05 May, 2012



FTC could fine Google millions for Safari privacy breach

Posted: 05 May 2012 09:15 AM PDT

The Federal Trade Commission may levy its first multimillion dollar fine against Google over a security breach initially uncovered by a Stanford student, according to an anonymous source cited by Bloomberg.

Critics say the FTC is more bark than bite. But a hefty fine against Google for “unfair and deceptive” business practices would indicate that the agency is stepping up its efforts to safeguard consumers’ online rights. The agency has relied on a citizen vigilante army of hackers working on the front lines to detect security breaches and inform government response.

“The FTC has been sending signals for a number of years now for tech companies to clean up their act. Soft touch diplomacy has not yielded the results that agency wanted,” said Jonathan Mayer, the Stanford researcher who uncovered the privacy breach in February.

“The message would be that there’s a cop on the beat. For a long time, there hasn’t been,” he added.

The world’s largest search company originally found itself in hot water when Mayer, a graduate student in law and computer science, detected “cookies” that were planted on Apple’s Safari Internet browser to evade built-in protections. This is how Mayer characterized the breach in a blog post, dated Feb. 17:

Apple's Safari web browser is configured to block third-party cookies by default. We identified four advertising companies that unexpectedly place trackable cookies in Safari. Google and Vibrant Media intentionally circumvent Safari's privacy feature.

By circumventing Safari’s privacy settings, Google could launch targeted advertising to Safari users on desktops, iPads, and iPhones. Mayer said he intended to find some evidence of online advertisers circumventing privacy settings, but had not anticipated that Google would be involved. “We had to check our results again and again that Google was doing this. It was not something we expected in the slightest.”

At the time, Google issued the comment that it "didn't anticipate this would happen" and that it would promptly remove the offending files. Google’s spokesperson emphasized that the advertising cookies do not collect personal information.

It’s now the job of the FTC, a body responsible for protecting Internet users, to determine the extent of Google’s wrongdoing. If convicted, the company could face fines amounting to over $10 million, according to the Bloomberg report.

The investigation puts the issue of Internet privacy firmly in the spotlight. Experts say a hefty fine could send a clear signal to Internet companies around the world. ”Silicon Valley Internet companies are in stiff competition, and we will see these privacy issues pop up again and again unless regulators take a firm stance,” said Pieter Gunst, fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Legal Informatics (CodeX).

“The major implication of this decision could be to put to rest the criticism that the FTC is toothless and they do mean business when it comes to online privacy,” said Mayer.

[Image credit: Lightspring/Shutterstock]

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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The FBI wants to watch you on Facebook, Twitter, and Skype

Posted: 04 May 2012 10:41 PM PDT

George Orwell was an optimist.

After seeing the privacy-shattering updates that the FBI wants top websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to implement, I’m wondering if his dystopic 1984 didn’t go far enough. After all, in mythical Oceania, it was only televisions that watched citizens back. Now the US government is seeking the right to observe messages and activity in almost any website or service that enables communication.

The FBI is requesting backdoors into the social sites and communication services that Americans use every single day, CNET reported today. (Backdoors are means of bypassing normal security and encryption protections to easily access databases and servers. The term is commonly used to describe viruses or Trojans that hackers use to access computer systems.)

The reason the FBI is seeking this increase in observing capability: Wiretaps are increasingly useless. The staple of television crime drama for decades, and one of law enforcement’s principal ways of surveilling citizens suspected of crimes, wiretaps no longer work. Why? Fewer people are using regular landlines for communication. And cell phones are increasingly smartphones, which are used more for data than for voice communications. So the modes of communication that the existing wiretap law covers are becoming archaic. Wiretaps will soon be a thing of the past … unless the US government can extend the same principles into online communications.

A backdoor into the heart of the web

Think of your Facebook messages and chats. Any Google+ hangouts you’ve participated in. Your Skype calls, both foreign and domestic. All your email in Gmail or other online email service providers. The Yahoo Messenger conversations you indulged in … even comments on YouTube videos.

Basically, every site and service that allows communication would fall under the scope of the FBI’s new powers. In a web that today is largely a social space, that means huge swaths of everything we do online.

A coming backlash?

Privacy advocates and civil liberties groups won’t take this news lying down. Already, WikiProtest says “this encroachment on online privacy must be fought tooth and nail,” and is encouraging netizens to use privacy-enhancing tools like PGP and TOR. The Electronic Frontier Foundation will also chime in soon.

But what will everyday users do? Will there be a SOPA or ACTA-like backlash? That remains to be seen. The FBI had been trying to implement the backdoor quietly, which seems to have failed. Now it’ll have to go to plan B.

So much for American competitiveness

I can’t imagine a better way to kill US competitiveness in the tech sector abroad. What European, Asian, or South American will want to use a US product such as Google+ or Facebook knowing that the US government has easy access to whatever is said, shared, uploaded, or done there? This could accelerate massive migration away from predominantly American tools and networks.

Do you support extending FBI wiretap powers to social networks online?

Image credit: Sean MacEntee/Flickr

Filed under: media, security

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Amazing new touch technology could revolutionize smartphones, doorknobs, your sofa

Posted: 04 May 2012 07:21 PM PDT

Touche Disney research technology What if any object in the world, not just smartphones and tablets, could know when and how you were touching them? If a team working at Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University continues to make progress, soon we may have smarter chairs, doorknobs, bathtubs, and even living things.

Using the researchers’ new technology, called Touché, we could sense what is touching an object (human or fork?), how it is being touched (pushing, pinching, grasping), and which body part is touching it (hands, elbows, number of fingers). That means a flat surface could recognize if you are standing, sitting, or Tebowing on it.

Touché operates on the same general principle as the capacitive sensor in your touchscreen phone. The difference is that where most smartphones only capture one frequency, which they interpret as touching or not touching (plus position data), Touché senses complex configurations by sweeping over a wider range of frequencies. The technique is called swept frequency capacitive sensing (SFCS), and it requires processing a much larger amount of information than traditional capacitive sensors — something that has become easier with today’s faster and cheaper microprocessors.

The technology needs only one electrode, which opens the applications to almost any object that can conduct electricity. That means humans can become a sensor and, even cooler, the different parts of a body could be detected based on their capacitive properties. Even water can be turned into a touch sensor.

One potential application is a desk surface which is all touch-sensitive, allowing you to manipulate objects on your screen with far greater fidelity than even today’s best tablets. Fingers may be imprecise compared to a mouse pointer or a stylus, but that’s only because the tablet is small. Give your hands the entire surface of your desk to work on, and the results might be beyond our current imagination.

The researchers came up with their own neat concept uses: a music player that’s controlled by touching your own hand (hit a pinky to pause, two-fingers on the palm to play); doorknobs that lock, trigger lights, or display messages based on how you touch them; a sofa that turns on the TV when you sit down, then turns down the lights when you recline; and bowl of cereal that frightens a child who uses the wrong utensil.

Another use the research team is considering is to control and access our increasingly smaller computer interfaces, as well as the elimination of traditional input devices like keyboards or mice. Tools which currently need to be large enough to provide space for a manipulable user interface could continue to shrink.

“Devices keep getting smaller and increasingly are embedded throughout the environment, which has made it necessary for us to find ways to control or interact with them,” team member Chris Harrison said in a statement.

The team will be presenting their research at CHI 2012, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Austin next week. They have already been recognized with a much sought-after Best Paper award.

Check out this quick demonstration of the technology in action:

Photo credit/Flickr

Filed under: offBeat, VentureBeat

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This lightsaber has everything, except you can’t actually play with it

Posted: 04 May 2012 05:50 PM PDT


Wicked Lasers has created arguably the most dangerous Star Wars toy you will ever own: The LaserSaber.

The company has released its version of the space-age weapon, called the LaserSaber for obvious copyright reasons. It sports a 32-inch “polycarbonate blade,” aircraft-grade aluminum hilt, and actually powers up and down like the LightSaber. It does this through what Wicked Lasers says is a “magnetic gravity system” that pushes and pulls the light. The unit costs $100, but you have to buy the laser separately, which can run you $300 to $1,000.

But this thing is made of lasers. It can blind your friends and hurt your pets. Wicked Lasers says you should only use it when wearing protective eye-wear, or LaserShades. Also, you shouldn’t use it to sword fight, as it will cause harm to those around you. It doesn’t make sound effects anyway, so get ready to make those yourself.

So, if you can’t do any of the obvious stuff with it, what can you do?

  1. Get lucky. With that “magnetic gravity system” you’re bound to attract something.
  2. Facetime with long distance friends to prove you’re doing fine in your studio apartment in the Tenderloin.
  3. Take Instagram photos of it and upload them to Facebook (still love how meta that is).
  4. Replace the candle in your Carrie Fischer shrine with the LaserSaber.
  5. Use it as a giant coffee stirrer. (Don’t actually do that.)

So, we all know you’re buying one, what will you use it for?

via Gizmodo

Filed under: offBeat

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Funding daily: Learn a language over the weekend

Posted: 04 May 2012 05:07 PM PDT

language books learn a language
We’ve got three funding news stories for this Friday afternoon. Check out the quick-and-dirty details of which companies received investments today.

Tidepool judges your personality with $1.5M in funding

Tidepool has raised a $1.5 million seed round to determine personality traits from photos. You take an assessment on the company's website, which involves rating photos to your liking and indicating what activities interest you. Mike Hirshland of Resolute.vc and Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal Capital led the round of funding, with existing investors Jarl Mohn, Tim Draper, Peggy and Jim Davis, and Jeff Lipp participating.

Archify archives everything, raises funding

Archify saves your social media streams and pretty much anything else you find online to view later. If you want to remember all those things your friends said drunkenly on Facebook at 2 am, Archify is for you. The company raised an undisclosed funding round from Balderton Capital.

Carnegie Speech raises $3.4M

Language learning software Carnegie Speech has raised $3.4 million to compete with Rosetta Stone. The software comes from Carnegie Mellon University and can identify speech problems when learning a new language so you learn faster and better. Golden Seeds investment firm led the round, along with returning investor Osage Venture Partners and new contributions from New York Angels.

Language books image via Shutterstock

Filed under: deals

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Facebook Messenger now shows who’s read your messages

Posted: 04 May 2012 03:27 PM PDT


In an effort to eradicate some of the challenges associated with text-based communication, Facebook has today updated the iOS and Android versions of Messenger, the social network’s cross-platform messaging-only app.

Version 1.7 of Facebook Messenger for iPhone and Android, out today, keeps conversations flowing between friends with three new features. The app lets you know who has seen your messages, gives you the ability to see where your friends are messaging you from, and includes a more visible real-time typing indicator.

facebook seen by

“The new Messenger clients for both iOS and Android make mobile messaging more conversational, especially when texting groups of friends on the go,” a Facebook spokesperson told VentureBeat.

Perhaps the most useful feature is the “seen by” indicator that shows you which of your friends have read your messages. It essentially acts like a read receipt (like in BBM or iMessage) and should come handy when chatting with groups. Sorry, fibbers, this does mean you can no longer plead ignorance on the Facebook messages you’ve read.

The other improvements are convenient little touches meant to make conversations feel more contextual and fluid. The location and app-type indicators, for instance, show you when a friend is messaging you from near or far (with an included map) via their mobile device. This is information that could come in handy when trying to arrange an impromptu get together.

Today’s additions are quintessential Facebook — sharing more by doing less. Sure, you may sacrifice a little privacy in favor of better conversations, but the exchanges are with people you presumably like, so maybe more information is better. And location-sharing is always optional for those who’d rather not reveal that they’re just around block from a frenemy they don’t want to see.

[hat tip: TechCrunch]

Photo credit: JPott/Flickr

Filed under: mobile, social

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Reddit on CISPA: “People just want to know we give a shit”

Posted: 04 May 2012 03:24 PM PDT

Reddit users illustration

As one of the more prominent and vocal opponents of anti-piracy legislation SOPA, social news site Reddit has positioned itself as an organization that deeply cares about tech policy. But sometimes that can work against it.

For instance, last weekend the site’s users started organizing an elaborate Reddit-boycott due to unhappiness over the lack of attention Reddit management had given to the hotly debated cyber security bill CISPA.

CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, seeks to give American companies more legal breathing room when collecting and sharing consumer/user data in the scope of Internet security threats. Essentially, the bill's goal is to encourage companies to share information with the government that may help it fight and prevent cyber security attacks. But the language in the bill is far too vague when it comes to distinguishing how the government can use that information, leading critics to brand it as pure and unadulterated evil. The bill also doesn’t provide an adequate description of what’s considered a “security threat”.

The user uproar was undoubtedly fueled in part by the House’s rushed vote of approval for CISPA last week, which actually contained amendments that make the bill even more vague and degrading to privacy protections. This contradicts most of the prior speculation that the bill would get better prior to going to a vote. And while Reddit eventually did respond to the community, it’s still planning to boost the discussion about CISPA in the coming weeks.

Earlier this week, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin spoke with VentureBeat about the company’s stance on CISPA, and how its strategy for handling CISPA stops just short of activism.

VentureBeat: So I saw the initial uproar by users that called for a strategic boycott of Reddit, which was just like you’d expect from redditors: detailed and multi-tiered. I also saw the follow-up. Have you guys made any progress toward helping Reddit user fight CISPA?

Erik Martin: Right now we’re working on getting as many experts as possible to interact directly with the Reddit community. So, hopefully there will be a lot of informative IAMAs and similar discussions this week, involving experts and stakeholders across the board.

VentureBeat: As for the uproar from users, do you think the timing of the bill passing caught you guys off guard? I know it went from a “bad bill” to a “truly awful bill” in a very short amount of time.

Martin: Yes, we’re not experts or super dialed in to the process. So, we were hearing the revisions and amendments were going to improve the bill, not make it worse.

VentureBeat: I think a lot of people did, at least heading into the weekend. Do you think the update/response to the Reddit boycott was enough to let users know you’re paying attention?

Martin: I think people just want to be sure we give a shit. But just like with SOPA, our role is to facilitate … help the community discuss the issues and collectively explore what to do about it. (For example), we directed people to discuss tactics at http://reddit.com/r/SOPA, but we did not originate or promote any of the specific ideas, like the Godaddy boycott. We’re going to try to do an even better job of that this time (with CISPA). Hopefully the experience of SOPA showed everyone across the board how important it is to communicate directly with the internet communities. So, I’m optimistic.

VentureBeat: With legislation like this (CISPA, SOPA/PIPA, ACTA), is it important for Reddit’s management to draw a distinction between promoting discussion and activism?

Martin: Yes, it is important, but it’s more complicated since Reddit is both a company and a community. I think it’s a fairly new position. We’re not interested in activism, but there are times when we can help make sure the community’s voice is heard. And Reddit is built upon having a free and open internet … we’re open source, don’t require user info, user curated etc. So, anything that might threaten a free and open internet impacts both the community and the company.

VentureBeat: Is there a blackout day for CISPA further down the road if needed?

Martin: No blackout plans, but who knows.

VentureBeat: I’m assuming you’re among the majority of people at this point who hasn’t been able to dig through all the amendments that make CISPA dangerous. Once the week(s) of IAMA experts have explained the situation, will you guys gather all that information and form an official company stance on the bill?

Martin: Not only CISPA, but also the cyber security bills in the senate –  there are like four bills, too.

VentureBeat: In the spirit of healthy discussion, are you guys seeking out an expert that’s for CISPA (and related bills in the senate)?

Martin: Absolutely. And (there are) some good signs that we’ll be able to make that happen. I would love a co-sponsor or the appropriate staffer to discuss and answer questions about the bills on Reddit.

Top image via nComment

Filed under: security, social, VentureBeat

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Oracle asks judge to throw out Google’s strongest evidence in Android trial

Posted: 04 May 2012 03:06 PM PDT

Oracle has asked Judge William Alsup to throw out the entire testimony of Jonathan Schwartz (pictured) in its ongoing (and drama-filled) trial with Google over Android.

Schwartz was Sun’s CEO. Sun owned the Java programming language, which is used heavily in Android. Oracle bought Sun, acquiring Java in the process, and decided to take Google to court for what it calls violations of patents and copyrights in the open-source software.

So far, Schwartz’s testimony, including old blog posts and emails, have been some of the strongest evidence Google has that it wasn’t guilty of any wrongdoing in the Java creators’ eyes when it began working on and rolling out Android.

And last week, Schwartz himself testified on the stand, saying that as Sun’s CEO, he chose not to sue Google over Android’s use of Java because “we [Sun] didn’t feel we had any grounds” for such a suit.

Judge William Alsup, who has proved to be a no-nonsense sort of character so far, previously denied Oracle’s request to bar other Schwartz-related evidence from use in the case. This evidence, a five-year-old blog post, showed that the CEO was publicly in favor of the Android operating system and believed it would have a positive overall impact on the larger Java community.

Much like Schwartz’s other testimony, the post “seems to be part of a pattern of acquiescence or tolerance of what Google was doing," Alsup said in court last week. "At this time, Sun seemed to be enthusiastic about what Google was doing … It was only [two] years later that Oracle acquired the company and things changed."

Google, on the other hand, knew Sun wanted licensing fees for Java use in Android, but Schwartz and Google executives failed to reach a satisfactory agreement on what that partnership would look like (or cost). Still, in the end, Schwartz and Sun were content enough to let Android be — which, on its own, makes Oracle’s suit seem predatory or trollish to the untrained eye.

As we wait for the jury to return a (perhaps partial) verdict in this complicated and highly technical trial, we also wait to see what testimony both parties will unearth next — and whether Alsup will allow Schwartz’s words to stand. Stay tuned for details on the verdict, which should be coming in on Monday.

Filed under: mobile

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How six Lolapps developers saved their last big game, Ravenshire Castle

Posted: 04 May 2012 03:00 PM PDT

Ravenshire Castle is launching today on Facebook. It is the final chapter in the Raven World series created by a team of developers at Lolapps, which was once on the top charts of Facebook gaming. The fact that Ravenshire Castle made it this far is a minor miracle, and the history of this series tells a lot about the evolution of Facebook games.

Most of the development team at San Francisco-based Lolapps lost their jobs last month after their acquirer, Hong Kong-based 6waves, decided to scale back on its internal development studios to focus on mobile games and third-party development by outside developers. But the team was so close to finishing that a determined group decided to finish Ravenshire Castle, said Brady Flynn, product manager on the game.

Arjun Sethi, former chief executive of Lolapps, and Lolapps co-founders Kavin Stewart and Brian Rue put up the money for a new game studio, Silver Lake. The game was so close to completion at the time of the layoffs that they wanted to see it through, and Silver Lake obtained a third-party deal with 6waves to complete the game. A dozen developers from the team stayed on to finish the work, and the final team has shrunk to six.

“We felt we owed this to the team,” Sethi said, in an interview with GamesBeat. “A lot of them had worked on it for a year. We all felt like it was a groundbreaking title.”

Zynga, the arch rival that pretty much put an end to Lolapps’ run on Facebook, launched its own castle game, CastleVille, back in December. But Flynn says the resemblance is in name only. While CastleVille is set in an outdoor environment, Ravenshire Castle shows its characters inside the castle, which has been abandoned and needs to be spruced up by the player.

The game has pretty two-dimensional graphics, and it uses Sean Cooper’s Fliso engine, which allows Adobe Flash to display many more moving objects without slowing down. Fliso version 3.1 also enables players to go full screen with a high-definition map space that is about eight times bigger than the original Ravenwood Fair game, Flynn said. The castles are beautiful, and they float in the sky. Characters are more fully animated, and they can move in more directions than is typical in a Facebook game. The music in the game is based on ten different tracks that fade in or fade out and give the game a more dramatic feeling.

You can build and decorate your castle through more than 40 levels of the game. You can also engage in player versus player competition, a first for the Raven World series. You can, for instance, visit the castles of your friends and raid them. Instead of fighting, though, you simply sneak into their castles and steal things from them. Your job is to nab stuff before the guards stop you, Flynn said.

“We’re proud of how we created the stealth game mechanic in a social games,” Flynn said. “We wanted to push the boundaries to a new level.”

The series endured a long roller coaster ride throughout its run. It started with Ravenwood Fair, designed by veteran game developers John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite. About 2.5 years ago, they created the first game with a small team of developers from Lolapps and launched it in October of 2010. It was a smash hit that quickly rose through the charts and put Lolapps on the map as a serious contender in competition with Zynga, Playfish, and Crowdstar.

Romero conceived several more games in the series, and Brathwaite did the initial work on the Ravenshire Castle game. She came up with an idea for building castles and created the name, but the work she did never materialized. Both Romero, the co-creator of the original Doom game, and Brathwaite, an equally well-known game developer, left in the spring of 2011 to create Loot Drop, a third-party developer of social games. The teams that stayed behind to work on Raven World games went off in their own direction. Brathwaite agrees that the game is far different from what she originally envisioned.

“They worked on the ideas, but we went in a different way with a team that was created after they left,” Flynn said.

The Ravenwood Fair game once topped 20 million monthly active users. By April 2011, Lolapps followed up with Ravenstone Mine, an expansion to the first game. Then, in July 2011, Lolapps merged with 6waves, which mostly published games developed by other developers that it didn’t own. Lolapps was supposed to be the internal development arm of 6waves. In October 2011, Lolapps launched Ravenskye City, a sequel to the Ravenwood Fair game. By this time, Lolapps’ audience had been shrinking while Zynga had grown into a billion-dollar giant.

After that game shipped, Lolapps moved on to Ravenshire Castle, which was the final game in the series. But in the meantime, the Raven World series’ audience has dwindled. All of 6waves’ games now have only 5.3 million monthly active users. Ravenskye City has 2 million and Ravenwood Fair has 1.1 million players. If you add the traffic from third-party developers, 6waves has 20 million players, the company says.

With a dwindling audience, 6waves’ management decided to do less internal Facebook game development. It laid off about 80 percent of its game developers (most of the San Francisco Lolapps team), and the founders and Sethi departed. Since almost a year of development had already taken place on Ravenshire Castle, Sethi wanted to see the game completed, so he and the Lolapps co-founders provided the money.

When asked if Silver Lake would continue on as a developer, Flynn said that the company was formed simply to finish Ravenshire Castle. The remaining developers will share in the success if the title is successful, Sethi said.

Whatever happens after the launch is unclear. 6waves owns the rights to the Raven World franchise, and it has no plans to build more games. Ravenshire Castle is the swan song. It will be interesting to see if the fans return.

“It’s a bittersweet ending, since this is the last game,” Flynn said.

Check out the gallery of screenshots below.

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.

Filed under: dev, games, gbunfiltered, social

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AT&T CEO: “My only regret” was unlimited data

Posted: 04 May 2012 02:31 PM PDT

Regrets? We’ve all had a few. But AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his big whoopsie was offering an unlimited data package for AT&T customers.

"My only regret was how we introduced pricing … Thirty dollars, and you get all you can eat," he said at the Milken Institute's Global Conference. "Every additional megabyte you use in this network, I have to invest capital."

The additional megabytes started to pinch AT&T a bit more as iPhone users grew in number and in data usage. Also, those customers’ iMessage capabilities undercut the carrier’s text messaging business, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the CEO.

AT&T’s subsequent tap-dancing around the unlimited data issue was nothing short of a media-fueled consumer firestorm.

It all started about two years ago, when the company killed unlimited data plans for new customers. The carrier started offering tiered data plans: DataPlus, a $15-per-month plan that offers 200MB of data; and DataPro, a $25-per-month plan that provides 2GB of data. DataPlus users who went over their monthly data allotment had to pay $15 for another 200MB of data, and DataPro users had to pay $10 for another 1GB of data. Simple, right?

The prices got bumped up at the beginning of this year, and the company also made new allowances for hotspots and tethering.

But even after the price hike, heavy users were seeing slowdowns. The carrier was throttling data service for the top 5 percent of heavy data users in a given geographical area for each month. Due to widespread public outcry, AT&T slightly changed its position.

Now, you can use up to 3 gigabytes during your billing cycle before you get throttled — 5GB if you’re a 4G LTE user. The company doesn’t currently offer an unlimited data plan for smartphones.

"You lie awake at night worrying about what is that which will disrupt your business model," the CEO told the conference audience. Apparently, mobile data disrupted AT&T more than anyone could have guessed.

via The New York Times’ Bits blog; pop top image via hyku/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Ford encourages employees’ tinkering with free TechShop memberships

Posted: 04 May 2012 02:04 PM PDT

Some companies cater lunch on Fridays. Some throw in gym memberships or childcare or chair massages. Not Ford.

These guys are going big: They’re giving invention-focused employees TechShop memberships so they can tinker and make to their hearts’ delight.

TechShop is a space for those immersed in the maker/DIY movement and hardware hacking. It gives members tools and equipment for prototyping, classes in relevant topics, large workshop spaces, industry-specific software and computer stations, storage space, and plenty of hot coffee.

Ford's newest employee perks program is intended to beef up the company’s investment in inventions and patents as well as bring more fuel to Detroit’s sparks of creativity. The memberships will be available to any Ford workers who submit inventions to the company’s Patent Incentive Award program.

The auto maker estimates around 2,000 Ford employees will benefit from the TechShop partnership this year alone. Already, dozens of Ford-employed inventors have taken advantage of the TechShop perk. The ideas they’re working on, Ford said, “may be incorporated into future Ford vehicles or licensed to other companies.”

“Ford has a portfolio of more than 17,000 patents around the world and, as a technology company, needs to be at the very forefront of automotive innovation,” said Ford reps in a release. “With TechShop in close proximity, Ford's employees in Dearborn will be able to easily and quickly build prototypes for almost any inventive solution they can conceive.”

The brand-new TechShop facility in Detroit is located in a Ford-owned business park. The new TechShop includes 17,000 square feet of workshop space as well as classrooms, a brainstorming lounge, and a store full of materials. Check it out:

Top image courtesy of Nomad Soul, Shutterstock

Filed under: VentureBeat

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iFlop: 60% of iOS developers lose money on apps (infographic)

Posted: 04 May 2012 01:45 PM PDT


Nearly 60 percent of iOS developers don’t break even with the apps that they create and market, according to a recent study by App Promo.

While we hear a lot about blockbuster hits like Draw Something or Angry Birds Space, it’s all too easy for apps to get lost in the crowd of more than 600,000 apps in the App Store. Application marketing firm App Promo’s “First Annual Developer Survey” indicates that 59 percent of developers don’t generate enough revenue to break even.

The survey said that only 12 percent of apps earned $50,000 or more and that this “top earner” subset spent an average of 14 percent of their time on marketing. On the side of app developers who weren’t able to break even, 52 percent of app developers set aside $0 and less than 5 percent of their time promoting their apps. That certainly makes the case that apps need at least some marketing to see any real returns.

Check out App Promo’s infographic below for more data on iOS app success and failure, keeping in mind, of course, that the company has a vested interest in having app developers spend more on marketing:


Photo credit: miguel77/Flickr

Filed under: dev, mobile

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Facebook’s Timeline and Angry Birds join up to eliminate all of your productivity

Posted: 04 May 2012 01:27 PM PDT

Angry Birds embedded in the Facebook timelineRovio released Angry Birds for Facebook on February 14, but now it’s done one better: You can play the game right in your Timeline.

Rovio announced the news today on its blog.

The way it works is this: When you’re playing the Angry Birds Facebook app, the game occasionally offers you the chance to share one of your “accomplishments.” It took me about 2 minutes to get one of these offers, so it’s not like it’s difficult or anything. When you share it, Facebook actually embeds a tiny, playable version of that level right in your Timeline.

Then, if your friends are among the .002 percent of the human population that has not yet heard of or tried they game, they can play it there and get as addicted to Angry Birds as you are, the poor saps. If they ever get tired of playing the tiny version of the game, there’s an option for them to click over to the full-screen version.

Angry Birds has been downloaded more 750 million times since its launch in December 2009, and the newest game, Angry Birds Space, reached 50 million players in a little over a month. The phenomenal success of the game has led Rovio to release it across a wide variety of platforms, including iOS, Android, Google Chrome, Google+, and PlayStation 3. There’s even a Windows Phone version. It has spawned a host of collateral products, including plush toys, T-shirts, hats, and even an upcoming TV cartoon series.

Game companies don’t get this successful without mastering pathologically addictive gameplay. The in-Timeline sharing shows that Rovio is now figuring out the second key to social gaming success: the kind of annoying, viral sharing that made Zynga so successful.

Via AllFacebook; pop top image via Denis Dervisevic/Flickr

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OMG R U OK? America is getting its first-ever 911 texting service

Posted: 04 May 2012 01:27 PM PDT

Verizon is working on the U.S.’s first-ever emergency texting service.

Text-to-911 will be incredibly useful for a wide range of mobile customers, from the young-and-hip to the hard-of-hearing. It’s also more useful than voice communication in uniquely mobile scenarios, such as low battery or poor signal strength.

Verizon has just selected a vendor for the project; rollout should begin as soon as early 2013. The FCC is applauding the move, which will bring SMS emergency response services to any text-messaging-capable phone.

FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun told TheHill that the organization “commended the company for offering consumers another way to reach 911 that is consistent with how millions of consumers already use mobile devices in their daily lives.”

The FCC itself has been trying to bring 911 emergency services into the land of SMS since at least 2010. In a speech in November of that year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told the public, “It is time to bring 911 into the Digital Age.” Since then, the FCC has been soliciting ideas and pushing service providers to modernize 911.

Programs like this already exist in the UK. EmergencySMS allows any user who registers his or her phone to send texts to a call center, where the message is routed to police, fire fighters, or other first responders.

"Verizon is at the forefront of 911 public safety innovations, and today's announcement is another step in making SMS-to-911 service available to those who cannot make a voice call to 911," said Verizon VP Marjorie Hsu in a statement.

"Our company is continuing its long-standing commitment to address the needs of public safety and our customers by offering another way to get help in an emergency by using wireless technology.”

The need for more modern 911 options became abundantly clear during a crisis in 2009, when two girls trapped in a storm drain updated their Facebook statuses before contacting emergency services. In a similar scenario, a man used Twitter to report a woman’s seizure because he didn’t have enough battery life for a 911 call.

Whether because of technological literacy, changing hardware capabilities, or our own varying abilities when it comes to hearing, more 911 options are a good thing, and we look forward to hearing more from Verizon — and other carriers — about this trend.

Image courtesy of lightpoet, Shutterstock

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Foursquare evokes location nostalgia with new history page

Posted: 04 May 2012 11:53 AM PDT

revisit the past

Checking in to the power of nostalgia, Foursquare is bringing members’ past location moments back to life with a reworked history page that doubles as a check-in time machine.

Friday, Foursquare has remodeled the web-based version of the history page to let members take a journey down memory lane. The improved page now includes search, and time, place, and people filters for letting people rediscover their favorite venues or the places they visited while on vacation.

“You can easily jump to all your past check-ins from any month or year, and even filter them by who you were with, what type of place you were at, or which neighborhood, city, or country you were in. We'll show you your check-in photos, comments, and friends who were there,” Foursquare explained in a blog post.

click to enlarge

The history page incorporates some of the same of elements of Facebook Timeline, the social network’s storybook-take on the personal profile. The page includes a map of all check-ins, weaves photos, friends, and comments prominently into the experience, and will eventually allow people to enhance their past by adding tips or creating lists.

I’ve written before about the power in remembering the past and the role of location in memories, specifically as it pertains to Foursquare and its battle to prove to the public that there’s more to check-ins than points and badges.

“To moms, dads, uncles, aunts, kids, sisters, brothers, and you and me, location has meaning, but only in its ability to enhance a story, not to win some virtual badge,” I wrote. “It’s this approach to location, as a behind-the-scenes memory assistant, that will resonate with mainstream social media audiences,” I said, giving a nod to Facebook and Timeline.

With the new history page, Foursquare is wisely following in Facebook’s footsteps and helping its users better understand the why behind each check-in, photo, tip, or comment.

A Foursquare spokesperson said the company does not have immediate plans to carry the features over to mobile.

Photo credit: Bashed/Flickr

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GamesBeat Weekly Roundup

Posted: 04 May 2012 11:13 AM PDT

If you follow VentureBeat but don't regularly check our GamesBeat site, here's a list of the best games stories we ran over the last seven days that you may have missed.

This was a crazy week for major game announcements. Activison officially revealed Call of Duty: Black Ops II on Tuesday, and GamesBeat has an amazing amount of coverage for it. Bethesda teased the first DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and announced The Elder Scrolls Online.

You'll also find reviews for The Walking Dead: A New Day, Fable Heroes, and Naval War: Arctic Circle.

Other GamesBeat stories included:

The DeanBeat: Don't ya wish these fantasy game consoles were coming?

PAX Prime 2012 sells out in record time

Museum presses save button on gaming history (interview)

Activision Blizzard's quarterly earnings report predicted to shine come Wednesday

PAX Prime 2012 sells out in record time

Qualcomm to sponsor a marathon gaming session at E3

Saints Row: The Third – Enter The Dominatrix adds "freaking super powers"

The Elder Scrolls Online is a real project, Bethesda announces

Maingear debuts PC with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690, the world's fastest graphics card

3 of gaming's most elaborate inside jokes

Draw Something loses 3 million players in a single month

Pre-Mortem: King's Bounty WotN project lead discusses deadly lady companions (exclusive)

Microsoft and Motorola patent dispute threatens Xbox 360 sales in Germany

The Art of XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Firaxis' second developer diary emphasizes terror

Creating the sounds of future wars in the Call of Duty: Black Ops II audio lab

How Treyarch created realistic human faces in Call of Duty: Black Ops II

It's not the same old 3D graphics in Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Treyarch unveils Call of Duty: Black Ops II, also known as Attack of the Drones

Treyarch's Mark Lamia explains taking risks with the design of Call of Duty: Black Ops II (interview)

Persona 4 Arena has a tutorial video like every fighting game should

The best-selling basketball video games/series of all time (infographic)

Rockstar Games reveals Max Payne 3 DLC plans

Bethesda announces first downloadable content for Skyrim, "Dawnguard"

Being really good at League of Legends could pay millions

Gree releases its first Android U.S. mobile social title, Dino Life

BioWare: Old Republic server transfers in early summer

Smash, grab, and steal from your friends in Fable Heroes (review)

Uncharted designer Richard Lemarchand leaves Naughty Dog after eight year run

Naval War: Arctic Circle gives fun the cold shoulder (review)

The best Wii games you didn't play, handpicked by industry pros

5 good reasons games are not art

Assassin's Creed fans pummel author who claims Ubisoft stole from him

The Walking Dead: A New Day is intense, zombie-filled fun for the point-and-click crowd (review)

Stories that all appeared on VentureBeat:

Call of Duty buzz grows 4X after Black Ops II unveiling

EA's quarterly earnings report will be a must-read on Monday

Replay Games raises more than $600K on Kickstarter for Leisure Suit Larry game

CrowdStar raises $11.5M for mobile games but will lay off Facebook developers

Game over, Sony? Microsoft said to be working on $99 Xbox 360 + Kinect bundle with subscription

The biggest revelations about Call of Duty: Black Ops II (spoilers)

Treyarch unveils Call of Duty: Black Ops II, also known as Attack of the Drones

Treyarch's Mark Lamia explains taking risks with the design of Call of Duty: Black Ops II (interview)

OpenFeint founder Jason Citron unveils new post-PC social game company

Gree acquires mobile game maker Funzio for $210M

First trailer released for Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Zynga starts promoting third-party partner social games

Oprah wants you to say thank you by playing her game

Know thine enemy? Hacker George "Geohot" Hotz met with Sony engineers

PlaySay gamifies language learning with speech recognition app

Tween girls doubled their game usage in the past year

After insane development cycle, online game TERA finally poised for launch

YogiPlay unveils learning app service for children (exclusive)

GamesBeat 2012 panel will feature Kickstarter crowdfunding lessons

Crowdstar teams up with Gree for social mobile games

Live-action Halo 4 web series to debut this fall

Angry Birds Space hits 50M downloads in 35 days

Free Realms turns three years old with more than 20 million players (exclusive)

PopCap opens the product licensing floodgates for the first time

Nintendo ends its apathy toward online-services

Shadowrun Returns raises $1.8M in Kickstarter campaign

Nvidia launches $999 graphics card with the world's fastest gaming performance

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Is Kickstarter the future of the music biz? Amanda Palmer and $490K say yes

Posted: 04 May 2012 11:06 AM PDT

Amanda Palmer Kickstarter

In less than a week, musician Amanda Palmer has raised a record $490,000 for a new album on Kickstarter, making it the highest funded music project to come from the site.

Palmer’s pitch for the new album touts Kickstarter, a site where people can pitch others to give them various amounts of money for a project, as the future of the music business.

“Since I’m now without a giant label to front the gazillions of dollars that it always takes to manufacture and promote a record this big, I’m coming to you to gather funds so that I have the capital to put it out with a huge fucking bang,” Palmer writes in the pitch. “I think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms like this are the BEST way to put out music right now – no label, no rules, no fuss, no muss. Just us, the music, and the art.”

Palmer’s initial goal of $100,000 was easily reached within a day, and with the good part of a month left to contribute she stands to break well over half a million in funding. Pledges start at $1, which gets you a digital download of the album along with exclusive content, and go all the way up to $10,000. A total of 8,611 people have pledged money, with only one person signing up for the (one of two) $10,000 offers. At that price, Palmer will fly out to your home for dinner and paint a portrait of you.

It’s worth noting that Palmer has a pretty strong — some would say die-hard — following of fans from her time in the band The Dresden Dolls, which makes a crowdfunding project like this all the more likely to succeed. Game developer Double Fine also achieved this level of success earlier this year, bringing in over $3 million in funding for its Double Fine Adventure project.

Lesser-known artists/creators might not hope to bring in anywhere near this kind of money. But it certainly seems that once you have made it big, you’d be crazy not to go the crowdfunding route. That said, why aren’t more celebrated creators using Kickstarter?

Image via Amanda Palmer/Kickstarter

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U.K. Prime Minister wants Internet service that blocks porn

Posted: 04 May 2012 09:55 AM PDT


U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and several other government officials will soon begin discussions with Internet Service Providers to create service plans that entirely block pornography, according to The Telegraph.

The government’s decision to look into widespread porn blocking comes from wanting to “protect” children whose parents are either too lazy or not savvy enough to block it themselves. The Telegraph report claims that three-quarters of children in the U.K. have access to the Internet without parental supervision and that about 800,000 can view adult content if they please.

If the most conservative factions of the U.K. government have their way, ISPs would offer a default plan that blocks all porn and if you do want adult content, you would have to opt-in. The Prime Minister reportedly does not want to impose that strict of a system but instead would prefer an “active choice” where you choose whether you get adult content or not when you sign up for a plan.

Conservative Member of Parliament Claire Perry said she is pushing for the “opt-in” system. "If British Internet Service Providers introduced ‘opt-in', we would be the first country in the world to have such a system,” Perry told The Telegraph. “We led the world on blocking child abuse imagery. We've done it before. We can do it again. And what a wonderful legacy to give to our children. The time for hand-wringing is past and the time for common sense solutions is here. We have got to act.”

In the U.K., one-quarter of online searches are for pornography, so if porn was censored at a network level, those who make and distribute it could see traffic declines. We’re sure sites such as Sex.com and Snatchly, two new Pinterest clones that curate adult pictures across the web, will be watching closely.

Let us know in the comments if you think the U.K. government is pursuing this issue correctly or if it amounts to censorship.

Surprised man photo: olly/Shutterstock

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Apple finally gives OpenStreetMap credit for iPhoto map data (two months late)

Posted: 04 May 2012 09:43 AM PDT

apple campus openstreetmap

How important is attribution? If you’re OpenStreetMap, vitally.

OpenStreetMap (OSM), essentially a Wikipedia for geography, has caused quite a stir as of late over something seemingly quite innocuous: attribution in Apple’s iOS iPhoto app, which uses OSM data. Only users would never know, as Apple notoriously failed to actually attribute the source of the map information to the OpenStreetMap Foundation.

That finally changed on Thursday, when Apple added the brief bit of text acknowledging that OSM’s contributors were the source of the map information.

Two months late, the addition, while seemingly important to outsiders, was a major vindication for the OSM Foundation. An open source effort, OSM asks for nothing if not credit for its work.

OpenStreetMap board member Richard Fairhust called the move a big step forward, even if Apple didn’t initially give OSM the credit it deserved, in an interview with Talking Points Memo.

“If the biggest computer company in the world, one with a perfectionist instinct, feels that OpenStreetMap data meets its needs and is happy to publicly attribute us, then that’s a great vote of confidence in our community’s work,” he said.

The bigger news, however, is that Apple was using OSM data in the first place. Apple, which still uses Google Maps data in the default Maps app for iOS, has been slowly distancing itself from the Google product.

Part of the reason, certainly, is financial. Google announced last October that it was implementing usage limits on services using its Maps services. The move, which Google said would affect few developers, nonetheless caused a flurry of high-profile departures from the service: Foursquare partially jumped ship in February, and Wikipedia followed soon after with its mobile apps. In the place of Maps, both companies began using OSM data (and they remembered to credit the OSM Foundation for its work.)

But for Apple, it’s more than just paying to use the Google service.

Like nearly all of Google services, Google Maps is about locking users into the Google ecosystem. This creates an inevitable conflict of interest between Google and the competing companies that build products on top of its maps. So it’s not much of a shock that rival companies like Apple and Microsoft (which is heavily invested in OSM) are railing against Google Maps with their own efforts.

For Apple, a Google Maps competitor has yet to appear. But if the company’s recent acquisitions of map-focused companies are any indication, such a product isn’t too far away.

Image: Apple’s campus on OpenStreetMap

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