TIME Internet

Hackers Flood Pinterest With Pictures Of Butts

Depending on what you use Pinterest for, this is either the best or the worst

Some hackers decided to replace the DIY mason jar chandeliers on Pinterest with a whole bunch of butts.

Multiple accounts were hacked and promptly flooded with spam pictures, TechCrunch reports. Just imagine: you log in to the digital bulletin board and instead of your usual spread of inspirational quotes typed in Helvetica and recipes for sensible snacks, you just see a variety of butts, along with a few weight loss ads.

More and more scammers have been targeting Pinterest as the site’s popularity has grown. The Better Business Bureau sent out a scam alert a few weeks ago with tips on how to keep accounts safe and how to spot suspect pins.

Although, for the small sliver of Pinterest users who are really only on the site to see butt pictures (and we know those people are out there), this hack must have been a total blessing.

TIME Video Games

‘My Girl’ Movie Turned into a Game Where You Try to Avoid Being Stung by Bees


If you remember watching My Girl back in the early ’90s and thinking how much you’d love to play a video game based on the movie, you’re apparently not alone: Someone has gone to the trouble of creating a version you can play in your browser right now. (In case you’re wondering, this wonderfully weird game is clearly not sanctioned or otherwise licensed by the people behind the actual movie.)

You play as Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin’s character). You’ll recall he was allergic to bee stings, yes? Well, the game entails little more than walking around a hastily-built side-scrolling level that loosely resembles the small town from the movie.

The object of the game is to avoid being stung by bees. Each time you’re stung, your mood ring turns darker and darker until you’re eventually stung to death. At that point, you’ll see a faux-digitized image of Vada (Anna Chlumsky’s character) and hear her sobbing as she peers bleary-eyed through the banister rails of the funeral home, trying to coax Thomas J. back to life while her father (Dan Aykroyd’s character) consoles her.

That’s the game – sorry for the spoiler. If you haven’t seen the movie, go ahead and do so this weekend. I assume you like crying? If not, maybe don’t see it.

MyGirl [MyGirltheGame.com via BuzzFeed]

TIME Rumors

Amazon Denies Rumor of Free Streaming Service, So What’s It Really Doing Next Week?

Amazon says it has no "plans" for an ad-supported streaming video service, seemingly refuting a report that one was in the works. The denial increases the mystery around the subject of the big announcement the company is scheduled to make next week

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal sent everyone into a tizzy over its claims that Amazon would launch an ad-supported (but otherwise free) streaming video service. This was supposed to be a step away from (or perhaps parallel to) Amazon Prime, for which the company currently charges $99 a year and allows members to view certain movies and TV shows for free without ads.

Also yesterday, media outlets received invites to an Amazon-helmed event in New York City next Wednesday, April 2 (note: not April 1, or Fools’ Day) wherein the company solicits recipients (TIME tech editor Doug Aamoth will be attending) to “join us for an update on our video business,” those words printed on the image of an orange IKEA-style sofa next to a bowl of popcorn. It’s clear the company plans to unveil something related to its living room video content delivery strategy.

But when asked to confirm or deny the Journal‘s claim, Amazon did something companies often don’t: It answered the question unambiguously. Here’s the press statement from Amazon spokesperson Sally Fouts:

We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things, but we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.

The Journal had said the service “could launch in the coming months,” so you could argue it didn’t get the story wrong so much as mistime it. As Amazon itself notes, it’s “often experimenting with new things,” and it may just be playing a rhetorical game with the word “plans.” Technically speaking, you can develop something right up to the eleventh hour (any military strategist will confirm this) and still deny you had “plans” until the ultimate arbiter, say a Jeff Bezos, commits to specifics and a timeframe for those specifics.

Meanwhile, we’re back to square one: Amazon’s holding a press event next week to talk about video stuff, and couch stuff (and popcorn stuff). What in the world does it mean?

Perhaps the fabled set-top streaming video box the company’s supposedly been working on for some time. Rumors the company would roll out such a box resurfaced in February and pegged March for unveiling. The box was reportedly in the works much of last year and due to ship around Christmas, but The Verge claimed last October that Amazon was punting, and Re/code’s Peter Kafka (then writing for AllThingsD before it became Re/code) said the box would launch “most likely in the spring.”

Why launch a set-top streaming video box without something fresh on the service side? For starters, we don’t know there isn’t something new; we just know it won’t be a free ad-supported streaming service. But let’s say next week’s thing is just a box that does what you already can with your Roku or Apple TV: If Amazon wants into the hardware space, every day, week and month spent standing on the sidelines hands set-top sales to Apple, Roku, Google and the lot.

According to Kafka, Apple’s sold 13 million units of its Apple TV, Roku’s sold 8 million units and Google’s sold “millions” of its Chromecast USB dongles (plus Roku just unveiled an updated USB-stick version of its service earlier this month). That’s to say nothing of all the people using game consoles primarily (or exclusively) as streaming video interfaces. I have many friends who’ve abandoned gaming because they have no time to play, who do precisely the latter (and, their appetites whetted, whose next streaming box will probably be a simpler, cheaper, hockey-puck-sized set-top).

One thing I don’t see happening next week: Amazon rolling out a box that’s a mainstream gaming contender. An Amazon branded set-top might play games in the sense my Roku 3 plays Angry Birds, but I don’t think Amazon’s going to throw its hat in the ring with the likes of Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony unless or until it has killer content. In mainstream gaming, no one cares how fancy or powerful-in-theory your hardware is. Gamers flock to great content, and were Amazon prepping a box and content on that scale, chances are we’d have heard something by now.

That doesn’t preclude the possibility that Amazon would offer streaming games on a budget-priced set-top, which is one of these instant end-arounds to address the content problem, but it involves significant visual and other latency-related compromises. In my view, it’ll never be a device for mainstream gamers. But then Amazon’s probably not after that segment. If, instead, it can sell a service like that as an hors d’oeuvre (on a plate with lots of hors d’oeuvres) to the sort of more casual media consumer looking for a reasonably cheap, all-in-one streaming box, then game streaming make sense: Game-streaming pioneer OnLive‘s subscriber base was small, but it wasn’t zero.

TIME Instant messaging

South Korea Clamps Down on Cyberbullying

People try out Samsung Galaxy phones at the Samsung Electronics' headquarters in Seoul
South Korea is trying to counter the increasing tendency among teenagers to bully each other online © Kim Hong-Ji – Reuters

Parents will get an alert whenever their kid receives a suspect message

South Korea is launching an alert service that will notify parent’s when their kid receives instant-messages containing swear words or other inappropriate words, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The purpose of the service is to counter an increasing occurrence of verbal abuse and cyber-bullying in one of the world’s most wired countries.

The alert service is currently under development by the Korea Communications Commission and will be rolled out in July.

[Wall Street Journal]


TIME media and technology

Facebook Eyes Using Drones to Deliver Internet

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg addresses the audience during a media event at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park
Robert Galbraith—Reuters

Mark Zuckerberg reveals a grand plan to bring Internet access to parts of the world that typically without it—through drones, satellites and lasers. Lofty as it sounds, its Connectivity Lab could become a major competitor with Google's Project Loon, which uses helium balloons to beam Internet to those below

Facebook is friending drones.

The social network’s founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed Thursday that the company’s ambitious plan to bring Internet access to the parts of the world without it will use drones to do. A year after announcing the Internet.org project, Zuckerberg said Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is making progress as it works to “build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.” The project will do nothing less, he said, than “beam internet to people from the sky.”

“Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the internet,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too.”

Facebook’s Connectivity Lab could become a major competitor with Google’s Project Loon, which is using helium balloons to beam Internet access down to people below. Reports recently surfaced that Facebook is mulling an acquisition of the drone company Titan Aerospace.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Office Goes Fully Free on iPhone and Android Phones


No more paid subscription required for document creation and basic editing.

Along with the big news that Microsoft has launched Office on Apple’s iPad, Microsoft has also made the iPhone and Android phone versions completely free.

Office was available for iPhone and Android phones before, but you couldn’t create or edit documents without an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $7 per month. Now, all you need is a free Microsoft account. (Full editing on the new iPad version requires an Office 365 subscription.)

The smartphone versions aren’t particularly robust. In Word, you can type, search, add comments and perform some basic font formatting, but that’s it. In Excel, you can search, filter and perform five simple mathematical functions. You can open existing PowerPoint files and edit slide text, but you can’t create new presentations.

Still, it could be useful for light editing and note taking. Because all files save automatically to OneDrive, I’m looking forward to jotting down thoughts from my phone and using Office Online on my desktop to pick up where I left off.

If you’re looking for an Android tablet version of Office, no such luck. Microsoft’s productivity suite still isn’t supported on larger screens, so you’ll have to use an alternative like QuickOffice, Kingsoft Office or OfficeSuite.

TIME Amazon

Amazon Free Streaming Media Service Likely to Launch Soon

Amazon.com Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings
Andrew Harrer—Getty Images

The online retailer appears ready to revamp its video streaming model in a bid to resemble and compete with free, advertising-supported TV services like Hulu and YouTube. It is expected to include the company’s original video content as well as licensed programming

Amazon is reportedly expected to launch a free, advertising-supported TV service similar to YouTube or Hulu sometime in the near future. The new service represents a dramatic shakeup for the company, which will be ditching its previous video strategy to make way for its new offerings.

The Wall Street Journal reported the development in Amazon’s video plan Thursday citing anonymous sources, adding weight to rumors reported by Ad Age last month. Amazon’s new service will likely include the company’s original series as well as licensed programming. Amazon also plans to offer free music videos that will carry ads to people who visit the site.

Amazon has spent $1 billion acquiring content and producing original programming for its streaming service. However, it hasn’t yet caught up with competitors like Netflix. Amazon’s current advantage over Netflix, however, is that an Amazon Prime membership brings access to the company’s original video content as well as benefits across the site, such as free high-speed shipping.

Amazon is also expected to release a streaming video set-top box that can compete with devices like the Roku, Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV at a media event next week.


TIME twitter

Twitter May Be Getting Rid of the Word ‘Retweet’

AFP/Getty Images

The “retweet” may be going the way of the “fail whale.” Select users of Twitter’s mobile app are now seeing the phrase “share with others” instead of “retweet” when they post another person’s tweet in their own timelines.

The change is one of Twitter’s many ongoing experiments to try to make its social network more engaging. User growth on Twitter has slowed continuously over time, and new data shows that most people who sign up don’t keep tweeting over the long-term. Other tests, such as an overhaul of user profile pages to make them more visual, indicate that Twitter may be trying to imitate the interface of Facebook, a more popular website with higher levels of user engagement.

The retweet was first invented by Twitter’s users rather than the company. In the early days users had to manually type “RT” to indicate that they were posting someone else’s message. Though Twitter formally adopted the retweet feature in 2009, the word itself is one of the many bits of insider jargon that new users have to learn to use the service effectively. Other quirks of Twitter, like the use of the @ symbol to directly tweet to other users, are also being phased out in certain tests. CEO Dick Costolo has said these long-used terms are “confusing and opaque” to new members.

TIME Technologizer

Microsoft Office for the iPad Is (Finally) Here

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco, March 27, 2014. Robert Galbraith—Reuters

The world's dominant productivity suite debuts on the world's dominant tablet. The new Office apps for the iPad, which are available starting at 2:00 p.m. ET today, include the suite’s best known programs: Word, Excel and PowerPoint

It’s been the subject of speculation and rumor for years. And now, at long last, Microsoft Office for the iPad is a product. Its arrival was among the news items at a press conference in San Francisco this morning about Microsoft’s cloud and mobile strategy, presided over by new CEO Satya Nadella, in his first public appearance since his appointment to replace Steve Ballmer.

The new Office apps for the iPad, which are available starting at 2PM ET today, include the suite’s core triumvirate: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. (Another Office mainstay, the OneNote note-taker, is already available in a free iPad edition.) As you’d guess, they’re not feature-complete replicas of the versions from Office’s flagship Windows version. But they do look like they’re considerably richer than the minimum viable versions would be. Word, for instance, lets you edit charts in place and do collaborative editing, complete with redlined changes and threaded comments. The interface is reminiscent of other versions of Office, with the Ribbon formatting bar up top, but Microsoft says it’s been rethought to be touch-friendly. And as with other versions of Office, everything is saved by default to OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), Microsoft’s online storage service.

Like the existing versions of Office for the iPhone and Android, the iPad one isn’t available for stand-alone purchase. Instead, it’s free if all you want to do is view files and display PowerPoint presentations. If you want to create and edit documents, you’ll need to subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which bundles Office’s Windows version with other variants for a yearly cost that starts at $70. That positions Office for the iPad as a complement to the Windows version rather than a potential replacement, and removes it from direct competition with existing iPad suites, such Apple’s iWork apps: Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

For a long time, the conventional wisdom about Office for the iPad — held by me, among others — was that Microsoft was unlikely to release it before it offered a version of Office designed for Windows 8′s newfangled, touch-centric “Metro” interface. That turned out not to be the case. Microsoft has already acknowledged that it’s working on a new-interface version of Office for Windows — and provided a glimpse at an early version — but it went unmentioned at today’s event.

Is there anything game-changing about Office finally arriving on the iPad? Doesn’t look like it. Folks who want to do word processing, spreadsheets and presentations on an iPad already have several good options. But judging from the demo, Microsoft’s apps do look ambitious and capable. And the single biggest benefit of a real version of Office being available might be file compatibility: Documents which were created in Office on a PC sometimes get their formatting mangled when they make the trip to and from an alternative iPad app.

More thoughts once I get a chance to try the new apps for myself. In the meantime, here are the links to each app in the App Store:

TIME Innovation

Raph Koster on Facebook-Oculus: You’re Just Another Avatar in Someone Else’s MMO

A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London.
A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London, September 26, 2013. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

The Facebook-Oculus deal, for all the good it might do, requires that we all start paying much closer attention to ownership and control of virtual spaces.

Former Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies lead Raph Koster has the most insightful and incisive piece I’ve yet seen on the Facebook/Oculus VR deal. Instead of worrying about Mark Zuckerberg’s gaming cred or the integrity of Oculus’ Kickstarter or whether Google should have swooped in first or what $2 billion means relative to anyone else’s VR war chest, Koster zooms out to offer a perceptive overview of the underlying currents defining near and future computing trends, and the problematic artifacts that accompany those trends.

In Koster’s view, computing’s near-future is essentially “wearable” versus “annotated.” You’re either plugging stuff into your person to augment (or simulate) your reality, or carrying stuff around that places interpretive brackets around it. The difference between the two notions is academic, of course, and Koster says both camps — currently shaped by competing commercial visions that have as much to do with molding consumer interest as tapping it — can’t escape the black hole tug that’ll eventually draw them together.

About this, Koster says:

One is the mouth, the other the ears. One is the poke, the other the skin. And then we’re in a cyberpunk dream of ads that float next to us as we walk, getting between us and the other people, our every movement mined for Big Data.

What does it mean when companies as vast as Facebook or Google or Apple have this level of access to and control over the way we interface with anything, conventional notions of reality or otherwise? It means…well, trouble, because it’s already causing trouble via the pre-VR, pre-”presence” social network-driven personal desire assimilation engines that live in our cars, houses, workspaces and pockets.

I’m not a libertarian privacy-at-all-costs wingnut committed to a wildly idealistic impossibility. I see the philosophical cracks in some of these very old, culturally bound presumptions about what privacy ought to be, as if humans were self-sustaining islands in some mythic state of equilibrium capable of inhabiting this planet without imposition of any sort on another (ultimate privacy is, in fact, another way of describing a form of sociopathy). Mark Zuckerberg isn’t wrong when he’s said that privacy as we know it (or ideally expect it) has to change, and that that’s symptomatic of a technology-fueled (which is to say fundamentally us-driven) paradigm shift.

But the most important question in this barrier-cracking worldview, where we inject all that we are into someone’s calculating server farm, is this: Who has ultimate ownership of that technology?

In an ideal world, virtual reality would probably be open source, broadly distributed, and all this looming virtual turf would be owned (or data-mined, or suffused with overt or subliminal ads) by no one. But suggest as much and you’re basically ringing a bell for arguments about the so-called risk-takers and venture capitalists and entrepreneurial geniuses necessary to make all that looming virtu-topia possible, because true or no, that narrative’s drawn from as old and deeply embedded a cultural playbook as exists.

That question’s at the crux of the issue Koster’s getting at when he says the Facebook/Oculus deal isn’t about rendering (that is, geeky cool visual stuff) so much as it is about “placeness.” It’s about ownership, specifically ownership of cloud-space.

Virtual reality in that sense is going to be as boundless as a processor farm’s prowess and a design team’s imagination. It’s perhaps most poignantly the vision Tad Williams shares in his Otherland series, but it’s also there in Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and all the countless others, in particular post-1980s-VR artists and thinkers, who’ve grappled with the question in one form or another. It’s a vision of the future in which extremely powerful, functionally opaque institutions compete for our attention in unfathomably vast virtual emporiums that, yes, may well start with something as innocuous-sounding as mountain climbing and concert-going (say in Facebook’s case). But how quickly does that move on to wish fulfillment (which is where it risks becoming narcotic), where it’s simultaneously mining our hopes, dreams, desires and eventually every measurable detail of our lives?

“It’s about who owns the servers,” says Koster. “The servers that store your metrics. The servers that shout the ads. The servers that transmit your chat. The servers that geofence your every movement.”

And then:

It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMO. Worse. From where they stand, all-powerful Big Data analysts that they are, you look an awful lot like a bot.

Paranoia about what companies are doing with your data today may be overstated, in that I’m pretty sure no one cares what I say on the phone or send through email in the here-and-now. But healthy paranoia, if such a thing exists, involves educated hypothesizing (that is, extrapolating based on historical precedent). There’s certainly precedent for virtual reality, since the latter’s still going to be constrained by our imaginations. In this 21st century pre-singularity moment, we’re still as human as we’ve ever been. The problems we’ll have to deal with when we strap things on our faces and start to reify what we’re already capable of doing when we close our eyes and dream are going to be the same problems we’ve been dealing with for millennia, however amplified or fetishized or distorted.

Grappling with something as far flung (and yet simultaneously present) as global warming isn’t about solving those problems today, it’s about considering a tomorrow many of us won’t see. It’s about understanding the scale involved with addressing those problems, about thinking longterm instead of excusing inaction based on human ephemeralness. The kinds of things Koster worries about won’t happen overnight, but gradually — so gradually that the shifts can be imperceptible. The dystopian futures that seem so reprehensible in the best speculative fiction don’t arrive like fleets of hostile aliens, galvanizing us to action, and Koster’s future in which we’re an avatar in someone else’s MMO is already partly here. In a 2007 interview about his book Spook Country, William Gibson said “it’s hard to write science fiction anymore when reality is so unbelievable.”

I’m excited about Oculus VR’s tech. I can’t wait for my devkit to arrive this summer. But as Koster puts it, “I’m a lot more worried about whose EULA is going to govern my life.”

Me too.

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