whats known and unknown

Android this week: $99 Moto X coming; Google bought WIMM; Nexus 4 price cut


The wooden backs for Motorola’s(s goog) Moto X shown off at the handset’s launch event may be here soon. Noted tipster Evleaks tweeted out images and information on the price and availability. He expects them to add $50 to the cost of a Moto X handset when they arrive in the fourth quarter, which actually starts tomorrow. Also noteworthy is an expected price cut he reports:

Neither bit is terribly surprising although some who have already purchased a Moto X could be unhappy by the news. However, it’s common for most Android handsets to see a price cut within a few months of launch. And it’s likely most new Moto X owners are still within their return policy so if they really wanted to wait for…

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7 stories to read this weekend


Well, the summer is over and it is time for everyone to go back to school. As the U.S. takes one long weekend before getting back to work in earnest, I wanted to offer you a list of stories that will make for good reading.

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Facebook is hiring a data scientist, but you’ll have to fight for the job


Facebook (s fb) is looking to hire a new data scientist, but rather than sift through résumés it’s planning to sift through algorithms. The company is turning to the data-science competition platform Kaggle to host a contest that will determine who gets brought in for an interview. This is the third time Facebook has used Kaggle to identify possible data scientists.

The challenge this time around involves text mining. Specifically:

“This competition tests your text skills on a large dataset from the Stack Exchange sites.  The task is to predict the tags (a.k.a. keywords, topics, summaries), given only the question text and its title. The dataset contains content from disparate stack exchange sites, containing a mix of both technical and non-technical questions.”

The competition began at 4:00 p.m. UTC on Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. UTC on Dec. 20.

In a hiring environment where demand outstrips supply — especially…

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Microsoft lets shareholder activist ValueAct into the tent


Shareholder activism has its rewards. Microsoft(s msft) has forged an unusual pact with ValueAct Capital, which bought a $2 billion stake in the company in April. That was less than 1 percent of outstanding shares, but it still made ValueAct one of Microsoft’s 15 largest shareholders.

ValueAct president Mason Morfit now gets access to “selected Microsoft directors and management to discuss a range of significant business issues” and, he gets a board seat if he wants it — and everyone’s pretty sure he wants it. Microsoft’s annual shareholders’ meeting is slated for November 19.

Microsoft’s been under the gun for years for a flagging share price and concerns about top management. By most accounts those concerns forced an about-face by CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates that led to Ballmer’s decision, made public last week, to step down as CEO within the year. Ballmer will remain on the…

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This can’t be good for Dropbox for Business


In what could be a speed bump in  Dropbox’s drive to attract paying business customers, two researchers said they were able to reverse-engineer the encryption of the Dropbox client.

On the plus side from Dropbox’s perspective is that that the two, Dhiru Kholia of Openwall and Przemyslaw Wegrzyn of CodePainters, clearly meant well, and presented their findings at the USENIX Security Conference this week. In other words, they are legit.

On the other hand, they proved it’s possible to untangle the Python code used to build Dropbox client encryption even though that code was “obfuscated” to make such reverse engineering difficult. And the publicity around that might make it harder for Dropbox to gain traction in businesses that are already wiggy about bringing the consumer fan fave — which they might think is insecure — in house.

The two engineers, as security blogger Michael Mimoso pointed out, also demonstrated “how to…

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Apple’s reported vacation blackout further points to September 20 iPhone launch


It looks like T-Mobile(s tmus) and AT&T aren’t the only companies issuing mid-September blackout dates for employees. According to an alleged internal company document leaked to AppleInsider, Apple(s aapl) has issued a vacation blackout period for Apple Care employees from September 15-28. If this is true, it is just further evidence pointing to the highly rumored September 20 launch date for the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C.

Whereas T-Mobile’s purported blackout period is only for the first weekend the new iPhones are expected to go on sale, Apple Care employees also must deal with the launch of iOS 7, so the longer blackout period makes sense.

Apple blackout dates

In the past, iPhones have typically been made available around a week and a half after the announcement. Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 5S and the lower-priced iPhone 5C at an event on September 10, so a…

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Scoop: Google acquired WIMM Labs to bolster its own smartwatch plans


Watch out, Samsung: Google (s GOOG) has some smartwatch development projects of its own, and it quietly snapped up Los Altos, Calif.-based WIMM Labs last year to kickstart these efforts. WIMM Labs not only gives Google the talent and technology to build a smartwatch, but actually an Android-based app platform tailored for consumers’ wrists.

WIMM Labs was incubated around five years ago by Pillar Ventures, the investment company of former Rambus (S RMBS) President Dave Morring, who subsequently became WIMM’s CEO. The company first developed an Android-based developer platform for wearable displays, and then followed up in late 2011 with its own, developer-centric smartwatch dubbed the WIMM One.

An exclusive, confidential relationship

But about a year ago, WIMM Labs suddenly went dark. The company deleted its Twitter accounts, stopped sales of the WIMM One, and published the following message on its website:

“During the summer of 2012, WIMM…

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Microsoft and Google say feds’ plan for spy report falls flat, push court case


It’s not often that Microsoft(s msft) and Google(s goog) find common ground, but the NSA’s PRISM controversy has afforded them the rare opportunity to take a joint stand — and perhaps grandstand a bit. The companies will press on with previous plans to sue the government in hopes of forcing an accelerated release of information about its data collection practices.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith disclosed the plan in a blog post on Friday. He said that news Thursday that the government will publish the number of national security requests for customer data once a year is “a good start” but not enough.

In June, both companies filed motions with the court overseeing much of the surveillance seeking permission to publish the number of secret court orders they received under the FISA Amendment Act.  Since then, the government asked for — and got — six extensions to respond to the…

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The thin blue line: Is Twitter mostly for news delivery or for having conversations?


Cosmetic or design changes in a service often cause an outcry among users, but Twitter’s launch of a new “conversation” feature seems to have triggered a kind of existential angst for many, particularly those who have come to see it in a very specific way — i.e., as a real-time news delivery service where links or updates are the most important thing. But is that the real purpose of Twitter, or is it supposed to be a place where people can carry on conversations about important topics? The two may not be mutually exclusive, but the tension between them is likely to be an ongoing issue for the company.

In case you are just catching up, here’s how it works: when users reply to a tweet, the new feature connects that reply to the original tweet with a thin blue line, and strings together up to three replies…

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The GigaOM Show: Twitter conversations, YC’s controversy and Nokia’s connected car


To kind of quote Dante from Clerks, we were “supposed to be off today,” given the impending holiday, the Bay Area bridge-a-mageddon, and the general slowness of the news at the end of summer. But then Twitter went ahead and created a new conversation view ahead of a potential IPO, Y Combinator’s Paul Graham said some dumb things about entrepreneurs with accents, and Nokia made its automotive play. So, for your listening pleasure, the last GigaOM Show of the summer!

Download this episode

The GigaOM Show RSS Feed

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Stitcher

Hosts: Chris Albrecht, Tom Krazit
Guests: Kevin Fitchard

Twitter’s conversational re-design.

Paul Graham’s comments on entrepreneurs with accents.

Nokia unveils Here Auto.

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Twitter’s head lawyer and free speech champion is leaving


Alexander Macgillivray is stepping down as Twitter’s general counsel, a post where he not only guided the company’s legal strategy but also gave it a reputation as a vigorous advocate for free speech.

Macgillivray, the Canadian former-Googler known to everyone as Amac, disclosed the news in a tweet Friday:

In a blog post, Macgillivray proudly described the work he did at the company. He did not provide specific reasons for moving on, only stating he looked forward to pursuing “my various internet passions from new and different perspectives, seeing friends and family without distraction, and just goofing off a bit. We should all do more of that.”

According to AllThingsD, sources at the company speculate that Macgillivray’s stock options have vested after…

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These are the companies alleged to have links to the NSA surveillance scandal


The global surveillance scandal involves many players in the corporate world and — thanks to Edward Snowden — details of their identities and relationships with the NSA and other intelligence agencies continue to dribble out.

Many publications are doing fine work carrying these stories, but the information is a tad scattered. So I thought it might be useful to compile a list of the companies that are thought to be involved in Prism, Tempora, Blarney and all the other mysteriously codenamed sub-programs that add up to a near-global surveillance network.

This list will be updated as and when new information comes in (please do note omissions in the comments below).

Web/mobile firms

The companies named in the original Prism scandal are as follows:

  • Microsoft(s msft)
  • Apple(s aapl)
  • Facebook(s fb)
  • Google(s goog)
  • Paltalk
  • AOL(s aol)
  • Yahoo

All have denied giving the NSA “direct access” to their servers, but Snowden has…

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AT&T takes its Aio prepaid service nationwide


AT&T’s(s t) experiment with a separately branded prepaid mobile service is about to go nationwide. Aio Wireless will be available to any U.S. customer in mid-September via its online portal.

My colleague Kevin Tofel covered the details of Aio’s pricing in May when AT&T took the service live in Houston, Tx. and Tampa and Orlando, Fla. The unlimited talk and texting plans come with data buckets ranging in size from 250 MB to 7 GB. Customers can select from Aio’s feature phones or smartphones or bring their own  AT&T-compatible device.

Aio’s hefty and cheap data plans clearly target heavy data users unwilling to sign up for AT&T’s contracts. That’s why it was odd that at launch Aio didn’t run over AT&T’s LTE network, only its HSPA systems. AT&T quickly rectified that in June, however, sending out an update to customer’s SIM cards that allowed their phones to tap…

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Spy chief says U.S. will publish transparency report this fall


James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence for the Obama administration, says his office will publish its first annual transparency report later this year in order to show how often America’s spy services are requesting data from tech and phone companies.

In a statement reported by the Washington Post, Clapper says the government will for the first time disclose how many requests it makes. It will also break the requests into categories like National Security Letters (used by the FBI and other agencies use to obtain information on American) and so-called FISA-letters, which are targeted at foreigners.

Clapper’s decision to reveal stats related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is particularly significant because, until now, all FISA requests — some of which ensnare Americans — are overseen by a controversial secret court. And while companies like Google(s goog) have been asking the secret court for permission to disclose how many…

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You can trade in your old iPhone at Apple stores starting today


Widely expected to launch today, Apple(s aapl) confirmed to CNBC that its in-store iPhone trade-in program has officially started. There’s still no information about the program on Apple’s site, but starting today, you can get credit for your old iPhone by bringing it to an Apple store through the iPhone Reuse and Recycling Program.

There’s a bit of a catch. Unlike many other trade-in programs, CNBC is reporting that customers must sign a new contract in order to take advantage of the promotion. This is fine if you were already planning to pick up a new iPhone, but it’s a letdown for anyone that wanted to simply trade their old phone in for some cash or a gift card.

Pricing has not been announced, but don’t forget that Apple has already offered a Reuse and Recycling Program online for quite some time, and not just for iPhones. All you…

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ZigBee wants to be the Bluetooth of the internet of things. Too bad everyone hates it.


Poor ZigBee. As a wireless standard, it has long faced an identity crisis that pitted it against Wi-Fi in the home and proprietary standards or Bluetooth for low-data rates. But as companies such as Comcast(s cmcsa) embrace the connected home and thanks to an acquisition last year, the standard could get its day in the sun and a place in the home.

Meet ZigBee, a confused standard

ZigBee is designed to carry small amounts of data over a mid-range distance and consume very little power. It’s also a mesh networking standard so the sensors can carry other data along to the hub. Its closest analog is the proprietary Z-wave standard that comes on chips made by Sigma Designs.

If you own a Nest thermostat, Comcast’s recent router or a Hue lightbulb you have ZigBee chips inside your home already.

But as those devices illustrate, ZigBee has been plagued…

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Good deal: Microsoft’s Surface price cuts are permanent


Thought you might miss out on Microsoft’s(s msft) Surface price cuts because they’re expiring? Nope, that’s not the case at all. According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, they’re permanent, indicating a new wave of Surface devices in the works. With Windows 8.1 launching in mid-October, it’s a safe bet that month will also include new hardware announcements.

In the meantime, consumers can save $100 on either a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet — $799 to start — or a Surface RT tablet, the base model now priced at $349. And as reported earlier this week, Microsoft is dropping the price of its Touch Cover for both devices. Going forward, the snap-on keyboard will cost $79.99. Microsoft is also dropping the price of its Surface RT bundle, which includes a keyboard, to $399.

Microsoft’s hardware partners aren’t sitting still either. I noticed, for example, that the Asus VivoTab Smart can be…

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Pressy meets its Kickstarter goal (and then some) in under one day


As smartphones become more and more streamlined, we’re starting to see fewer physical buttons. But haven’t you ever wanted to be able to open up your camera app and fire off a shot with just one simple click? Now that Pressy, a new third-party Android(s good) accessory, has met its Kickstarter goal, you’ll be able to do this, and a whole lot more, right through your phone’s headphone jack.

Pressy is a tiny physical button that fits into your phone’s standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Simply plug it in, download the Pressy companion app, and you can program the button to your heart’s content. Out of the box it comes with three preset actions, allowing you to turn on your phone’s flashlight with one short click, toggle silent mode with a long click, and snap a photo with a double-click.

Pressy image

But it can get a lot more advanced than…

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Kobo stops using the Amazon-owned Goodreads API


Maybe this was inevitable since Amazon (s AMZN) acquired book-based social network Goodreads (see disclosure), but Kobo has stopped using the Goodreads API on its website and in its apps, Good E-Reader reports.

That means no more Goodreads ratings and reviews on Kobo book pages. It sounds as if the decision was driven by Kobo, not Goodreads or Amazon: The company’s chief content officer Michael Tamblyn tells Good E-reader that Kobo might re-add the Goodreads API in the future. And back in March when Amazon acquired Goodreads, the companies told me they would leave the Goodreads API open and would not shut off the Kobo feed. (Update: Goodreads confirmed it’s made no changes to its API.)

Nonetheless, the move demonstrates the risk of relying on what is now a competing retailer’s API. At one point, Goodreads actually encountered a similar problem itself: In early 2012, it stopped sourcing its…

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HTC introduces Fetch and Mini+ Bluetooth accessories


HTC might be working on a big new phone, but apparently it also had enough time to crank out two interesting new Bluetooth accessories. The HTC Fetch and the HTC Mini+ are niche products, for sure, but if you’re invested in HTC’s product ecosystem they might be worth a look.

First up is the Fetch (pictured above), which is a small key ring accessory that uses NFC and Bluetooth to help you keep tabs on your HTC smartphone. It brings to mind Nokia’s(s nok) Treasure Tags. Simply pair your phone to the Fetch, and if you lose track of it, press the button on the Fetch to make your phone ring from a distance of up to 50 feet. The Fetch itself can also be triggered to beep when your phone is no longer within reach. HTC claims battery life should last up to six months on a…

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