Netflix Eyes Entering Tricky China Market on Its Own


U.S. video service provider Netflix Inc is likely to enter the Chinese market without a local partner, which could make it harder to do business in the world’s biggest internet market widely known for censorship and strict regulation.

The firm, known for its U.S. political thriller “House of Cards”, also plans to look at exporting content produced in China to the rest of the world, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told reporters at a talk in Shanghai on Monday.

Global firms are eyeing a slice of China’s fast-growing entertainment market, but have often faced a rocky reception. Google Inc, YouTube, Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc have all been blocked in the country.

“It’s unlikely that we would definitely pursue (a local partner model) as a strategy… These ventures become very complex and very difficult to manage, and ultimately difficult to be successful,” said Sarandos.

Without a local partner, Netflix would need to obtain multiple operating licenses on its own, something the firm has said previously may be a potential hold-up.The firm would need around eight different licenses to launch in China, Sarandos said, adding that business in the country was “subject to a censorship and regulatory environment that we haven’t had to deal with.”

The movie and TV streaming service faces competition from local rivals, including Tencent Holdings Ltd and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring foreign TV and films to China.

China’s regulators are also imposing new licensing and quota restrictions on foreign players and content in a move analysts say will help the domestic television and film industry.

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Inbox by Gmail v1.3 Update Adds Customisation Options


Google’s Inbox by Gmail app, which has lately been missing from the latest app update news, will soon be bringing new features and more Material Design-themed icons as tipped in an update to version 1.3 rolling out to some regions already.

While the update is not yet available globally, the Google-signed apk file has been procured by AndroidPolice, and the company has detailed the new features, customisation options and Launcher Shortcuts. The first thing users will notice after installing the file is the navigation drawer, which now matches Googlerecommendations. Design changes also come in the form of slightly tweaked icons for ‘Reminders’ ‘Done’ and ‘Settings’, which now match more closely with Google’s Material Design mantra.

Besides the minor design changes, the new Inbox by Gmail v1.3 app also comes with extra features like the ability to change the notification sound. Users can also set different sounds for different accounts in Inbox. It is worth noting that previously the users would only have the option to turn off and turn on the notification sounds. Users can simply navigate through Settings > Account > Sound.

While the above-mentioned changes were visible right away, Android Police’s teardown of the apk file has hinted at more upcoming features for Inbox by Gmail. One of the important features hinted is the creation of shortcuts and widgets on the handset home screen. Two shortcuts that are said to be in the works are Compose Message and Create New Reminder.

Furthermore, the strings and codes of the Inbox by Gmail apk suggest that the firm might also let users create custom presets and change options for the Snooze feature. This has been hinted by a XML fine named btsnoozepreset_preferences under the latest apk file. The folder is empty for now however, the name points that it will be one of the main options under which users would find all the customisation features for the Snooze function.

It is not yet clear as to how many of the aforementioned features will reach to users as a part of the next update. One can wait for the traditional OTA update from Google or can manually download and install the apk file provided by Android Police.

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'Spectrum Payout to Offset Airtel's African Tower Sale Gains'


The huge payout for radiowaves, for which the auctions begin tomorrow, will offset the benefit that Bharti Airtel was likely to gain on its heavily debt-laden balance sheet by selling its African tower business recently, says a report.

“Bharti Airtel’s agreements to sell 83 percent of its tower portfolio in Africa will allow for significant de-leveraging, but spectrum payments from the March auctions have the potential to offset the expected debt reduction,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on Tuesday.

“The four agreements to sell 12,500 towers will allow Bharti to focus on its core business as a cellular telecom operator, and enable it to reduce its balance sheet debt,” vice-president and senior analyst at the agency, Annalisa Di Chiara, said.

She further said that while Bharti’s operating costs for its towers will decline post-sale, its rental costs will rise. Also, spectrum auction payments, which she estimates at $2-3 billion, could offset the debt reduction.

Excluding the deferred payment liabilities to the government, net debt on the company’s book stood at $8.35 billion, as of the December quarter.

The country’s largest and world’s fourth largest telco, rated Baa3 by the agency, has already deposited more than Rs. 3,500 crores to the government in the run-up to the fiercely bid auctions. It had also said the entire proceeds from the sales will be used to retire high cost debt.

She further said although Bharti has not disclosed details of the sales agreements, the agency expects it will receive around $2.2 billion from the tower sales. Bharti has committed to use all proceeds from the tower sales to reduce debt.

“Based on its assumption of $2.2 billion in sales receipts, we expect Bharti’s adjusted leverage will initially decline to 2.5 times from 2.9 times for the fiscal, reflecting the debt reduction,” the report said, adding that however the disposals will improve Bharti’s debt currency mix and improve its still trailing African operations.

If the Sunil Bharti-led company uses the sale proceeds to reduce its US dollar debt, the proportion of US dollar debt should trend below 40 per cent by the end of the fiscal from around 60 per cent last fiscal, thus helping it reduce the currency mismatch.

Bharti has licences expiring in six circles in 2015 and 2016, and the next round of spectrum auctions is slated for early March 2015. Moody’s expects the total amount payable for the spectrum licenses–both to renew expiring licenses and new spectrum wins–could be in the $2-3 billion range.

This would cause adjusted debt to return into the $17 billion range and adjusted debt/EBITDA to climb back to 2.9 times.

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ASML Says Computer Systems Briefly Compromised, No Key Data Accessed

Dutch semiconductor equipment maker ASML said on Sunday that it was investigating an unauthorised intrusion into its IT systems, but it had found no evidence that valuable files were accessed.ASML, the world’s largest maker of tools for etching out the powerful microchips at the heart of latest-generation smartphones and computer servers, underpins much of the world’s technology infrastructure.

The company did not say when the breach had taken place, but said ASML staff discovered the break-in soon after it occurred.

Many of the world’s largest technology companies, with valuable intellectual property, are seen as ripe targets for industrial espionnage, including by foreign governments keen to match those companies’ technologies.

ASML’s clients include all of the world’s largest chipmakers, including Intel andSamsung.

“ASML recently discovered unauthorized access to a limited portion of its IT systems,” the company said in a statement, adding that it was investigating the intrusion.

“At this time it appears that only a limited amount of data has been accessed. ASML has not found any evidence that valuable files, either from ASML or our customers and suppliers, have been compromised,” it added.

On Friday, Dutch technology website reported that a break-in had taken place and quoted anonymous sources blaming the Chinese government for the attack.

ASML said it could not be certain about the identity of the hackers, adding that it was subject to cybersecurity attacks, “like any other leading organization.”

The company said it would provide no further details unless there were significant developments.

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The Internet of Things and the currency of privacy

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If you’re like most people, you share a lot of personal information with companies like Google and Facebook for the convenience their free services provide. In turn, these companies sell your tastes and preferences to marketers, probably for less than $2 a pop.

You read that right. The Financial Times created an online calculator to estimate how much your data is worth down to the penny. Mine is worth $1.55. Face it: Privacy is a commodity; even a form of currency. And everybody’s info is worth a different dollar figure – to marketers, and to you.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) proliferates, providing us with more connected gadgets, marketers will get to know you even better. Consider what your watch, your light bulbs, and your refrigerator can add to the conversation.

The advertising industry is already salivating over the Internet of Things’ potential. “The primary benefit of the IoT to marketers is the remarkable consumer data it provides,” wrote Marko Muellner in a ClickZ article. (ClickZ is a news site for the marketing industry.)

Big data keep on turnin’

According to George Lee, the Chief Information Officer of Goldman Sachs’ Investment Banking Division, “Ninety percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years.” The large Internet companies are the primary collectors of this massive assemblage of bits.

We’re all complicit in these data gathering methods. We choose to join social networks, and we tell them where we are and what we’re doing. We carry smartphones that, by their very nature, track our location. And we sign off on the collection and use of this data as a mandatory and cursory matter when we sign up for any new service.

And most of the time, there are no negative results. The corporations will use your data for targeted advertising and market research, creating a smarter and more efficient system for ecommerce.

Still, many people feel uncomfortable with these practices. A growing awareness of exactly how these big data tools work is leading people to be more guarded about the information they share online. In the future, as they become perpetually more connected and ingrained in the economy of information, consumers will look to strike a clearer definition of what data they see as ‘private’, what they are willing to provide in exchange for services, and what kind of a price tag to put on it. Armed with the right knowledge and outlook, you can make this arrangement work to your advantage.

Know the tradeoffs and buy in with your eyes open

ClickZ’s Muellner acknowledges that “We’ll only get access to that data by providing real value in exchange.” In other words, consumers won’t turn over their personal information unless they get something out of it, like a free online service or a smart home convenience. By gauging the value of that service or convenience against an understanding of the type of information it can accumulate, you can intelligently weigh the risks and make an informed decision about the value of your privacy.

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Following Softcard, Bank of America pulling Windows Phone app

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Banking on Windows Phone will get a little more painful this weekend, as Bank of America pulls its Windows Phone app on Sunday.

On March 1, Bank of America will no longer support its Windows Phone banking app—or its Windows 8.1 app, for that matter. “IMPORTANT: In early March 2015, we’ll no longer support this app for this device. We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” a note on the Windows Phone app page reads.

Bank of America did not respond to a request for comment. It issued an update to the BoA Android app just two days ago.

What this means is that Windows Phone users have had a steadily dwindling number of banking and payment apps to use on the platform. Chase no longer supports its Windows Phone app, either. And Softcard said this week it would no longer support Windows Phone after Google’s decision to acquire its payments technology.

Like Android and iOS, Microsoft has its own Wallet app, designed to house loyalty cards as well as banking information. A Microsoft spokeswoman highlighted the relevant portion of Microsoft’s FAQ on the subject:

“You can add items to your Wallet directly from some apps,” the FAQ says.”For example: If your bank’s app supports this feature, you can add your credit or debit card to your Wallet, and the app will keep your card info (such as balance and transaction history) up to date. Some apps will even add items to your Wallet automatically. (For this to work, your phone needs to be running Windows Phone 8.1.)”

There are two problems here. First, the banking apps themselves are going away; and second, the remaining apps don’t appear to specifically support adding credit-card or debit-card information to the Wallet itself. That’s the case for Wells Fargo, for example, which plans to continue offering a Windows Phone app.

“Wells Fargo is committed to delivering apps that help our 14 million mobile banking customers manage their money virtually anytime, anywhere, and at this time we have no plans to retire our Windows 8 phone app,” a company spokeswoman said in an email. “We continue to examine our customers’ needs and usage, and make our decisions accordingly.”

With the Bank of America app, there is a backup plan: Use the web, which is a perfectly valid solution for a desktop Windows user. For phones, however, it can be a bit trickier, with only basic functions supported by the web app—it’s almost certain that Bank of America customers won’t be able to snap a photo of a check, for example, and use optical character recognition to deposit it to their bank.

Why this matters: Microsoft’s Windows Phone has been under fire for its app deficiency—the “app gap” separating that platform from iOS and Android. There’s the perception that Windows Phone just hasn’t been moving as fast as the other platforms, but ithas nevertheless been moving in a positive direction. Discontinuing apps sends an entirely different message—and a very worrying one, at that.

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Google's future campus looks like a sci-fi utopia

google new hq 1Google has revealed eye-popping ideas for a redesign of its California headquarters that symbolize how far the company wants to move beyond its core search business.

Plans submitted Friday to the Mountain View City Council include lightweight block-like structures—not stationary concrete buildings—that can be moved around as the company invests in new product areas. These areas now include self-driving cars, solar-powered drones and robots. Google’s self-driving car team, for instance, has different needs than search engineers, the company said in revealing its plans.

On top of those modular structures would be translucent canopies that can control the climate inside while letting in natural light and air. The canopies would free the spaces from traditional limitations like walls, windows and roofs.

It’s not hard to imagine Google’s future campus serving as a playground for the company’s pursuits outside of search. Plus, it sounds like Google is going for something like a futuristic city for its thousands of employees and local residents. The company is already known for its on-campus perks encouraging employees to maximize their time on campus, but the new plans elevate that concept.

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Different segments within the buildings’ canopies will “form small villages” where employees can work or relax, the company said, while Mountain View residents can enjoy cafes and parks, “or work in the public community gardens.”

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Also, a new structure would consolidate parking, while underutilized areas will host “native ecosystems,” including wetlands and re-integrated oak trees, the company said.

Of course, this all has to be approved by the Mountain View City Council, and that could take a year or longer. Google already faces some pushback from local residents who haven’t been happy with the rising traffic congestion and booming housing prices tied to the company’s growth. To be approved, Google’s plans must include a proposal for improving traffic conditions, a spokeswoman for the city council said Friday.

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The plans, if approved, would increase Google’s square footage by the millions in the North Bayshore area of Mountain View, California.

Meanwhile, other Silicon Valley giants like Apple and Facebook have plans of their own for new or expanded campuses. Apple is planning a new headquarters resembling a spaceship in nearby Cupertino, while Facebook is building an addition designed by architect Frank Gehry.

Take a look at the pictures. The concepts mark the first time Google has designed offices from scratch. The plans were developed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and English designer Thomas Heatherwick.

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Cut the cord and leave cable TV behind

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Streaming Services

The centerpiece of this strategy usually begins with leveraging streaming services likeNetflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu Plus, many of which provide subscribers with recently-broadcast television programming, complete seasons of past TV episodes, and multi-device compatibility so you can watch on TV, your computer, or via a mobile phone or tablet. Each service tends to have specific strengths – Hulu is more focused on current television shows, while Netflix has the best movie selection. Also, many of these services offer programs that aren’t available on other services – including original programming that isn’t available on cable TV at all – so serious cord-cutters often find they need to subscribe to a multitude of streaming systems to watch everything they want to see.

Remember that an old-school antenna is always another option. With a powerful digital antenna, network programming is free (and much higher in quality than you probably remember from the old days). Newer high-tech services, including Sling TV,Roku’s product line, and the Google Chromecast, are all options that can give you access to streaming content to help you eliminate the cable company as the bloated middleman.

Video Download Services

If you’re the kind of person that collects programs – especially movies – for repeated watching, it often makes sense not just to stream video, but to download it for the long term. Programming stored on your own hard drive isn’t dependent on having a fast, uncongested to keep it going, so it can be watched even if the cable goes offline – and once you download it, it never disappears. (Streaming service contracts are generally time-limited, so a movie available on Netflix today may no longer be streamable tomorrow.)

Video content – either movies or individual episodes of television programs – can be downloaded from several services, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, andGoogle Play. Movies can be stored on individual devices, but these can eat up a huge amount of space on a storage-strapped smartphone, particularly if the movie is encoded at HD quality. A better idea: Store movies on a NAS device that every (authorized) device in the house can access. A QNAP Turbo NAS like the TS-453 Procan work perfectly as a central media server for all your downloaded content – and it can also do additional jobs like storing (and streaming) your downloaded music files, home videos, and other computer files.

Accessing centrally stored video is becoming easier than ever. Smartphones and tablets will require a service-specific app, and apps like QNAP’s Qvideo or Qfile make it easy to stream video directly from your NAS. Both Qvideo and Qfile stream video stored on your QNAP NAS directly to your phones or tablets, as well as streaming directly to Chromecast devices attached to a TV, or Apple TV via Airplay. Qfile can even sync media among computers on your LAN to back up and synchronize media on all your devices.

With all these options available and more on the horizon, more and more people are discovering that there’s no reason to shell out big bucks each month for the cable company’s rising prices and poor service. Cut the cord, and leverage streaming services and downloaded video to access the movies and television programming you want, when you want it.

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White House privacy proposal aims to give you control over your data

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U.S. businesses that collect personal data would be required to describe their privacy and security practices and give consumers control over their personal information under a proposed privacy bill of rights released Friday by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The proposal would also require companies and nonprofit groups to collect and retain only the personal data they need to operate.

However, the proposal allows industry groups to submit their own codes of conduct to the Federal Trade Commission and shields companies that follow those codes from FTC enforcement actions.

Organizations adopting codes of conduct “shall have a complete defense to each alleged violation” of the privacy rules if they demonstrate compliance with the industry-developed codes, according to the draft bill’s language.

That drew criticism from privacy advocates.

The White House plan is “riddled with problems,” even after discussions with privacy groups in recent weeks, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

The proposal limits the FTC’s authority to enforce privacy standards through its codes of conduct provision, Chester said via email. The FTC has only 90 to 120 days to decide whether to approve a proposed code of conduct, for example.

The proposed bill of rights, based on a 2012 Obama administration proposal, is needed because companies are collecting more and more personal data, the White House said.

“Even though responsible companies provide us with tools to control privacy settings and decide how our personal information is used, too many Americans still feel they have lost control over their data,” the White House said. ”Fears about identity theft, discrimination, and the trade in sensitive data without permission could erode trust in the very companies and services that have made us better connected, empowered, and informed.”

The privacy draft, a proposal for Congress to consider, would require companies collecting personal data to regularly assess their security risks and establish safeguards. It would also require companies holding personal data give consumers access to it.

But the draft bill allows companies to deny customers access to their personal information if their requests are “frivolous or vexatious.” This provision allows “a company to determine whether the data should be available,” Chester said.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and long-time privacy advocate, raised concerns that the proposal would preempt many state privacy laws.

The draft bill “falls far short of what is needed to ensure consumers and families are squarely in control of their personal data,” Markey said in a statement. “Instead of codes of conduct developed by industries that have historically been opposed to strong privacy measures, we need uniform and legally enforceable rules that companies must abide by and consumers can rely upon.”

On the other side, some industry groups said the proposal isn’t needed and sends the wrong message about U.S. business practices. The proposal “says to state legislators and foreign governments that American online businesses have a privacy problem,” Steve DelBianco, executive director of e-commerce trade group NetChoice, said via email.

Before passing legislation, Congress should run a cost-benefit analysis to determine the impact on U.S. businesses, he added.

The proposal “casts a needlessly imprecise net” in policing online business practices, according to the Internet Association, another trade group.

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Facebook Now Lets Users Specify Any Gender They Want

After a year of offering 58 gender identity options, Facebook has now decided to make it more customisable by giving “free-form field” or a fill-in-the-blank option for users to describe their identity. The expanded custom gender option is at present available to everyone who uses Facebook in US English, but the social networking company has plans to expand it in the future.”Now, if you do not identify with the pre-populated list of gender identities, you are able to add your own,” said Facebook announcement on Thursday. The option is also being called an ‘infinite’ gender selection. Notably, Google+ had included the same “freeform text field” option when it brought out its custom gender feature in December.

The social networking giant noted that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and because of that it decided to come up with a custom option in which users can now specify with apt word in the blank box as well as a preferred pronoun to address them – male, female or neutral. Facebook notes that as before, users can add up to ten gender terms, and can also to control the audience with whom they’d like share their custom gender.

“When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just ‘male’ or ‘female’,” added company.

While people are thanking Facebook for the new option, there are still concerns over company’s real name policy. Last year, the company had eased the policy a little but didn’t remove it completely like Google+ and Twitter. Facebook allows people to use ‘assumed’ or ‘stage’ names, but these are still subject to verification.

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