27 March, 2012



As Xbox 360 entertainment usage rises, Comcast’s Xfinity TV app spits on net neutrality

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 09:20 AM PDT

Xfinity TV

Using Comcast’s Xfinity TV app on Xbox Live won’t count against data caps for those that subscribe to Comcast’s internet service, according to the company’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

The Comcast App, which launches today along with HBO Go, is one of several new services available through Xbox Live, including Verizon FiOS, Epix, Vevo, Vudu, YouTube, and others. Entertainment usage on the Xbox is growing at a rapid pace, surpassing multiplayer games usage for the first time ever, Microsoft announced today. So, it’s likely most Comcast subscribers with an Xbox will be taking advantage of the new app — especially since the service has an advantage over competitors.

Comcast customers are allotted 250 GB of data per month before they get charged overage fees. For most people that primarily watch video through a traditional cable TV service, the data cap of 250 GB is generous. You  can watch about 80 hours of content (along with regular internet usage) on competing streaming services before hitting the data cap. The Xfinity TV service from Comcast functions a lot like a Netflix service, offering streaming videos on demand. The exception is that now when you want those videos via Xbox 360, it won’t affect your data cap.

This essentially gives the Xfinity app an unfair advantage over other services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. And more to the point, it takes the concept of net neutrality, and throws it right out the window.

Comcast explains that “since the content is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet, it does not count against a customer's bandwidth cap.” However, this doesn’t apply when you watch video via Xfinitytv.com or use the Xfinity TV service on other devices over the “public” internet.

Comcast has previously said that its spending resources to build out an IP-based video delivery service, as VentureBeat reported in June. But since all data runs through the same broadband infrastructure, I just assumed there would be no differentiating between a “public” internet network and a “private” network dedicated to Xflinity TV content. Essentially, Comcast is treating the streaming video as an extension of service that’s typically found through one of its cable set-top boxes.

I’m not sure I buy this logic. Arguably, Netflix also has its own “private” network that is only accessible through the “public” internet. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Filed under: games, media, VentureBeat

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Meet the one OMGPOP employee who turned down a new job at Zynga

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 08:30 AM PDT

In the torrent of coverage about Zynga’s purchase of OMGPOP last week, most of the focus was on the price, eventually revealed to be $180 million. Most outlets also reported that all OMGPOP’s developers were headed to Zynga, but it turns out there was one, very vocal holdout from the bunch.

That man was Shay Pierce, who wrote about his decision in an op-ed for Gamesutra. “It made perfect financial sense for me to join, but in my case, Zynga asked for too much,” he wrote in his post.

A year ago, while working as an independent contractor, Pierce built a puzzle game called Connectrode. “I finished and submitted it to the App Store shortly after my employment with Omgpop began, with the company’s awareness and permission,” he wrote. “Financially, Connectrode had performed the same as most spare-time indie game projects: not terribly well. It was reviewed positively by TouchArcade, Joystiq, and others, and it was featured by Apple for three weeks; but it never broke into the top 10 or sold millions. It wasn’t changing anyone’s life.”

Still when Zynga offered him a choice between his new job and Connectrode, Pierce wasn’t sure what to do. He tried to draft a compromise with his lawyer that would let him hold on to his creation and go to work at Zynga, but was rejected flat out. And so he decided to stick to his values and become self-employed:

Why was I even trying to compromise? Zynga has an Austin studio, where several good friends of mine work. Yet I had never applied to Zynga. Why? Because the company’s values are completely opposed to my own values, professionally and creatively. Because I believe that developers are at the front lines of game development and deserve to be treated well, and I didn’t trust Zynga to do so. All this was still true — except that their complete unwillingness to negotiate with me only confirmed my concerns. Why on earth was I even considering joining? I politely declined to join Zynga and became the only Omgpop employee to be left behind. I don’t have a job; but I can sleep soundly at night knowing that I’m not working for any employer with whom I strongly disagree.

Filed under: dev, games, mobile, social

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Hungry developers sell out Google I/O in less than 30 minutes

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 08:22 AM PDT


Tickets for Google’s I/O developers conference sold out in less than 30 minutes on Tuesday morning, even with regular tickets costing $900 a piece and academic tickets running $300 a pop.

Last year's tickets for I/O sold out in less than an hour, so we warned developers a few weeks ago to set their alarms since demand could be crazy high. The event takes place June 27 through 29 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

“What’s really amazing to me is that Google more than doubled the ticket price this year and the tickets still sold out in half the time,” Jeff Scott, editor-in-chief of popular application site 148 Apps, wrote on Twitter.

Last year at I/O, Google introduced Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which took the Android OS in a smart new direction. It also used the conference to talk up Chrome browser advancement, introduce Angry Birds on Chrome, and show off its Chromebook laptops.

Google could very well introduce Android 5.0 (Jelly Bean) at I/O, with release of the code coming later in the year. The company could also show off its advancements with the Play media and app store and how it will challenge Apple’s iTunes. No doubt there will also be talk of the company’s persistent Chrome browser development.

Let us know in the comments if you plan to attend I/O and what you expect from the conference.

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Australian government sues Apple for ‘misleading’ 4G label on new iPad

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 07:43 AM PDT


Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission plans to sue Apple for “misleading” claims when it comes to the new iPad offering 4G, because the device is not compatible with the country’s 4G networks.

The new iPad has proven quite popular since its release earlier this month, with more than three million units sold in the first weekend of release in 10 countries, including the U.S. and Australia. The device has been accused of running hot and charging slowly, but now it could attract a legal offer over its networking abilities. Apple’s website says that 4G LTE is offered “only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the U.S., and on Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada.”

The ACCC says it wants Apple to correct the labeling of the 4G version of the device and to educate Australian consumers that the device does not support its 4G networks.

“The ACCC alleges that Apple’s recent promotion of the new “iPad with WiFi + 4G” is misleading because it represents to Australian consumers that the product “iPad with WiFi + 4G” can, with a SIM card, connect to a 4G mobile data network in Australia, when this is not the case,” the ACCC said in press release. “Additionally the ACCC is seeking final orders including injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective advertising and refunds to consumers affected.”

Australian wireless provider Telstra launched the country’s first 4G network in a few cities last year. Apple’s new iPad is not compatible with the 1800MHz frequency Telstra uses. However, a consumer could pair a Telstra 4G hotspot with an iPad to get 4G service, much like U.S. consumers could do with the iPad 2 and Verizon Wireless a year ago.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

New iPad photo: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile

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Sony to now think as “One Sony,” with a focus on digital imaging, gaming, and mobile

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 07:40 AM PDT

In an effort to be more nimble with its decision-making (and less of a lumbering corporate giant), Sony today has announced a new business structure, which it’s calling “Sony One.”

The initiative is Spearheaded by the company’s new CEO Kazuo Hirai, who has been vocal about his plans to revamp the company, and will also position digital imaging, gaming, and mobile as Sony’s new core business. Sony announced massive loss of $2 billion in February (the day after it appointed Hirai, no less), so the company clearly needs to shake up its management process somehow.

The new One Sony structure will begin on April 1, 2012 (perhaps not the best day to convince the public your business isn’t a joke). After missing out completely on the iPod era of portable music devices, now Sony is aiming to make up for lost time with a stronger lineup of smartphones, which it announced at the Mobile World Congress in February. Gaming is still a cash cow for the company, and it remains one of the better digital camera companies (I love my Sony NEX-5N), so the choice to emphasize its business around the company’s three hottest product categories seems wise.

As part of the changes, Sony EVP Shoji Nemoto will now oversee the overall technology strategy and R&D operations, while EVP Kunimasa Suzuki will oversee product strategy (including mobile), as well as take charge of guiding Sony’s user experience moving forward. Hirai, meanwhile, is tasking himself with overseeing Sony’s home entertainment business, because the company desperately needs to find a way to save its ailing TV division.

Photo Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat


Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Identified.com gamifies job searches for 4 million young people

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Job-search site Identified.com found that most job seekers don’t provide all the information in their online profiles that recruiters need to know. To get them to do that, Identified.com has gamified the job search.

The San Francisco-based company says that a combination of social networking and gamification — the use of game-like achievements and rewards in non-game applications — can encourage young people to provide the right information that can land them better jobs.

Identified.com is part of a growing number of companies using gamification to empower consumers in areas ranging from dating to fitness, energy use, and healthcare.

Identified.com has reached four million active users in the past six months. The average age of users is 23.5 years, and 90 percent are under 35. By contrast, 60 percent of LinkedIn’s users are 35 and over. That means it’s harder to find job candidates on LinkedIn, because many older people have established careers. Identified.com is now adding a million users a week.

Identified.com requires users to fill out their detailed professional profiles and create a short-form resume to find out their Identified Score. The average user adds 10 additional professional data points to his or her profile such as school, major, grade point average, graduation year, past employers, job titles, and other background.

The Identified Score shows a user how they are ranked by companies in terms of how desirable they are. Identified.com also offers scores for schools and companies.

By offering game-like rewards, the gamification technique gets users to fill out otherwise boring information. The scores are not just vanity points. Rather, they represent the value of key information that is currently in demand by employers. Identified.com also makes it easy to import data from a Facebook profile to its own profile system.

"Critical information that recruiters need to hire literally does not exist in one place online for young people," said co-founder and co-chief executive Brendan Wallace. "Generation Y is nearly invisible to employers, so this technique is key.”

He added, “We constantly hear that the pain point among employers is sourcing the education and job information of the 18-29 year-old demographic, but Facebook is a great starting point."

Engineers who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are now in high demand across the country. Employers can find them, if the information is in the engineers’ profiles.

Recruiters say that 92 percent of Facebook profiles do not contain enough publicly available education and employment information (major, graduation year, job title) for recruiters to qualify potential candidates for jobs.

Identified found that more than 72 percent of Facebook users who come to Identified.com add new information that is not part of their Facebook profile to create "short-form resumes" online. That makes the candidates easier to recruit.

Identified.com was founded in 2010 by Wallace and Adeyemi Ajao, who conceived while doing research at Stanford University. The company now has 52 employees. It has raised $5.5 million from venture capitalists Tim Draper, Bill Draper, and others.

Filed under: enterprise, games, VentureBeat

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Why the next Mark Zuckerberg may come from Brazil

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 06:20 AM PDT

Silicon Valley has led the world in innovation and entrepreneurship because of its culture of information sharing and mentoring. No other region in the world is like it. But things are changing. In my travels to countries like India, China, and Chile, I've witnessed a noticeable evolution in entrepreneurial culture over the past five years. Networking groups are emerging, and entrepreneurs are becoming more open. One of the most impressive examples of this is in Campinas, Brazil—a small university town on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

In June 2010, ten startups at the Softex incubator at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas decided to break free from the university incubator they were housed in and form an entrepreneurial co-op of sorts, called the Associação Campinas Startups. Instead of relying on local business executives and professors to guide them, the entrepreneurs decided to learn from each other. The university was very supportive, and business mentors went out of their way to share their knowledge and experience. But the advice was always too theoretical or geared towards big companies. In short, it wasn't relevant to the leaner, fast-paced technology world. Instead, the entrepreneurs found the greatest value in brainstorming sessions and casual information exchanges with each other over lunch or drinks after work.

This is a common problem for nascent tech incubators all over the world. Unless the entrepreneurs receive active mentoring by entrepreneurial superstars like Paul Graham, Brad Feld, and Dave McClure, almost always the startups and incubators both fail. A successful incubator's value is in the knowledge shared, not in the office space and administrative support.

There was no Graham, Feld, or McClure in Campinas. So, the entrepreneurs decided to pool their knowledge and help one another. They would meet informally every day, and formally once a week. During the formal sessions, each startup would "scientifically" present the one big idea they were pursuing, a hypothesis on why they believed this would lead to success and measurements to back up their assessment. And during the weekly sessions, they would report their progress on implementing their ideas.

When you are a lone entrepreneur, you are answerable to no one but yourself, and it's easy to go astray. You don't have a board to hold you accountable or to guide you when you go off track. The Campinas group's "peer review" served this purpose. It forced accountability, placing pressure on each team to plan and to perform. It also allowed the entrepreneurs to learn from one other.

Within a year of getting the association into high gear, the ten original startups and two more that joined, had increased their aggregated revenue from $330,000 to $2.1 million. They increased their combined headcount from 39 to 56. Many of the startups changed their strategies and plans, but none, so far, have failed. Several received funding from local angel investors. And this year, ten more startups have joined the group.

Gentros, a biotech startup that joined the association after its founding in 2008, produces vaccines for farm animals. Its CEO, Taíla Lemos, told me that, without the advice and mentoring she received, her startup would certainly have failed. Even though she was in an entirely different industry than the other entrepreneurs, the principles for building a successful company were the same. They taught her how to determine what her costumers needed, identify scientific viability, and manage her R&D projects. She learned the principles of "lean startup" development – the process of quickly developing a proof of concept, testing it with customers and iterating.

There is no telling if any of these startups will survive or achieve long-term success. There are no certainties in entrepreneurship. But the quality of the companies I witnessed was distinctly better than that of the startups I've seen in Silicon Valley. Ultimately, I give the startups being fostered in Campinas a higher than average chance of success.

There is also a lot happening on the entrepreneurial scene in Sao Paulo. The most energetic of these groups, Brazilian Innovators, is run by Bedy Yang—an entrepreneur who lives in Silicon Valley, but travels frequently to Sao Paulo to organize networking events. The meetings start with words of wisdom being shared by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs talking over Skype, and then turn into information exchange sessions over wine and cheese. What started two years ago as a group of two dozen has blossomed into a gathering of 300 attendees.

My prediction is that, by the end of this decade, we will see some Mark Zuckerbergs emerging from the slums of Sao Paulo or New Delhi, India or Valparaiso, Chile. Why, you ask? Because entrepreneurs are doing what governments can't—creating innovation ecosystems.

Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is a visiting scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, director of research for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and senior research associate for the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.


Rio de Janeiro image via Shutterstock

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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How startup StereoGrid helps artists get the most out of tracks that “leak” on the internet

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 05:16 AM PDT

A new mixtape from the hip-hop group SlumVillage debuts today, so last week the band began the delicate process of building buzz online. They partnered with the New York startup StereoGrid, which set out to promote the song via its music delivery platform, a service that allows artists to send music to music bloggers and press in a controlled and measured way.

The first single from Slum Village was a track called “Turning Me Off” featuring De La Soul. It was released at 9am EST on March 20th to the StereoGrid Network of music bloggers and press, as well as delivered to a curated email list of hip-hop bloggers. Within hours the song would make its way on to marquee hiphop websites like NahRight, 2DopeBoyz, HotNewHipHop, and RapRadar, and to other notable publications like PrefixMag and Pigeons and Planes. These websites collectively account for millions of visits per month and are considered by many as the digital gatekeepers in the hip-hop industry.

For the listeners who showed up that morning, the song was “leaked”. It was a choice the artists made, done in a controlled manner, but in the parlance of the web, people require a bit of piracy to get excited. And of course, when you play with fire, it’s easy to get burned. In those first few hours, well-known music blog HypeTrak took the song out of the controlled StereoGrid ecosystem and uploaded it to another file-hosting website called ShareBeast, a service that incentives users to use their file-hosting solution and media players through a rev-share agreement based on referred traffic to its download pages (Remember MegaUpload? Yea, they used an incentive-based model too). Now Slum Village had lost control of their music and associated analytics.

Three days in the track has gained 1,600 plays, 148 downloads, and garnered 175 fans through StereoGrid’s official network. It did even better in the wild west of the web, with 60,200 search results for the song in Google, 29,100 of which are blog results.

“We’re building out a set of tools that lets artist follow their tracks as it spreads virally across the entire music ecosystem on the web,” said StereoGrid founder Andrew Zarick. He’s not trying to defeat piracy and file sharing, but to build around it. So far he has bootstrapped the company, which is himself and three developers, and is based out of NYU Poly’s incubator in Dumbo.

“It’s not that websites like HypeTrak, who originally took the song out of a controlled ecosystem, are in the wrong,” Zarick explained. “The issue is that incentives are not aligned. Bloggers are incentivized to write about content that drives pageviews and traffic so that they can monetize ad impressions and referral traffic to websites like ShareBeast. Artists are incentivized to release free promo music to these same websites in order to gain exposure for their music, to reach their existing fans, acquire new ones, and to understand where and how those fans are engaging with their music. StereoGrid is trying to sit in the middle and add value for both music websites and artists.”

Filed under: Entrepreneur, media, social, VentureBeat

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Mob Science raises $1M for social games on Zynga’s platform

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Mob Science, a social games developer and Zynga Platform partner, received $1 million in seed funding from Joynet CEO David Young and GameSpy Industries founder Mark Surfas.

This funding will aid Mob Science as they promote their new role-playing game to the 240 million monthly active users on the Zynga Platform. Mob Science operates several Facebook titles including inFamous Anarchy, Coffee Bar, Snowball Fight, and Willy’s Sweet Shop. Their new game will be one of the first third-party apps published across Zynga’s expansive network.

"We couldn’t be more excited to be building for the Zynga Platform," said Michael Witz, founder and CEO of Mob Science. "We think it’s going to be a huge hit with gamers, and we are essentially bettering the future of our whole company on it." Witz founded Mob Science in 2008 shortly after Facebook opened its platform to third-party developers.

"Our new game is far and away our best and most ambitious game yet, and we look forward to leveraging Zynga’s vast distribution channels and viral capabilities to get it into the hands of millions of gamers. You could say that our goal is to be the ‘Zynga’ of the Zynga Platform," said Witz.

Mob Science recently signed a lease to move to Carlsbad, in the north county of San Diego, Calif. They intend to use the financing to invest in product development and expand the current 10-employee team as they hire more designers and engineers.

As part of the deal, Joynet CEO David Young (pictured right) will join Mob Science’s board of directors. "We really like the Mob Science team and everything they’ve done," said Young. "It’s clear that they create fantastic consumer gaming experiences, and that they know how to engage with their users. But what really impressed us was their vision for tapping into the Zynga Platform and really pushing the envelope for what social games can be."

Filed under: games

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Bluestacks’ new beta lets you run almost any Android app on Windows

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 05:00 AM PDT

Bluestacks’ grand vision of letting you run Android apps on Windows is one step closer to reality. The company today has released a free beta version of its software, which now supports most of Android’s 450,000 apps.

The new release is a major upgrade over Bluestacks’ alpha version, which was made available for three months last year to early testers and was only able to run nine preselected Android apps. The new beta version, which supports Windows 7, Vista, and XP, gives you access to pretty much any Android app — though not all of them run very well.

Still, it’s a big step for the startup, which made waves last year when it first announced its emulation technology. Dubbed Layercake, the software emulates Android apps written for ARM processors on x86 processor-based Windows PCs. Without such emulation technology, software between the two different chip platforms is fundamentally incompatible (without being recompiled). Emulation is nothing new, but Bluestacks is the first company devoted to bringing the rich variety of Android apps to PCs.

“It’s really a whole new product,” said Bluestacks CEO Rosen Sharma in an interview with VentureBeat yesterday. The company has been working on the emulation technology for two-and-a-half years, Sharma told me, but now its original vision is finally coming into view.

While the Bluestacks software won’t appeal to everyone, it could be useful for those who want to test out Android apps, or users who want access to apps that don’t yet have desktop versions. And judging from the company’s Facebook page — which has garnered 75,000 fans within the past three days, for a total of  286,000 fans — it’s clear Bluestacks has struck a chord with a sizable audience of geeks.

I tested out the beta release over the weekend, and I was honestly surprised at how well it worked. After installing the beta — a process that took around 10 minutes — I was presented with a simple home screen with some pre-installed apps, including Fruit Ninja and Evernote. Apps can be run in a window or full-screen view, and they performed adequately on my Windows 7 PC with a quad-core CPU and 8 gigabytes of RAM (don’t judge me).

Games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds were playable (though the latter had choppy graphics and sound at times), and productivity apps like Evernote worked without much issue. Strangely, the new Angry Birds Space performed almost flawlessly (see the video below). 3D-heavy apps, like Google Earth, didn’t fair as well, and brought Bluestacks to a crawl.

Sharma tells me the company is constantly working on making the app faster. For 3D apps to work better, the company needs to make upgrades to hardware-accelerated graphics support, which he says are in the works.

The company has high hopes for the beta release of its software after the alpha release saw widespread engagement from users. Over a million users across more than 100 countries downloaded the alpha release and opened over 4.5 million apps.

As I wrote when the company announced its Windows 8 support, BlueStacks is poised to be especially useful on Windows 8, since it supports both traditional desktop and tablet interfaces. Tablets running the new OS will be far more appealing than those running Windows 7, so BlueStacks could win big if Windows 8 tablets take off. And given just how much Microsoft's tablet future relies on Windows 8, there's no reason to think that it's going to drop the ball.

Bluestacks told me at the Consumer Electronics Show this year that it’s actively targeting Ultrabook makers to pre-load its app (it has already inked a deal with InHon, a Taiwanese manufacturer). The company’s technology is also ripe for licensing — I can just imagine how much Intel would love to use Bluestacks to power ARM-based apps in its upcoming x86-based mobile devices.

Campbell, Calif.-based BlueStacks has raised $10.6 million so far in a single round of funding.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Angry Birds creator Rovio acquires Futuremark Games Studio

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 01:36 AM PDT

Angry Birds publisher Rovio Entertainment has acquired its fellow Finnish game development house, Futuremark Games Studio, in order to get some new talent.

Rovio, which just launched its Angry Birds Space mobile game blockbuster, is buying the game-making division of benchmark software creator Futuremark.

"They are an incredibly talented and experienced team, and we are thrilled to have them on board," said Mikael Hed, Rovio Entertainment's chief executive, in a statement. "Rovio's success is founded on the excellence of our team, and Futuremark Games Studio is going to be a superb addition."

The deal will help Rovio make more games and allow Futuremark to focus on its professional benchmarking of 3D hardware and 3D games.

The deal is the second acquisition for Rovio in the past year, after it bought the Kombo Animation Studio last summer. Rovio is building entertainment, publishing, animation and retail arms and now has more than 300 people in Espoo and Tampere, Finland and Shanghai. The value of the deal wasn’t disclosed.

Filed under: deals, games, mobile

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ThreatMetrix wants to enter the BYOD scene, raises $18M

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 11:04 PM PDT


“Cybercrime prevention” company ThreatMetrix has raised an $18 million fourth round of funding led by August Capital.

ThreatMetrix sells a suite of security products it calls the Cybercrime Defender Platform. The tools include a device identification feature, a product to protect a company’s cloud from malware, a mobile malware protector, and more. These tools, which came out of the company’s acquisition of security software company TrustDefender in December 2011. have allowed the company to pivot from authenticating and protecting online purchases to serving the “bring your own device” trend, where corporate employees use their own devices for work and IT has to find a way to keep them secure.

A number of companies have come out with BYOD security solutions to date. For example, IBM has its “Hosted Mobile Device Security Management,” that was created after the company bought Worklight. Investors seem particularly interested in ThreatMetrix because of its fast growth. In 2011, the company grew 300 percent in comparison to 2010, and it currently serves 5,000 websites. New hires have also increased 20 percent since 2010.

According to ThreatMetrix chief executive Reed Taussig, the company will spend its $18 million on expanding internationally. Thus far, 40 percent of its customers are from outside the United States, with European customers dominating the pool. The company wants to focus on financial services and e-commerce and enable enterprise employees to work remotely.

The company received a $12.1 million third round of funding in 2010. In total, ThreatMetrix has raised around $42.1. Investors include US Venture Partners, August Capital, Tenaya Capital, and CM Capital. The company recently moved its headquarters to San Jose, Calif.

Filed under: deals, mobile, security

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Square adds encryption to its Square reader

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 10:10 PM PDT

The old (unopened) reader is on the left; the new reader is on the right, with encryption and a battery.

Square has added encryption technology to its Square reader.

Competitor VeriFone tried to drum up sentiment against Square last year because Square’s readers did not encrypt credit card numbers from the reader to the application.

In the recent launch of PayPal’s competing product, PayPal Here, the company referenced popular unencrypted readers, while mentioning that its own dongle does encryption.

Now, they can’t hold that over Square.

The added circuitry does mean higher costs, but it’s unclear how much. The battery alone adds 15 to 25 cents in costs.

All of the Square readers currently shipping have encryption; I received mine today. Square plans to migrate existing users to the new readers over time. (I asked for a replacement reader.)

This moves the security risk one level up — to the fact that credit cards have the credit card number printed on them.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Vigilent raises $6.7M from Accel to make data centers suck less power

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 09:00 PM PDT


Energy management systems startup Vigilent has raised a $6.7 million round of funding to optimize energy efficiency at data centers using the power of “big data,” the company announced Tuesday morning.

One huge problem companies struggle with when it comes to data center management is how much power those facilities use. Google spotlighted its own energy usage at data centers, claiming its centers are 50 percent more efficient than other companies'. But not everyone has the resources to design and implement innovative cooling technologies.

That’s where Vigilent comes in. The company deploys wireless sensors in data centers and crunches all kinds of numbers to find ways to optimize energy efficiency. Vigilent negotiates a certain temperature with the company running the data center and works to come up with the best possible way to keep the center at that temperature.

Vigilent CEO Mark Housley told me there is an exceptional amount of energy being wasted at these centers. Some of that blame goes to poor design, while some goes to lack of innovation in cooling tech. “The companies that sell air conditioners should be ashamed of what they’re selling,” Housley said.

Housley also explained that Vigilent’s software automates the process of cooling and is smart enough to predict events. For example, during the Super Bowl, it would know to deploy more cooling than usual because of the increased heat generated by busy servers.

Vigilent’s first major round of funding was led by Accel Partners and the firm’s new “Big Data” fund. The company also attracted investments from angels Gaurav Garg and Peter Wagner.

“With proven technology and a significant track record with Fortune 50 companies, we believe Vigilent will have a transformative effect on energy efficiency in critical building infrastructure,” said Rich Wong, Partner at Accel Partners, in a statement.

El Cerrito, Calif.-based Vigilent has 90 deployments throughout the U.S., Canada, and Japan, with customers including Verizon, Akamai, and Informatica. Housley said the company is profitable and will likely double its revenues in 2012. The new funds will be used to move into new regions and expand its workforce.

Chilly data center: Supri Suharjoto/Shutterstock

Filed under: cloud, deals, green

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Only 55 percent of Siri users are happy with the service

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 06:24 PM PDT


iPhone 4S owners don’t seem to be straying far from the basics when using Siri, the built-in voice-activated assistant, even though it’s capable of completing many different tasks.

Market research firm Parks Associates surveyed 482 iPhone 4S users to find out just how they used Siri. It found that 87 percent of iPhone 4S owners do take advantage of the voice-activated assistant each month. Around a third of them stay safe, however, using Siri only for making phone calls, searching the Internet, and sending text messages. But Siri is capable of a slew of other underused “tasks.” Apple’s commercials promoting the feature show people using Siri to set alarms, create calendar events, send meeting invitations, play music, and more.

Indeed, 35 percent of Siri users say they would never use it to schedule meetings, 32 percent would never play music using Siri, and 30 percent would never send an email with the feature. Another 26 percent, however, disagree and say they send emails through Siri daily.

Overall, only 55 percent of people who use Siri are happy with the feature, while nine percent remain dissatisfied. Apple does disclaim that the product is in beta and is still being tested and tweaked for future iterations. That disclaimer doesn’t sit well with every, however.

In a recent class action lawsuit, Apple was accused of misrepresenting Siri in its commercials. The plaintiff, Frank M. Fazio, claimed that he bought his iPhone 4S based on the commercials, but found Siri was unable to perform as advertised. Fazio also argued that Siri commercials are “false and misleading,” and that he was unable to complete some of the tasks shown in the ads.

via Wall Street Journal

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Big surprise! TiVo files patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola & Time Warner Cable

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 06:22 PM PDT


DVR service and set-top box company TiVo has filed a lawsuit today against Motorola Mobility and Time Warner Cable, according to SEC documents.

In the suit, TiVo claims that the two companies are infringing on three of its patents, including patents for “multimedia time warping system,” “system for time shifting multimedia content streams,” and “method and apparatus implementing random access and time-based functions on a continuous stream of formatted digital data.” If these descriptions seem like nonsense, you are not alone. Many lawyers and judges have logged many hours trying to decipher TiVo patent infringements, too.

TiVo has previously filed several lawsuits against companies infringing on its patents, such as a similar suit involving Dish Network/Echo Star. More recently, the company settled a year-long lawsuit over patent disputes with Microsoft as well as a $215 million payout settlement from AT&T.  With the increasing number of inventive set-top boxes hitting the market every quarter, TiVo has plenty of competition. So, patent disputes have become an important source of revenue for the company. (Because who needs to innovate when you have patents!)

TiVo hasn’t determined the exact amount of damages caused by both Motorola and Time Warner Cable’s patent infringements, but it’s likely going to be in the same range as past disputes.

Via Forbes

Filed under: media, VentureBeat

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Google spent $70M on U.S. TV ads in 2011

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:28 PM PDT

A company that makes 96 percent of its revenue from advertising is becoming a massive media buyer itself — and in a far more traditional sense than one might at first anticipate.

In 2011, Google spent nearly $70 million on U.S. television spots to advertise products including its social-networking site Google+ and the Chrome web browser, according to the firm Kantar Media.

The television-ad spend figure ballooned from just $6 million in 2010 when the search giant ran its first-ever Super Bowl commercial. In 2008, Google spent no money at all on television advertisements, according to the media firm.

Altogether, Google quadrupled its 2010 ad spending to $213 million last year, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. More than 32 percent of Google’s entire 2011 U.S. ad spend went to TV spots, while a majority — 57 percent to be exact — was still directed toward online placements.

The more mainstream-audience-focused strategy has been evident to anyone with a television set. Google Chrome and Google+ ad spots have been appearing during popular programs on top networks consistently for many months running. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, for instance, Google ran a long-winded, 90-second spot promoting its Google+ social network. You’ve also no doubt been exposed to more recent Google+ television spots featuring the Muppets.

“During recent years, we have tried new forms of advertising like our TV ads for our browser Chrome and our ‘Gone Google’ campaign for Enterprise on billboards in cities around the world,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat in November. “Overall, Google has increased its investment in marketing and we plan to continue to do that where it makes sense.”

Photo credit: minhimalism/Flickr

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AVG follows FTC’s privacy lead, adds “Do Not Track” tool for its 108M users

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 05:19 PM PDT


Security software company AVG will add a “Do Not Track” feature to its popular web security applications tomorrow, a move that parallels the FTC’s report today advising companies to offer a similar feature to help protect consumers.

Online privacy concerns have been building over the past few years with companies like Facebook, Google, and advertising firms tracking and selling data about users. Those concerns blew up earlier this year when Google announced sweeping changes to its privacy policy, which went live on March 1. Those concerns attracted U.S. Congress, state attorneys general, and U.K. regulators.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued a report today that advocates that businesses offer a “Do Not Track” button to consumers so they can “opt out” of being tracked. While AVG didn’t coordinate with the FTC on this, the two announcements overlap to a huge extent. AVG will give users the ability to stop being tracked by many companies that do not offer a clean-cut solution for opting out.

AVG CEO JR Smith told VentureBeat that the new “Do Not Track” update is designed to give consumers better protections when it comes to their data. The feature will automatically be turned on when customers update to the latest version of the software, but they can turn it off if they want.

“I would say the majority of Internet users don’t know how they are being tracked,” Smith said. “Let’s at least try to educate consumers and give them more control over their data.”

Much to my chagrin, the feature does not prevent all companies from tracking you, and Google and Facebook are exempt because they are “acting responsibly.” Smith said only companies that are not responsibly approaching data privacy will have their tracking cookies blocked. Mostly this means advertising companies.

I asked Smith if AdRoll, a successful ad startup that tracks sites you visit and re-targets ads at later times, would be included. He said he believed so, which means AVG could directly hurt AdRoll’s bottom line.

“There are hundreds of ad networks out there and some of them will be affected,” Smith said. “Any company that is aggressively tracking people will be blocked. We will give companies the ability to contact us to talk about getting off the blocked list.”

AdRoll President Adam Berke told us that his company is fully supportive of giving consumers control over their data, as long as such tools are not “arbitrary or extreme.”

“Our targeting is based on cookies and much of the personalization around the web is based around cookies,” Berke said. “Extreme blocking could have a lot of implications. Consumers have made it clear that they don’t want to pay for 99 percent of content on the web and in return, they get advertising. The goal of using cookies is to make to make ads more personal, not to abuse data.”

AVG’s Smith said this was just the beginning for “Do Not Track” and that the product will evolve over time. Other features and more controls will be added eventually.

AVG currently has more than 108 million active users, with 15 million of those paying. The company’s popular software, including its free anti-virus program, can be found on the company’s download page.

You can see a few screenshots of AVG’s Do Not Track tool in action below:

Hand shadow on keyboard photo: Lisa S./Shutterstock

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Funding daily: syncing contacts to the cloud, automating servers, and mobile payments

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 04:47 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.

Fruux grabs seed money to sync contacts to the cloud

Münster, Germany- based Fruux announced today it raised an untold amount of seed money for its “Dropbox for contacts, calendars, and tasks” service. With a recently launched web app, Fruux helps sync contacts, calendars, and tasks across different devices, much like Dropbox does for files. Its aiming to collect and organize data stored in multiple applications, such as iCal and Google Calendar, so you can have it one place. German investment firm High-Tech Gründerfonds led the round.

Opscode raises $19.5 million to automate servers

Instead of manually bringing servers online when your company needs the computing power, Opscode automates the process. The company’s tool, called Chef, uses a recipe metaphor to help IT people set up servers to run automatically. Monday, Seattle-based Opscode announced a $19.5 million third round of funding from Ignition Partners, with Battery Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson participating.

Mobile payment system ViVOTech gets some stealthy cash

The company behind Google Wallet and Isis, ViVOTech, announced a new round of funding Monday. The company, which develops hardware and software for digital wallets and mobile payments, didn’t disclose how much money it raised in this internal round, but says the new funding brings its total to $96 million.

Web-app analytics service Tracelytics gets $5.2 million

Monday, Tracelytics announced its first round of funding for $5.2 million. The company helps track the performance of web applications with its application performance management (APM) software. Bain Capital led the round, which included participation from Google Ventures, Battery Ventures, and Flybridge Capital Partners, which led Tracelytics' seed funding.

If you’ve got funding news to report, send it our way at tips@venturebeat.com.

Mobile payment image via Shutterstock 

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Facebook releases Zuckerberg emails in “fraudulent shakedown” case

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 04:44 PM PDT

Facebook‘s counsel asked courts to dismiss a case against founder Mark Zuckerberg today, involving plaintiff Paul Ceglia, who claims he rightfully owns 50 percent of the multibillion-dollar company.

“Today’s motion proves what Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have emphatically stated all along: this case is a fraud,” said Orin Synder and Gibson Dunn, representatives for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, in a statement. “The motion asks the Court to dismiss this fraudulent lawsuit, and demonstrates that Ceglia has forged documents, destroyed evidence, and abused the judicial system in furtherance of his criminal scheme. Ceglia must be held accountable.”

Ceglia claims to have a contract with Zuckerberg, as well as emails promising the large stake in Facebook in return for helping Zuck get off the ground in 2003-2004. Facebook, however, calls this a “fraudulent shakedown” and says Ceglia is simply trying to extort money from a company that has come into success. Ceglia filed the suit in 2010, and in 2011, Facebook criticized him for forging documents.

Now, Facebook wants the case thrown out completely and refers to Ceglia as a “a career criminal and hustler.” It has presented a “treasure trove of evidence — much of which has never before [been] made public and comes from Ceglia's own computers and email accounts.” This new information includes emails between Zuckerberg and Ceglia that were not previously released, obtained by using cyber forensics.

The evidence also includes claims that a set of “Work for Hire” papers filed by Ceglia have “fresh” ink on them — ink that was only placed on the paper in the last two years. During a search of the document’s metadata, Facebook found Ceglia had made 7 different attempts to backdate the document correctly before turning it in.

Facebook also alleges that Ceglia wrote his version of the Zuckerberg emails in a Word document, backdated by changing the computer’s time stamp. The company even says that some of Ceglia’s emails are a “historical impossibility,” including one sent on the morning of Facebook’s launch day. According to the social network, the actual Facebook website did not go live until the afternoon.

Facebook concluded its move to dismiss saying, “This case is his biggest hustle yet … From the beginning, Facebook recognized that its attorneys were not defending a lawsuit, but prosecuting a fraud.”

Zuckerberg image via Crunchies2009/Flickr

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Skype goes high-res, optimizes for iPad’s Retina Display

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 04:04 PM PDT

Adding a whole new meaning to the phrase “up close and personal,” Skype has released a version of its iPad application optimized for the device’s new ultra-high resolution Retina Display.

Skype’s 3.8 for iPad was released Monday and is specifically tailored toward early buyers of Apple’s third-generation iPad, which features a heretofore unheard of screen resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.

With the release, Skype is promising customers its best-looking application yet. Technically, that description is absolutely accurate. VentureBeat’s own Devindra Hardawar, in a review of the new iPad, said, “because of its high resolution, the Retina Display makes practically everything look better, even merely browsing the web.”

But while we’re sure most of your friends and family members look better in high-definition, we know that the additional pixels won’t be favorable to all. So ladies, put your lipstick on. And gentlemen, you may want to rethink that decision to skip a shave in the morning.

Microsoft-owned Skype, which today demonstrated no qualms about rapidly updating to support a competitor’s hardware, was only recently made available to Windows Phone customers. The additional audience pool, however small it may be, helped pushed the VoIP service to a new 35 million concurrent user record.

Photo credit: spieri_sf/Flickr

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Why China won’t be innovative for at least 20 more years

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 02:42 PM PDT

Xu Xiaoping, one of China's most prominent angel investors, doesn’t think China will be able to produce its own equivalent of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in this generation.

On Saturday, I went to a Yale Club of Beijing talk by Xu Xiaoping (pictured above) at Peking University. He’s an investor in tech startups as well as in film and philanthropy. At the end of 2011, his angel fund Zhenfund announced its partnership with Sequoia Capital China to create a $30 million joint-venture seed fund. Xu is probably most famous for being the former co-founder and Vice Chairman of New Oriental Group, a NYSE-listed education company that helps prepare Chinese citizens to study overseas, mainly in America.

The Yale Club discussion was focused on the lack of innovation in China. Xu said that while things are changing, it will take more time for creativity to become mainstream. Here are some of his reasons why China could take years to start truly innovating:

1. China has a culture of education first, at the expense of passion

We like to joke about Asian parents being strict and paranoid about their children’s education. Of course, not every Asian parent is like this, but there is some truth to the stereotype.

In China, a number of factors feed into parents’ paranoia. The main one is fierce competition. With so many people fighting to get into the best schools and presumably best jobs, the only way-in besides guanxi (relationships), is through stellar grades. Xu explained that China's most important high school and university entrance exam, called the Gao Kao, is a killer of passion and creativity — a rather bold statement.

He explained his reasoning with the story of two people. The first was a Chinese boy in Canada who had a great passion for programming and was encouraged by his parents to explore his skills. This boy went on to do amazing things and created a valuable technology company. The second boy was in China. He also had a deep passion for programming and even invented something that Apple could have used. But his parents told him to stop working on it and instead focus on studying for the Gao Kao. Years of draining preparation sucked his passion away for programming and he eventually just became an employee of a large company. Xu believes that this traditional Chinese mindset of fighting to be accepted, rather than encouraging people’s natural curiosity and passions, deters China from reaching its true potential.

Xu is convinced that China's education system lags behind more Western countries such as America. That is why his former company, New Oriental, sends people from China overseas to study, broaden their perspectives, and discover themselves. However, as China's economy booms, this trend is starting to slow.

At the end of the talk, I asked Xu Xiaoping, "How long will it take until China can stop sending students overseas to become really creative and innovative?" He replied, "At least 20 years."

2. Chinese products and services need more soul

Xu feels many Chinese tech companies and their products and services lack “soul.” For example, Steve Jobs was more artist than engineer. He believed his products needed a personality and evoke emotions in people. Xu said this way of thinking and intuition is largely missing from China and is a fundamental reason why China will not have a Steve Jobs in this generation.

Lei Jun, the founder of Xiaomi Tech, is thought to be China's closest contender for the role of China's Steve Jobs, but even his friend Xu believes he isn’t the right guy. He explained that Lei Jun is an engineer at heart, not an artist. Now Xiaomi is looking for a CEO who can execute like an artist, but Xu believes it will be difficult to find that person in China. (Xu himself is passionate about arts and culture. He studied music and was a music teacher at Peking University.)

This partly explains why there is so much cloning in China. Most Chinese startups are not founded by designers or artists, but by engineers who don't have the creativity to think of new ideas or designs. For now, cloning works because it speeds up the time to market, but even people in China are starting to criticize such blatant copying. (The latest example is DianDi, an exact clone of popular mobile-journal app Path.) If people revolt against copying more, the copiers could be forced to change their strategy.

3. Innovators are discouraged by giants that want to crush them

In America, and especially in Silicon Valley, there is a startup culture of build-to-acquire. Meaning many startups create a product that a big company like Facebook, Google, Apple, or Microsoft will want, and then sells it to them. Sometimes, the big company just wants the talented team. Other times, the big company saves money and time by acquiring the startup technology instead of building something from scratch.

However, in China, many big companies like Baidu, Sina, and Tencent can afford to hire a big team to crank out the product rather than buy a startup. Often, if it sees a Chinese start-up working on something with big potential, the large company will just copy the product and pump it up with its huge amounts of existing-users, eventually crushing the original startup’s offering. These types of threats from big companies discourages people from innovating and trying their luck.

But Xu said things are starting to change. Companies like Tencent are attempting to be more equitable, and instead of sharing only 10 percent to 20 percent of revenue with game developers, it is taking a more developer-friendly stance with 70 percent revenue sharing. Hopefully things continue in this direction.

Curious about Xu's thoughts on what can speed-up China's journey to innovation, I asked "Does China need a top-down approach from the government or does it have to happen from a bottom-up approach from people leaving China and coming back?" Xu answered that it will be somewhere in between. Of course, trying to change something so engrained as culture and thinking is extremely difficult, and can only happen from a top leadership position. On the other hand, since China does not promote creativity and free thinking in the same way as other countries, the innovations will continue to come from people who are exposed to other countries and cultures.

China was able to accelerate its economic transformation and overcome poverty within 30 years, so transforming China to become more innovative in 20 years seems possible.

This article originally appeared on TechNode, a VentureBeat editorial partner based in China.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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ViVOTech gets investors to open up their digital wallets for new funding

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 02:22 PM PDT

Chances are, if you’ve shopped at Home Depot or gone to McDonald’s lately, you’ve seen one of ViVOTech’s credit card readers. The company, which develops hardware and software for digital wallets and mobile payments, announced a new round of funding Monday.

Near field communication (NFC) technology makes paying for purchases with your phone possible. You can transmit credit or debit card information from any mobile phone with an NFC chip to a compatible credit card terminal with a tap or a wave, allowing you to quickly pay for purchases like you’re a magician. ViVOTech is responsible for making most of these sensors and the software that handles the transactions.

The company’s technology also powers Google Wallet, Google’s NFC payment system, and Isis, the payment network AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have set up.

ViVOTech isn’t alone in its NFC endeavor; other companies such as Sequent and PayPal have developed their own NFC systems and software.

ViVOTech is keeping quiet about the amount of money raised in this internal round, but says that the cash brings the company’s total funding to $96 million. Looking at previous funding the company has raised, my best guest is this round is about $22 million.

Founded in 2001, the company has been backed by Alloy Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, DFJ Gotham, First Data, Miven Ventures, NCR, Nokia Growth Partners, Motorola Ventures and Citigroup, among others.

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Desperate for more apps, Microsoft and Nokia invest $24M in AppCampus program

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 02:00 PM PDT


Finland’s Aalto University will soon become even more of an app hub, thanks to the upcoming AppCampus program, a joint initiative between Microsoft (which desperately wants to be loved by the Finns) and Nokia.

The two companies will invest up to 9 million euros each (or nearly $24 million total) to launch the program, which will encourage budding developers to create apps for Windows Phone, Symbian, and Series 40.

Here’s what the program will offer, according to a joint statement released today: “Within the AppCampus program, mobile entrepreneurs can benefit from comprehensive support, training in mobile technology design and usability, and funding to create innovative new mobile apps and services. Windows Phone Marketplace and Nokia Store offer local and global business opportunities to program participants via distribution to consumers around the world.”

Both companies desperately need apps on their platforms — Microsoft moreso, since Windows Phone is still young and needs promising software to stay alive. The company recently announced that it had reached 70,000 Windows Phone apps, a paltry number compared to the 550,000 iOS apps and over 400,000 Android apps available.

“AppCampus offers an unprecedented opportunity for entrepreneurs to put their ideas into practice and create world-class mobile products,” Klaus Holse, Microsoft’s Western Europe president, said in a statement today. “We want to turn a new leaf in the mobile industry and foster Finland's role as a center of excellence for mobile technology. Such investment into early-stage concepts has rarely been seen in this sector, and this demonstrates how highly both Nokia and Microsoft value Finnish mobile expertise.”

The investment is relatively paltry for the Redmond software giant and will likely serve more to warm up Nokia’s home country of Finland to Microsoft’s partnership with the company than to create the next hot new app startup.

Filed under: dev, mobile, VentureBeat

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UK also concerned over employers asking for Facebook passwords

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 12:57 PM PDT


After hearing about employers who were asking potential hires for their Facebook passwords, two U.S. senators asked the feds to investigate. Now regulators in the U.K. are voicing their own concerns about the controversial issue.

We first heard about this odd trend last week. Some HR staffers have apparently been asking applicants to hand over Facebook login credentials, including user names, passwords, and security questions. Other recruiters might ask an applicant to add them as a friend on the social network to gain access to their profiles. In this still-tough job market, some potential employees have complied with the requests.

In response to the initial report about employers engaging in such actions, the Information Commissioner’s Office in the U.K. has issued a warning to employers to not ask for social media passwords from existing or potential employees.

“The UK Data Protection Act clearly says that organisations shouldn’t hold excessive information about individuals, and it’s questionable why they would need that information in the first place,” a spokesperson from the ICO told The Guardian.

On Friday, Facebook jumped into the fray and denounced the practices, saying employers shouldn’t be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords and that it looked forward to working with policy makers to safeguard users’ privacy.

Cut to Sunday, when U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked the Attorney General to investigate claims that employers were asking for Facebook passwords. The Senators specifically want to know if these actions would be in violation of the Stored Communications Act, which gives privacy protection to online communications, or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prevents unintentional access to information on a computer without approved authorization.

With Facebook itself and government officials in the U.S. and U.K. loudly voicing concerns, there’s a good chance this issue will be addressed. And for the sake of our privacy, let’s hope it is.

Employer behind blinds photo: Tomasz Trojanowski/Shutterstock

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Facebook employees take over Menlo Park campus with rooftop QR code

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 12:50 PM PDT

A few dozen Facebook employees have put their own massive mark, literally, on the social network’s expansive new Menlo Park campus.

The mark in question is a gargantuan, scannable QR code taking up 42 feet of rooftop space atop one of Facebook’s new buildings.

The code was painted by crafty Facebookers during a company hackathon in February. The story goes that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced a “Space Hackathon,” via Facebook of course, to encourage team members to make the new office space their own. Mark Pike, an associate on the intellectual property team, decided to take the call to action literally.

“Hack yeah! I’d like to paint a gigantic QR code somewhere so we can RickRoll online maps, or point people to our careers site, or send them to a ‘Clarissa Explains it All’ GeoCities Page,” Pike wrote in a Facebook post that became the catalyst for a late-night rooftop painting session.

After several planning sessions, a group of employees purchased the fbco.de domain and came up with a plan of attack. When the hackathon rolled around, they headed up to the roof, determined the best spot for the most visibility, and set about painting the code with, “chalk, twine, paint rollers, a few drums full of black paint, and some cold beer,” according to Pike’s description.

The team’s efforts proved successful. The 42-foot code can be scanned from the skies, and will soon start appearing in satellite captures of the area. What scanners will find, however, remains a mystery. The code, for now, simply redirects to a “coming soon” landing page.

“The next time you zoom in on Facebook from a satellite map or find yourself flying into SFO, take a close look at our roof,” Pike said. “We can’t promise you wont be Rick Rolled, but we can promise something cool.”

Photo credit: FBQRCode/Facebook

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Tracelytics raises $5.2M to keep your web applications running smoothly

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 12:04 PM PDT

ss-money-keyboard-hackersTracelytics announced Monday it has closed its first round of funding for $5.2 million. The company helps track the performance of web applications.

Its software helps uncover problems and gather insights from web apps that run on multiple servers. With the service, you can find out how long it takes your web app to do certain tasks or if its encountering problems on a specific browser. The company counts Github as a customer.

"When you're dealing with massive applications, people often don't really understand what's going on in them," said Aman Gupta, a GitHub engineer in a statement. "With Tracelytics, I immediately found issues that our other APM (application performance management) software had failed to identify."

Tracelytics’ services start at $95 per month and go up to $495 for premium service. The company’s competitors include NewRelic, which charges $149 monthly for its pro services.

This first round of funding will be used to open a new office in Boston, Mass. and to hire more engineers. Bain Capital led the round, with participation from Google Ventures, Battery Ventures, and Flybridge Capital Partners, which led Tracelytics’ seed funding.

Tracelytics is based in Providence, Rhode Island. The company was founded in 2010 and has grown to eight employees.

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Confirmed: Forrst acquired by Colourlovers

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 11:37 AM PDT

Forrst, the sexy site for showing off design and code snippets, has been acquired by designophile site Colourlovers.

Forrst founder Kyle Bragger confirmed the news this morning to VentureBeat via email.

Colourlovers is a loosely organized community that’s all about colors and patterns; it’s the machine power behind Twitter’s official profile skinner, Themeleon. It’s more than a million users strong, has a paint color-focused partnership with Martha Stewart Living, and recently launched a “creative market” for designers to sell their mouse-made work.

Forrst, on the other hand, recently launched a job posting and job search feature of its own. The feature is tailored to help companies find top-notch design and web development professionals — a far cry from the Etsy-like, one-off CreativeMarket transactions on Colourlovers.

“Forrst will still be Forrst, no drastic changes,” said Bragger via email. He continued to say that the team is “still evaluating how we want to integrate with Colourlovers [and] CreativeMarket.”

Bragger couldn’t reveal any specifics about the terms of the deal, but he did note that he and the still-small Forrst team will all be working for Colourlovers now. “I will say that it feels weird to be able to say ‘my boss’!… Great folks over there,” he concluded.

Bragger founded Forrst almost exactly two years ago in January 2010. Last year, in March 2011, the startup took a small $205,000 round of seed funding from Dave McClure’s 500 Startups, Gary and AJ Vaynerchuk, and a handful of other investors.

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Google claims its data centers use 50 percent less energy than competitors

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 10:57 AM PDT

Google released an annual energy report for its data centers Monday, claiming that by measuring energy consumption, its data centers are 50 percent more efficient than other companies’.

Tucked away in Douglas County, Georgia, next to a Six Flags theme park, lies one of Google’s data centers. The facility houses   unknown number of servers that deliver Google search, Maps, and Gmail. All these servers are powered by up to 250 kilowatts of electricity and can generate high levels of heat, which Google has worked hard to combat. In the Douglas County facility specifically, servers are kept cool with recycled, undrinkable water from the surrounding area.

Since 2008, the search-engine giant has been releasing these annual reports to tell us all how Google keeps its energy footprint low. Each report includes the power-usage effectiveness (PUE) of the collective Google data centers. Google defines PUE as “a ratio of the total power used to run a data center to the amount used to power the servers.”

Using Energy Star data, Google points out that other data centers use equal amounts of energy to power servers and the facilities that house them. In this case, those other data centers have a PUE is 2.0, meaning that one watt of energy goes to running the servers and one watt powers the data center’s lights and cooling systems. Google has shifted that ratio, claiming to have a 12 month average PUE of 1.14 in 2011, down from 1.16 in 2010. Not exactly 50 percent less energy than its competitors, but close.

Google employes a few tactics to keep its PUE low. It keeps its cold aisle temperatures around 80 degrees to save energy and uses outside air to cool its data centers, instead of powered cooling systems. Google has also built its own energy-saving servers.

You can read Google’s full data center energy report, along with reports from previous years, here.

Server room image via Shutterstock

Filed under: green, VentureBeat

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