MediaFile

Tech wrap: Facebook zooms into video age

Starting today, Facebook users will have the option of holding one-on-one video calls with their friends directly from their account on the social network. The new Skype-powered video service marks a renewed effort by Facebook to cement itself as the go-to communications hub on the Web and serves as a response to Google’s recently launched Hangouts app, a similar video chatting feature that lets users on its Google+ social network chat with up to 10 people at once.

Facebook’s video chat will be embedded directly into the site’s messaging platform and won’t require users to sign up for Skype separately to use it. Skype stands to see a big boost from the partnership seeing as it could open it up to a whole new set of users.  So how does Facebook’s video chat compare to Google’s? TechCrunch finds there’s little overlap at this point between the two services, arguing the former is well-designed for one-on-one pow-wows whereas the latter is better suited to group chats. In addition, Facebook unveiled a new group-messaging feature that lets users take part in text chats with multiple friends.

Remember that man who was accused early this year of hacking into AT&T’s servers and stealing personal data from 120,000 Apple iPad customers? Well, he was indicted on Wednesday by a Newark, New Jersey grand jury with one count of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers and one count of identity theft. The charges come two weeks after a co-defendant in the case pleaded guilty.

Twitter sent another message to investors that it plans to stay private for atleast a little while longer. People familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that the microblogging service was looking to raise “hundreds of millions of dollars” in a new round of funding. That puts the company’s value at as high as $7 billion now. The Journal also has a digit-by-digit breakdown of the new valuation.

It’s early July and that means it’s time for media and tech moguls from all over to converge on Sun Valley, Idaho for the annual Allen & Co conference. Reuters correspondent Yinka Adegoke is on location and reports that attendees at this year’s conference will go beyond experimenting with digital services such as mobile TV and begin the work of figuring out ways to make them profitable by rethinking outdated business models. All eyes will also be on Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch, whose company now faces a public inquiry into allegations that its UK tabloid newspaper News of the World was involved in phone hacking.

Tech wrap: Verizon ditches unlimited data plan

Verizon Wireless customers, say goodbye to the days of  unlimited Web surfing for a set fee on your smartphone. The biggest U.S. mobile provider will stop offering its $30 all-you-can-surf  deal later this week, replacing it with a new tiered approach to data pricing. Customers who keep their smartphone use to 2 gigbytes (GB) of data per month or under won’t see a change to their bill, but those who go over that limit will be slapped with an extra $10 charge per GB. Heavy mobile users will have the option of signing up for a 5 GB or 10 GB plan for $50 or $80 respectively. AT&T made a similar move last year, meaning Sprint is now the last major wireless carrier offering unlimited data use. CNET reports that Verizon will also start charging for access to its mobile hot-spot service, which up until this week has been free and without bandwidth restrictions.

Aspiring cord cutters across Latin America and the Caribbean, rejoice. Netflix is on its way. The company, which offers TV shows and movies over the Internet and DVD rentals through the mail, will be expanding its online video streaming service to 43 countries in the regions later this year. Shows and movies will be available to subscribers in Spanish, Portuguese or English on PCs, Macs and other mobile devices that are able to stream from Netflix, the company said in a blog post. The overseas expansion marks the company’s second foray outside the United States. It began offering its services in Canada last year.

You’ve heard it before and now you’ll hear it again – the next iteration of Apple’s iPhone is on its way this September. Supply-side sources told Asian IT industry newspaper DigiTimes that Taiwan-based notebook maker Pegatron Technology has received an order to make 15 million iPhone 5/iPhone 4 handsets that are set to ship sometime in September.  The iPhone 5 is not expected to differ much from the previous model on the surface, according to the report. As AllThingsD’s John Paczkowski points out, the real differences are expected to be “under the hood” where you’ll find a faster processor and better rear camera among other improvements.

Tech wrap: Apple, Fox News hacked

How do hackers spend the Independence Day holiday weekend?  Why, hacking, of course. Well, some of them do anyway. Anonymous, the group behind several high-profile hacking incidents this year, posted a document online Sunday allegedly containing a small number of usernames and passwords for access to one of Apple’s servers. The hacker collective announced the breach via its Twitter feed as part of its Anti Security, or “AntiSec”, campaign, warning that the gadget maker could be targeted in further attacks. ZDNet wonders whether Apple is a sort of “Holy Grail” for malicious hackers given the massive amounts of customer data stored on the company’s iTunes and iCloud servers.

In a separate incident, hackers temporarily hijacked a Twitter feed operated by Fox News and posted several false messages early on Monday morning claiming that President Barack Obama had been shot and killed in Iowa. The ScriptKiddies, a group that may be loosely connected to Anonymous, claimed responsibility for the prank. FoxNews.com later regained control of the feed and removed the tweets.  The president is actually at the White House enjoying the July 4 Independence Day festivities with his family. A Secret Service investigation is underway.

Coming soon: English-language search on Baidu. Thanks to a new pact Microsoft has signed with China’s most popular search engine, Baidu will no longer be just for Chinese users. Under the alliance, English searches on Baidu will be powered using Microsoft’s Bing search, which will then deliver results back to Baidu’s Web pages. The new alliance should prove to be a win-win for both companies by helping Microsoft increase its puny presence in China and Baidu extend further beyond China’s borders.

Tech wrap: And Myspace goes to . . .

News Corp’s hunt to find a buyer for once-mighty social networking website Myspace has finally ended. Specific Media, an online advertising firm, has agreed to buy the site for about $35 million, a source familiar with the deal told Reuters. News Corp will retain a minority 5 percent stake in the website it purchased six years ago for $580 million. More than half of the site’s 500 employees are expected to be laid off as part of the deal.

Tech watchers will have to wait at least another sleep to find out more about Zynga’s plans for an initial public offering. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the online social gaming firm behind popular Facebook game FarmVille is expected to file for an initial public offering with U.S. regulators on Thursday morning. Earlier reports suggested the company could raise up to $2 billion in the offering and value the firm as high as $20 billion. AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher sizes up how Zynga’s expected IPO fits in with other recent filings from similar companies such as Groupon.

Twitter’s Biz Stone and Evan Williams are leaving the site they co-founded and helped popularize – sort of. Both men will continue to advise Twitter on strategic matters but will spend the bulk of their days working at the newly-revived Obvious, the tech incubator company they started years ago that led to the creation of Twitter. Stone summed up their new plans in a blog posting on his website: “Our plan is to develop new projects and work on solving big problems aligned along a simple mission statement: The Obvious Corporation develops systems that help people work together to improve the world.”

Tech wrap: Microsoft reaches for the cloud

Everyone seems to be gabbing about the “cloud” these days. Whether it’s Apple’s much-hyped iCloud service or the Amazon Cloud, the now-popular euphemism for web-based software services has become one of the tech world’s biggest buzz words. Microsoft joined in on the action today by unveiling a revamped web-based version of its popular Office suite of business software. But Microsoft’s main target here is not Apple or Amazon, but Google, which has stolen some of the software maker’s corporate customers in recent years with cheap, web-only alternatives.

With Office 365, customers will be able to access familiar applications such as Outlook email, Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint collaboration tools beyond the desktop on a variety of different devices wherever there is an Internet connection. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer touted the service’s online format and built-in conferencing tools as especially good for small and medium-sized businesses looking to save money. Microsoft has offered online versions of some of Outlook and some other applications to corporate clients for years, but increased competition seems to have spurred Microsoft’s latest push into the cloud.

Google is praised for doing many things right, but social networking is not widely regarded as one of them. Co-founder and CEO Larry Page, who took over the helm from now-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in April, has made it clear that he hopes to change that. The Web giant trotted out its latest and most extensive foray into social networking with Google+, a new social service that aims to compete with Facebook by bundling together all of its its online properties into one platform. Google+ is an attempt to move past former flops such as Google Wave and Google Buzz.

Tech wrap: FTC seen deepening Google probe

Google will receive the civil equivalent of a subpoena from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as part of a probe into the Web giant’s Internet search business, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The FTC plans to send the civil investigative demand with a request for more information, the civil equivalent of a subpoena, within five days, according to the report. U.S. antitrust regulators have been concerned about Google’s dominance of the Web search industry, and the giant Internet company has been under investigation by the European Commission since last November.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop showed images of his company’s first phone running on the Windows phone OS. Codenamed “Sea Ray”, the phone appeared to be a near copy of Nokia’s N9 smartphone, unveiled earlier in the week.

The chairman of Yahoo voiced support for Chief Executive Carol Bartz, who has become a lightning rod for criticism as the company struggles with stagnant revenue growth and a rift with its Chinese partner. Yahoo’s efforts to mount a turnaround remain a work in progress, said Chairman Roy Bostock at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. But he said he was confident that the company was headed in the right direction and that Bartz had put Yahoo on a “clear path forward to accelerated revenue growth.”

Tech wrap: New iPhone seen in time for school

Apple plans to launch a new iPhone with a faster chip for data processing and a more advanced camera in September, Bloomberg said. The new iPhone will include the A5 processor along with an 8-megapixel camera, the report said, quoting two people familiar with the plans. Apple is also testing a new version of the iPad that has a higher resolution screen, the report said, adding a cheaper version of the iPhone aimed at developing countries is also in the works.

A U.S. judge rejected Samsung’s request for a peek at Apple’s unreleased iPhone and iPad, brought in the course of high-stakes patent litigation between the two companies. Apple sued Samsung in April, claiming Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets infringe several patents and trademarks. Samsung counter-sued, asserting its own patents against Apple. In the ruling, the judge said Apple’s legal claims are only based on its products that have already hit the market.

A senior Chinese official said there is no cyber warfare taking place between China and the United States. The two countries might suffer from cyber attacks, but they were in no way directed by either government, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said.

Is a Facebook iPad App finally coming?

In the nearly 15 months since Apple launched its iPad, there’s been one conspicuous absence for users of the tablet: a Facebook app.

That will change in the coming weeks, as Facebook, the world’s No.1 Internet social network, prepares to unveil an app specially-designed for the iPad, according to a report in the New York Times today.

In development for almost a year, the Facebook iPad app is now in its final stages of testing and has received close attention throughout the process from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Times reported, citing anonymous sources. The report said the app will have capabilities beyond what’s available on Facebook’s website, such as specialized video and photo features.

Tech wrap: The Web is about to get some new domains

Brand owners will soon be able to operate their own parts of the Web — such as .apple, .coke or .marlboro — if the biggest shake-up yet in how Internet domains are awarded is approved.

Today, just 22 generic top-level domains exist — .com, .org and .info are a few examples — plus about 250 country-level domains like .uk or .cn.

The move is seen as a big opportunity for brands to gain more control over their online presence and send visitors more directly to parts of their sites — and a danger for those who fail to take advantage.

Tech wrap: Nokia wins big in patent fight with Apple

Nokia is likely to be paid hundreds of millions of dollars by Apple after victory in a legal wrangle over technology used in its arch-rival’s top-selling iPhone. Nokia said the deal would boost second-quarter earnings. Analysts said it was clear the sums involved would be significant, with some experts estimating Apple’s one-off payment at $650 million.

J.C. Penney is bringing in Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice president of retail, who oversaw the iPad maker’s wildly successful foray into brick and mortar stores as its new chief executive. Johnson will take the reigns November 1, Penney said.

The recent string of sensational hacker attacks is driving companies to seek “cyberinsurance” worth hundreds of millions of dollars, even though many policies can still leave them exposed to claims, writes Ben Berkowitz. Insurers and insurance brokers say demand is soaring, as companies try to protect themselves against civil suits and the potential for fines by governments and regulators, but also as they seek help paying for mundane costs like “sorry letters” to customers.