for thousands of years. Why not change them?” he asked. “Make love games normal. Maybe then, in 5,000 years, half the games will be about war, and half about love.”

Scott Brodie, founder of Heartshaped Games in Kirkland, Wash., sent a recording because he wasn’t able to be at the panel in person, since his wife was having a baby. His game was Hero Generations, where a lifetime lasts five minutes. In that time, you have to choose a mate, choose when to have a family, and then end your heroic adventures. You can build things like farms and roads that the next hero who succeeds you can take advantage of. The hero has to invest time with his or her family and make sacrifices while seeking individual goals.

You can design a game to influence how people view the world, he said. If you change one player at a time, you can change the world.

Mitu Khandaker (pictured second from right), an indie game developer and researcher at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said that love is a very diverse thing and  that it takes a lot of thought to figure out which part of it you want to depict in a game.

“How do you model the experience of love? Any one couple?” Khandaker said.

At the Digital Romance Lab, she worked on a game with robots. In the game, one robot had to search for another robot and find a companion. That led to the game Redshirt, currently under development in the U.K. The game lets you schmooze your way through social circles and claw your way up the career ladder.

McGonigal said, “Let’s see a love game nominated for the awards next year, or featured in a keynote.”

GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat's fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry's latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.

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Macs might be getting Retina Display upgrades this summer

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 07:38 AM PDT

MacBook Pro

The iPad might not be the only Apple product to get a gorgeous new Retina Display upgrade.

The latest developer release of Apple’s operating system OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion indicated that some Mac computers will upgraded with Retina Displays. The dev release hints at support for double-sized graphics within some OS X applications, which would make them ready for a higher-resolution display, according to an Ars Technica report.

For those not privy to why the Retina Display is a big deal, then let me explain. It’s a high-density pixel screen that displays images better than the human eye can perceive. It’s likely better than most older television screens in you house, and should make HD movies and TV shows much more gorgeous. So, putting a Retina Display onto a Mac’s screen is a bit exciting.

However, the revelation of finding double-sized image support isn’t exactly new. For instance, Apple’s beta version of new native instant messaging application Messages also contained support for high-resolution images as would be best suited for devices with a Retina Display.

But more realistically, Apple could just as well be trying to future-proof its developer community. The company’s strategy is leaning towards making the experience with OS X and its mobile operating system iOS more similar. In doing so, Apple may try to guide developers to create one application that can be optimized for whatever device its used on. (Obviously, that might not be true for all applications, but certainly for simple apps such as Twitter’s desktop client).

If Macs do gain a pretty new Retina Display, we’re likely to see them when Mountain Lion is released to the public this summer. As for which Macs will get the upgraded screen, I wouldn’t bet on anything larger than 15-inches. That cancels out all iMacs and the 17-inch Macbook Pro.

My guess is that Apple will probably put a Retina Display on the Macbook Air first, or perhaps to an upgraded slimmer 13- and 15-inch line of Macbook Pros.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Nokia’s Lumia 900 may finally hit AT&T stores on April 9

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 06:44 AM PDT

After countless rumored release dates, it now seems like Nokia’s Lumia 900 Windows Phone — our favorite product from CES — will finally be available in AT&T stores on April 9th.

Apparently, some AT&T stores already have demo units of the phone available, a WPCentral reader tells the site. AT&T employees have also confirmed the April 9 release to the site, though there hasn’t yet been an official release announcement from AT&T, Nokia, or Microsoft.

The April 9 release makes sense given what we’re hearing from sources as well. The phone is expected to retail for $99 on contract, with online orders starting on April 8th.

The Lumia 900′s specs are killer: It sports a 4.3-inch AMOLED Clear Black display — a big improvement over the Lumia 800′s 3.7-inch screen, 1.4 gigahertz CPU (though unfortunately not dual-core — those Windows Phones are expected later this year), and a front-facing camera for video conferencing. Notably, the Lumia 900 also features a huge battery (1830mah), which should help it survive a day's worth of heavy usage.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Rovio CEO: Actually, Angry Birds Space will come to Windows Phone (updated)

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 06:43 AM PDT


Update: Apparently Rovio’s execs do not communicate with each other. Rovio CEO Mikael Hed just told Reuters that his company is working on Angry Birds Space for Windows Phone, but a launch date is not set.

Original post below:

Rovio said yesterday that there are “no plans” to bring Angry Birds Space to Windows Phone. While the move might seem like a slight overlook of the Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform, an analyst said today it actually could have damaging ramifications for phone maker Nokia.

The much-hyped Angry Birds Space mobile game launched yesterday for iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), Android, PC, Mac, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook tablets. Because the original Angry Birds game landed on Windows Phone and is quite popular, it’s odd not to see Angry Birds Space there, and even stranger that Rovio isn’t even considering porting it.

Rovio chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka explained to Bloomberg that “it's a big undertaking to support it [the port to Windows Phone], and you have to completely rewrite the application."

To Richard Windsor, a mobile analyst for Japanese finance company Nomura, this spells trouble for Windows Phone and its biggest manufacturer, Nokia. Even though Windows Phone just passed the 70,000 app mark yesterday, Windsor said in report that the platform not getting Angry Birds Space “suggests that Rovio does not have much confidence in its future.”

"As the standard version is already number one on the Windows Phone app store, it gives a strong indication that no one else will expect to be making money writing for this platform either,” Windsor added.

Nokia will especially be uncomfortable with this assessment because it bet the farm on Microsoft’s Windows Phone when it moved away from its Symbian OS. So far, the company has released two of its Lumia Windows Phone handsets in the U.S. and its excellent Lumia 900 will likely be released in the next few weeks.

But we’re now in a market driven much more by software than hardware, so consumers are not going to be as interested in smartphones that don’t have high-quality games and apps like Angry Birds Space. Our guess is that Microsoft will take notice and eventually pay Rovio to make Angry Birds Space for Windows Phone.

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Zynga to sell 43M shares in secondary offering, bought OMGPOP for $180M

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 06:32 AM PDT

Zynga filed a revised S-1 this morning with the SEC that contained a number of interesting details. It pegged the price of its recent purchase of NYC game company OMGPOP at $180 million. The filing also revealed the company will sell just under 43 million shares in a secondary offering. And while CEO Mark Pincus is offloading about 15 percent of his shares, his voting power will stay very much intact.

Other sellers include IVP, SilverLake, Union Square Ventures, Google, Reid Hoffman board member Jeffrey Katzenberg and employees like Owen Van Natta, General Counsel Reggis Davis, COO John Schappert and CFO Dave Wehner.

Zynga is hoping to avoid a situation where tons of folks start selling at the same time when the six month lockup following the IPO expires, a move that could put a hurting on their stock price.

The company toots its own horn a few times in the S-1. “We are the world's leading provider of social game services with 240 million average monthly active users, or MAUs, in 175 countries. We have launched the most successful social games in the industry in each of the last three years and have generated over $1.85 billion in cumulative revenue and over $2.35 billion in cumulative bookings since our inception in 2007.”

Filed under: deals, games

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New York startup Profitably loses all but one employee, CEO Adam Neary (exclusive)

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 05:37 AM PDT

Profitably, a startup trying to bring deep financial analytics to small and medium businesses, was founded two years ago, in March of 2010. Exactly one year ago this week we reported that the company raised $1.1 million in seed funding to grow its team.

But in the last week, things have gone from bad to worse, leaving CEO Adam Neary as the only full-time employee still with the company.

The company was part of the first class at New York’s General Assembly, and Neary recorded in detail how being a part of the hot co-working space helped to double the size of their seed round. Profitably pulled financial data from a service like Quickbooks and showed small business owners where they were succeeding and what their trouble spots were. Then it offered concrete recommendations for how to build on that success.

Sources began reaching out last week to say something was up with Profitably. When I first heard the company was in trouble, I contacted Neary to get his perspective on what was happening. The rumor was the company was shutting down. He responded by email:

It’s really not that simple. I definitely appreciate you reaching out to me ahead of publishing. The reality is, we’re signing up 200-250 small businesses every week. We’ve just rebuilt our platform from the bottom up to handle all the traffic we’re seeing, and right now we’re making some tough personnel decisions in terms of setting ourselves up for the next phase of the company’s growth. 

The above is not a throwaway PR line–it’s where we are. The members of our team have wives. We have children at home. We’ve all left very lucrative careers to try to do our best to build a product for the country’s small businesses, it’s tough work, and none of these decisions are being made lightly.  

Bottom line–it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to get into the details of various staffing decisions we’re making right now, but please give me the benefit of the doubt that it’s not as simple as “you laid off most employees and are bootstrapping.” Given the traction we’ve been seeing and a number of fantastic partnerships we’re pursuing, that would obviously paint a false picture of where the company stands and gloss over some pretty subtle stuff.  

I’m doing my best to show everybody involved as much respect as possible–I hope you do the same!   Warm regards, Adam

It was difficult for me to sort out the discrepancy between Neary’s email and what I had heard. I knew that one of the company’s co-founders, CTO Francis Hwang, had left in November, and the rest of the team had left or been let go last week. Shortly after I got hold of an email from Neary himself, written to investors. It paints a different portrait of what happened, and where the company might go from here. The email from Neary is after the jump.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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Are casino games hot? Mobile Deluxe thinks so (exclusive)

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Mobile Deluxe is launching its Big Win Blackjack game today on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. In any other time, that wouldn’t be very exciting, and game developers would scoff at it.

But anything that has to do with online casino games these days is hot, and it might be possible for Mobile Deluxe to cash in on this trend. By layering a new business model (free-to-play games where users play for free and pay real money for virtual goods such as casino chips) and a new broad-reach platform (Apple’s iOS), casino game makers are going through a renewal.

Stranger things have happened. Who would have thought, for instance, that a social poker game would put Zynga on the path to a billion-dollar initial public offering and a $10 billion valuation? And the Justice Department’s reinterpretation of a law in December paved the way for the legalization of online gambling. That pumped up Zynga’s stock and led to some interesting deals, such as International Gaming Technology’s $500 million purchase of Facebook casino game maker Double Down Interactive.

Mobile Deluxe, based in Santa Monica, Calif., has been making games since 2003 and has grown to 30 employees without any outside money. The Big Win Blackjack game is a free-to-play title with touchscreen controls and tournament play. Players can take on multiple hands at a time, and the app teaches you how to improve your skills. With the Professor Blackjack mode, for example, you can learn the basics of the game and how to count cards.

"With Big Win Blackjack, we've created a game that will captivate the most experienced players and those playing for the first time," said Josh Hartwell, the company's chief executive. "It teaches users everything they need to know about the game with premium graphics and fluid game play."

The casino is ad-sponsored. Players can spend real money on additional chips and pay their way into high-limit rooms. Mobile Deluxe’s Solitaire Deluxe game has been downloaded 6 million times.

Game developers can laugh at this simpleton game creation. And there are tons of rivals out there, all of them copying each other in some fashion. On mobile platforms, Playtika has risen to prominence with Slotomania, and FishSticks Games has gathered an audience for Slots Journey.

But what if Mobile Deluxe uses this casino game frenzy to earn itself a big valuation and then climb up the food chain, using the casino game money to finance higher value games? Who would be laughing then?

Filed under: games, mobile

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iPhone beating BlackBerry in Canada shows how bad RIM is broken

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 04:27 AM PDT


Research in Motion has lost its home field advantage in Canada to Apple for the first time ever, another sign that RIM is almost hopelessly broken when it comes to smartphone innovation.

The long-time co-CEOs and co-founders of RIM, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, resigned from the company in January after 20 years and were replaced by COO Thorsten Heins. While trying to shake up things at RIM is a good move, Heins does not appear to be committed to a full-scale re-boot that the brand desperately needs. Thus far, Heins has said he would stick with RIM's current strategy for the foreseeable future. But maybe losing its stronghold in Canada could be the splash of cold water Heins needs to see how poorly RIM is really doing.

Bloomberg reports that RIM, which is based in Ontario, shipped 2.08 million BlackBerrys last year in Canada, while Apple shipped 2.85 million units of its popular iPhone. In 2008, RIM was outselling Apple nearly five to one.

“For RIM, in its home market, to lose that No. 1 position to iPhone is strategically important," Paul Taylor, asset manager at BMO Harris Private Banking in Toronto, told Bloomberg. "It does identify, even with a home-country bias, how consumers are responding to the greater functionality of the iPhone."

VentureBeat Editor-in-Chief Matt Marshall made the case at the time of Balsillie and Lazaridis’ resignations that the RIM mostly lost its way because Apple and Google offer superior software platforms. RIM showed off its first BlackBerry in 1999 and became known for its simple and useful wireless e-mail service. And with that emphasis, it has owned the corporate smartphone world for years. But now that business professionals want more powerful devices like the iPhone, iPad, and various Android phones, RIM can’t even hold the enterprise.

At least in Canada, RIM still has loyal supporters. Many of Canada's banks and government agencies still issue BlackBerrys, including the Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, and Bank of Montreal. But that tide could shift: Toronto-Dominion Bank still issues BlackBerrys to staffers, but now has a policy to let employees use iPhone and Android devices for corporate purposes.

Heins has said the company will begin to take a greater global focus and told the New York Times in January, “In the rest of the world, BlackBerry is growing very fast.” But if the shifting winds in Canada are any indication, RIM may not want to bet it all on the “rest of the world” because it can’t even win the smartphone war at home.

Broken BlackBerry photo: miggslives/Flickr

VB Mobile SummitVentureBeat is holding its second annual Mobile Summit this April 2-3 in Sausalito, Calif. The invitation-only event will debate the five key business and technology challenges facing the mobile industry today, and participants — 180 mobile executives, investors, and policymakers — will develop concrete, actionable solutions that will shape the future of the mobile industry. You can find out more at our Mobile Summit site.

Filed under: mobile

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With 6,000 followers, Zipline launches Moai game-dev platform

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 12:00 AM PDT

Go Go KiddoZipline Games has attracted 6,000 game developers to its Moai game development platform. And now it’s formally launching version 1.0.

During the past year or so of testing, Seattle-based Zipline has tweaked its Moai development environment so that it can handle production of cross-platform games. Using a single code base, developers can create games that run across iOS (Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad), Android, and Google Chrome.

“We’re ready to declare Moai open for business,” said Todd Hopper, chief executive of Zipline, in an interview with VentureBeat. “We’re excited to get it out.”

Zipline will offer free Moai cloud services through April 30 and then will start charging for them. Among the companies that have taken advantage of Moai already is DistinctDev, maker of the hit game The Moron Test. DistinctDev previously created eight versions of its game for different platforms and is now moving to Moai.

"We looked at all the development platforms out there that could help us, and Moai won in a fair fight," said Berkeley Malagon, CEO of DistinctDev. "It's been a great experience. Before Moai, it took three months and coordination with an outside firm to port the iOS version of The Moron Test 1 to Android. Using Moai, we released The Moron Test 2 to both platforms on the same day with all development done in-house."

Moai Direct Services offers cloud-based data storage, cross-platform leaderboards and achievements, and actionable in-game news and push notifications for any existing iOS or Android game. The cloud service is important because it lets developers quickly update or make new features for multiplayer games, downloadable content, and persistent worlds in the mobile environment without having to get approval from Apple for the changes.

Zipline created Moai, named after the human face carvings on Easter Island, with tools based on the open source Lua scripting language. It created a backend system for running games on mobile or other platforms. The back end can serve as cloud hosting for games. It works well in creating two-dimensional games. Lua is a low-level language and games built with it run fast, in contrast to HTML5 games.

“People want games that are connected so they can interact with other players,” Hopper said. “We let you build web services in a scalable way.”

Other Moai developers include Bungie Aerospace, Harebrained Schemes (Crimson: Steam Pirates), Go Go Kiddo, and Nay Games. Developers using the Moai software development kit (SDK) can monitor their games in real-time, log all events, and enjoy enhanced security.

Rivals include Heroku and cross-platform technologies such as Spaceport or MoMinis. Ngmoco and Unity are also rivals. Moai pricing ranges from free accounts to $499 a month for studio accounts. Zipline created its own game, Wolf Toss, to demonstrate the platform. That game now has more than 1 million players on iOS, Android, and Chrome.

Zipline's investors include Founders Co-Op, Benaroya Capital, and Groundspeak.

Filed under: games, mobile

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Apple to pay $1.2M for misleading customers in Italy

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:07 PM PDT


Apple owes $1.2 million to Italian consumers after losing an appeal today. The company is charged with misleading customers into unnecessarily buying its AppleCare service.

AppleCare is Apple’s warranty program, which extends a product’s insurance coverage to two years, in conjunction the company’s complimentary one year coverage. It not only gives customers a guarantee that their products will be repaired if damaged but also provides special customer help lines for those dealing with hardware. In some cases, the help lines do cover software issues as well. The cost for the plan varies by product type but can range from $99 to $349. The problem? European Union law already states that consumers will be given a two-year warranty on their gadgets gratis.

According to The Next Web, the Italian court denied Apple’s appeal, saying the company used an “unfair trade practice” to make consumers believe they had to purchase a warranty that is already theirs by law. As a part of the judgement, Apple will also have to change the wording on its AppleCare package to inform customers of this legislation — making the paid-for service seem unnecessary.

Apple can still re-appeal the decision, however. The court previously said that Apple would have to make its packaging changes within 90 days, but that stipulation has since been lifted.

via The Next Web

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Seesmic layoffs show a founder shaken but not willing to quit [interview]

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:55 PM PDT

“I’m just doing my best… and you can blame it all on me. It’s all my fault.”

These somber words are spoken with a genuine humility one seldom hears in the hustling, grandstanding world of technology startups. Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur is speaking them to me over a crackling phone connection today as he explains why he had to let go of more than half his team from the cross-posting service — 18 staffers this week, which leaves him with just 15 team members left.

“We have tried a number of things, but they didn’t work the way we hoped they would work,” said the entrepreneur, referring to his company’s dizzying number of pivots and products. “After trying for a long time to get traction and preserve a team that was building them… we had to reduce the size of the team, which is the worst thing a CEO can do.”

I asked Le Meur a question he doubtless had to ask himself many times over the past few months: With a team that small and that loyal, how do you decide who has to go? Le Meur struggles to answer, and it’s evident that as difficult as the question is, the decision was much more so. “It’s a group process,” he begins. “There’s a connection to the traction of what people are working on. There is how the team feels about someone. It’s definitely not a ‘Loic’ decision.”

But Le Meur continues to stress that he, not his team members and not their work, are responsible for the pink slips. “We were doing our best,” he says. “The best I could do wasn’t very good; I give myself a D minus… And that’s life; that’s entrepreneurship. But when it reaches people’s jobs, that’s bad.”

Le Meur didn’t leave his laid-off staffers completely in the lurch, though. When he knew the layoffs would be coming, he immediately began contacting his friends at competing tech-startups to see if they had job openings.

“The minute we announced it, we had a friend of mine in the office offering them jobs,” Le Meur tells me. “It’s a software company that is hiring. We tried to find any solution we could for months to not to [lay anyone off], and I think it’s very sad, but at the same time, I believe that all of them will find a job very easily.”

As Le Meur and the core team of 15 remaining Seesmic employees batten down the hatches against near-term storms, the founder tells me he is pinning his hopes on Ping.fm. Seesmic acquired Ping.fm in early 2010, and Le Meur says it gets hundreds of thousands of unique users every day. “We decided to focus on that,” he tells me. “We released mobile apps called Seesmic Ping two weeks ago, and we’re focusing on this… It’s basically cross-posting, but done in a very good way.”

Seesmic was founded almost five years ago and has seen many product iterations since that time. It started as a video commenting system, then a Twitter client, then an everything client, then a CRM system, and now a cross-posting tool.

I finally ask Le Meur the ultimate question: Why keep pivoting? Why has he not given up yet? “I am a sailor. I just keep sailing,” he says.

“I don’t give up, that’s how I am. I always have faith in my team, and I keep going. Success is going from failure to failure until you reach success. There are many examples; one of them is Mark Pincus, who couldn’t raise money for Zynga… I think he’s probably laughing right now when he thinks about that.”

At the center of a culture that fetishizes occasional failure, Le Meur is dealing with the stark reality of what he sees as his own, very personal failure. He is unquestionably down as our call ends, but he is not out — not yet.

“As an entrepreneur, you have to accept failure as an option and look at it in an honest way, but you have to keep trying.”

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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April Fools: Facebook breakups abound on April 2

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:42 PM PDT

Apparently mistletoe, chocolates, and flowers are the not-so-secret ingredients in the magic potion leading people down the path to love. Jokes and pranks, however, will get folks nowhere with their sweeties.

Facebook analyzed 2010 and 2011 relationship status data in the U.S. and found that far more hookups than breakups happen on Valentine’s Day and Christmas. 49 percent more relationships are started than ended on February 14, and 34 percent more get going when Santa comes to town.

Statistically, December is a strong month for coupling up as four percent more people enter relationships than leave them, Facebook determined. The same can’t be said of the summer months, when higher percentages of people break up rather than take up together across all age groups.

But no day is more polarizing than April 2, otherwise known as the day after April Fool’s Day. “April 2nd was the year’s most extreme day in the other direction, with 11 percent more break-ups than new relationships,” Facebook data scientists Jackson Gorham and Andrew T. Fiore said.

Of course, the social network understands that not all Facebookers rush to update their statuses as soon as they enter into a new relationship or head to splits-ville, “but considering the relative levels of coupling and splitting up across days, months and seasons still helps us understand the temporal patterns of relationship change among people on Facebook,” Gorham and Fiore explained.

Facebook often dives into internal data pools to fish out interesting observations about its members and the world at large. The company previously determined that we’re all only four degrees of separation (not six!) from Kevin Bacon on Facebook. Earth-shattering stuff, we know.

The colors of each box represent the month's relative extremity in terms of relationship changes.

Photo credit: Chrissy Ferguson/Flickr

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Funding daily: crowdfunding, outsourcing, and social gaming

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 04:23 PM PDT

At VentureBeat, we come across a lot of funding news every day. In order to bring you the most information possible, we're rounding up the quick-and-dirty details about the funding deals of the day and serving them up here in our new "Funding daily" column.

Crowdfunding bill passes in the Senate

First up, we have some news that affects the future of startup funding in the United States. Today, with a 73-26 vote, the Senate passed the JOBS Act, which allows startup entrepreneurs to get funding for their businesses from basically anyone, not just registered investors. The bill included a stipulation that money can only be invested through approved portals, a new rule that is meant to protect the investors. Each investor also has a cap on how much they can invest based on their income. The JOBS Act passed in the House earlier this month.

Freelance-work service oDesk grabbed $15 million

Outsourcing service oDesk, which brokers jobs between freelance workers and businesses looking to outsource, announced today it has raised $15 million in its fourth round of funding. oDesk connects freelance contract workers with businesses that want to outsource hourly jobs. The round was led by Henry Ellenbogen of T. Rowe Price, Benchmark Capital, Globespan Venture Partners, and Sigma Partners.

Path may have grabbed some fresh cash

Rumors were flying today that Path, a social network for people who want their social networks to be only 150 strong, raised $20 million in new funding. Our Path sources claimed it was indeed just a rumor, but we’re still keeping out eyes out for signs that it could be true. The round was reportedly led by Redpoint Ventures and pegged Path at a $250 million valuation.

Voice recognition service OneTok raises $1.5 million

OneTok wants to bring Siri-like voice recognition to other applications and the web, so we can control much more with our voices. The company announced a $1.5 million first round of funding, according to an SEC form D filing, BetaBeat reported. The money came from an unnamed New York venture capital firm and friends and family.

Social casino-game studio Plumbee cashes in with $2.8M round

In the wake of Zynga buying OMGPOP Wednesday, another game studio emerged from stealth mode and announced a round of funding. Plumbee, which makes social casino-themed games, raised $2.8 million from Idinvest Partners, reported The Next Web. Plumbee also launched its first game, Mirrorball Slots, Thursday on Facebook. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the next game studio to get gobbled up by Zynga.

Have funding news for VentureBeat? Drop us a line at tips@venturebeat.com. 

Piggy bank image via Shutterstock

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AT&T accused of using fake deaf people from Nigeria to scam the government out of millions

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 03:44 PM PDT

IP Relay chat

The U.S. Department of Justice is claiming telecommunications-giant AT&T pocketed millions of dollars in reimbursement fees by ignoring fraudulent use of the IP Relay call system.

The IP Relay call service is a website that allows people in the U.S. to communicate by text to a live AT&T operator, who will then read the typed words to the person they’re trying to call on the phone. While the service is intended to help people with hearing or speech impairments, it doesn’t stop people without impairments from using it.

For example, in my youth I recall friends using the service to conduct extremely inappropriate prank conversations through a stranger’s voice — thus creeping out both the poor operator who was forced to read what we typed, as well as the person on the other side of the telephone. You could pretty much get away with saying anything (anything) as long as you didn’t disclose that you didn’t have a speech or hearing impairment.

Little did I know, the prank was actually costing U.S. taxpayers $1.30 per minute, which the Federal Communications Commission reimbursed back to the telephone company in charge of setting up the service.

The only time the FCC wouldn’t reimburse that money was if the calls were made by people outside of the country, or if they were from people who were not hearing impaired. In the early days of the Internet, there weren’t very many ways to reliably determine which calls were valid for reimbursement, so companies like AT&T netted tons of government cash. (I suspect this is why AT&T was perfectly fine with letting us use the service for raunchy prank calls with little objection.)

However, in 2009, the FCC started requiring phone companies to verify the person using the IP Relay service was both in the U.S. and legitimately suffering from a hearing impairment.

This week, the Justice Department claimed AT&T ignored fraudulent use of the service. The Justice Department also estimates that about 95 percent of AT&T’s total IP Relay call volume came from fraudulent users outside of the country, with thousands of calls coming from Nigeria alone.

"Taxpayers must not bear the cost of abuses of the Telecommunications Relay system," said David J. Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  "Those who misuse funds intended to benefit the hearing- and speech-impaired must be held accountable."

Unsurprisingly, AT&T has disputed the Justice Department’s claims. A company spokesperson told Ars Techica: “As the FCC is aware, it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an email account, but FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled.”

Full statement from the Justice Department about the AT&T lawsuit below:

The United States has filed a complaint against AT&T Corporation under the False Claims Act for conduct related to its provision of Internet Protocol (IP) Relay services, the Justice Department announced today.   AT&T is a global conglomerate that provides a wide variety of telecommunications services, including Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

IP Relay is a text-based communications service designed to allow hearing-impaired individuals to place telephone calls to hearing persons by typing messages over the Internet that are relayed by communications assistants (CAs) employed by an IP Relay provider.   IP Relay is funded by fees assessed by telecommunications providers to telephone customers, and is provided at no cost to IP Relay users.   The FCC, through the TRS Fund, reimburses IP Relay providers at a rate of approximately $1.30 per minute.   In an effort to reduce the abuse of IP Relay by foreign scammers using the system to defraud American merchants with stolen credit cards and by other means, the FCC in 2009 required providers to verify the accuracy of each registered user's name and mailing address.

The United States alleges that AT&T violated the False Claims Act by facilitating and seeking federal payment for IP Relay calls by international callers who were ineligible for the service and sought to use it for fraudulent purposes.   The complaint alleges that, out of fears that fraudulent call volume would drop after the registration deadline, AT&T knowingly adopted a non-compliant registration system that did not verify whether the user was located within the United States.   The complaint further contends that AT&T continued to employ this system even with the knowledge that it facilitated use of IP Relay by fraudulent foreign callers, which accounted for up to 95 percent of AT&T's call volume.   The government's complaint alleges that AT&T improperly billed the TRS Fund for reimbursement of these calls and received millions of dollars in federal payments as a result.

"Federal funding for Telecommunications Relay Services is intended to help the hearing- and speech-impaired in the United States," said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice.   "We will pursue those who seek to gain by knowingly allowing others to abuse this program."

"Taxpayers must not bear the cost of abuses of the Telecommunications Relay system," said David J. Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  "Those who misuse funds intended to benefit the hearing- and speech-impaired must be held accountable."

The claims in the United States' complaint are allegations only; there has been no determination of liability.

Operator image via AT&T/YouTube screenshot

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The Angry Birds Space experience: The gameplay is pretty clever

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 03:23 PM PDT

For the fans who have waited a long time for this sequel, Angry Birds Space won’t be a disappointment.

The wacky new game launched today as the first major follow-up to Angry Birds, the birds-and-slingshots game that has been downloaded more than 700 million times.

We downloaded it and played through the first set of levels. The gameplay is at once familiar and also more fun, because the space setting allows for some interesting new zero-gravity physics effects.

As in the previous games, the birds are pissed at the green pigs. You have to touch the screen to operate the slingshot, flinging the birds at the pigs in their fortresses. If you use physics properly, you’ll take out a lot of pigs all at once.

Unlike the earthbound version of Angry Birds, you can launch birds into space junk, which then flies until it hits something. That allows you to cause a lot more destruction with a single bird than you could otherwise.

In the game, there are lots of small planets and asteroids, each of which has a atmosphere-like circle around it that exerts a gravitational pull on the bird’s flight. If you aim a bird correctly, you can use the gravity to create a secondary slingshot effect that swings the bird, increasing its speed.

The puzzles are pretty clever. As with previous versions, you can ask for a hint, replay a game until you get a three-star performance on it, or move on to the next one. It’s quite satisfying when you blow up all of the pigs with a single bird when it seems impossible to do so.

The sound effects are also good. The soundtrack for the space scenes has music that is full of wonder, echoes, and a slight menace. The pigs constantly snore, and they’re so annoying when they giggle that you feel you just have to wipe them out.

Not everything is based on realistic physics: When something explodes in space, it echoes (even though that makes no sense).

There are familiar types of birds, such as the red ones that shoot straight out of the slingshot and the red-and-black ones that blow up once you tap the screen. There’s also a new bird that changes directions once you tap on the screen. As new bird types are introduced, Rovio flashes an easy-to-understand image that shows how to use each one.

The cutscenes are short and very efficient in terms of how they communicate the story or what you’re supposed to do. Altogether, there are 60 levels, with more available via in-app purchases.

Perhaps the game is not nearly as amazing as the marketing hype would have you believe. But for 99 cents (on iOS, $2.99 for HD version), it offers hours of entertainment, which seems like a pretty good deal.

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Kiip expands beyond games to rewarding fitness “moments”

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 03:00 PM PDT

Kiip has gained a large following of game developers who are connecting its real-world rewards network to mobile-game achievements. When you hit a big milestone in a game, Kiip will offer you a reward such as a Starbucks coupon.

Now Kiip is expanding this service beyond games to fitness apps. The move will help make achievements in non-gaming applications more meaningful and help to raise engagement for the apps.

The reward system is still the same for either games or fitness apps, said Brian Wong, chief executive of San Francisco-based Kiip, in an interview with VentureBeat. Kiip will offer rewards to users when they have a “moment” of achievement within the fitness apps.

“We are finally billing ourselves as a true rewards layer,” Wong said. “In this case, we are trying to harness the achievement moments that already exist in fitness and tying rewards to them.”

For instance, if you log your run for the day in MapMyRun, you can get a reward from PepsiCo’s Propel Zero brand. The same will be true for achievement moments in apps such as Nexercise, LoloFit, and Gym-Pact. Pepsi will mail a Propel zero package to you.

This initiative marks the first step in Kiip's strategy to become a true "rewards layer" for all mobile activity. Kiip has partnered with PepsiCo's Propel Zero brand to offer rewards of their zero-calorie nutrient enhanced water beverage mix packets to casual fitness enthusiasts who log a workout within popular fitness apps such as MapMyRun, Nexercise, LoloFit and Gym-Pact.

Currently, Kiip is giving out five rewards a second across 120 apps with 30 million users. Most of those are games.

"We have seen tremendous traction from our rewards network and top brands are buying into our reciprocity model," Wong said. "Rewards are a natural way for brands to engage audiences and we originally built our network to accommodate audiences outside of gaming.”

PepsiCo urged Kiip to extend its system to fitness apps.

"Kiip has found a meaningful way to target consumers when they're the most engaged, while providing an opportunity for our brand to reward them for being active," said Jason Thalappillil, director of digital engagement, PepsiCo. "With Kiip integrated into the fitness and health category, we're excited to surprise and delight users that are enhancing their lives through purposeful activity like fitness."

Wong said that his company is not doing “gamification,” per se. That is the creation of game-like achievements for non-game activities or web sites. Companies such as Bunchball, Big Door and Badgeville do that. But Kiip is offering rewards on top of apps that are already gamified, such as the fitness apps.

“We’ve cracked the code on offering meaningful rewards that have value,” Wong said.

Kiip was founded in September 2010. It has 23 employees and has raised money from  Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, True Ventures, Verizon Ventures, and Crosslink Capital.

Filed under: games, media, mobile

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Ouch: T-Mobile laying off 1,900 workers, more cuts to come

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 02:44 PM PDT


Fourth-place U.S. wireless company T-Mobile will soon lay off around 1,900 workers due to the closure of seven call centers around the country.

T-Mobile has been in a precarious position ever since AT&T’s offer to acquire the company fell through in mid-December 2011.

Since the breakup, T-Mobile has scored a 3G roaming deal and a nice chunk of precious wireless spectrum from AT&T. But even with the additions, T-Mobile still reported a terrible Q4 in February with a loss of 802,000 contract customers.

T-Mobile USA CEO Philipp Humm delivered the somber layoff news to employees today with a memo about “consolidating” call center operations, according to a report by The Verge. In the memo, Humm wrote, “The reality is our cost structure must be better optimized to match our customer base and call volumes.”

The job cuts will come from closing centers in Allentown, Penn.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Frisco, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; Lenexa, Kansas; Thornton, Colo.; and Redmond, Ore. Around 3,300 employees at the seven impacted facilities will be let go, but T-Mobile will immediately be filling as many as 1,400 positions at its other 17 call centers. As a result, around 1,900 employees will lose their jobs.

On top of that, Humm notes that more “restructuring” will come later, which almost always means more layoffs. T-Mobile will announce those cuts before the end of May.

You can read Humm’s memo in full below:

Dear colleagues,

I have difficult news to share today: we are consolidating our call center operations and closing seven of our 24 facilities. This decision was not easily reached, but it is a necessary measure. The reality is our cost structure must be better optimized to match our customer base and call volumes.

The affected Customer Service facilities are Allentown, Pennsylvania; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Frisco, Texas; Brownsville, Texas; Lenexa, Kansas; Thornton, Colorado; and Redmond, Oregon. The consolidations will result in 1,900 net job reductions. Approximately 3,300 employees at the seven impacted facilities will be affected, and we will begin hiring immediately at the remaining 17 call centers to fill as many as
1,400 positions.

Impacted call centers will remain open for three months following this announcement. Affected customer service representatives will have the option to transfer to any of the remaining 17 call centers. Employees who choose not to transfer and are employed on the date the center closes, will be offered transition packages with severance pay and outplacement support. T-Mobile is partnering with an outplacement firm to provide on-site career centers at all seven facilities. Every employee will have access to a personal career coach and be offered job search training and tools. In addition, T-Mobile will pay for two months of continued health care coverage under COBRA (which is available for up to 18 months for eligible employees who elect this option).

Looking ahead, we will also be restructuring other parts of the company. It is important to note this will not include our customer service representatives in the remaining 17 call centers, technicians in engineering or front line employees in our T-Mobile corporate-owned stores. In other parts of the organization, the majority of changes will be announced by the end of May 2012. Senior leaders are intently focused on making the best possible choices standing on the foundation of our shared T-Mobile Values. The outcome will be an organization that is structured efficiently and closer to the customer. Leaders will share more information as plans evolve.

These are not easy steps to take — or, I know, to read. We must address our business realities so we can focus on getting T-Mobile back to growth.

Our commitment, as we go through this process, is to provide clear perspective and understandable rationale, be forthright in our communications regarding our decisions, and be respectful and compassionate in our treatment of affected individuals.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and support.

With sincere appreciation,

Philipp Humm
CEO & President
T-Mobile USA

Umemployed worker photo: Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock

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Seed funding grew from 2010 to 2011, survey says

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 01:48 PM PDT

Seed funding, the backbone of startups looking to get off the ground, grew last year according to the 2011 Internet/Digital Media and Software Industries Seed Financing Survey from Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West.

The firm released its second seed funding survey Thursday; the report tracked how much seed funding startups on the West Coast reported in 2010 and 2011. Data was gathered from 56 transactions in 2011 and 52 deals in 2010.

From 2010 to 2011, seeding funding transactions rose three percent, from 43 to 46 percent. However, of all companies surveyed by Fenwick and West in 2010 that received some sort of seed funding, only 45 percent went on to get venture capital funding. Only 12 percent received subsequent rounds of seed funding, while others were acquired, shut down, had no data available, or received no additional funding at all and are still up and running.

It’s great to see that funding is on the rise, but since less than half of the startups were able to secure venture capital, it shows that many startups aren’t moving forward and growing. On the flip side, the survey does point out that right now it is a “good environment for entrepreneurs” because investors are making faster decisions and startups that receive later rounds of funding are also receiving high valuations.

The survey also focused on the changes in convertible notes, the bonds that allow entrepreneurs to keep equity ownership, which grew in 2011. Startups rose a median $1 million in convertible note deals in 2011, up from $662,500 in 2010. In addition, the median valuation cap on convertible notes rose from $4.0 million in 2010 to $7.5 million in 2011.

Complete results of the survey can be found on Fenwick & West’s website.

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TweetDeck update brings best of “New-New Twitter” to desktop

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 01:40 PM PDT

Twitter is showing a continued commitment to its popular desktop and web property TweetDeck with the release of an updated version that brings the “New-New Twitter” experience to Windows, Mac, and Chrome desktops.

The new 1.3 version brings with it a bevy of new features that will keep Twitter-holics glued to even more columns for even longer.

Most notably, the application includes two special columns allowing Twitter users to track follower activity in real time or keep up with all of the interactions related to their tweets.

TweetDeck, as a reminder, is the all-in-one, consumer-tailored social media dashboard fine-tuned for all types of Twitter stalking. It’s insanely popular with hyperactive Twitter users and journalists everywhere. The column-heavy social utility was acquired by Twitter in May 2011 for a reported $40 million. The tool continues to operate semi-independently — deeper Twitter hooks have been added, of course — and maintains its oringial name.

Existing TweetDeck users should appreciate today’s new “Activity” and “Interactions” columns; they carry over Activity tab features from the new-new Twitter.com December update over to the desktop. TweetDeck has also been visually enhanced with inline media previews, allowing users to view thumbnail previews of images and videos inside tweets.

Also new is the ability to (finally) manage Twitter lists and an option to “Edit & RT.” The latter change, for the uninitiated, is a pretty big deal for power Twitterers who simply can’t live without the “RT” in our retweets or the ability to edit and add text before firing off someone else’s 140-character missive.

We’ve done a little poking around, and we like what we see so far. It’s hard not to sit and stare as activity and interaction notifications pour in. We did notice, however, that the Mac application will hiccup at times if you’ve got quite a number of columns running.

The new version of TweetDeck comes just one day after the sixth anniversary of the first tweet. The information network has 140 million active users and sees more than 340 million tweets per day, Twitter said yesterday.

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Facebook grabs 750 patents from IBM to shield itself from Yahoo

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 01:07 PM PDT


Updated at 2:46 p.m. PT with Facebook’s comment.

Facebook has purchased 750 patents from IBM to help it battle Yahoo’s recent patent-troll lawsuit.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that there was “a purchase” but declined to give any further details.

Yahoo filed suit against Facebook on March 12 over alleged ongoing patent infringement. Yahoo claims Facebook is infringing on four advertising patents, two privacy patents, two customization patents, one social networking patent, and one messaging patent.

Facebook said it was “disappointed” with Yahoo and that it will defend itself “vigorously against these puzzling actions.”

In these types of lawsuits, the traditional course of action is to mount a defense with your own set of patents. With ownership over a strong set of patents, you may be able to convince the suing company to settle or cross-licence patents.

Facebook battled 22 patent suits against it last year. Facebook’s buying 750 patents from IBM, which controls a decades-old patent warchest, could be a sign that it is actually concerned about Yahoo’s claims.

On the other hands, it could simply be a sign that the still-young but soon-to-go-public social media company is beginning to take its patent situation seriously as the lawsuits pile up. Facebook has only 56 patents, with 503 filed and pending.

hat tip: Bloomberg.

Illustration: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Original Knight’s shield: FXQuadro/Shutterstock

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Facebook amending privacy policy, here’s a rundown of the changes

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 01:06 PM PDT

Facebook is updating its privacy policies tomorrow, but don’t completely freak out yet. We’ve looked through the amendments and pulled out the ones you should know about.

Disagree with anything you see? The social network is letting you comment on each change with your concerns before they go live tomorrow.

The majority of the privacy policy changes are that of language. Indeed, the first change on Facebook’s list is to stop calling it a “privacy policy.” From now on, Facebook will refer to it as the Data Use Policy — “data use” being a main concern for Facebook’s users.

Check out the changes we felt were most important to highlight:

Sharing Your Content and Information

Data use is further defined under the “Sharing Your Content and Information” section, which explains that applications you have downloaded have the right to see your content, given that you downloaded the app and gave it that permission. Now, it clarifies that an application your friend has downloaded also has the right to your information because you’ve allowed that friend to see your content.


Under the “Safety Section,” Facebook changed its wording to require anyone who wants to use automated means to collect Facebook data must ask Facebook for permission first, before any automated tool is used. The previous language created a loophole where people could scrape data first and ask for permission second.

Dating applications are also getting new restrictions — age restrictions. Anyone who runs a Facebook app of this sort will have to provide some sort of age barrier, most likely keeping out anyone under 18, where before no such requirement existed. Before now, age restrictions were only enforced on alcohol-related apps, as well as “other mature content.”

Special Provisions Applicable to Users Outside the United States

This change gives Facebook the right to disable features and services in certain geographical areas at its own discretion. The new policy reads, “We reserve the right to exclude or limit the provision of any service or feature in our sole discretion.” While I’m not ready to jump the censorship gun just yet, it seems Facebook is ready to pull the plug if the need ever arises. The move is similar to Twitter’s policy stating that it can stop the flow of content to any area as it sees fit.

In the past year, social media has played a big role in revolutions across the world, including Syria, Egypt, and Libya, with revolutionaries coordinating and communicating over these networks.

Protecting Other People’s Rights

Before these changes, you were not allowed to tag users in pictures, status updates and other areas where tagging is supported without their consent. However, Facebook now further clarifies that you are not allowed to tag users if you know they don’t want to be tagged. This is probably just stronger language to discourage cyber bullying, much of which happens over Facebook photo tags.

Special Provisions Applicable to Advertisers

The company changed its language here to make clear that it is not responsible for any click fraud, or invalid click activity on advertisements, including any technological issues an advertiser might run into. That is to say, if you’re having an IT issue with your ad, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

Special Provisions Applicable to Software

This is an entirely new section for Facebook, which talks about any downloaded Facebook software, such as browser plug-ins. Here, the company states that it will issue software updates to those downloaded products without further warning. This new section also prohibits anyone from trying to access Facebook’s source code through reverse engineering, or other form of discovery, using these products. Sorry, cyber criminals. You’re not invited to Facebook’s source code party.

Registration and Account Security

These changes are very small, but what is noteworthy is the phasing out of the word “profile.” In instances where profile once existed, Facebook is now referring to “Timeline,” the new user interface for Facebook’s profiles.


Amendments, like this one, are automatically accepted by a user if they continue to use the service after the new policies are set in place.

The idea of “privacy policy changes” often scares consumers. Recently, Google announced changes to its own privacy policy, which consisted of consolidating over 70 policies into one main policy. This caused an uproar with Google’s customer base, and eventually reached the U.S. Congress and E.U. regulatory bodies.

In order to keep its customer base involved, Facebook invites everyone to comment here, and says that if 7,000 or more people comment, it will offer a vote “in which you will be provided alternatives.” As of right now 440 have commented. You can check out the Data Use Policy track changes in English here (or in the Scribd below). Other languages are available.

Image via John Adams/Flickr

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Senate passes crowdfunding bill, wisely adds protections for less sophisticated investors

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 11:13 AM PDT

With a 73-26 vote, the U.S. Senate brought my dream of a bonsai pet business one step closer to reality today. The bill added some much-needed requirements to the JOBS Act that passed in the House of Representatives, giving the SEC more authority to protect the less sophisticated investors who might want to help fund a new business venture.

In the Senate version, crowds looking to fund new business ideas will have to do so through approved portals, many of which have been been gearing up to funnel cash into new companies once this law is fully passed. Companies can receive up to $1 million in funding from the crowd, with the amount each person can give being capped based on their income. The limits range between $2,000 and $10,000 dollars.

But not everyone is convinced the JOBS Act is for the best. David Marlett from Crowd9, which works with crowdfunded securities, still sees a lot of room for fraud.

“Regardless of how this is stated, it will be almost impossible to enforce.  If an investor wants to invest, they will simply claim their income or net worth to be above the required threshold,” he writes on his blog. “Spend time in the boiler rooms, listening to the schemes, trying to counsel against those exhaustively exaggerated claims, and you get a sense for how truly ineffective such a provision will be. Once a potential investor is spotted, any huckster worth his huckst will make sure they ‘meet’ whatever threshold is required.”

Marlett also talks about the absurdity of performing financial audits on newborn companies who might spend as little as a few hundred dollars on each line item involved in forming a startup.

A number of other important provisions in the legislation will dramatically impact the startup landscape. The biggest one is probably the death of the 500-shareholder rule, which will allow private companies far more leeway to put their shares onto platforms like SecondMarket, giving the company, especially early investors and employees, much needed liquidity without the major hurdle of having to take the company public.

Filed under: deals, Entrepreneur

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Peter Thiel opens venture fund for New Zealand tech

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 11:12 AM PDT

New Zealand dollar

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel must have a thing for Kiwis. He’s launching another venture fund focused on the otherwise unheard of New Zealand technology scene.

The fund, which Thiel is executing through his venture capital firm Valar Ventures, totals $32 million and received some money from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, according to the Wall Street Journal. Thiel is contributing roughly $12.1 million, with NZVIF and another organization picking up the rest.

According to New Zealand Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce, the country needs this kind of fund not only for the money but also for the connections.

“[This] is a very positive development for New Zealand technology companies wanting to expand into large offshore markets," Joyce told the Journal. "These companies require not only capital but also getting access to the right offshore networks in those markets and building their customer base."

Recently, Valar Ventures invested a second time in New Zealand-based Xero, which creates accounting software for small businesses.

Thiel is otherwise known for being an early investor in Facebook and forhis creation of the Thiel Foundation, which encourages young folks to put off college and become entrepreneurs. Through the foundation, Thiel offers $100,000 to 20 people younger than 20 years old who have not gone to college and who have a business idea. The program is open to anyone around the world.

New Zealand dollar image via Shutterstock

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Path may have just sealed a new $20M funding deal

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 11:07 AM PDT

We’re hearing loud rumors this morning that hot-as-molten-lava startup Path may have just closed a $20 million round of funding.

The round was reportedly led by Redpoint Ventures and pegged Path at a $250 million valuation.

While Business Insider is saying the funding is confirmed by anonymous sources close to the matter, we’re still waiting for official confirmation from our sources at Path.

UPDATE: Our Path source replies, “It’s just rumors and speculation.” So for now, the startup has nothing to confirm; still, we’re keeping our ears to the ground.

Path has been through the ringer in recent weeks due to a privacy fiasco — one that even had Apple CEO Tim Cook calling Path founder Dave Morin for copying personal data from people's iPhones.

The app was caught grabbing contact information, including names, phone numbers, and email addresses, from users’ iPhone address books. The startup issued a formal apology in which Morin stated, “Through the feedback we've received from all of you, we now understand that the way we had designed our 'Add Friends' feature was wrong. We are deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts.”

More to the point, we recently sat down with Morin for a one-on-one chat at South By Southwest. While the CEO didn’t have anything to say about the startup’s possible funding at that time, we did talk in detail about where Path will go in the near future, the philosophies that drive the application, and how Path’s friends-and-family-first approach to social networking has shaped our expectations for privacy and audience.

To date, Path has taken a total of $11.2 million in venture capital funding, including an $8.65 million Series A around this time last year.

Image courtesy of Robert Scoble

Filed under: deals

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The opposite of Goldman Sachs is … Silicon Valley?

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 11:06 AM PDT

In the wake of Greg Smith's now-legendary resignation in The New York Times, worldwide scrutiny has naturally focused on Goldman Sachs. How will his assault on the bank's culture impact its clients and its leadership? Is his description of the firm fair? However, these are merely superficial questions. The true implications are far broader and affect the prospects for economic growth across America and the world.

Smith's accusation — that "the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money" — is not novel to Wall Street. It has already been 25 years since Gordon Gekko uttered the iconic phrase "greed … is good."

Greed wasn't new to Wall Street back then. And more recently, it took on an entirely new meaning when America's financial institutions risked the entire world economy for short-term gains from selling what The Economist has called "those evil credit-default swaps, collateralized-debt obligations, and so on."

But it is not merely the fault of Goldman Sachs or the rest of Wall Street. For decades now, America has bought into the notion that free and fair competition among rational, greedy actors was good for all of us. Indeed, we thought it was good for the world.

That shibboleth has collapsed. Looking back, we see that innovation — not greed — is what has fueled the American economy and job growth for more than a century. And the culture of greed is arguably the opposite of the culture of innovation.

Apple was creating iPhones, while Goldman Sachs was creating credit-default swaps. Which one would you rather have fuel the economy? If we examine the hidden dynamics of Silicon Valley, we discover an alternative to the world described by Smith.

I've lived in, worked in, and studied Silicon Valley for years. The secret to its success, although hard to see or touch, is its unique culture. This culture was birthed on the frontier and is one based on pragmatic cooperation: individualism tempered by the need to participate within a community. It's the same culture that enabled complete strangers to band together to form wagon trains heading West and put their lives in the hands of others whom they had only just met. The history of Silicon Valley reveals that innovation thrives in a culture based on trust and shared community.

A Rainforest
Silicon Valley is not a plantation run by precisely controlling and exploiting finite assets. It is a "rainforest" that thrives because its many elements mix together to create new and unexpected flora and fauna. It births new species that are greater than the sum of their elements.

The mixing of those elements is made possible only by a culture based on trust. It's trust, after all, that enables human beings to band together when we are instinctively tribal. We most easily place our confidence in people most like us ― with our own ethnicity, experience, and frames of reference ― when in fact diversity is far more conducive to innovation than tribalism.

The Culture of Silicon Valley
The culture of Silicon Valley encourages people with diverse skills and experiences to meet and trust each other and take a chance together. That culture is ingrained because crucial keystone institutions, from venture capital firms to attorneys to entrepreneurs, generally treat the community as more important than the "winning" of any individual transaction. It is a culture based on, among other things, seeking fairness, not advantage.

No one would accuse Goldman Sachs of "seeking fairness, not advantage." As Greg Smith wrote, "It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don't trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn't matter how smart you are."

But Goldman Sachs is just one player in the bigger game that America's entire establishment — its economists, policymakers, and executives — bought into. For decades, we have all viewed economics and business through a reductionist lens: human beings as cold-hearted, zero-sum automatons.

Now, it is time for all of us to put a dose of humanity back into the equation. Not just for the warm fuzzy feeling, but because trust, fairness, community, altruism — they actually work. The risk in a zero-sum game is that people will stop trusting altogether. And trust is the lifeblood of innovation, which is the ultimate positive-sum game.

Although the world is examining the culture of Goldman Sachs, it's the culture of Silicon Valley that should fascinate us. That win-win culture of innovation provides the blueprint for the future, and it is the key to the economic growth that America so desperately seeks today.

Victor W. Hwang is co-author of The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley (Regenwald, 2012) and Managing Director of T2 Venture Capital in Silicon Valley.

[Top image credit:  jejim/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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How researchers are turning trash into renewable batteries

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 11:04 AM PDT

Two European researchers have discovered a way to turn waste from paper-making into a rechargeable battery cathode. The research could lead to cheaper, sustainable batteries made from a renewable source.

The news gets a bit technical and scientific, so stay with me: Grzegorz Milczarek from Poznan University of Technology in Poland and Olle Inganäs from Linköping University in Sweden were able to turn waste from the paper industry into a battery cathode, the part of the battery where current flows out.

The waste in this case is lignin, a compound stripped from wood in the paper making process. During the paper-making process, wood is chopped up and cooked to break it down. Once the wood is done cooking, a substance called brown liquor is left behind, which is full of lignin.  Milczarek and Inganäs combined lignin from brown liquor with a polymer (a large molecule chain) called polypyrrole to form a battery cathode.

Battery cathode are usually made of precious metals such as lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt, which aren’t renewable. Lignin, on the other hand, is the second-most-common polymer produced by living organisms in nature, and according to the researchers, it is much more renewable and is readily available from the paper industry.

“The advantage of using a renewable material for charge storage is the enormous amount of this material that is already being produced on Earth by growing plants, which contain about 20 to 30 percent lignin,” Inganäs said in a statment. “Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, require metal oxides; and some of those materials, such as cobalt, are rather rare.”

Don’t expect this to make a huge difference in batteries just quite yet, as the batteries they created are limited and slowly lose a charge when not in use. Still, this new research opens up development of this technology and the possibility that batteries with cathodes made from paper waste will be available to all of us in the future.

Milczarek and Inganäs’ full research, full of all the ultra-scientific details, appears in the March 23 issue of the journal Science.

Paper waste image via Flickr user Walter Parenteau

Filed under: green

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First look: Photoshop CS6 beta boasts faster performance, new tools

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 10:58 AM PDT

photoshop-cs6-1Adobe has just released Photoshop CS6 as a free downloadable beta for the first time, and the new version of its signature image-editing software is still great, based on some hands-on time we spent with it today.

Every new launch of Photoshop is an incremental upgrade of the last, so if you use CS5, this won’t be mind-blowing. But if you’re using CS3, for example, you’ll really love all the things you can do with CS6. It includes a darker default theme, new tools, a video editor, and more. It also boasts better performance with under-the-hood tweaks and the ability to use some computers’ graphics chips to make it run faster.

Digging in

After downloading the 1.7 GB Windows (984 MB on Mac) installation file, I quickly installed and booted up CS6. Immediately, I noticed the theme has been changed to a dark gray interface by default. I rather like the color scheme, but if it’s not for you, you can make it darker or lighter with four different theme choices. The tweak helps match Photoshop with the themes of other Adobe products like Premiere Pro and After Effects.

On the left side, you’ll notice that Adobe has redesigned the menu icons slightly. Like CS5, you can hold down on a design tool and see other similar options pop up. On the right, the Properties panel now includes Adjustment layer and Mask settings in the same pane. Thankfully, the panels are no longer all uppercase lettering, so each option is more legible.

Testing out a few tools I use often, I noticed other changes as well. When you crop a picture, the program tries to guess what you’re cropping with its own rectangle. Then you move the sides of the rectangle to adjust the crop. As someone who crops a ton with photos, this actually was annoying and jarring. On the plus side, there is now a “background save” option that makes saving your work a faster process. After tapping “Control + S”, you can continue to work on other projects instead of waiting around for the save to finish. Another handy addition is the ability to search layers.

While we didn’t get a chance to play with it, there is also a new basic video editor included in CS6. This likely won’t be used by serious video editors but it’s nice to have another option for cutting videos. And if you’re just looking to do a minor edit and Photoshop is already open, why not?


New tools

The addition we like most so far is Patch, which is similar to the Clone Stamp tool. It helps you select an area and copy it to another part of the photo, except it also blends the colors and patterns. This means you can move objects around the photo with less hassle. In the example above, I was able to duplicate an out-of-focus tennis ball and move it to a different position very easily.

There’s a new Adaptive Wide Angle filter that lets you straighten objects that are slightly curved because of using a fish-eye or wide-angle lens. There is also a Blur Gallery consisting of “Field Blur, Iris Blur, and Tilt-Shift” and a new Paste Lorem Ipsum feature, which can help you fill up dummy text as needed.


Overall, I like the feel and love the look of CS6. The 64-bit beta version runs noticeably faster than my 64-bit version of CS5 and the new tools will come in handy. The new version of crop was the only thing that really agitated me.

Photoshop CS6 will be available before the end of the “first half” of the year. It will cost $699 brand new, but there is an upgrade option for $199. You’ll also have the option to sign up for the Adobe Creative Cloud, which allows you to pay $50 each month for a full subscription to the Creative Suite.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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34 iOS app makers at center of congressional inquiry on data collection practices

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 10:56 AM PDT

Not satisfied with Apple’s updated privacy policies, members of a congressional subcommittee dedicated to consumer protection have gone directly to the makers of social iOS applications and are demanding answers on how these apps access personal data.

G.K. Butterfield and Henry Waxman, ranking members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent inquiry letters Thursday to makers of 34 different social applications, including Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Path, Pinterest, Socialcam, Foodspotting, and even Apple, which makes and distributes the Find My Friends location-based application.

The letters represent the congressmen’s third attempt to get to the bottom of a data privacy scandal involving many of today’s hottest social networking companies. The issue came to light after it was discovered that Path and many social applications access, transmit, and store personal data including address book information and photos. Butterfield and Waxman, with the expressed interest of wanting to protect consumers, have sent Apple two formal inquiries and are now routing around the gatekeeper to get to the heart of the matter.

The letters delivered Thursday are mostly identical in nature and include nine different questions designed to determine the exact types of information app makers collect from users, their policies governing collection and usage, their understanding of Apple’s policies, whether they transmit the data in question, and if they store that data (and for how long).

“We are writing to you because we want to better understand the information collection and use policies and practices of apps for Apple’s mobile devices with a social element,” the congressmen said in the letters. The letter delivered to Twitter is included below.

Several of the questions ask for specifics on data collection practices. One question reads: “At any time, has your iOS app transmitted or have you stored any other information from or about a user’s device — including, but not limited to, the user’s phone number, email account information, calendar, photo gallery, WiFi connection log, the Unique Device Identifier (UDID), a Media Access Control (MAC) address, or any other identifier unique to a specific device?”

The congressional committee is requesting that application makers respond to the questions in written form no later than April 12, three weeks from today. The congressmen did not detail how they plan to address application sellers they believe violate the privacy rights of consumers, but did indicate that they hope to build a “fact-based understanding of the privacy and security practices in the app marketplace.”

Photo credit: THEMACGIRL*/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Facebook photos go high resolution and full screen

Posted: 22 Mar 2012 10:34 AM PDT

Facebook is continuing its quest to appeal to photographers with a couple of new improvements to its photo-viewing features. You can now enjoy your photos in glorious full-screen mode, and Facebook automatically shows the high-resolution version of your image.

To view a photo in full-screen mode, click on the small arrows in the top right corner of the image. The full-screen feature hasn’t rolled out to everyone yet, and it will only work on the latest versions of the Firefox or Chrome browsers.

There’s another subtle change to how photos display. Over on the Facebook Engineering blog, Ryan Mac goes into deliciously geeky detail about his effort to fix colors on previews of Facebook photos. Most photos use sRGB color profiles, but browsers still require each image to define its color profile. Adding that information for every thumbnail and timeline image would be space hog, so Mac went on a quest to find a better way to handle the color profiles.

In early February, Facebook introduced its slick lightbox photo viewer, which was a drastic improvement over how images were displayed before. Those improvements may have been inspired by the Google+ photo features, but it’s unlikely Facebook is feeling much heat from that social network at the moment.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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