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January 16, 2014

Facebook Rolls Out Trending Topics

Facebook Trending Topics

This morning's 86th Academy Awards nominations became instant social media fodder: Who got snubbed? Who is undeserving? When will they rename the event The Meryls? But it's easy to lose track of the discussion.

Facebook today began rolling out its new Trending feature, designed to surface relevant conversations—like the upcoming Oscars telecast—and help users discover more content.

Desktop users in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, and Australia will begin seeing the new Trending box on the top right side of the homepage. Denoted by squiggly blue arrows, the topics range from people (Bruce Springsteen, Rex Ryan) to events (Academy Awards, Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show) to places (J.C. Penney).

Each topic is accompanied by a bold headline and a brief explanation of why it is trending; click on the title to open a separate feed of dedicated articles, videos, photos, status updates from friends, public Pages, and other fans.

Only those posts that have been shared by friends or made Public will appear on the page.

In the same vein as Twitter's popular Trending Topics function, Facebook is using an algorithm to highlight subjects that have seen a sharp increase in popularity. The list is not based on overall volume of posts about a topic.



January 10, 2014

Facebook Ditching Sponsored Stories in April

Facebook logo

If you're not down with Facebook's Sponsored Stories, we have some good news–the troubled ad units are going kaput.

"Facebook will sunset the creation of sponsored stories," the social network told developers in a Thursday blog post. "Domain and open graph sponsored stories will no longer be allowed to be created. Existing domain and open graph sponsored stories will cease to have delivery after April 9th."

Facebook in 2011 began rolling out Sponsored Stories, first to the sidebar then on the ticker, the real-time menu on the right side of the homepage that displays virtually all of your friends' Facebook activity. While the ads are paid content, they appear as the activity of your friends or as Pages people have Liked. The idea is that they're less invasive than typical ads.

But sponsored stories haven't exactly been smooth sailing for Facebook. The social network earlier this year was forced to pony up a cool $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the feature. The settlement included about 150 million Facebook users who were each entitled to receive $15 for a valid claim.



January 9, 2014

Google+ Users Can Now Email You Without Your Gmail Address

Gmail Google+ Connections

Depending on how you look at it, Google now has a very useful or very creepy new use for Google+: The search giant is allowing Gmail users to contact any Google+ connection, regardless of relationship.

Didn't exchange email addresses with a business colleague or personal acquaintance, but suddenly need to get in touch? Just type the connection's name into the email's recipient field, and send your message.

This move, according to Google product manager David Nachum, is an extension of some 2011 improvements to the email service and social network which help users grow their circles, filter emails and contacts, and automatically keep all data up to date.

"These emails work a bit differently so that your email address is only shared with the people you want," Nachum wrote in a blog post. Your address will not be visible to a Google+ connection until you actually send a message, and vice versa.



January 9, 2014

Snapchat Updates App, Issues Belated Apology for Data Leak

Snapchat

Snapchat today released an app update that it says fixes a vulnerability with its Find Friends feature, and issued a somewhat belated apology for the recent data leak of data from 4.6 million member accounts.

Version 6.1.1 of Snapchat is now live via the App Store and Google Play. It "improves Find Friends functionality and allows Snapchatters to opt-out of linking their phone number with their username." Opt out by navigating to Settings > Mobile #.

Those who still want to use Find Friends must now verify their phones numbers before it will work.

At issue is Snapchat's Find Friends feature, which lets Snapchatters enter their phone number so friends can find their username. "This means that if you enter your phone number into Find Friends, someone who has your phone number in his or her address book can find your username," according to Snapchat.

In August, Gibson Security published a report about vulnerabilities within Find Friends. The firm said it tried but "failed" to contact Snapchat about these problems prior to the report's publication. Gibson then revealed that "someone [could] easily create a database of the usernames and phone numbers of users of the Snapchat application, in a small timeframe, using phone numbers automatically provided to the app."



January 6, 2014

Seagate Slim Drive Offers Phone, Social Media Backup

Seagate Backup Plus Slim

Seagate this week announced the second generation of its Seagate Backup Plus external storage drive at CES.

Called the Seagate Backup Plus Slim, the drive offers a USB 3.0 interface and up to 2TB capacity. The big features, however, are the bundled apps that allow you to back up your photos and videos on Flickr and Facebook albums (even shared ones you are tagged in), as well as back up photos and videos from your mobile devices.

The Backup Plus Slim is a compact 3 by 4.5 by 0.38 inches (HWD) and weighs about 5.29 ounces. It's available in four colors: red, blue, black, and silver. It comes bundled with an 18-inch USB 3.0 cable, as well as a two-year warranty.

The introduction of the Seagate Mobile App means users will also be able to back up their iOS and Android devices to the drive. Users simply load the app to their phone or tablet. The app then backs up all the photos and videos from the device to the drive or to a cloud service. If the drive is connected to a home network, the backup can occur via Wi-Fi. Users can also back up to Google Drive or Dropbox.



January 3, 2014

Twitter’s Vine Launches Web Profiles

Vine Web Profiles

Until now, Vine users have been limited to viewing their six-second videos on the service's mobile apps, but the Twitter-owned service today opened Vine to the Web.

Users can now log in at vine.co to view their friends' videos in the home feed, and like, comment on, and share content just as they would on the mobile apps. Click the person icon on the top right of the screen, meanwhile, to peruse your own Vine videos online.

Also in the top right is a TV icon; click it for TV Mode, a larger view of the Vine videos on your screen. Videos will play in sequence, but you still have to click on them to enable the sound. Select the arrows to scroll through available Vines.

"This release is just a first step toward bringing you a richer, more enjoyable Web experience," Vine engineer Janessa Det said in a blog post. "We look forward to introducing more improvements in 2014."

Web profiles arrive on the heels of Vine's new vanity URLs, which launched late last month. At this point, though, only those who actually use Vine are eligible: You'll need to be active on the site for at least 30 days and have posted more than two videos to snag a vanity URL. If you're feeling less than creative, Twitter automatically reserves your micro-blogging handle, but you must register on Vine to confirm it.

Those who do not qualify for a vanity Vine URL will simply have a series of numbers at the end of their Vine profile link for now.

Vine rival Instagram, which added video recording last year, rolled out Web profiles in Nov. 2012.



January 3, 2014

After Leak, Snapchat Promises to Fix Bug Via App Update

Snapchat

Snapchat on Thursday acknowledged a recent leak of 4.6 million usernames and phone numbers, and said an updated version of the app will let users opt out of participating in the compromised feature.

The company stopped short of apologizing for the leak, and seemed to blame Gibson Security for "publicly document[ing] our API, making it easier for individuals to abuse our service and violate our Terms of Use."

At issue is Snapchat's Find Friends feature, which lets Snapchatters enter their phone number so friends can find their username. "This means that if you enter your phone number into Find Friends, someone who has your phone number in his or her address book can find your username," according to Snapchat.

In August, Gibson Security published a report about vulnerabilities within Find Friends. The firm said it tried but "failed" to contact Snapchat about these problems prior to the report's publication.

"The only contact we've received from Snapchat was one email from Micah Schaffer (Snapchat's Director of Operations) on 28/12/2013," Gibson said on its website.



January 1, 2014

4.6M Snapchat Usernames, Phone Numbers Leaked Online

Snapchat

The usernames and phone numbers for 4.6 million Snapchat accounts were temporarily posted online by hackers who took advantage of a previously disclosed vulnerability within the chat service.

SnapchatDB.info went live last night and allowed visitors to download the database of Snapchat user info, though the last two digits of the phone numbers were censored "in order to minimize spam and abuse."

The site has since been pulled offline (because the hosting provider was "intimidated by the overwhelming attention," SnapchatDB told The Verge), but a cached version is still available.

"You are downloading 4.6 million users' phone number information, along with their usernames," those behind SnapchatDB.info wrote. "People tend to use the same username around the web so you can use this information to find phone number information associated with Facebook and Twitter accounts, or simply to figure out the phone numbers of people you wish to get in touch with."

The move comes after Gibson Security last week revealed several vulnerabilities within the Snapchat app. One of those bugs could allow "someone to easily create a database of the usernames and phone numbers of users of the Snapchat application, in a small timeframe, using phone numbers automatically provided to the app," Gibson said.



December 29, 2013

Snapchat Responds to Security Exploits with Undisclosed Tweaks

Snapchat

The phrase "additional counter-measures" isn't really the kind of thing you expect to find in one of your (presumably) favorite smartphone apps — unless there's some kind of Wargames-themed app on your phone.

However, that's exactly what Snapchat developers are now deploying in response to this week's revelations by security researchers surrounding the matching of Snapchat user names to real-life phone numbers.

The report, published by Gibson Security on Christmas Eve, details how one can use publicly available versions of Snapchat's API to perform mass-lookups of users' Snapchat IDs based on submitted phone numbers.

"We did some back-of-the-envelope calculations based on some number crunching we did (on an unused range of numbers). We were able to crunch through 10 thousand phone numbers (an entire sub-range in the American number format (XXX) YYY-ZZZZ - we did the Z's) in approximately 7 minutes on a gigabit line on a virtual server," reads Gibson Security's blog post.

"Given some asynchronous optimizations, we believe that you could potentially crunch through that many in as little as a minute and a half (or, as a worst case, two minutes). This means you'd be railing through as many as 6666 phone numbers a minute (or, in our worst case, 5000!)."



December 16, 2013

Facebook Gives Back With ‘Donate Now’ Button

Facebook Donate

In lieu of holiday gifts, some people prefer to give money to a friend or family member's favorite charity. This year, Facebook is simplifying the process by rolling out easy donations to nonprofits.

Visit any of the 19 participating organizations' Facebook pages to donate, or look out for the "Donate Now" button beside News Feed posts to make a contribution.

"In times of disaster or crisis, people turn to Facebook to check on loved ones, get updates, and to learn how they can help," a Facebook statement said.

Just last month, the social network partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross to open the site to donations for relief in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

"After seeing the generosity of people around the world toward this effort, we've been inspired to help everyone donate, at any time, to the organizations they care most about," the site said.