TechSummit Rewind 092

This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

KickassTorrents domains seized after alleged owner arrested in Poland

KickassTorrents

The U.S. Justice Department has successfully apprehended and charged the alleged founder and operator of BitTorrent distribution site KickassTorrents. Artem Vaulin, a 30-year-old from Kharkiv, Ukraine, was arrested today in Poland on behalf of the United States, which has requested his extradition for crimes related to running the website.

Vaulin faces two counts of criminal copyright infringement, one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. All of KickassTorrents’ domains are in the process of being seized, while access to the site has been halted.

“In an effort to evade law enforcement, Vaulin allegedly relied on servers located in countries around the world and moved his domains due to repeated due to repeated seizures and civil lawsuits. His arrest in Poland, however, demonstrates again that cybercriminals can run, but they cannot hide from justice.”

-Leslie Caldwell, Justice Department criminal division assistant attorney general

Skype drops support for Windows Phone, old Android versions

skype_ios7

Over the past few years, Skype has been slowly transitioning to the cloud, and Microsoft has unveiled some changes to the Skype apps it supports as a result. While Microsoft will continue to support Skype on iOS 8, Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and Windows 10 Mobile, any users stuck on Windows Phone 8 or any Android version older than Ice Cream Sandwich will no longer receive access to Skype updates. This will eventually render some of the apps useless.

“At times, unforeseen issues have cropped up, like messages not syncing across devices, or delayed notifications. Knowing the impact of these issues for our users, we fix these issues as quickly as we can.”

-Gurdeep Pall, Skype chief

Facebook Messenger hits a billion users

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger has hit one billion monthly users.

According to Facebook, the messaging app is “one of only a handful of apps worldwide that touch so many lives.” The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company created a video to celebrate the occasion and encourage users to send balloon emoticons in their messages.

Microsoft debuts Bookings Office 365 service for online appointment scheduling

Microsoft Bookings

Microsoft has announced Bookings, a new service in the Office 365 suite that allows customers to schedule appointments with a business online. Bookings also manages other aspects of appointment management, including sending out confirmations and reminders and handling re-scheduling and cancellations.

Businesses are provided with a unique webpage that works on both desktop and mobile where customers can select their dates and times based on current availability. Here, they’ll enter in their contact information and book the appointment. The system then automates the rest of the process.

It’ll automatically send an email confirmation to the customer, as well as a reminder email ahead of the appointment time.

Customers can return to the scheduling site by clicking a link in their email to choose a different time or cancel. According to Microsoft, businesses can avoid last-minute cancellations by controlling how much advanced notice is required to cancel an appointment.

Once created, the bookings are synced to a centralized booking calendar where businesses can then reschedule them, cancel them, or reassign them to other staff members if necessary. You can also input new bookings in the calendar for in-person or phone arrangements.

Split view shows which staff are booked at which times by letting you view schedules side-by-side. These appointments are also synced to staff calendars (on Office 365 Outlook, Outlook.com, or Google Calendar).

The system also creates a contact entry automatically when a customer inputs their info into the online system. The contact card contains the customer’s personal information (name, address, phone, email) along with notes.

According to Microsoft, a standalone app for Bookings will launch in a few weeks for on-the-go appointment management.

As a business grows, it can add more staff and create additional booking pages at no extra cost. Staff isn’t required to have individual Office 365 subscriptions to use the service, according to Microsoft, with only one master Office 365 Business Premium subscription required.

Bookings is initially launching for those who are in the Office 365 Business Premium First Release program, with a worldwide rollout planned in the “coming months” through the Office 365 app launcher.

Airbnb hires Eric Holder to craft anti-discrimination policy

airbnb-logo

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is joining Airbnb to fight discrimination on the rental platform, according to company CEO Brian Chesky.

“We are honored that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to join our team to help craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy. While we have a policy that prohibits discrimination, we want this policy to be stronger. And we will require everyone who uses our platform to read and certify that they will follow this policy.

“I know we’ve failed on that front previously. We weren’t fully conscious of this issue when we designed the platform. After speaking to many of you, I have learned that there have at times been a lack of urgency to work on this, and we need to rectify that immediately.”

-Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO

“I’m looking forward to working with Airbnb to develop and implement a world-class anti-discrimination policy. Airbnb is committed to building a community where everyone can belong, no matter who they are or what they look like. I’m eager to help them craft policies that will be the model for companies who share Airbnb’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

-Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General

Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 designed to survive epic smartphone drops

Gorilla Glass 5

Corning has unveiled the newest version of Gorilla Glass, the chemically strengthened super glass used in dozens of consumer electronics makers’ devices.

Gorilla Glass 5 was formulated to improve drop performance from gadgets dropped onto rough surfaces from waist height to shoulder height. According to the glassmaker, Gorilla Glass 5 survives up to 80 percent of the time when dropped from 1.6 meters.

SwiftKey unwraps emoji prediction app

Swiftmoji

Swiftkey has launched Swiftmoji, the keyboard app maker’s first new product as a member of Microsoft.

The emoji-predicting keyboard app is available now for download on iOS and Android, supporting only English for now.

Predictions are crowdsourced based on Swiftkey’s keyboard usage data, but will also draw on each user’s emoji preferences over time.

Swiftmoji offers emoji suggestions based on what the user has typed, so you won’t have to waste your precious time searching for the French flag.

Tapping on one of these suggestions adds it to the text. There’s also “emoji storm,” a feature that will add the entire stack of emoji predictions in one long line when you hold down on the “add emoticon” key.

On iOS, there’s a frequently used emoji feature that puts your favorite emoticons one tap away along with a popular screen to surface trendy emoji based on Swiftkey’s usage data. A third screen organizes all emoji into easy to navigate categories such as people, food & drink, sports, etc.

The Android app is a full keyboard replacement with emoji predictions positioned in a line above the keyboard. According to SwiftKey, the differences are due to the different frameworks iOS and Android have for managing keyboards.

Mozilla will block Flash in Firefox starting next month

firefox

According to Mozilla, Firefox will start blocking Flash content “not essential to the user experience” starting next month. The company will also adopt a new click-to-activate policy starting in 2017, requiring users to approve the use of Flash for any content on a page, advising sites that use the Adobe plugin or Microsoft Silverlight to “plan on adopting HTML technologies as soon as possible.”

According to the company, the change is expected to reduce Flash-related crashes and hangs in Firefox by up to 10 percent, and give users “enhanced security, improved battery life, faster page load, and better browser responsiveness.” Mozilla data shows that Firefox plugin crashes dropped when both YouTube and Facebook switched to HTML5 by default.

French authorities serve notice to Microsoft for Windows 10 privacy failings

win10_windows_startscreen1_Web

The French National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) issued a formal notice against Microsoft, ordering the company to “stop collecting excessive data and tracking browsing by users without their consent.”

The complaint also demands Microsoft to “take satisfactory measures to ensure the security and confidentiality of user data.”

CNIL based the complaint on seven investigations conducted between April and June of this year, as well as interviews with Microsoft representatives to ensure that the company was following the French Data Protection Act.

The CNIL notice accuses Microsoft of the following violations:

  • Irrelevant or excessive data collected: According to the CNIL, “collecting diagnostic and usage data via its telemetry service” was acceptable, but it also found that the default Windows 10 settings, which collect additional information, go too far. The complaint says collecting “information on all the apps downloaded and installed on the system by a user and the time spent on each one” is “excessive.”
  • Lack of security: The option to secure a PC with a four-digit PIN is insecure, but it doesn’t limit the number of attempts to enter the PIN.
  • Lack of individual consent: Microsoft’s advertising ID enables Windows apps and third party apps to monitor browsing and offers targeted ads without proper consent.
  • Cookies: Microsoft puts cookies on users’ websites without sufficient consent.
  • Data transfer outside the EU: Data from French Windows users is being transferred to the U.S. on a “safe harbor” basis, which should have stopped after a decision issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union on Oct. 6, 2015.

The CNIL public notice stresses that “formal notices are not sanctions and no further action will be taken if the company complies with the Act within the specified timescale, in which case the notice proceedings will be closed and this decision will also be made public.”

Microsoft has three months to comply with the complaint.

“We built strong privacy protections into Windows 10, and we welcome feedback as we continually work to enhance those protections. We will work closely with the CNIL over the next few months to understand the agency’s concerns fully and to work toward solutions that it will find acceptable.”

-David Heiner, Microsoft vice president & deputy general counsel

Intel Q2 earnings: Sales of $13.5B, $0.59 EPS

An employee walks past an Intel logo during the 2014 Computex exhibition at the TWTC Nangang exhibition hall in Taipei

Intel has posted its Q2 earnings, with revenues of $13.5 billion with earnings of $0.59/share.

The company had net income of $1.3 billion.

“Second-quarter revenue matched our outlook and profitability was better than we expected. In addition, our restructuring initiative to accelerate Intel’s transformation is solidly on-track. We’re gaining momentum heading into the second half. While we remain cautious on the PC market, we’re forecasting growth in 2016 built on strength in data center, the Internet of Things, and programmable solutions.”

-Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO

Among its divisions, Intel’s Client Computing Group posted revenue of $7.3 billion, down three percent from last quarter. The Data Center Group had sales of $4.0 billion, up one percent on last quarter.

The Internet of Things Group posted revenue of $572 million, down 12 percent from last quarter. Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group had revenue of $554 million, down one percent sequentially.

The Programmable Solutions Group posted revenue of $465 million, up 30 percent from last quarter.

eBay raises forecasts

eBay Argos 084

eBay has raised its revenue and profit forecasts, as efforts to lure new shoppers gain traction.

The San Jose, Calif-based company’s revenue will be between $8.85 billion and $8.95 billion, up from a previous forecast of $8.6 billion to $8.8 billion.

Full-year profit, excluding certain items, will be between $1.85 and $1.90/share, compared to a January forecast ranging between $1.82 and $1.87/share. Adjusted third quarter profit will be between $0.42 and $0.44/share.

Sales in the current quarter will be between $2.16 billion and $2.19 billion, according to the company.

According to eBay, the company’s board has approved a $2.5 billion share buyback, compared to a $500 million buyback in the second quarter.

eBay’s revenue increased six percent to $2.23 billion in the second quarter, with its customer base increased to 164 million active accounts, up four percent from a year ago.

According to eBay, gross merchandise volume increased four percent to $20.9 billion in the second quarter compared to a year ago.

Revenue from concert and event ticket marketplace StubHub gained 40 percent to $225 million in the second quarter.

“I’m not ready to jump on a table and start dancing for eBay, but it looks like they’re moving in the right direction.”

-Vic Anthony, Axiom Capital Management analyst

Qualcomm releases Q4 forecasts

qualcomm-liquid-lead

Qualcomm has released its fourth-quarter forecasts that are helped by higher royalties and a jump in chip orders from Chinese customers.

Revenue in the quarter that ends in September will be between $5.4 billion and $6.2 billion, according to the San Diego, Calif.-based company. Profit before certain items will be between $1.05 and $1.15/share.

Net income in the third quarter that ended June 26 rose to $1.4 billion ($0.97/share) from $1.18 billion ($0.73/share) a year earlier. Excluding certain items, profit was $1.16/share.

Sales increased to $6.04 billion, up 3.6 percent from a year ago to break a year-long quarterly double-digit percentage decline.

“It was a really strong quarter – it was strong in both businesses, in particular the license business. We got some money a little earlier than we would have thought.

“In China, the chipset business has done a good job of growing. We’re on track and executing.”

-Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm CEO

China temporarily bans highway testing of self-driving cars

Self-driving cars are no longer welcome on Chinese highways. According to Bloomberg, the country’s auto industry is working with police to create new regulations for autonomous vehicles – with automakers being ordered to keep them off the roads until they go into effect.

Doppler Labs raises $24 million led by The Chernin Group

Doppler Labs Here One

Doppler Labs has closed an additional $24 million in funding led by The Chernin Group, which will support the company’s preparations for the launch of its Here One wireless listening system.

The company intends to spend capital on hiring more engineers while improving its Here One platform.

The company has also raised funds from investors Kevin Efrusy, David Geffen, Dan Gilbert, Henry Kravis, and Anton Levy.

“Doppler is trying to create a new product category that improves how we experience our auditory world. It’s this discipline and ambition that attracted me, and both tend to be the key ingredients for consumer breakthroughs, along with some luck.”

-Kevin Efrusy, Accel partner

Seagate unveils 10TB hard drive for home PC

Seagate Barracuda Pro

Seagate has released a trio of 10TB hard drives (primarily focused on networked and surveillance storage) that includes one designed for your desktop. The new Barracuda Pro is a standard 3.5-inch, 7200RPM disk that will set you back $535.

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