6 ways your tech is spying on you


Tech spying Valentines DayEmbedded data: Foreign tourists taking a selfie with red roses on display for Valentines Day outside a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand. Exif data in your pictures can contain a lot of information about where you have been. — EPA

Compared with what’s already happening, Samsung’s warning not to discuss sensitive issues in front of its TVs seems pretty tame. But you can fight back.

SO, your TV might be spying on you. It probably just wanted to join in with the rest of the technology in your life because, let’s face it: if you live in the 21st century you’re probably monitored by half a dozen companies from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. (And if you wear a sleep tracker, it doesn’t even stop then.)

Compared with some of the technology that keeps a beady eye fixed on you, the news that Samsung’s privacy policy warns customers not to discuss sensitive information in front of their smart TVs is actually fairly tame. The warning relates to a voice-recognition feature that has to be explicitly invoked, and which only begins transmitting data when you say the activation phrase “hi, TV.”

But other tech that spies on you might not be so genteel. The uncomfortable fact is that your personal data is just another way to pay for products and services these days.

The adage “if you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” was coined in 2010, a lifetime ago in web terms, but it’s as true today as it always has been.

What’s changed now, though, is the number of ways companies are discovering to make sharing our data with them not something we grudgingly accept, but enthusiastically embrace.

Sure, they tell us, you can turn it off. But do you really want to?

1. Facebook’s “like” button

Even if you don’t use Facebook, you will have seen the company’s “like” button springing up in more and more places around the Internet, like a nasty case of chicken pox. If you click on it, you can like the page of a company, person or brand, all without leaving the website you’re on.

The uncomfortable fact is that your personal data is just another way to pay for products and services.

And then there’s Facebook share buttons and Facebook comments, both of which hook in to the company’s servers to provide their own features.

But it’s a two-way relationship: the price you pay for being able to interact with Facebook even without going to their website is that they can see the other websites you’re on, following you around the Internet and using that information to better target ads and content to you back on the mothership.

How to stop it: if you log out of Facebook when you’re done, the site’s ability to track your browsing is severely hampered. Of course, equally hampered is your ability to like things and comment on posts. Are you happy making that trade-off?

2. Smartphone location services

If you have an iPhone, try this: click on settings, then privacy, then location ­services, system services and frequent locations. You’ll notice a list of all the cities you’re in regularly.

Click on any specific city, and you’ll find that your phone knows all the locations you frequently visit. For me, that includes my home, local tube station and office, and also the pub I play Netrunner in, the house of one of my best friends and the comics shop I frequent.

Don’t feel smug if you use Android instead: Google keeps just as copious notes on your location and, unlike Apple, it is stored in the Cloud, where it can theoretically be subpoenaed by law enforcement or accessed by a suspicious partner who happens to know your password.

How to turn it off: both companies let you turn off location histories from the same pages you can look at yours. But if you do that, they’ll get a lot worse at giving you accurate and useful location suggestions. There’s that pesky trade-off again.

3. Uber

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a company that sells you cheap cabs through a slick app keeps data on your journeys. And that data is well-used by Uber to reassure customers that their journey is safe: the company will show you your ride history as well as information about your driver which can be crucial for solving disputes or, if the worst happens, ensuring justice.

But Uber hasn’t got the best history of using that data well. The company has had to apologise before for accessing a jour­nalist’s journey details in order to make rhetorical points, as well as remove a piece of “data journalism” looking at ride histories in aggregate to find out how many of their customers were using the service for one-night stands. They titled the post “rides of glory”.

How to turn it off: the best way would be not to use Uber. But there’s that trade-off again: old-school taxis, whether hailed from the street or called from a dispatch office, are going to end up charging you a lot more for your newly anonymous journey.

4. Mobile phone networks

Your mobile phone works by sending encrypted communications to and from masts, known as “cells”. Of course, especially in a built-up area, there’s likely to be more than one cell in range of your phone at any given time, and things would get confusing if they were all trying to run the call at the same time.

So your phone pairs with one particular cell, and “hands off” to a new one when you move around (the annoying clicks you get if you leave a phone next to an unshielded speaker is your phone checking in with a cell, to confirm it’s still alive).

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realise what this means: your mobile phone network has a record of where you’ve been, accurate to at least the range of the closest phone tower.

In practice, it’s probably quite a bit more accurate than that, as they can triangulate in using information from other towers in your area.

How to turn it off: stop using a mobile phone. Seriously, this one isn’t going away. If you’ve got a removable battery, you can try taking that out when you don’t want to be tracked, but whenever you turn your phone back on, your mobile phone network is going to know where you are.

5. Exif data in your pictures

Did you know that digital photographs contain information about the picture? Known as Exif data, the standard was ­created to hold stuff that photographers might find useful to know alongside the image, such as the focal length and aperture they used while taking it.

It’s used by professionals to embed contact information and copyright details, as well.

Of course, as with most standards, there’s been a bit of feature-­creep, and these days, Exif data can contain a whole lot more information.

In fact, if you’ve taken a picture with a smartphone, or even a modern digital ­camera, there’s a good chance that the picture records where it was taken using the built-in GPS.

That’s great for building maps of your holidays, but not so good if you’re trading snaps with strangers.

How to turn it off: most ­cameras let you disable embedding location data in the files, but the good news is that social networks are one step ahead of you – and this time, they’re on your side. Facebook and Twitter both strip the metadata from ­images uploaded to the site, causing a headache for users who need the extra information but protecting those who don’t know that they’re uploading potentially sensitive data.

6. Facial recognition

Have you ever used Facebook’s tag suggest feature? The social network can scan through your uploaded pictures to find ones with friends who haven’t been tagged, and offer you suggestions for who to add.

It’s a wonderful time-saver over doing it the manual way, even if careless use can lead to some social faux pas (try to avoid tagging someone you don’t like just because they’re in the background of another picture).

But Facebook, and Google – which offers a similar feature – can only do that because it’s been running facial-recognition software on photos uploaded to the site for years.

In September 2012, Facebook was even forced to disable the feature after the Irish data protection commissioner scolded it for doing so without permission.

How to turn it off: try to avoid being in photos or having friends. Easy! — ©Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015

By Alex Hern Sunday Star

How WhatsApp founder made it big from rags-to-riches?


WhatsApp_Founder Jan Koum

Once a cleaner at a grocery store, Koum’s fortune changed the day he got the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the Internet instead of sending SMS.

WhatsApp users worldwide received surprising news when Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp announced that Facebook was buying over WhatsApp for USD19 billion in cash and stock. It is by far the biggest acquisition made by the social networking giant to date. Prior to this, Facebook closed a deal with Instagram for USD1 billion in 2012.

WhatsApp Messenger is a successful cross-platform mobile messaging app that allows users to exchange messages without having to pay SMS bills. All it needs is an internet data plan. In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can also create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. WhatsApp currently has 600 million users worldwide.

Jan Koum, now a billionaire from the deal made with Facebook, was born in a small town outside Kiev, Ukraine. He was the only child of a housewife and construction manager and the family led an austere life. At the age of 16, he moved to Mountain View, California with his mother and grandmother. His father stayed behind with plans to follow on later.

To make ends meet every month, Koum worked as a cleaner at a grocery store and his mum worked as a babysitter. He even had to line up to collect food stamps during those tough times. His mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and they lived off her disability allowance. It was in the same year that Koum’s father became ill and passed away. His mother too eventually succumbed to cancer and passed away in year 2000.

At the age of 18, Koum developed an interest toward computers. He taught himself computer programming by purchasing manuals from a used-book store and returning them after he was done. He then enrolled in San Jose State University and moonlighted for Ernst & Young as a security tester. After that he worked for search engine company, Yahoo! Inc.

Koum’s work involves inspecting Yahoo!’s advertising system, which led him to cross paths with Brian Acton (later co-founder of WhatsApp).

Over the next nine years, Koum and Acton were pulled in to help launch Yahoo!’s advertising platform. Koum recalled Acton’s words, “Dealing with ads is depressing. You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better,” Koum was not happy with the situation as well.

In September 2007, Koum and Acton decided to resign from Yahoo!. After taking a one year break, Koum and Acton started looking for jobs. Both applied and got rejected by Facebook Inc. It was two years later in 2009 that Koum bought an iPhone and realised that the App Store would unlock future potentials. Koum had the idea of an app that would allow people to send text messages via the internet instead of sending SMSes. He named it WhatsApp that sounds like “What’s Up”.

It became an instant hit among iPhone users after the app was uploaded to the App Store. Koum insisted not to sell ads on the app after his bad experience dealing with ads at Yahoo! for years. WhatsApp was growing big worldwide and the founders decided to charge an annual rate of USD1 to its users. They were surprised to know that users are willing to pay to use the app.

WhatsApp gradually brought in USD5000 in revenue every month by 2010. Acton helped out Koum by investing USD250,000 in WhatsApp. As a result Acton was named co-founder of WhatsApp. By early 2011, the number of users are growing at an immense rate, and it is adding an additional million users everyday.

WhatsApp became one of the top 20 of all apps in the U.S App Store. Two years later, Sequoia invested another USD50 million. This resulted in WhatsApp being valued at USD1.5 billion.

In 2012, Koum received an email from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg was very interested at what Koum built and hinted to Koum at his interest in combining their two firms.

After two years, Koum and Acton signed and sealed the deal with Zuckerberg on the door of the welfare office where Koum used to collect food stamps.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock in February 2014. Its by far the most lucrative engagement in tech history.

This deal seals Koum as tech’s new billionaire, pocketing USD6.8 billion after taxes. The agreement also appoints Koum as Facebook’s new board member – a rags-to-riches story that should inspire all nerds out there.

Source: JobStreet.com, the No.1 job site in Malaysia, thesundaily.com

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China’s Internet giants, Tencent to undercut Alibaba with billion chat app users


CHINA's Internet giants


Tencent Holdings Ltd. (700) faces the prospect of losing its position as Asia’s most-valuable Internet company this year after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) goes public. The Shenzhen-based company isn’t going to concede quietly.

Tencent is taking on Alibaba in almost every business related to the Web, from games to security to search. In the latest escalation of the battle, Tencent is expanding in messaging services and using the technology to drive customers to its e-commerce partners — in a direct challenge to its rival.

The fight exposes a rare vulnerability for Alibaba, which is planning an initial public offering that may be the largest in U.S. history.

Tencent has an enormous lead in messaging, with about a billion users for its QQ and WeChat products, compared with Alibaba’s last target of 100 million for its offerings.

Tencent is projected to report a 52 percent surge in profit when it announces second-quarter results today, bolstered by messaging.

“Tencent is using Mobile QQ and WeChat to take traffic away from Alibaba and direct people to e-commerce platforms backed by itself,” said Bill Fan, a Hong Kong-based analyst at China Securities Co. “Instant messaging hasn’t been Alibaba’s strong point, but it sees the viral effect that Tencent’s app is having so it’s trying to develop similar services.”

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., 24 percent owned by Yahoo! Inc., is competing with Tencent… Read More

Tencent’s two technologies let people trade messages over mobile phones and tablets, akin to the WhatsApp service that Facebook Inc. (FB) agreed to acquire this year for $19 billion.

QQ, which began as an instant-messaging service on desktop computers and was repurposed for use on mobile devices, has about 848 million monthly active users. WeChat, known as Weixin in China, has 396 million. (WhatsApp has more than half a billion active users.)

Most Valuable

The success of the messaging services has helped boost Tencent’s market value to about $161 billion, making it the most valuable Internet company in Asia.

Alibaba will compete for that title after it goes public. The latest estimate is that after the IPO the company could be valued at $187 billion, according to a survey of 11 analysts by Bloomberg. Tencent shares declined 0.2 percent as of 9:52 a.m. in Hong Kong trading, while the benchmark Hang Seng Index was unchanged.

Alibaba is trying to close the gap in messaging. In September, it started offering a service called Laiwang. Still, Tencent has continued to expand the features available through its apps to maintain its lead

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
QQ and WeChat helped triple Tencent’s mobile-game revenue to 1.8 billion yuan in the… Read More

“In the latest version of QQ, we have upgraded it to a platform for food, drinking and entertainment, and the number of cities we cover is also expanding,” said Dowson Tong, president of the company’s social network group that oversees QQ, in a recent interview.

Revenue Boost

Tencent has integrated games more tightly into its messaging services to capitalize on the China online gaming market, which IResearch projects will expand to 225 billion yuan by 2017.

QQ and WeChat helped triple Tencent’s mobile-game revenue to 1.8 billion yuan in the first quarter from the previous three months.

That trend likely continued in the second quarter. Tencent’s profit rose to 5.59 billion yuan in the three months ended June, according to the average of 11 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

That would make the second successive quarter with profit growth of more than 50 percent. Earnings climbed 61 percent in the three months ended March 2011.

QQ was the first iconic product billionaire Ma Huateng created at Tencent in 1999, two years after AOL Inc. (AOL)’s messaging service took off.

As more Chinese accessed the Internet, instant messaging became the most popular online app. Ma restructured QQ’s divisions in 2012 to take it mobile and the effort paid off.

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
QQ was the first iconic product billionaire Ma Huateng created at Tencent in 1999, two… Read More

Last year, 83 percent of China’s Internet users subscribed to Mobile QQ and 80 percent to WeChat, compared with Laiwang’s 23 percent, according to a survey among almost 4,000 people by Shanghai-based IResearch in June.

Stake Purchases

Tencent is now leveraging its vast user base to go after a bigger share of the China e-commerce market, which IResearch estimates will more than double from last year to 21.6 trillion yuan ($3.5 trillion) in 2017.

The company in March took a 15 percent stake in JD.com Inc., a direct competitor to Alibaba, and folded its own e-commerce assets into the venture. This year, Tencent has also agreed to buy 19.9 percent of Craigslist-like 58.com Inc. and take a 20 percent stake in Dianping.com, a website similar to Yelp Inc. that users review restaurants in China.

Single Click

Tencent has been working closely with JD.com and Dianping, directing traffic from Mobile QQ and WeChat to the websites, said Tong.

Those steps are beginning to yield results. A new single-click link to JD.com from Weixin produced an eightfold increase in daily transaction volumes compared with an earlier access that took two clicks, JD.com said in June. This month a similar integration with JD.com was provided to users of Mobile QQ.

Still, Tencent and its partners are far behind in e-commerce. Alibaba, which operates platforms including Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com that connect retail brands with consumers, accounted for 76.4 percent of total mobile retail transactions in China, according to its IPO filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The fact that Tencent wrapped its e-commerce assets into JD.com shows it wants to limit its investment in the segment, said Yao Yue, a Shenzhen-based analyst with Morningstar Inc.

“Even if Tencent’s instant messaging apps can direct a lot of traffic to JD.com, at the end of the day it still depends on who has the better shopping service, and Alibaba’s Taobao is dominant,” said Yao.

Alibaba hasn’t been able to achieve the same success in mobile messaging so far. The company in 2004 started Aliwangwang, a PC-based instant messenger for buyers and sellers, that is now used for negotiating prices, customer services and delivery notifications on its Taobao marketplace. It also has a mobile version called Wangxin.

Lagging Behind

Laiwang was started by Alibaba to broaden its reach, after billionaire founder Jack Ma alluded to Tencent being ahead in the messaging race at a Credit Suisse conference in March 2013.

“We also invested heavily, but we are not that lucky and not creative, so creative like Tencent, which has WeChat, such a powerful thing,” Ma said at the conference.

Ma has vigorously tried to promote Laiwang and said the company wouldn’t pay bonuses to staff who didn’t get 100 clients for the app before Nov. 30 last year, according to a post on the company’s microblog.

In an attempt to generate revenue from Laiwang, Alibaba said in January it would offer games on the app. A month later Alibaba’s Ma said the company’s achievement on mobile applications wasn’t satisfactory.

Alibaba spokeswoman Florence Shih declined to comment on the company’s mobile strategies, citing pre-IPO restrictions.

Jin Yuan, a Shenzhen mobile phone user, underscores the lead that Tencent has in messaging. Jin has been a QQ subscriber for the past 13 years and says Tencent does a better job of making messaging apps that are easy to use.

“I use QQ to keep in touch with friends I’ve known since the PC age and I use it for a lot of group chats,” Jin said. “I like to use WeChat a lot for sharing information about good places for food.”

By Lulu Yilun Chen Bloomberg

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A booming WhatsApp posts mixed message as strong rivals emerge in Asia; War of the Apps heats up in China



What’s inside WhatsApp?

WhatsApp: A booming smartphone message service

SAN FRANCISCO – WhatsApp was launched five years ago as a shot at doing to text messaging what Skype did to telephone calls.

If Facebook’s move to buy the startup in a cash-and-stock deal valued as high as US$19 billion (S$24 billion) is any indication, the California-based WhatsApp may have hit the mark.

The firm founded by former Yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Koum in 2009 took its name from a play on the phrase “What’s Up,” according to its website.

They also devoted themselves to a credo of “No Ads. No Games. No Gimmicks.”

A note stating just that and signed by Acton remains taped to Koum’s desk, according to venture capital firm Sequoia, which invested in the startup early and stands to cash in big time on the Facebook take-over.

The “contrarian approach” of gathering no information about users for targeting ads was shaped by Ukraine-born Koum’s aversion to tactics of secret police in communist countries, Sequoia partner Jim Goetz said in an online note.

“Jan’s childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped,” Goetz said.
“When he arrived in the US as a 16-year-old immigrant living on food stamps, he had the extra incentive of wanting to stay in touch with his family in Russia and the Ukraine.”

Koum remained true to those ideas when, after working at Yahoo with his “mentor” Acton, he turned to building WhatsApp, according to Goetz.

The stated mission was to build a better alternative to traditional SMS messaging in a world where smartphones were clearly becoming ubiquitous.

The founders jokingly described themselves at the website as “two guys who spent combined 20 years doing geeky stuff at Yahoo! Inc.”

WhatsApp is a platform for sending images, video, audio, or text messages for free over the Internet using data connections of smartphones.

The application is free, but after using it for a year, there is an annual subscription fee of 99 US cents.

“We feel that this model will allow us to become the communications service of the 21st century, and provide you the best way to stay in touch with your friends and family with no ads getting in the way,” the startup said in a blog post discussing pricing.

WhatsApp is reported to have grown stunningly fast to more than 450 million users and said to handle 50 billion messages daily.

As of the start of this year, WhatsApp had 50 employees, more than 30 of them engineers. While the company has its headquarters in the California city of Mountain View, where Google has its main campus, most of the engineering work is reportedly done in Russia. – AFP

In Asia, WhatsApp posts mixed message for Facebook

Singapore: WhatsApp may be hugely popular but its forays into Asia, the world’s biggest mobile market, have had mixed success, raising questions about whether it can sustain the explosive growth Facebook Inc cited to justify its $19 billion price tag.
Data from app metric company App Annie, for example, shows that WhatsApp ranks as the top communications app in only three of 13 Asian countries tracked – Hong Kong, India and Singapore.
“WhatsApp has been a strong player in Asia, but in the past year has faced strong competition from LINE and WeChat,” said Neha Dharia, India-based analyst for Ovum, a technology consultancy. “WhatsApp has not been displaced by these players, but has seen stiff competition in growing its market share.”

Facebook said on Wednesday it would buy WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock, in a deal worth more than Facebook raised in its own IPO. [ID:nL3N0LO52J]

For sure, WhatsApp has been phenomenally successful. For many users it has replaced sending costly texts, or SMS messages. Since its launch in 2009 it has built an active monthly user base of 450 million users.
A survey by marketing and research company Jana found WhatsApp to be the most used messaging app in all the countries it surveyed – India, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico – beating competitors by a huge margin.
The reason: users most prize the basic functions it offers – ad-free chat and photo sharing.
WhatsApp subscribers sent 18 billion messages a day in January. The overall market is growing rapidly: According to Ovum, 27.4 trillion such messages were sent last year; this year that figure will be close to 69 trillion.
CHINA CALLING
By hooking up, Facebook and WhatsApp may be able to take on those markets that have been elusive to Facebook so far. With Facebook blocked in China, and lagging Twitter Inc and Naver Corp’s LINE in Japan, WhatsApp “is a potential avenue for Facebook” into those markets, said Vincent Stevens, a senior manager for telecoms consultancy Delta Partners.

Forrester, a consultancy, forecasts that China will have more than 500 million smartphones this year.

And in the fast growing smartphone market of India, says Neil Shah, research director of devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Research, local users now account for almost 9 percent of total active WhatsApp users around the world – some 40 million of them.

But Facebook and WhatsApp face formidable foes. Where once messaging apps were simply about messaging, now Tencent Holdings Ltd’s WeChat, LINE and KakaoTalk offer a slew of additional services, from icons and games to buying goods and services.

“LINE and the others are very different to WhatsApp. They’re much more innovative in the business models they engage in,” says Michael Vakulenko of VisionMobile, a UK-based consultancy. “They are innovating much faster than WhatsApp and going in a different direction.”

This could prove decisive in Asia – the biggest battleground for social messaging apps – where no single player dominates.
Data from market research company Nielsen, for example, showed BlackBerry Messenger as the most downloaded messaging app in Indonesia last October, the latest data available, while Viber, bought by Japanese online retailer Rakuten Inc for $900 million last week, was the most popular in the Philippines, and LINE in Thailand.
WhatsApp was third in Indonesia, second in Malaysia and not in the top-10 in the Philippines or Thailand. And while locals say WhatsApp remains the default messaging app in Indonesia, some notice a shift.

FICKLE FORTUNES

Jerry Justianto, who runs a radio station network in Jakarta, says he’s noticing fewer of his friends using WhatsApp than before. “I think it’s reached a plateau in Indonesia,” he said. “I see a lot of WhatsApp accounts in my list are inactive.”

A survey by market research firm On Device Research late last year found that while nearly two thirds of Indonesians surveyed had installed WhatsApp, less than half used it at least once a week, compared to three quarters of Brazilians who had installed it.

Part of the problem, Justianto says, is that WhatsApp’s approach of linking accounts to a phone number doesn’t suit Indonesians who change their SIM card frequently. “Some of my early adopter friends are moving to Telegram messenger, where you can activate multiple devices with one number.”

Telegram, which offers much the same features as WhatsApp, is evidence of the fickleness of users. The app is free and heavily encrypted, and is popular in some countries. In Spain, for example, it has risen from its launch last year to be the No.1 communications app in Google’s Play store, at the expense of WhatsApp, according to App Annie data.

This, said one executive at a handset company in Spain, was partly because of a viral campaign among users to switch, and partly because many users dumped WhatsApp before they were charged at the end of their first, free year.
GETTING USERS TO USE MORE
Across Asia, the fragmentation is evident to users such as Martin Tomlinson, Asia Pacific director for On Device Research, who says he has installed at least six messaging apps for work: “I need to have at least three of these on my phone because that’s how my clients communicate.”
LINE, for example, considers its top markets as not only Japan but also Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Now, says Simeon Cho, general manager at LINE Plus, which handles LINE’s ex-Japan business, the goal is less about winning new users than getting existing ones to use the app more frequently.
Kakao, which started the KakaoTalk messenger service in 2010 and has since grown rapidly to 130 million users, said it was also focusing heavily on Southeast Asia, where there is relatively low smartphone penetration and no dominant messenger service.
And for China’s Tencent, KakaoTalk and LINE are more of a threat overseas than WhatsApp, as the company’s WeChat expansion is focused on Southeast Asia.
WhatsApp would only pose a serious threat if the likes of Tencent were to expand farther west. “This means it’s now going to be more difficult for LINE to win in North America and Europe,” said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based technology consultant.

 – By Jeremy Wagstaff Reuters

Facebook deal sends message to WhatsApp’s Asia rivals

HONG KONG – Facebook’s stunning US$19 billion (S$24 billion) deal for messaging service WhatsApp places the social network in an arena where competition is fierce, particularly in Asia, where fast-growing chat rivals dominate their home markets.

The multi-billion dollar valuation of WhatsApp is based on expectations that its 450 million monthly users will eventually pass one billion, powering the social network’s drive into the fast- growing mobile space – particularly in emerging markets, where the simplicity of the messaging app can thrive on less expensive phones.

But it is not the only service gaining traction around the world, particularly in parts of Asia, where players such as WeChat in China, Kakao Talk in South Korea and Line in Japan dominate – and, according to analysts, show greater potential for making money given their different products and strategies.

While WhatsApp, which is free to download but charges users US$1 per year, is popular in some Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, services such as Line, WeChat and Kakao have also expanded around the region and beyond.

“Mobile-messaging apps are growing fast in Asia,” noted Elinor Leung and Seung-Joo Ro in a report for regional brokerage CLSA.

“While Facebook dominates the US, mobile-messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Line and WeChat have rapidly taken over Asian SNS (social networking service) markets, especially in the emerging markets.”

WhatsApp currently has a larger base than each of the three Asian services but they are growing fast, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, where smartphones or less expensive “feature” phones are seeing explosive growth.

CLSA noted that “Asian mobile-messaging apps like Tencent’s WeChat and Naver Corp.’s Line should be valued at a premium to WhatsApp with their wider service offerings and higher revenue potential from games to e-commerce and payment.”

WeChat is currently valued by CLSA at US$35 billion and Line at US$14 billion.

Global social messaging volumes are expected to reach 69 trillion and subscribers to such services 1.8 billion by the end of 2014, according to data from market research firm Ovum.

“In SouthEast Asia there is a huge tussle for market share,” Neha Dharia of Ovum told AFP.

“WhatsApp will be able to claim the Facebook share of those markets as well, making it hard for these other guys to grow.”

WeChat

WeChat, or “Weixin” in Chinese, is a free instant messaging and social media mobile application developed by Chinese Internet giant Tencent and officially launched in January 2011.

It has not only become a popular mobile communications tool in China – where Facebook is mostly blocked and WhatsApp usage is comparatively low – but has also attracted tens of millions of users in overseas markets.

The Facebook deal values active WhatsApp users at US$42 a piece. According to analysts with Japan’s Mizuho bank, WeChat is worth twice that amount “on the back of its gaming, [commerce] and mobile payment potential”.

WeChat’s number of monthly active users worldwide reached 272 million by the end of September last year, more than doubling from a year earlier amid a drive to attract more users in countries such as India, Spain and South Africa.

WeChat provides text, photo, video and voice messaging services on major mobile platforms. It also offers games, online payments and taxi booking.

Line

Launched in 2011 as an instant message and free voice call app, Line – whose parent company is South Korea’s Naver Corp. – has grown to 350 million users worldwide and aims to hit 500 million this year.

Its user-friendly interface and voice communication capacity have helped it become one of most successful apps in Japan, while also seeing popularity in Thailand, Taiwan, Spain and Latin America.

The app is best known for “stickers” – cartoon-like images purchased by users, sales of which are core to Line’s revenues.

Kakao Talk

Launched in 2010, Kakao Talk is used by 95 per cent of South Korea’s smartphone users and boasts 130 million users worldwide. It is reported to be preparing for an initial public offering next year that could value it at US$2 billion.

The free app allows users to send messages, pictures, soundbites and video via the Internet, either on WiFi or through cellphone networks.

Gifts can be bought using Kakao’s online shopping facilities, a feature that helped push revenue last year to 230 billion won (US$215 million) from 46 billion won a year ago.

It is eyeing Southeast Asian markets including Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia where it is fighting for market share against Line and WeChat.

Viber

Developed by Cyprus-based Viber Media, which was founded in 2010, the service boasts 280 million users and was recently purchased by Japanese IT firm Rakuten for US$900 million – or roughly US$3 per user. It allows free text messages and phone calls as well as video messaging. It recently launched a service allowing desktop users to call non-Viber users’ mobile phones, in a challenge to Skype, owned by Microsoft.

Analysts have questioned whether it can make more money from customers in the same way that the likes of Line and WeChat have, leading to Rakuten’s share price plunging as much as 13 per cent on the first trading day after it announced the deal.

– AFP

War of the apps heats up in China
In the Battle between the two Chinese Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent, the consumers are the real winners.
AlibabaTencentRAISING a hand to flag down a taxi by the streets could be passé in China, or at least in the eyes of the taxi booking app developers.

Two popular mobile apps, Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache (“dache” means taking the taxi), make it possible for passengers to hail a cab without flailing an arm, but just tapping on their smart phones.

The war between the two apps, which are backed by Chinese Internet giants Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings Ltd respectively, has gotten more intense this week.

On Monday, Didi Dache announced that it was going to revive its 10-yuan (RM5.42) rebate programme for users who book a cab and pay via Tencent’s instant messaging app Wechat.

Every passenger is entitled to receive a subsidy of 10 yuan each trip, for up to three trips a day.

For taxi drivers in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hangzhou, a reward of 10 yuan awaits for up to 10 bookings they successfully respond to through Didi Dache.

Cabbies in other cities will receive 5 yuan (RM2.71) for the first five trips and 10 yuan for the next five trips.

To prevent users from cheating, Didi Dache said it would block passengers and drivers who reach mutual agreements to use the app only after the passengers get into the cabs, with the motive of earning the rebates.

Didi Dache reportedly poured in 1bil yuan (RM542.18mil) for this round of subsidy.

Kuaidi Dache was quick to follow up with an “always-one-yuan-more” reward.

Users who hail a cab through its app and pay via Alibaba’s mobile payment service Alipay Wallet were promised that they would always enjoy one yuan more than users of its competitor.

It is not the first time these two apps are using these tactics to entice users.

In January, Didi Dache rolled out the 10-yuan rebate promotion, prompting Kuaidi Dache to offer the same rebate in response.

When Didi Dache reduced the 10-yuan incentive by half on Feb 10, Kuaidi Dache seized the chance to announce that it would retain the 10-yuan offer.

Now that Didi Dache has readjusted the rebate back to 10 yuan, Kuaidi Dache has decided to have the upper hand by pledging “always-one-yuan-more”.

However, just a day after these announcements were made, Didi Dache upped the rebate once again. Passengers would now receive between 12 yuan and 20 yuan (RM6.51 and RM10.84) per trip.

Kuaidi Dache followed suit to offer a subsidy of at least 13 yuan (RM7.05) per trip.

While Didi Dache offered 10,000 free trips a day to lucky passengers, Kuaidi Dache pledged 15,000 free trips a day.

It appeared that there was no end to this intense price war.

This “war” between the two apps is only one segment of the fierce rivalry between the two Internet companies, Tencent and Alibaba.

Tencent owns Wechat while Alibaba has developed a similar app known as “Laiwang”.

Alibaba bought 18% stake of the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo last year, which is the contender of Tencent’s Wechat.

Last week, Alibaba offered to purchase mobile mapping app AutoNavi. Tencent, meanwhile, already has a mapping service that boasts a similar function to Google’s Street View.

This latest contest in the taxi-booking app was seen as a tactic to encourage smart phone users to adopt the habit of using mobile payments.

During the just-concluded Chinese New Year holiday, Wechat users went gaga over the electronic angpao.

They had to first link their bank accounts to Wechat before they could give or receive money among their circle of friends.

According to Beijing Times, from the eve until the eighth day of Chinese New Year, more than 40 million angpao were handed out in the activity participated by more than eight million people.

Even Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma described the phenomenon as a “Pearl Harbour attack”.

In a poll on finance.ifeng.com, 70.42% of some 5,600 respondents felt that the war of taxi booking apps between Tencent and Alibaba was not a vicious competition.

Almost half of them believed that what mattered most at the end of the day was the product experience.

They were of the opinion that the company with the better service would prevail, in contrast to only 23.38% of the respondents who predicted that the one with bigger financial capability would eventually be declared the winner.

With the two giants locking horns and trying to outdo each other, many believed that the consumers are the biggest beneficiaries.

The rebates did not have a reported deadline. Until the cash rewards are withdrawn, users can continue to enjoy the subsidies to save some pennies.

Contributed  by Tho Xin Yi The Star/Asia News Network

Related posts:
1. WhatsApp deal dwarfs other high-profile Tech acquisitions 
2. Tech players race to widen reach !

Tech players race to widen reach !


WhatsApp_fb2
WhatsApp_growth
Facebook goes the distance to widen reach 

IN the age of connectivity, what sells a technology company is not its system nor its employees, but the reach it has throughout the world.

Making news over the past few days has been the Facebook-WhatsApp deal, sealed at a whopping offer of US$19bil.

It is the biggest deal year-to-date and has set yet another stratospheric benchmark in the arena of tech deals. The deal pushed 2014’s total tech deals to US$50bil, the highest since 2000.

Google, which contended for WhatsApp as well, lost the acquisition battle with an offer about half the amount Facebook was willing to fork out – US$10bil.

Facebook is hungry for reach, and it has proven in the tech arena that it is willing to go the distance to get it.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reported to have told a conference call that it was Facebook’s explicit strategy to focus on growing and connecting everyone in the world over the next several years.

“And then we believe that once we get to being a service that has one billion, two billion, maybe even three billion people one day, there are many clear ways that we can monetise.

“But the right strategy we believe, is to continue focusing on growth and the product and succeeding in building the best communication tools in the world.”

Yes, pay for your customers first, then ease them into paying you.

To depict how valuable a company’s reach or user base is, take a look at Viber’s valuations when it was sold to global Internet services company Rakuten just a week ago.

With 105 million monthly active users, the messaging app company got acquired at US$900mil or US$8.57 per user.

In comparison, WhatsApp was bought at the price of US$42 per user for its big pool of 450 million monthly active users. And this number is expected to grow over the next few years.

As tech website CNet puts it: Facebook (has) demonstrated (that) valuations can rise or fall dramatically based on how large a base of users you command.

In the meantime, game company King Digital Entertainment is also looking to list on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company behind addictive mobile game, Candy Crush, said on Tuesday it planned to raise US$500mil from an initial public offering. In the last quarter of 2013, the game had 12.2 million monthly unique players.

Going public is said to be gainful for the company’s founders, as they only raised US$9mil of funding since it was founded in 2002.

Some tech deals have been bungled too, such as in social game company Zynga’s case.

Zynga, which is also listed, rose with meteoric success in its first years of business buying as many as 11 companies when it turned a profit in 2010. However, its success fizzled out as it failed to move into the mobile gaming space, even with its acquisition of the once-popular Draw Something game app.

While Zynga focused on developing games for Facebook (names like Farmville and Mafia Wars come to mind) and the desktop, games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush outran them on mobile devices.

There are also older examples of missed and misused opportunities like Yahoo! overlooking the competition from Google or MySpace losing its appeal under the wings of NewsCorp.

An extensive reach or user base creates the pulse in the economy of the virtual world, and the pulse is sustained by being in touch with user experience and trends.

As the entrepreneur spirit demands a courage to take on risks, technoprenuers like Zuckerberg have to surely keep an eye out for competitors worth bagging to expand their social network empires.

The race for reach continues.

Contributed by Liz Lee The Star/Asia News Network

Related post:
WhatsApp deal dwarfs other high-profile Tech acquisitions

Don’t be ‘that’ person on social media: tips and best practices


Social media get noticed not blocked_Twitter
BE MORE COURTEOUS: Following someone on social media is a lot like dating, therefore one should follow certain rules of etiquette. — AFP

For me, following someone on social media is a lot like dating. I like to learn a little about them first before going all the way.

When I follow someone, it’s because I liked what they were sharing or appreciated what they had to say.

But not everyone is follow material. Some people are boring, annoying and predictable. And some make mistakes that leave us scratching our heads in sheer bewilderment.

So here are a few tips and best practices to not only get you more followers, but to get you noticed instead of blocked.

• May I have your attention? Please!   

Instead of telling me what you’re doing, tell me what has your attention. Way back when Twitter had that new car smell, it got a bad rap because everyone was posting that they were eating. Or thinking about eating. I don’t care about that, but I might care if you have photos of an amazing gourmet meal. In other words, what has your attention vs. the obvious.

As Doc Brown said in the Back to the Future movies, “Marty! You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally!” Thinking fourth-dimensionally makes social media fun.

• Not everyone cares about your schedule: Scheduling tweets or Facebook posts isn’t the worst thing you can do, but scheduling something at an inopportune time is.

There are countless examples of brands and people that had tweets set up during tragedies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombings. I had an e-mail exchange with someone after Boston who defended it with, “Oh, I had that set up loooooooong before it happened.” Well, you know what? That’s not a valid excuse. You are responsible for every message you send, whether it’s automated or not. Also, scheduling tweets that far in advance can be a recipe for trouble. Be aware of what’s going on around you at all times, and make sure the message you are sending is the right one.

• Let me be direct — or not: One of the things that annoys me most on Twitter is the automatic direct message.

You know, when you follow an account and you get a tweet immediately that goes something like this: “You are awesome. Let’s be awesome together. Tell me the things that make you happy.” Besides the fact that no one talks like this and I have little interest in talking about what makes me happy with someone I just met, the automatic direct message is lazy and it’s not social.

The real-life equivalent is screening a call and letting it go to voicemail. One is more convenient, but the other is appreciated. This is social media, folks. Show me the real you, not some watered-down version. Be social.

Keeping these three things in mind when you share on social media can be the difference between being just another follow and a superstar

By SCOTT KLEINBERG . — McClatchy-Tribune Information Services 

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Deactivate your Facebook account!


Facebook_MalaysianMalaysians have firmly entrenched Facebook in their lives

Did you know that Malaysians have the most number of Facebook friends in the world? A British research agency, TNS, revealed that on average Malaysians have 233 Facebook friends and spend roughly nine hours a week on Facebook. What a lot of time indeed!

Before proudly shouting Malaysia Boleh!, think about what this actually means. Facebook has become an integral part of our lives like nasi lemak, hence we need to fully understand its consequences before it becomes an enemy. Only a fraction of your Facebook friends are your actual friends.

It has become to easy to be Facebook friends with anyone. The list includes your neighbour’s best friend’s sister whom you once met at a Christmas party. The time spent on Facebook per week is disturbing. If today’s youth spend hours communicating online, what is the impact on their real life communication and social skills?

THE PERILS OF FACEBOOK

As we all know, online communication is a distant, disfigured cousin of face-to-face communication. Communication is a delicate tool with many layers to it.

To start off, there is verbal and non-verbal communication. This consists of spoken words, pauses, hand gestures, facial expressions, body language, vocal variety and intonation.

Facebook, like many other platforms of online communication, is a different ball game altogether. An entire conversation can take place without even a single properly constructed sentence. For that matter, an entire conversation can take place with just emoticons!

This has resulted in a generation who lack basic communication skills.There are so many people who can have hours of online conversations but can barely have a decent five minute face-to-face chat. In the real world, conversations cannot entirely consist of LOLs and smileys.

IMPAIRED COMMUNICATION

In reality, making new friends and meeting new people does not happen with a literal click. It takes time to build relationships and get to know people. Now, it is possible to be someone’s friend on Facebook without even having a single conversation or interaction with that person.

This destroys the natural flow of human interaction. Communication has been watered down thoroughly indeed. This evolution indicates the ebb of human communication skills.

Besides that, on Facebook, we are unable to observe the other party’s body language. This leaves a gaping hole in the communication flow, as body language makes up for nearly half of non-verbal communication.

Consequently, youngsters whom are major Facebook users are insensitive to body language responses of the other party. This will ultimately result in poor communication skills as youths are unable to decipher the non-verbal response of the other person.

It is also a common trend amongst the youth to respond to text/chat messages first rather than to the person speaking in front of them.

With electronic communication gaining preference over actual conversations, it is a common sight at gatherings to see people busy texting or tweeting instead of talking to the people at the party.

Our minds are tuned to prefer online communication, alienating traditional chit chat. It is a rather rude compulsion to respond to your beeping phone first as opposed to a person talking to you.

Facebook_communication  Have we lost our offline communication skills? 

“SO WHAT?”

The inevitable “So what?” will echo from Gen-Y. Arguably, this is progression thanks to technology. Again, the age-old debate of whether technology is a bane or a boon. Using Facebook as an example, technology has created one-dimensional communicators.

There are a few scenarios to consider, the first being a job interview. Employers are invariably complaining about how job applicants are unable to hold a proper discussion despite scores of degrees and higher qualifications.

While they may have the knowledge, they are unable to communicate their ideas effectively. This is a career crutch, so to speak, because being able to shine in the workplace requries solid communication abilities. In this era, communication skills are a golden ticket to securing that job.

Another scenario would be networking events as traditional networking still plays a role in our personal and professional lives. Be it birthday parties, industry launches or university events, human interaction is much needed!

It is wrong to assume that being able to communicate and network skilfully online automatically translates to good face-to-face communication. Learning the art of networking can lead to obtaining valuable contacts and forging important relationships that will go a long way. Savvy communication skills will snag you a potential client or that really hot date.

As always, practice makes perfect. Thus, actively participating in such events instead of being physically there but virtually not (pun intended) will lead to better communication skills. We need to be able to sit down and enjoy a good old fashioned chat.

Another challenge young people face is to communicate with people of different generations, something you would not usually encounter on Facebook. While online, you tend to mingle with people of your age, with similar interests but in reality it is a useful skill being able to talk to anyone and everyone.

A sad scenario nowadays would be a family out for dinner but everyone is glued to his or her smartphone and tablets. Again, there is minimal interaction, defeating the very purpose of having dinner together.

THE PHONE STACKING GAME

There is a popular game to combat this issue; the stacking game. Commonly played with friends, it requires everyone to stack their phone in the middle of the table and the first person who reaches for the phone has to foot the bill. This ensures there is proper conversation and interaction between everyone present, with less virtual distractions.

So, be proactive about the situation. Consciously monitor your online and offline communication. Ensure you have sufficient skills to hold a conversation with just about anyone for a reasonable duration.

Realise that while online communication is good, offline communication will take you a long way especially in terms of career and relationship building. Take the initiative to practise and sharpen your communication skills before it is too late.

There are many organisations out there dedicated to improving communication skills such as Toastmasters International. Find out how you can be part of it.

Should we deactivate Facebook? Admittedly it is a little too harsh, but striking the right balance between our online and offline communication is the key.

Undeniably, Facebook has become part of our lives. Just like McDonald’s, the key is moderation. A good practice is to engage with people when with company instead of communicating with someone else online. Learn to be more articulate and expressive when speaking as there are no emoticons! Let us work together to ensure technology does not cause the annihilation of proper communication skills amongst us.



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