Large tech companies seek global government surveillance reform

The issue of government spying has been in the spotlight ever since Edward Snowden’s exposé. Now several major tech companies are banding together at reformgovernmentsurveillance.com to call for the reform of government surveillance. We’re talking about heavy hitters, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, AOL, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo.

The principles that they’re calling for include:

  • Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
  • Oversight and Accountability
  • Transparency About Government Demands
  • Respecting the Free Flow of Information
  • Avoiding Conflicts Among Governments

There isn’t any promise that the government will listen and implement any recommendations from these companies, but they have a much larger voice than the average privacy advocate on the street, so hopefully their collective voice (and clout) will count for something.

Eight Big Tech Companies Demand That The Government Changes How It Spies And Handles User Data

BlackBerry refused Justin Bieber’s offer to be brand ambassador

Businessweek recounts the rise and fall of BlackBerry.

One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, “Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,” basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, “This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.” I said at the meeting: “This kid might outlive RIM.” Everyone laughed.

That was a golden opportunity to reach out to the younger generation.

Microsoft designs smart bra to combat emotional eating

WIRED UK reports that Microsoft has designed a smart bra to combat emotional eating.

But the team wanted to have a system of wearable sensors that measure electrodermal activity (EDA), which is essentially the amount of sweat on a person’s skin; and electrocardiogram (EKG) data. Both are useful for gauging emotions.

Wearable devices that know you inside out.

Uber might be more valuable than Facebook

New York Mag reports that Uber might eventually be worth more than Facebook.

Amazon grew from selling books alone to carrying a wide range of products by leveraging the warehouse and shipping infrastructure it had established.

Likewise, Uber’s plan is to outgrow its car-service roots, and become, as investor Shervin Pishevar put it, “a digital mesh” capable of providing all kinds of transportation and logistical services to people in the cities it serves. Once it has you summoning cars from your phone, the logic goes, it can use that same back-end technology to hook you in for all other kinds of deliveries — food, clothes, Christmas trees. And eventually, like Amazon, it can become something akin to an all-purpose utility — it’ll just be a way you get things and go places. There’s a reason the company recently changed its tagline from “Everyone’s private driver” to the much broader “Where lifestyle meets logistics.”

  • It’s one of the fastest-growing companies on Earth, having expanded into 22 countries and 60 cities, most in the last several months. (Uber launched in Guangzhou, Abu Dhabi, and New Delhi this week.)
  • It’s making serious money – according to Valleywag’s leaked screenshot, its run-rate (estimated annual revenue, if you extrapolate the numbers we have out to a full year) is more than $200 million. By comparison, Twitter, a company worth $25 billion as of today, did $317 million in revenue last year. By those standards, Uber’s last valuation – $3.5 billion – seems laughably small.
  • It’s hiring like crazy. Just look at its jobs list, or see that it plans to quadruple its staff from last March’s level by next March.
  • It’s filled with experienced business operators and financiers, like Wall Street legend David Bonderman (the founder of TPG Capital, and a new Uber board member). In other words, it’s not one of those Silicon Valley start-ups run by cocky 22-year-olds.
  • It’s now a financial services company.

There are many more cities the company can expand into. They have barely gotten started.

Twitter to be available on mobile phones without Internet

Reuters reports that Twitter is tying up with Singapore-based startup U2opia Mobile make its services available on mobile phones without Internet.

U2opia Mobile, which has a similar tie-up with Facebook Inc, will launch its Twitter service in the first quarter of next year, Chief Executive and Co-founder Sumesh Menon told Reuters.

Users will need to dial a simple code to get a feed of the popular trending topics on Twitter, he said.

More than 11 million people use U2opia’s Fonetwish service, which helps access Facebook and Google Talk on mobile without a data connection.

Twitter SMS commands.

Twitter seems to have come to a full circle since it was initially created as an SMS service to communicate with a small group.

Motorola’s Project Ara modular phone inching closer to reality

Back in October, the modular Project Ara phone caused quite a stir. The concept of a modular phone which will allow users to upgrade different parts of the phone is certainly attractive. While it was more akin to a concept back then, it now seems that Motorola is actually putting some serious effort into the concept, possibly turning it into a reality sometime in the near future.

In a recent interview, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside hinting that they’re close to completing an actual prototype of such as phone. Of course, a prototype isn’t a promise that a mass market version will be produced anytime soon, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Even though the concept itself is good, I do have some serious concerns if it’ll actually be popular. In the PC market, there are many PCs that are assembled by hobbyists, but the combination of readily available parts isn’t always something that most consumers are looking for. When discussing finesse, it’s pretty noticeable that integrated machines such as Apple’s Macs and well-designed PCs from manufacturers such as Dell have an edge over a PC assembled at home. There are pros and cons to either solution, but it remains to be seen if a modular phone will really catch on. On a personal level, I’m looking forward to actually being able to fiddle with a modular phone, so hopefully Motorola will be able to pull it off.

Modular Project Ara smartphone prototype not too far off, says Motorola

“There is a [Project Ara] prototype and it is pretty close,” Motorola’s CEO said. “The idea is you have a skeleton that holds together a set of components and the components slide in and out. If we have the interfaces and the protocols that enable the speaker to speak directly to the CPU then this would all be possible.”

Woodside said the biggest obstacle for Project Ara was making components universally work with each other. Since most components are made for a specific device and its design, making them interchangeable is a struggle. So Motorola is trying to make an open platform.

Elgato Smart Key tracks your car and keys

With Bluetooth low energy (BLE) appearing in an incresing number of devices, it’s not surprising to see devices being developed to take advantage of the technology. Similar to competitor Tile, the Elgato smart key aims to help you solve the common problem of forgotten car keys, or finding your car in a large parking lot.

Powered by a single CR2032 battery, the Elgato smart key has enough juice to last a good six months. Common and useful situations for the device include:

  • Tracking when your luggage has arrived on the airport conveyor belt
  • Tracking where your car is parked
  • Notifying you when you’ve left your keys behind

As Apple deploying its Bluetooth iBeacons in all of its stores and apps such as Newstand, Bluetooth is going to be increasingly prominent in 2014, so pay close attention to this space.

The Elgato Smart Key taps Bluetooth LE to help find your keys and remember where your car’s parked

There are many interesting use-cases for this, beyond that of finding lost keys or remembering where you parked your car. For example, you can put it in your suitcase, so that when it arrives on the conveyor belt in the airport, your iPhone will buzz to tell you it’s within range. You can just sit back, sup a coffee and let everyone else stand staring at that same orange monstrosity that keeps doing the rounds on the baggage carousel.

Carl Icahn is now asking for $50 billion instead of $150 billion from Apple

Wall Street Journal reports that Carl Icahn has softened his stance on Apple’s cash

The activist billionaire had originally urged the technology company to repurchase $150 billion of its stock immediately. He called a previously announced buyback by Apple, which the company said was the biggest buyback authorization in history, too small and too slow.

Now, he is asking for $50 billion in buybacks on top of Apple’s previous program, according to people familiar with his latest overture to Apple. The proposal would call for the buybacks to be done by the end of September, these people said.

That is a big reduction in the amount he is asking for. But the new figure is probably something that Apple would be more likely to consider.

Apple products are most wanted this holiday season

Parks Associates announced a research showing that Apple topped the list of purchase intentions for multiple categories.

Apple was the number one brand for desktops and tablets, and its Apple TV was the top streaming media device. Apple replaces Dell as the most wanted desktop brand.

“Apple topped the list of intended brands for desktop purchases for the first time this year,” said John Barrett, director, Consumer Analytics, Parks Associates. “In 2011 and 2012, Dell was the top desktop brand, but Apple has displaced it, making Apple now the most popular brand across even more key CE categories.”

iBeacons used to provide location-based access to iOS Newsstand publications

Darrell Etherington writes for TechCrunch about the use of iBeacons to deliver location-based access to iOS Newsstand publications.

The tech is very handy in a number of scenarios, as in a coffee shop for instance, where the establishment could subscribe and enable access to full magazines to patrons who come in. It’s made even more convenient with the addition of iBeacons on iOS, as the whole digital handshake can happen automatically, providing the user with the best possible and most frictionless experience. Another possible use is in modernizing the doctor’s office, offering up publications in the waiting room that are more useful and more current than five-year old issues of Good Housekeeping.

When iBeacons for iOS 7 was announced, there was talk of using the technology to provide location-based marketing and triggers. It can also be used to help with indoor navigation. Incidentally, Apple’s recent acquisition of PrimeSense also points towards the possibility of Apple moving into indoor mapping and navigation.

The use of iBeacons is still in its infancy. I’m very excited by the prospect of what it can bring in the future. Imagine walking into a restaurant and the menu is pushed to your phone. You get to place your order on your phone and you get billed via your digital wallet.