MediaFile

Tech wrap: AT&T, Sprint admit using monitoring software

Phone makers RIM and Nokia denied installing on their mobile devices an app which can monitor what users are doing without their knowledge or consent while carriers AT&T and Sprint admitted to using it. The companies responded after a security researcher demonstrated in online videos how the “Carrier IQ” software worked on Google’s Android operating system and said that phones running RIM’s BlackBerry platform and Nokia’s Symbian OS also had the software installed. AT&T and Sprint said they use “Carrier IQ” to monitor network quality.

Blackstone Group and Bain Capital are preparing a bid for all of Yahoo with Asian partners in a deal that could value the Internet company at about $25 billion, a source familiar with the matter said. The potential bid by the consortium, which would include China’s Alibaba and Japan’s Softbank, has not yet been finalized, the source and two other people familiar with the matter said. E-commerce giant Alibaba, whose primary interest is in buying back a 40 percent stake owned by Yahoo, is keeping its options open and said it has not decided whether to participate in a bid for all of Yahoo.

Apple’s iPhone edged past major news events, celebrities and pop stars as the top searched term on the Web in 2011, according to Yahoo. The media company said the smartphone proved more popular than reality television celebrity Kim Kardashian, pop star Katy Perry and singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, who placed in the top five. Casey Anthony, the woman acquitted of the murder of her young daughter after a highly publicized trial, was No. 2.

Best Buy is recalling about 32,000 Rocketfish battery cases for iPhones because of a fire hazard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada said. The Richfield, Minnesota, company and the CPSC have received about 14 reports of the Rocketfish Model RF-KL12 Mobile Battery Case overheating while charging in the United States, the CPSC said.

The European Commission joined forces with major technology firms including Apple, Facebook and Google to improve the protection of children online. The coalition, which includes 28 companies, will develop an age-based online ratings system and aims to strengthen privacy settings. It also plans by the end of next year to make it easier to report inappropriate content. Other measures include improving parental controls and enhancing cooperation among law enforcement and hotline authorities to remove online material showing sexual abuse.

Disney comes to YouTube and Google TV

Photo: Reuters

When it comes to Hollywood movies and TV shows on the Web, all the focus is on Netflix, Hulu and even BlockBuster’s online ambitions. Yet YouTube, the daddy of the online video space with some 3.5 billion views a day,  has been quietly bulking up its traditional studio content. All this while there’s been a lot written about its $100 million investment to create hundreds of new cable channels of the future.

Since May, YouTube has signed up Sony Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros to offer their movies for rental through YouTube, and on Wednesday it confirmed it has inked a deal to offer initially a “handful” of Disney titles in the U.S. and Canada, with hundreds of titles to be added in the coming weeks.

The Disney movies include titles like the original Alice In Wonderland, the new version of Winnie the Pooh as well as Pixar hits like Cars and Cars 2. The shows will also be available on YouTube through Google TV.

Tech wrap: Is intellectual property being used to restrict competition?

EU regulators investigating Apple and Samsung over their patents dispute are worried intellectual property rights may be unfairly used by some firms against their rivals, the EU antitrust chief said. “We need to look at this because IP rights can be used as a distortion of competition but we will need to look at the answers,” EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told reporters. “Apple and Samsung is only one case where IP rights can be used as an instrument to restrict competition,” he said.

Netflix’s shares dropped as much as 7 percent after it warned of a loss for 2012, a move that prompted several Wall Street analysts to cut their price targets for the online video and DVD rental company. Netlfix said that it had recently lost a “significant” number of customers, who objected to Netflix’s decisions to raise its prices and split up its streaming and DVD business — an idea it later dropped. “If we do not reverse the negative consumer sentiment toward our brand, and if we continue to experience significant customer cancellations and a decline in subscriber additions, our results of operations including our cash flow will be adversely impacted,” Netflix said. Netflix shares ended the day down 5.4 percent at $70.45.

Groupon stock slumped on concern about increased competition, leaving shares of the largest daily deal company close to their $20 initial public offering price. LivingSocial, Groupon’s closest rival, announced plans on Monday to offer 20 deals with national merchants on the crucial Black Friday shopping period. Groupon shares ended the trading day down nearly 15 percent.

Google’s Brin, wife donate $500,000 to keep Wikipedia going

Very few have missed Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’ picture looming on all of the pages of the user-generated information website.

But that may soon go away, thanks to Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki.

The duo donated $500,000 to the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia and its sister sites, through their Brin Wojcicki Foundation.

AOL rocks the GOP vote

No doubt this is a politically divided nation; just go to a dinner party and see what happens when some half-in-the-bag neighbor brings up health care or gay marriage or taxes — or, apparently, absurdly, email providers.  If you can believe it, a new poll out today shows a major difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to picking their favorite email service.

It seems that Republican voters favor AOL over every other email provider, according to a survey of 1,184 registered voters by Poll Position. In fact, about 20 percent of them picked AOL as their preferred email provider, ahead of both Google (18.9 percent) and Yahoo (15.6 percent). Democrats took a completely opposite view, picking Google as their favorite (27.3 percent), followed by Yahoo (15.6 percent). And what about AOL? It didn’t fare well, with only 5 percent of Democrats picking it as the best service.

Why such a significant difference? Tough to know. I ran it past a number of people, and the best response I got, from a good friend and keen political observer, was this: “I would guess if you held age, location, and income steady, the differences would be negligible.”

Google’s Two-Deal Thursday: Katango and Apture in the bag

Google’s dealmakers sure are busy these days.

On Thursday, the company announced two separate acquisitions, adding Katango and Apture to the Google mix.

Katango, which has developed an algorithm for organizing friends on social networks into different groups, looks like an obvious fit for Google – and indeed rumors of Google’s interest in the start-up surfaced back in September.

From the get-go, Google+ has sought to distinguish itself from Facebook by giving users more control over how they organize and communicate with their contacts, based on the notion that your conversations with work colleagues or family might be quite different from what you talk about with poker buddies.

Tech wrap: Adobe scraps Flash for mobile browsers

Score a point for Apple. Software maker Adobe scrapped its Flash Player for mobile devices after a mutli-year battle with Apple over the merits of the technology, which is used to view videos and play games on the Web. Take a look back at the legendary tech spat in this blow-by-blow timeline that stretches back to January 2007 when Apple launched its iPhone with a browser that was not compatible with Adobe’s Flash player. The company said in a blog post it plans to focus its future mobile browsing efforts on HTML5, a competing technology that is now universally supported on all major mobile devices.

Online business reviews site Yelp has hired bankers to lead an intitial public offering that could value the company at up to $2 billion, several people familiar with the matter told DealBook’s Evelyn M. Rusli. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will participate in the offering, which is expected in the first quarter of next year, one of the sources said.

Cisco Systems singaled a turnaround on Wednesday when it raised its forecast revenue and earnings above Wall Street expectations as demand from government and enterprises for its network equipment remained resilient despite global economic troubles. Earlier, the company reported quarterly earnings per share that beat estimates, signaling that efforts to revive growth are beginning to pay off.

Tech wrap: Can Nook tablet take on Kindle Fire?

Let the low-end tablet wars begin. Barnes & Noble unveiled a Nook-branded tablet on Monday, the company’s answer to Amazon.com’s recently announced Kindle Fire. At $249, the 7-inch Nook tablet is a bit pricier than the $199 Fire, but Barnes & Noble is betting that consumers will pay the extra $50 for the device because it offers faster processing speeds and 16 gigabytes of storage space compared to the Amazon tablet’s 8 gigabytes. Both devices hit shelves next week. Barnes & Noble, which operates a chain of 700 U.S. bookstores, also lowered the price on its Nook e-book devices in an effort to take on Amazon’s line of Kindle e-readers, which were recently reduced in price.

Early reaction to the device was varied. One analyst characterized it to Reuters as a “wow” product, while another said it will keep “Barnes & Noble shoppers loyal.” All Things D’s Peter Kafka called Barnes & Noble’s product pitch “a bit muddled” when it came to explaining how people will access content on the device: “Unlike Amazon and its Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble isn’t marketing its tablet with a proprietary cloud service that will get you access to music, movies and TV shows. Instead, the bookseller is leaving that up to other cloud-based services, like Netflix and Pandora. But make no mistake — these are cloud-based services,” he writes. Why then was the company so eager to play up the Nook Tablet’s extra storage capacity if it expects you’ll be streaming most content, not storing it, wonders Kafka.  Engadget takes the new tablet through its paces in a hands-on video.

Google+ expanded its circles to make room for businesses who are looking to reach out to customers on the social network. Called Google+ Pages, the new service will allow corporate brands and businesses to set up a special page within the social network . Google said that 20 businesses, including Toyota, Pepsi and retailer Macy’s, have set up special pages so far, and that any organization will soon be able to join as well. Until now, only individual users have been able to sign up for Google+. Businesses are increasingly using online social services, such as Facebook, to reach new customers and to cement relationships with loyal customers through special offers and promotions.

Microsoft: mobile getting better, no numbers yet

Microsoft  made a big deal of the launch of three U.S. phones running its Windows Phone 7.5 software, the latest upgrade to Windows Phone 7, which represents a complete overhaul of the Microsoft mobile phone software.  They built a giant model of a phone in Herald Square, New York City and had rappers and dancers performing around it on Monday, while pizza was handed out to bemused onlookers.

Andy Lees, who leads Microsoft’s phone business, was on hand to talk up the software, which he said has been very well received by consumers.

“When people use it they love it,” he told reporters. “We’re definitely on to something.”

YouTube + Google+ = Engagement?

Google hasn’t had much trouble getting people to sign up for its Google+ social networking service. But getting people to come back every day and use the service as obsessively as they do with Facebook has been a trickier proposition.

Sure, Google says that more than 3.4 billion photos have already been uploaded by users on Google+, but as anyone who’s been on the service can plainly see, there just doesn’t seem to be the same frenetic level of user activity as there is on Facebook.

That’s where YouTube comes in.

On Thursday, visitors to Google+ were greeted with a small YouTube logo button, displayed prominently on the top right-hand side of their newsfeed. Click on the YouTube Logo and it slides open to reveal a text box asking “what would you like to play?”