TIME privacy

Europe Isn’t Happy About Facebook’s News Feed Experiment

The social media giant is in trouble with European privacy regulators over its controversial data research experiment

Facebook may be subject to investigations by European data protection groups following revelations that it manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users.

The social media giant admitted altering the news feeds of 689,000 users to show specific emotional expressions, as part of a data research experiment conducted over a week in January 2012. The revelations have generated outrage as Facebook did not inform users it was altering their feeds. The company says users give permission for research when they create a Facebook account.

But despite this claim, European privacy watchdogs are now attempting to determine whether Facebook has broken any privacy laws.

Ireland’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which regulates Facebook’s operations outside of North America, said in a statement: “This office has been in contact with Facebook in relation to the privacy issues, including consent, of this research. We are awaiting a comprehensive response on issues raised.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office of Britain stated: “We’re aware of this issue and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances.”

The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates Facebook in the United States, has not said if it will pursue similar avenues of enquiry.

Facebook told TIME that none of its activities should concern regulators in Europe. “None of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible,” a spokeperson said.

“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”

It is not yet known where the targeted users lived. However, approximately one in every 2,500 users at the time of the experiment would have had their news feeds altered.

TIME Video Games

Go Ahead, Wirelessly Connect Your PS4 Controller to Your PS3

Sony

The DualShock 4, which ships with Sony's next-gen PlayStation 4, now works wirelessly with Sony's last-gen PlayStation 3.

It’s finally happened: Sony just made it possible for players with PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controllers to connect them to their PS3s without tethers.

You could previously mate a DualShock 4 to a PS3 by plugging the former into the latter directly, using the USB cable, but the PS3 wouldn’t recognize the DualShock 4 absent that cable. Now that’s possible using good ol’ Bluetooth, to the extent that tapping the DualShock 4′s PlayStation button will even wake up the PS3 properly.

The “fix” arrived unceremoniously with a low-key PS3 firmware update (version 4.60, which dropped on June 24), or at least that’s the presumption some are making at Reddit, though there was also a PS4 firmware update to version 1.72 released around the same time, which for all we know did something to the DualShock 4 controller itself.

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

  • Under “Accessory Settings” on your PS3, locate and select “Manage Bluetooth Devices.”
  • Select “Register New Device.” The PS3 will begin Bluetooth scanning.
  • Simultaneously press and hold the DualShock 4′s “Share” and “PS” buttons until the controller’s light bar starts blinking. The controller should appear in the PS3′s list as a “Wireless Controller.”

Trouble is, that designation — “Wireless Controller” — means the PS3 still sees the DualShock 4 as a generic controller, thus neither SIXAXIS nor haptic feedback nor its DualShock 4-specific features (like the touchpad) are going to work properly, meaning you’re liable to run into compatibility problems with certain games.

The other piece to bear in mind is that the DualShock 4 can only sync with one device at a time, so if you pair with your PS3, you’ll have to re-pair with your PS4 and vice versa if you frequent both. All told, wonderful as the DualShock 4 gamepad is (it’s my personal favorite on any platform at the moment), I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. But if you want to fiddle anyway, no strings attached, now you can.

TIME Companies

Google Buys Music Streaming Service Songza

The music streaming service says its product will remain unchanged, for now

The music streaming service Songza announced Tuesday that it’s being purchased by Google, adding to the tech giant’s already sizable presence in the online music sector.

“We can’t think of a better company to join in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do,” Songza said in a statement. “No immediate changes to Songza are planned, other than making it faster, smarter, and even more fun to use.”

Songza didn’t reveal a purchase price. The New York Post, citing unnamed sources, reported last month that Google was offering about $15 million, far less than the billion-dollar-plus valuations of online music behemoths Spotify and Pandora. Songza streams music in “smart playlists” curated by experts and tailored to an individual users habits.

The acquisition adds to Google’s subscription music service launched in 2013 as well as its ownership of YouTube, already a heavyweight in the online music sector, which the company says will be launching a paid streaming service.

The news comes after Apple’s announcement in May that it would buy Beats Electronics, which sells high-end audio equipment in addition to a music streaming service.

TIME Companies

Feds: T-Mobile Charged Customers for Spam Text Frauds

T-Mobile
A T-Mobile store is seen at 7th Avenue and 49th Street on March 23, 2012 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

The consumer watchdog says T-Mobile should have spotted text message scams hitting its customers

Update: July 1, 5:02 p.m. ET

The Federal Trade Commission accused wireless carrier T-Mobile on Tuesday of placing unauthorized charges on customers’ bills for unwanted premium SMS services such as flirting tips, horoscopes and celebrity gossip. T-Mobile generated hundreds of millions of dollars by taking a portion of the typical $9.99-a-month subscription fee charged for such services, according to the FTC.

Wireless carriers often agree to include third-party charges in customers’ monthly phone bills (AT&T customers, for instance, can pay for Beats Music as part of their cell phone plan). However, sometimes these charges are not authorized by customers and are hidden deep within their bills, a practice known as “cramming.” Several cramming companies targeted T-Mobile subscribers, but the wireless carrier continued to let them charge its customers even after there were indications of fraud, according to the FTC, which says up to 40 percent of the customers who were charged for these services asked for a refund. The FTC argues that figure should have indicated fraudulent activity.

Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said credit card companies typically investigate instances of potential fraud if at least one percent of customers claim they have been wrongly charged from a specific vendor.

“It’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement. “The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays all its customers for these crammed charges.”

Beyond allowing the charges to occur, the FTC also claims that T-Mobile made it difficult for customers to discover the charges on their own phone bills. The carrier also refused refunds to some customers or told them to try to get their money back from the scammers, according to the FTC.

The FTC will seek refunds for customers who were the victims of fraudulent charges, an amount that Rich says could be hundreds of millions of dollars. The commission will also seek a court order to ban T-Mobile from allowing cramming in the future.

The accusation of subscriber-duping undercuts T-Mobile’s customer-friendly “Un-carrier” marketing campaign the carrier has pursued in the last year. As part of that strategy, the company has gotten rid of cellphone plan mainstays, like two-year contracts and overage charges, while constantly vilifying its competitors as overly greedy.

In a statement, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said the FTC complaint was without merit. “T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” he said.

The company is hardly the only wireless carrier that has allowed cramming. Last fall Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all agreed to stop billing customers for unwanted charges from third-party services in most states. Legere also pointed out that T-Mobile already has a program in place to provide refunds to customers who felt they were fraudulently charged via cramming.

TIME space

NASA Delays Climate Change Satellite Launch

The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, at the Space Launch Complex Two, of the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on June 30, 2014.
The launch gantry is rolled back to reveal the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, at the Space Launch Complex Two, of the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on June 30, 2014. NASA/Bill Ingalls—EPA

The satellite's equipment failure will push back launch until tomorrow tentatively

NASA’s aborted its launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite on Tuesday due to equipment failure, delaying the takeoff until Wednesday, pending a review of the incident.

The carbon dioxide monitoring project was scrubbed at T-46 seconds when engineers noticed that the water suppression system, used to dampen the launch pad’s acoustic energy during the rocket’s launch, had failed, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. If troubleshooting permits a second attempt, the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying OCO-2 will re-launch on Wednesday at 2:56 a.m. PDT at the Space Launch Complex-2 of Vandenberg Air Force Station, Calif.

The original OCO mission had crashed in 2009, when the rocket carrying the first satellite failed after takeoff to eject the payload fairing, a heavy cover that prevented the launch vehicle from achieving a high enough velocity to enter orbit.

In addition to monitoring the rocket’s mechanical functions, the OCO-2′s launch process must be finely calibrated to allow the satellite to achieve a perfect orbiting position in sync with five other Earth observing satellites. Thus, OCO-2 has only a 30 second window to launch. If missed — as was the case — NASA permits re-launches on succeeding nights.

OCO-2 will be NASA’s first mission to study the global carbon cycle.

 

TIME Startups

Now There Are Instant Coffee Pods for Beer

Getty Images

Coffee machines, move over. A different kind of buzz is coming to town

It sounds like a beer lover’s fantasy: all around the country, everyone could have beer dispensers on their kitchen counters next to their coffee machines, spouting cold bitter brews into eager glasses throughout the day.

But this is for real. SYNEK—a St. Louis startup that just launched its Kickstarter campaign last month—is creating a draft system that serves beer fresh from the tap even if you’re miles from the nearest bar.

The startup is signing on local breweries who put their beer in SYNEK bags, which have a long shelf life and can be transported relatively easily. The bags are then put into a dispenser that looks a little like a toaster-oven-sized coffee machine and plugs into the wall. Consumers can then serve beer wherever there is a dispenser.

Steve Young, SYNEK’s 28-year-old founder, says that his company will make it cheaper to ship beer to consumers without worrying about the headaches of bottling, and increase profit margins for craft breweries.

The machine pressurizes using carbon dioxide, and allows users to adjust SYNEK’s temperature. Beers by brewers including Harpoon Brewery, Schmaltz Beer Company and dozens of others are available through SYNEK already.

Young seeking $250,000 through Kickstarter by the end of July. Backers who pledge $299 get the dispenser along with 5 to 10 bags.

TIME Mobile

Here’s More Proof That Apps Are Dominating Smartphones

Apple iPhone
A customer inspects the new iPhone inside Apple's store in Causeway Bay district on September 20, 2013 in Hong Kong, China. Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

We're all using apps way more than we ever have before

Here’s a shocker: we’re all using mobile apps more than ever before. A new study from Nielsen shows that app usage among iPhone and Android users in the U.S. rose 65 percent from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. Smartphone users spent a total of 30 hours and 15 minutes per month using apps in the last quarter of 2013, up from 23 hours and two minutes the year prior.

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Nielsen

Despite the increased time spent using apps, users aren’t downloading too many more programs. The number of apps used per month inched up only slightly, from 26.5 in Q4 2012 to 26.8 in Q4 2013, indicating that people are getting more mileage out of the apps already crowding their home screens — or people are swapping older apps for new ones that perform similar tasks.

People spend about third of their time in apps using search engines, web portals or social networks, per Nielsen. Entertainment apps are nearly as popular, with communications apps being the third most-used.

The growing popularity of apps indicates these dedicated programs have begun gaining the upper hand over the mobile web. Huge Internet companies like Facebook initially resisted focusing on apps, instead hoping to create dynamic websites designed with HTML5 that could adapt to a wide variety of operating systems and web browsers. But CEO Mark Zuckerberg later admitted this was a huge strategic mistake. The company has since spun off different Facebook functions into independent apps such as Messenger and Paper on top of the primary Facebook app.

TIME Video Games

There’s a New Underworld Game in Town, but It’s Not an Ultima

OtherSide Entertainment

Paul Neurath co-founded Looking Glass Studios in 1990 and helped create the groundbreaking Ultima Underworld series. Now he's launching a new studio, dubbed OtherSide Entertainment, with plans to rejuvenate the Underworld franchise.

If you never played Ultima Underworld back in 1992, you arrived late to the party. Doom, schmoom: id Software’s slick little demon-shooter was a high-octane shooting gallery, an endless hallway filled with closet-monsters. Doom won the popularity contest a year-and-a-half later, but Ultima Underworld was miles ahead gameplay-wise: something else entirely, and a portal to somewhere else that actually felt like a world simulation instead of a technology showcase.

Sadly, Ultima Underworld isn’t coming back — EA owns the rights to Ultima, and that’s that. But one of the original game’s co-creators, Paul Neurath, just announced he’s founded a new studio in Boston, OtherSide Entertainment, and he’s making a new Underworld game, dubbed Underworld Ascension.

Don’t worry, it’s no relation to that other poor, unfortunate game with the word “Ascension” in its title. And don’t let OtherSide’s initial dispatch confuse you when they say they’re “bringing back the classic Ultima Underworld franchise.” They’re bringing back the spirit of the Underworld franchise, true, but as noted above, not the Ultima part.

And that’s all we know at this point, beyond promises to show “more and more … in the weeks to come.” I do like that the name OtherSide’s a play on Looking Glass (Neurath’s original studio, responsible as well for Thief, System Shock, Flight Unlimited and Terra Nova). And Neurath’s apparently pulled in people who worked on the original Underworld games, so the promise, at least in terms of street cred, is there.

TIME Companies

Twitter Continues Shaking Things Up By Hiring New CFO

Anthony Noto speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Center on May 1, 2013 in New York City.
Anthony Noto speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2013 at The Manhattan Center on May 1, 2013 in New York City. Brian Ach—Getty Images

Anthony Noto, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, will replace Mike Gupta as Twitter's chief financial officer, the latest swap as the company makes significant changes to its executive staff after stalled user growth and a slumping share price

Twitter’s longtime chief financial officer is being replaced by a former Goldman Sachs banker. Mike Gupta, who has served as Twitter’s CFO since 2012, will be succeeded by Anthony Noto, formerly the managing director of Goldman’s technology, media and telecom investment banking group.

Gupta will remain at Twitter, taking on a new role as senior vice president of strategic investments.

Noto already has a close relationship with Twitter — his group at Goldman helped organize Twitter’s extremely successful Initial Public Offering in November. Noto had been planning to leave Goldman for a hedge fund, but he’s now taken the role at Twitter instead.

Twitter has been making significant changes to its executive staff in the wake of stalled user growth and a slumping share price. Chief Operating Officer Ali Rowghani (also a former CFO at Twitter) resigned in June, with some reports pegging his departure to the social network’s unimpressive growth numbers. The company has yet to hire a new COO.

Noto’s compensation will include a $250,000 base salary, a one-time stock award of 1.5 million Twitter shares and 500,000 shares in stock options. The package is worth more than $85 million at Twitter’s current share price.

Twitter shares were up about 4% to $42.70 in early morning trading following the announcement of Noto’s hire.

TIME TV

How to Roll Your Own Aereo (Spoiler: It’s Not Cheap)

Supreme Court Hears Case Pinning Startup Internet TV Company Aereo Against Major Broadcast Networks
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Over at Zatz Not Funny!, Dave Zatz addresses the Aereo-sized elephant in the room: How do you replace Aereo now that it’s gone?

The secret to Aereo’s short-lived success was that you didn’t need to buy hardware to use it. You “rented” an antenna stored at one of Aereo’s facilities somewhere, and the company retransmitted the signal over the Internet to you, either in real time or you could remotely record shows to be transmitted later. The most expensive Aereo plan topped out at $12 a month.

So the spoiler, in case you missed it in the headline: rolling your own Aereo-like setup won’t exactly be cheap. It’s okay. You can click away to something else now. I understand.

If you’re still here, we’ll assume that you want some sort of solution that’ll not only let you record TV, but let you stream live TV to yourself on an array of devices. If you just want to use cord-cutting services — you don’t care about live TV, in other words — check out this post for some services to try. We’re also assuming you get a strong over-the-air signal where you live. You can bet Aereo’s antennae were nicely positioned to catch strong signals; the signals to my place in Boston, for instance, are weaker than a toddler trying to lift a car.

Newer TiVo + Add-on Streaming Box

TiVo wants your business, to be sure, though Zatz figures “cord cutters will need to front about $300 in hardware and $15/month to approximate Aereo.” That’s for a base-model TiVo Roamio box ($200 MSRP) — the only version to sport over-the-air antenna connections — and monthly service. You’ll also need to add TiVo’s streaming box ($130 MSRP), which only streams over a Wi-Fi connection and doesn’t yet sport an Android app.

Older TiVo + Slingbox

If you really want to stream it all, your best bet, according to Zatz, is a used TiVo Premiere box with lifetime service attached to it. That means trying your luck on eBay, basically (they seem to be going for north of $200). That’ll let you use an over-the-air antenna to record shows on the major networks for later. Then, for transmitting live and recorded TV over the Internet to yourself, Zatz says the Slingbox is “still the best game in town.” That means another $180 to $300 in hardware costs, plus paying extra for the Slingplayer mobile apps.

Tablo TV

Zatz also calls Tablo TV “One part Slingbox, one part DVR. Like rolling your own Aereo with a better UI and higher video quality, without those pesky regional restrictions.” The hardware runs between $219 and $289, with lifetime service running another $150 (you can pay $5 a month or $50 a year, too). You also need to supply your own hard drive, which could run a hundred bucks or more if you want to be able to store a lot of video.

No You Don’t Replace Aereo, Silly Rabbit [Zatz Not Funny!]

 

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