Facebook wants 4 billion more users: bringing data to the developing world

"No one company can really do this by itself:" Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.“No one company can really do this by itself:” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: New York Times

About one of every seven people in the world uses Facebook. Now, Mark Zuckerberg, its co-founder and chief executive, wants to make a play for the rest – including the four billion or so who lack internet access.

Facebook is set to announce an effort aimed at drastically cutting the cost of delivering basic internet services on mobile phones, particularly in developing countries, where Facebook and other tech companies need to find new users. Half a dozen of the world’s tech giants, including Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson, have agreed to work with the company on the initiative, which they call Internet.org.

We think it’s something good for the world rather than something that is going to be really amazing for our profits.

Mark Zuckerberg

The companies intend to accomplish their goal in part by simplifying phone applications so they run more efficiently and by improving the components of phones and networks so that they transmit more data while using less battery power.

From left: Facebook executives Jay Parikh, Javier Olivan and Aaron Bernstein at the company's offices in Menlo Park, California.From left: Facebook executives Jay Parikh, Javier Olivan and Aaron Bernstein at the company’s offices in Menlo Park, California. Photo: New York Times

For Zuckerberg, the formation of the coalition is yet another way in which he is trying to position himself as an industry leader. He has been speaking out more forcefully than other tech executives on topics such as immigration overhaul, which the industry sees as critical to its hiring needs. With Internet.org, he is laying out a philosophy that tries to pair humanitarian goals with the profit motive.


“The internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” he said in a recent interview. “Ultimately, this has to make business sense on some time frame that people can get behind.”

But the effort is also a reflection of how tech companies are trying to meet Wall Street’s demands for growth by attracting customers beyond saturated markets in the US and Europe, even if they have to help build services and some of the infrastructure in poorer, less digitally sophisticated parts of the world.

Google, for example, began a program with phone carriers last year that offers wireless users in some developing countries free access to Gmail, search and the first page clicked through from a search’s results. Google is also reaching for the sky with Project Loon, an attempt to beam internet access from plastic balloons floating more than 19 kilometres in the air.

Twitter, which is preparing to offer shares to the public in an initial stock offering, has struck its own deals with about 250 mobile phone companies in more than 100 countries to offer some free Twitter access and worked to make sure its service is easy to use on even the cheapest handsets.

These companies have little choice but to look overseas for growth. Almost 40 per cent of Australians check Facebook every day, while more than half of Americans use the social network at least once a month, and usage in the rest of the developed world is similarly heavy. There is nearly one active mobile phone for every person on earth, making expansion a challenge for mobile carriers and phone makers.

Poorer countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America present the biggest opportunity to reach new customers – if companies can figure out how to get people there online at low cost.

The immediate goals of the new coalition are to cut the cost of providing mobile internet services to 1 per cent of its current level within five to 10 years by improving the efficiency of internet networks and mobile phone software. The group also hopes to develop business models that would allow phone companies to provide simple services such as email, search and social networks for little or no charge.

While that sounds far less exciting than, say, Google’s idea of delivering the internet by balloon, Zuckerberg says small efforts can add up to big changes.

“No one company can really do this by itself,” he said.

Facebook is already working on techniques to reduce the average amount of data used by its Android mobile app from the current 12 megabytes a day to 1 megabyte without users’ noticing.

Qualcomm, whose chip technology is prevalent in advanced smartphones, has created new designs to stretch a phone’s battery life, slice the amount of data needed to transmit a video and extend the reach of mobile networks through tiny devices similar to Wi-Fi routers.

The coalition partners have also begun trying new ways of reducing the data charges paid by mobile customers while still enabling phone makers and carriers to make money.

For example, Nokia, the Finnish phone maker, ran a recent experiment with Facebook and the Mexican phone carrier Telcel, in which it bundled free Facebook access with some of its Asha feature phones. Sales rose significantly, and the company decided to run similar promotions for customers of Bharti Airtel, a mobile carrier in India and Africa.

However, the Internet.org team does not plan to tackle some thorny infrastructure issues that are huge barriers in the developing world, particularly the long-distance transmission of data to far-flung places.

Michuki Mwangi, regional development manager for Africa at the Internet Society, a non-profit group that has long worked to expand global internet access, said the continent sorely lacked local interconnection points, forcing most requests for content such as YouTube videos to be routed through Europe at high cost.

Creating more connection points would require navigating a thicket of government interests and powerful incumbents. But at the very least, the group would like Facebook and Google to put copies of their content on a greater number of African servers to deliver it more quickly and cheaply, something that both companies say they are considering.

As with the Open Compute coalition started by Facebook in 2011 to improve the efficiency of data centres, Facebook will seek to add partners to Internet.org, including national governments, mobile phone carriers and Microsoft, a longtime Facebook ally that has its own projects to expand access.

But Google – whose search and YouTube video products are as fundamental as Facebook’s social network to many internet users – is likely to remain outside the group.

For one, its own efforts to expand internet access are aggressive. In addition, the company is constantly refining its Android software, which runs the majority of new smartphones sold, to improve efficiency and battery life.

“We’re always making investments in technology and programs to help people get online,” said Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman. “We have teams around the world working on products tailored to local needs.”

Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recently suggested that Project Loon and similar projects were not the best use of resources to help people in the poorest nations.

“When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that,” he said in a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that basic health care is essential but said that “if you can afford a phone, I think it would be really good for you to have access to the internet.”

The potential is already obvious in places such as the Philippines, where the second-largest mobile phone company, Globe Telecom, has used free Twitter, Facebook or Google access as promotions to increase the number of its 37 million users who also subscribe to a mobile data plan to 20 per cent from virtually zero in two years.

“Once you’re connected, you’re connected, and you don’t want to look back,” said Peter Bithos, Globe’s senior adviser for consumer business.

For Facebook, which generates most of its revenue from selling advertising that it shows to its users, the immediate profits from expanding internet access will be minimal, Zuckerberg said, although he acknowledged that the long-term potential was there.

“We’re focused on it more because we think it’s something good for the world,” he said, “rather than something that is going to be really amazing for our profits.”

New York Times


Sony names PlayStation 4 launch dates

Shoppers in the US and Canada will be the first to be able to buy the PS4 from stores

Sony has announced the launch dates for its PlayStation 4 console.

The next-generation games machine will become available in North America on 15 November and Europe on 29 November.

Its rival Microsoft has only said that the Xbox One will go on sale some time the same month.

Experts suggested that the latest revelation might help gain the Japanese firm headlines, but that it would be software that ultimately decided which company came out on top.

“Sony has made fantastic progress as it prepares to release the PS4, but the console still lacks a show-stopping exclusive game,” said Rob Crossley, associate editor at the Computer and Video Games news site, following the announcement at the Gamescom trade fair in Cologne.

“That will certainly come eventually, but some might argue the most crucial time is now.

“Sony’s press conference once again demonstrated the company has an enviably deep and meaningful relationship with the indie developer community… but Sony executives will no doubt be feeling uneasy as the list of major Xbox One exclusive games continues to grow.”

Lewis Ward, a games expert at the consultants IDC, agreed that at this point the launch date was of limited importance.

“If it turns out that the PS4 goes on sale a week before the Xbox One, for example, then clearly Sony will have time to itself to make some hay,” he said.

“But until we know when Microsoft is going to land I’m not sure what putting the date out there does much beyond making a news story – it won’t change people’s buying intentions.”

Sony said there had already been more than one million pre-orders of its new console worldwide. It added that a total of 32 countries would be able to buy the PS4 during the Christmas holiday season.

Vita price cut

A “re-imagined” Shadow of the Beast was announced as an exclusive for the PS4

Previously unannounced PS4 titles unveiled in Germany included:
  • Shadow of the Beast – a reboot of the 1980s Commodore Amiga title – as a Sony exclusive
  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a post-apocalyptic game from the UK-based developers of cult title Dear Esther
  • Minecraft, the landscape-building title which has already been a hit on the Xbox 360 and PCs

Sony also announced a price cut to its handheld console, the PlayStation Vita.

It said the “wi-fi only” version of the device would now cost $199 (£127) excluding tax – a $50 reduction. It also promised cheaper memory cards.

Similar cuts are being made in Europe. Retailers in the UK are now listing the model for about £170 including bundled games. The machine’s price was reduced earlier in the year in Japan.

“The handheld business has not been performing well, but I think a $50 cut will push up Vita sales significantly,” said Mr Ward.

“But the real driver over the long term will be must-have games and the choice is still thinner than some consumers would want.”

Internet Rewards White Hat Facebook Hacker

Facebook Hacker Reward Fund

Facebook may have stiffed Palestinian security researcher Khalil Shreateh, but the Internet is riding to the rescue.

And the white hat hacker stands to collect a whole lot more than the $500 reward Facebook won’t pay him for discovering a zero-day vulnerability on the site—thanks to a GoFundMe collection taken up for Shreateh, he’s currently parlaying that relatively paltry sum into $10,000 and counting.

After Shreateh discovered a glitch that he said allowed people to post to other Facebook users’ Timelines, he notified the social network’s bug-disclosure and bounty program in several emails but got the brush off in response.

So the unemployed bug-hunter upped the stakes, big time. A few days ago, Shreateh used the loophole he’d discovered to post a message about the glitch on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own profile page.

That certainly got everybody’s attention.

Facebook hastened to fix the vulnerability but in the aftermath of the embarrassing episode, made it known that Shreateh wouldn’t be paid the $500 reward the bounty program offers to folks who notify the social network about such glitches. It turns out you’re not supposed to actually hack the site to prove that an exploit you’ve discovered is a real thing. That little no-no is actually plainly stated in the program’s guidelines.

So that puts Facebook in the position of being technically correct about withholding a reward for Shreateh. But it’s a decision that apparently doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, nonetheless.

And some of them are doing something about it.

On Tuesday, ZDNet’s Michael Lee spotted the GoFundMe campaign to raise some cash for Shreateh. It was started on Monday by BeyondTrust CTO Marc Maiffret, who kicked in $3,000 to get the ball rolling.

As Lee reports, Firas Bushnaq, the founder of BeyondTrust property eEye Digital Security, added another $3,000 and then it was off to the races—in less than 24 hours, contributors have taken the fund all the way to its $10,000 goal and beyond.

As of Tuesday evening, the tip jar for the man who hacked Mark Zuckerberg contained $10,320.

Google raises bug reporting rewards to $5000

Google had recently announced that it is considering offering as much as $5000 to those people who report bugs under the Chromium and Google Web Vulnerability Reward Programs. And less than two weeks later, the company has gone on record to confirm this bit of news.

According to a report on PTI, Google has already implemented the new rewards which are as much as 5 times more than the previous ones. Basically, the search engine giant’s big bounty program encourages people across the world to detect bugs and other problems with the Chrome browser or the operating system. And those who manage to spot these are rewarded with money based on how harmful the bug is.

Google Logo

The company based in Mountain View has received 2000 security reports ever since it started the initiative about three years ago. And Google had disclosed the amount of cash that it has given out in this time period to all the people who sent those reports in, through a blog post on the official Online Security blog. The total stands at a whopping $2,000,000. Over a million is for Chromium VRP, while the rest of the money has been offered as rewards to those who detected vulnerabilities in Google Web VRP.

The Search engine will give $5000 to those who notice problems that pose a significant threat and provide a detailed analysis of the severity of these bugs. And the already-implemented bonuses, will continue to be given to those who spot errors.

And people who have found bugs can head over to the official website for more information.

Samsung pips Nokia to No. 1 spot in India

Samsung has become the No. 1 mobile handset company in India, knocking Nokia, which had been India’s best-selling phone for a decade, off its perch, according to latest data released by industry magazine Voice & Data.

The South Korean firm, which has been saturating the market

with a wide array of its Galaxy range phones, is now the clear market leader with 31.5% market share for the fiscal year 2012/13. Nokia India dropped to the number two spot with 27.2% market share, the survey, Indian Mobile Handsets Market 2012-13, found.


Indian brand Micromax is a distant third, with an 8.7% market share, followed by low-cost compatriot Karbonn (6.4% share).


Upscale Apple (3.6%), the iPhone maker, HTC (3.3%) and BlackBerry (3.1%) rank behind the locals.

“Samsung’s rise in the Indian market is attributed to its rich product portfolio (it has phones costing between Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 50,000) that cater to customers of all budget categories,” said the survey.

A Nokia spokesperson said the company does not comment on country-specific market share data. “We are in transition and are executing our strategy with urgency and at a new clock speed, even while operating in a fierce and fast-moving industry. We are happy with the progress we are making,” the spokesperson said

Zuckerberg’s account hacked to prove Facebook bug exists

A Palestinian information system expert says he was forced to post a bug report on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page after the social network’s security team failed to recognize that a critical vulnerability he found allows anyone to post on someone’s wall.

The vulnerability, which was reported by a man calling himself ‘Khalil,’ allows any Facebook user to post anything on the walls of other users – even when those users are not included in their list of friends. He reported the vulnerability through Facebook’s security feedback page, which offered a minimum reward of US$500 for each real security bug report.

However, the social network’s security team failed to acknowledge the bug, even though Khalil enclosed a link to a post he made on the timeline of a random girl who studied at the same college as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Sorry, this is not a bug,” Facebook’s security team said in response to Khalil’s second report, in which he offered to reproduce the discussed vulnerability on a test account of Facebook security expert.

Google servers go down for 5 minutes, web traffic falls 40 percent

For five minutes early on Saturday morning, the Internet stood still as all Google services including Gmail, Drive, Maps and Chat suffered an outage and didn’t function.

The Google App Dashboard documented this brief outage as all apps provided by the search giant went down for around 5 minutes.

The app dashboard for Gmail had the following message for users:

We’re aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are able to access Gmail, but are seeing error messages and/or other unexpected behavior. 

A similar message was visible for all other apps that were down.

No search for five minutes? AFP

No search for five minutes? AFP

In India the outage took place on Saturday morning around 5:07 am and unless you were checking your email or getting directions that early in the morning, its unlikely you would have noticed.

However, reports pointed out that internet traffic crashed for the five minutes that all Google services were down.

CNET reported that according to web analytics firm GoSquared, traffic on the internet dropped around 40 percent during those five minutes and perhaps only highlights the reliance of internet users on the search giant.

After Google returned to normal, internet traffic did as well and asCNET points out search engines like Yahoo! and Bing weren’t able to capitalise on Google’s outage, only highlighting our dependence on services Google provides.

Google hasn’t made any statement yet on what cause the outage.