Facebook, is that you? NSA reportedly posed as the social network

13.03.2014, 9:02

US spy agency shared files with UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia

Simply logging into Facebook, or what you thought was Facebook, could have been enough to open your computer up to the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping schemes.

Like it or not!

The US intelligence organization reportedly masqueraded as a fake Facebook server to infect computers and extract files from a target’s hard drive.

The NSA sent malicious data packets to these targets to trick their computers into thinking it was the real Facebook, according to The Intercept citing top secret government documents.

These malware “implants” are said to have been deployed on anywhere between 85,000 and 100,000 computers and networks, with the intention of infecting millions around the world.

British counterpart GCHQ reportedly played an integral role in developing these tactics and the idea had been shared with the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Facebook denied knowledge of this NSA “man in the middle” spy program and told The Intercept said that this sort of malware attack method is no longer viable.

That’s because the social network implemented HTTPS encryption for all users last year after first making it available in 2011.

But when one back door closes, the government seems to look for another. Before Facebook, the same NSA documents reveal that the agency used spam emails that tricked targets.

Clicking on malicious links infected their computers within eight seconds. The only problem was that these unsolicited methods became less successful. Hence the move to Facebook.

The NSA sees these programs as invaluable tools that can siphon hard drive data and, in some cases, even record audio from a computer’s microphone or take photos via a webcam.

The agency is likely to continue to hack computers and corrupt targeted computers through the next vulnerability to finds.

See related stories from techradar.com

How to protect against gov spying? Snowden points to encryption

11.03.2014, 11:18

But will tech companies do it?

In a rare live interview, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden echoed an encryption call to arms.

Snowden says…

Channeled in to Austin’s SXSW via Google Hangouts, Snowden said encryption should be easily accessible to the everyday person, not just technologists, to ensure protection from government spying.

He said that the view of encryption as an “arcane dark art” needs to change, and that technology companies should have encryption built into their services as a way to protect the people who use them.

“Encryption does work,” Snowden declared.

Positioned in front of a green screen showing Article One of the US Constitution, Snowden also called for “a watchdog that watches Congress,” one that could call out when officials lie to the public, as the former government contractor alleges has happened repeatedly.

Interestingly, Snowden said companies like Google and Facebook can make ad revenue with knowledge collected from user emails and messages and protect users from the government eyes at the same time.

“[They can] get advertising money but can give people the security they want,” he said, noting it’s a matter of doing it responsibly.

Asked if blowing the lid off widespread government spying was worth the consequences he’s faced, Snowden had his to say:

“Would I do this again? The answer is absolutely yes. I took an oath to defend and support the Constitution, and I felt the Constitution was violated on a massive scale.”

See related stories from techradar.com

Facebook’s newly updated News Feed brings back the boxed out look

07.03.2014, 12:07

Strictly a visual shake up

Facebook is rolling out a newly redesigned News Feed with a very familiar visual refresh.

It’s all about boxes!

The Social Network announced it’s updated the look for the News Feed so that the desktop and mobile versions look the same. As such all the news items are now separated into their own individual boxes with larger images.

The redesigned News Feed returns the Social Network to the boxed out look it tried with the complete overhaul from just two days shy of a year ago. Users hated it, almost universally in fact, and now its back again.

Unlike Facebook’s last go, it decided not to rearrange the layout and navigation. So everyone who disliked the way the social network previously moved the chat list to the left-hand side should be glad to hear it’s still in its proper right-side place.

In the same blog post Facebook quantified that the changes are simply visual, writing that it “do[es] not affect how we surface content to people, nor do they change how stories are ranked in News Feed.”

“Though in the new design all images are larger, both organic stories and ads will be the same size — similar to the way images appear on mobile.”

The changes are a bit underwhelming, but things have to move slowly when you have more than 1.19 billion users. Meanwhile, the Social Network has side loaded its bolder moves to the Creative Labs division, which recently released its first product called Paper.

Facebook said it’s rolling out the new design to a majority of members this month.

See related stories from techradar.com

Yahoo cleans house, ditches Facebook and Google sign-ins

05.03.2014, 15:07

Yaho-oh

If you’ve been signing in to Flickr with your Facebook or Google account, prepare for all that to change as Yahoo is stripping external log-ins from its services.

Smart move from Marissa?

Starting with Fantasy Sports, the change to the sign-in process will be rolled out gradually across all of Yahoo’s services.

This means you’ll have to sign up for a Yahoo account, just as it was back in 2010 when ex-CEO Carol Bartz introduced the competitors’ accounts as a way to get more people using Yahoo’s services.

It makes sense for Yahoo to want to ‘own’ your account so it can mine your user data to serve ads or, what it calls, “the best personalised experience.”

See related stories from techradar.com

Facebook plans to unleash an army of drones to connect the world

04.03.2014, 15:07

It's a bird… It's a plane… It's that guy from The Social Network!

Facebook is said to be in talks to snap up drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, its first significant play in the Internet.org initiative.

Everyone seems to want a drone!

Titan Aerospace creates unmanned solar-powered drones capable of flying at 65,000 feet for five years without needing to land, which would offer a cheaper alternative to orbital satellites.

Facebook is rumoured to be in negotiations with Titan right now in the hope of using its drones to beam internet connectivity to areas of the world that currently lack access.

According to TechCrunch, which learned of the deal, Facebook’s first step will be to have 11,000 drones built with Africa the first country on the list of targets.

According to an anonymous source, the deal is going down for $60 million although nothing has been verified as of yet.

Internet.org is a coalition movement including Facebook, Qualcomm, Samsung, Nokia and others, which plans to bring internet to the 5 billion people of the world who still don’t have means of access.

Google, meanwhile, has a similar initiative of its own called Project Loon, which uses balloons instead of satellites or drones.

Titan is not currently responding to requests for clarification, but we’ll let you know as soon as we get any sort of official confirmation.

See related stories from techradar.com

Facebook phases out Messenger apps for Windows and Firefox

28.02.2014, 9:03

Just as Facebook Messenger comes to Windows Phone 8

Just a couple days after shuttering its @facebook email service, the social network has axed the messenger app for Windows.

”No longer supported”.

Notifications in the messenger app have begun informing users that the desktop service will shutdown on March 3. It also turns out Facebook has also pulled down Messenger for Firefox as well leaving users with the same end of support message.

“We’re sorry, but we can no longer support Facebook Messenger for Windows, and it will stop working on March 3, 2014. We really appreciate you using Messenger to reach your friends, and we want to make sure you know that you can keep chatting and view all your messages on Facebook.com”

Meanwhile, the link to the Windows app has been taken down preemptively on Facebook leaving only the Android and iOS versions.

There’s no indication why Facebook has decided to phase out its chat client for PCs and Firefox. However, Windows users won’t be left without a way of chatting as they will still be able to access their messages through the regular website.

Its likely Facebook is doing this just to get more visitors to visit Facebook’s full site to see the rest of its social features and not to mention the ads. But as Facebook phases out apps on older platforms it’s moving towards new ventures.

The social network recently made a $19-bllion (about £11B/AUS $21B) play to acquire WhatsApp. Earlier in the week Facebook confirmed at MWC 2014 that a standalone Messenger app is about to arrive to Windows Phone 8 devices.

See related stories from techradar.com

Facebook cans its email service because no one was using it

25.02.2014, 14:59

No longer the "future of modern messaging"

Mark Zuckerberg has been rather busy of late, what with spending $19 billion on Whatsapp and trying to get the whole world online through the internet.org initiative.

Not really a surprise!

But this hasn’t stopped him from wielding the axe over Facebook email – something he claimed was the “future of modern messaging” when it was launched back in 2010. Turns out it really, really wasn’t.

Facebook told the Verge that the reason for the demise of the service is because it is “most people haven’t been using their Facebook email address.”

This doesn’t surprise us given that in 2012 Facebook forced its branded emails on to everyone that uses the social network. Forcing the general public to do anything usually ends up with tears and tantrums especially when something as precious as email addresses are at stake.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t do the same thing with Whatsapp, or we will see another future of modern messaging given the axe.

But it spent billions on that so it will never die, right? Right?

See related stories from techradar.com

MWC 2014: Soon you’ll be able to call people using WhatsApp

24.02.2014, 14:42

Android and iOS first in line

WhatsApp is adding voice calling to its popular instant messaging app, with iOS and Android the first two OSes to get the new features.

Hello! Who’s calling?

At WhatsApp’s MWC press conference, CEO Jan Koum said that some BlackBerry and Nokia phones will be next in line for the voice messaging update, although the company didn’t give any idea of exactly when we can expect it to land beyond “Q2” – that’s April to June.

It’s not the biggest WhatsApp news in recent memory though, overshadowed by Facebook dropping $19bn on the messaging service. But what’s in it for Facebook?

See related stories from techradar.com

What’s up with Facebook buying WhatsApp? It’s about the developing world

20.02.2014, 9:14

Of course, it's about Facebook's mobile Manifest Destiny, too

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp for $16 billion (about £9.5b/AU$17.7b) isn’t supposed to change the popular instant messaging app, but it certainly changes the landscape of the real-time messaging services.

FB is on it!

That’s because the world’s No. 1 social network just bought its way into the hands WhatsApp’s engaged usersbase, which according to Mark Zuckerberg is on a path to one billion people.

But more than the sheer number WhatsApp chatters, Facebook appears to be interested in the fact that many of the active users of this SMS-alternative are from developing countries.

“WhatsApp I think is the clear global leader,” said Zuckerberg in a conference call following the WhatsApp acquisition announcement.

“[T]here are countries [like] Korea or Japan where another messaging service is bigger, but if you look across the world, WhatsApp – across Europe, Latin America, India, a lot of places in Asia – is the clear leader.”

International growth, especially in the developing world, is something that Facebook has been stressing in its financial conference calls every quarter for the past year and a half.

That’s likely because while the social network reaches 1.23 billion monthly active users, it has approached saturation in the developed world. Who do you know who doesn’t have Facebook?

Facebook’s Internet.org campaign in partnership with Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and other phone companies is intended to bring affordable internet access for that very reason.

It occupies more than one billion “chairs,” but what about the internet-deprived who can’t afford one? They deserve a seat that the table, and besides Internet.org, the SMS-snubbing WhatApp is one way to bring them into the Facebook fold.

“About 11 days ago,” recounted Zuckerberg, “I proposed that if [Facebook and WhatsApp] joined, that would help connect the rest of the world and could help out with things like Internet.org by bringing these two very different communication tools together.”

At the same time WhatsApp is on an unchanged course toward one billion users, Facebook is transforming its mobile presence with standalone apps and company takeovers.

Within Apple’s iOS App Store and the Google Play Store, you’ll find Facebook has developed its own Messenger, Flipboard-style Paper, Snapchat-clone Poke and Instagram-esque Camera apps.

Prior to today, no app has been more important than Instagram, which Facebook bought last year for $1 billion (about £599m, AU$1.1b) in cash and stock, and has kept its promise of keeping intact. It hasn’t merged the popular photo- and video-sharing service with its long forgotten Camera app.

“WhatsApp is going to operate independently,” reiterated Zuckerberg. “We want to do this the same we did Instagram. This is obvious a bigger scale – a much bigger scale.

“I think [Instagram Co-Founder] Kevin [Systrom] would say that he’s gotten a huge amount of value out of being able to use Facebook infrastructure. That’s been very valuable to him in scaling. That’s going to be the model here too.”

Zuckerberg stated that Facebook’s “explicit” WhatsApp strategy is to focus on growing and connecting everyone in the world.

“Services in the world that have a billion people using them are all incredibly valuable,” he said.

Whatsapp stats
Whatsapp has grown more than 2.8 times faster than Facebook did

This sort of mobile growth has been the steadfast goal of the social network for the last two years, and it has recently begun to see more profit from its app initiatives than computers.

That doesn’t mean you should expect WhatsApps ad any time soon. The creators of this subscription-based messaging app have long been against delivering ads, and Zuckerberg says he shares this desire for messaging.

“Once we get to being a service that has a billion, two billion, three billion people one day, there are many clear ways we can monetize.”

The vision of three million people using WhatsApp seems like a far way off when it only has 450 million monthly active users, but it achieved that growth within just four years, more than 2.8 times faster than Facebook did.

Facebook execs didn’t have statistics about the potential overlap between WhatApps and Messenger users, but Zuckerberg thinks that the two can co-exist.

“They actually serve fairly different use cases. Messenger evolved from Facebook Chat, which was more of instant messaging, not SMS, and is widely used today are chatting with Facebook friends. And a lot of the messages aren’t real-time, almost like a more informal email.

“WhatsApps evolved from evolved from really replacing SMS. It’s a service for very quick and reliable real-time communication with all of your contacts and small groups of people.

“The world needs both,” he concluded, with an understood emphasis on “the world.”

See related stories from techradar.com

Roaming charges force mostly everyone to reduce Facebook use while travelling

18.02.2014, 9:19

A quarter of folks just switch off their phones

Fear of amassing whopping roaming charges leads to a dramatic fall in mobile use among Europeans travelling to other countries in the region, a new European Commission study has revealed.

We all fear roaming charges!

The poll of 28,000 EU citizens revealed a quarter of all people turn off their phones for the duration of a trip, while among frugal Brits the tally is even higher at 37 per cent.

Those who do run the risk of racking up charges, are forgoing their usual usage habits in favour of a more conservative approach, the survey showed.

94 per cent of folks don’t use Facebook and Twitter as often, while 90 cent don’t check emails as regularly and as many as 47 per cent of travellers within the region never use mobile data.

The study will used by the European Commission to further it’s push for the complete abolishment of roaming fees, claiming users are restricting their phone use in “extreme ways.”

European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: “It shows we have to finish the job and eliminate roaming charges. It’s not just a fight between holiday-makers and telecoms companies. Consumers are limiting their phone use in extreme ways, and this makes no sense for the companies, either.

The battle to ensure consumers can make use of the minutes, data and messages allocations within their domestic contracts wherever the roam in the EU is sure to continue.

Last summer, the EU vowed to bring down the roaming empire by the time you jet off for your summer hols this year.

Pretty soon, you could be sat by the pool, commenting on liking the Facebook statuses of those at home, as merrily as you like, totally missing the fact that you’re actually on holiday. Hoorah!

See related stories from techradar.com