Court sides with U.S. government over NSA metadata collection program

NSA SMS collection

WASHINGTON (Reuters, Lawrence Hurley) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out a judge’s ruling that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting phone metadata under a controversial program that has since been amended by Congress.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said there were not sufficient grounds for the preliminary injunction imposed by the lower court. The law in question expired in June and has since been amended by Congress.

The three-judge panel concluded that the case was not moot despite the change in the law and remanded the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon for further proceedings. One member of the panel, Judge David Sentelle, partially dissented, saying he would have dismissed the challenge outright.

Under the amended law, the existing metadata collection program is set to continue for 180 days after the June 2 enactment of the USA Freedom Act. Then, the new version of the program goes into effect.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the massive phone record collection to U.S. and British media in June 2013. Documents provided by Snowden showed a U.S. surveillance court had secretly approved the collection of millions of raw daily phone records in America, such as the length of calls and the numbers dialed.

The program was challenged by plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange. Klayman is a conservative lawyer and Strange is the father of a U.S. cryptologist technician killed in Afghanistan in 2011. They won the case in U.S. District Court in Washington in December 2013. Leon ruled that the program was likely unlawful, and the government appealed.

The government said the program was authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records.

In a separate case, a judge in New York ruled in December 2013 that the program was lawful.

The case is NSA v. Klayman, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 14-5004

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The DeanBeat: As consoles age, PC gaming’s resurgence becomes more obvious

Ashes of the Singularity has incredible real-time 3D graphics.

As the global game industry makes its way toward $100 billion in sales, the growth is happening on all fronts. Mobile either has or will shortly become the biggest part of the market, based on various market research reports. While mobile gaming has grabbed most of the headlines, the other emerging story is that gaming on the PC is also seeing a resurgence. Some people may think that mobile is killing the PC, but what’s happening in gaming doesn’t reflect that.

One the eve of the PAX Prime gaming culture convention in Seattle, and just a week after the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the forward progress of the PC as a gaming platform is obvious. It may seem like an old observation, but the PC is a critical part of the global gaming economy. We can talk about the changing market in terms of innovations on the PC as well as illuminating data that illustrates the rate of growth. And since gaming drives technology faster, non-gaming uses of the PC are going to benefit from this technological progress.

By the end of 2016, PC game sales are expected to reach $29 billion around the world, compared with $28 billion in sales for the console market, according to a market analysis by PwC, the big accounting company. PwC also found that games are now a bigger worldwide industry than books, home video, the movie box office, and music. The PC is the hub for esports, and in Asian markets such as China, the PC still rules.

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As the newest consoles begin to age, the PC has once again returned to its role as the leader in innovation. This summer’s launch of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, with a refresh of the DirectX 12 graphics technology, has taken the base PC platform up a notch. DirectX 12 graphics enable games such as Oxide Games’ Ashes of the Singularity, which can display more than 10,000 objects on the screen in a gigantic sci-fi real-time strategy battle. Other application programming interfaces (APIs) such as AMD’s Mantle and Khronos Group’s Vulkan will also enable much better 3D graphics in future games.

Intel’s RealSense camera — which has motion sensing and gesture controls — will have new applications in games, such as making it easy for Twitch broadcasters to stream their own images and change the backgrounds in their livestreams. Monitors with 4K resolution are coming, and virtual reality systems will be most powerful on the PC. And if all goes as planned, Valve will be launching its Linux-based Steam Machines this fall as rivals to Windows-based PCs.

World of Tanks played on three 4K monitors driven by Intel's Skylake processor.

Above: World of Tanks played on three 4K monitors driven by Intel’s Skylake processor.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

At IDF, Intel showed off a demo of three 4K monitors running World of Tanks, a popular (and money-making) multiplayer shooter with tanks. The PC was running on Skylake, the code name for Intel’s newest microprocessor that will debut shortly. Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices also recently launched graphics cards that will make 4K gaming on the PC much more affordable. Intel has increased the graphics performance of its base PC platform by 100 times over the past decade, and Skylake and its upcoming Iris and Iris Pro chips will continue to move graphics performance forward.

Intel also showed off a new kind of memory, dubbed 3D XPoint, which will be 1,000 times faster than current flash memory chips. Chris Roberts, the head of Roberts Space Industries and creator of the Star Citizen universe (an immense game where you fly starships, explore, and fight, among other activities), said the Intel 3D XPoint memory technology in the upcoming Intel Optane memory chips will enable games with huge virtual landscapes and no loading screens. Normally, such huge worlds just aren’t possible, and loading screens take forever in high-end games.

“We want to have a full, seamless universe you fly around in with no loading screens,” Roberts said. “You want to seamlessly transition from space down to planets, and go in and out of big space ships, with multiple players. One of the challenges is how we deal with all that data. Having fast I/O transport is essential. That’s going to be completely revolutionary. When it’s ubiquitous, loading screens will be a thing of the past.”

And startups such as Shinra Technologies and Improbable are planning to enable supercomputing cloud solutions that will make massive game simulations possible across a wide variety of machines.

iRacing and VRX showed a n awesome racing simulator at IDF.

Above: iRacing and VRX showed an awesome racing simulator at IDF.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

All around, it’s just a good time to be making games on the PC, and there’s a lot of data in support of this trend.

The current generation consoles are expected to sell more than 200 million units by 2019, according to DFC Intelligence. But the market researcher believes that both the Microsoft Xbox One and the Nintendo Wii U will sell considerably less than the previous generation of machines from those companies.

There are an estimated 1.7 billion gamers, or about one in five people on the planet. About 1.2 billion are PC gamers. And of those, 711 million consider themselves to be active gamers and buy one game a month, according to Intel. That’s one in 10 people in the world who are active PC gamers. Valve’s Steam digital distribution service has more than 125 million active users. In the U.S., the average age of gamers is 35, and 48 percent are women. Roughly 74 percent of kids play games. And in China, which is becoming the biggest gaming market in the world, more than 70 percent of gamers play on PCs, according to Intel.

Kirk Skaugen at Intel spent a whole session talking about the rise of PC gaming.

Above: Kirk Skaugen at Intel spent a whole session talking about the rise of PC gaming.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

These active gamers refresh their PCs every two years, compared to every six years for other people. The total PC gaming hardware market is expected to grow from $24.7 billion in 2014 to more than $31.89 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent, according to market researcher Jon Peddie Research. Game console hardware sales, meanwhile, are expected to shrink from $12.5 billion in 2014 to $9.8 billion in 2018.

The PC’s growth is based on a broad range of hits. The PC has become popular with kids in part because of the popularity of Minecraft, which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. Older gamers are also playing multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games such as League of Legends and Dota 2. The recent Dota 2 championships in Seattle filled a whole stadium as two teams competed in the finals for a $6 million prize.

Professional gaming has become a huge sport, and the spectators in that community are growing daily. The esports business now has about 134 million spectators, and it’s a $612 million market. Intel’s own Extreme Masters events with the ESL, one of the world’s largest esports leagues, draw players from 180 countries. Twitch, the gameplay livestreaming site acquired by Amazon last year, has more than 100 million viewers a month.

Market researcher Newzoo estimates that revenues for esports in 2015 will surpass $250 million. Prize money for esports tournaments has almost doubled in the first five months of 2015, compared to the same period a year ago. At the current rate, the global prize pool will grow to $71 million. That’s plenty of money to support the careers of people who play games for a living. And most of that action is on the PC.

And one of the biggest boons for the PC could be virtual reality. Tech advisor Digi-Capital estimates that virtual reality and augmented reality will become a $150 billion by 2020. VR and AR could drive upgrades of PCs, as Facebook’s Oculus VR division has acknowledged you need a fairly beefy PC to run VR properly.

“Virtual reality could be the biggest thing,” said Kirk Skaugen, head of the PC Client division at Intel, speaking at IDF.

So there. PC gaming is growing. A lot of things are driving it. And PC gaming is driving technological progress for the whole world.

Demos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles at the Intel Developer Forum.

Above: Demos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles at the Intel Developer Forum.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

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‘The Hunger Games’ studio Lionsgate is making a Borderlands movie

The cast of the original Borderlands.

Lionsgate, the maker of blockbuster movies such as Divergent and The Hunger Games, has agreed to make a movie based on the Borderlands gun-filled sci-fi video game series.

The movie company will collaborate on the project with 2K, the video game label at Take-Two Interactive; and Gearbox Software, maker of Borderlands. Fans of the series can celebrate as the announcement comes just in time for the PAX Prime gaming culture event in Seattle.

The new movie is the latest to show that Lionsgate is putting a big emphasis on games since the arrival of its head of gaming, Peter Levin. The studio also recently announced a deal with Starbreeze Studios (Payday, the critically acclaimed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) and others to make a virtual reality game based on Keanu Reeves’ John Wick action flick. No details are available yet on the Borderlands movie.

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The project is the latest to exploit the Borderlands intellectual property. Telltale Games recently launched a narrative-based game, Tales From the Borderlands. Before that happened, Lionsgate invested in Telltale.

Producers Avi and Ari Arad, who made films such as Iron Man, Ghost Rider, Blade, and The Amazing Spider-Man (Ari Arad is a former Marvel CEO), will adapt the games into a film.

“We’re thrilled to extend our partnership with Jon Feltheimer, Michael Burns, Rob, Patrick and the amazing team at Lionsgate and join forces with Take-Two and Gearbox on this incredible property,” said Avi and Ari Arad, in a statement. “Borderlands has a unique story-driven narrative energy and rich multidimensional characters that position it to become a singular motion picture event.”

The Borderlands franchise has been lauded by critics and over the years — in no small part for its sense of humor — and has built a passionate global fan base, shipping more than 26 million copies around the world since its launch in 2009, including 8 million copies shipped during Take Two’s fiscal year 2015 alone.

“Creating, developing and continuing to build the Borderlands franchise at Gearbox Software has been an incredible ride where the most powerful fuel to our engine has been the astonishing outpouring of love and devotion from the fans,” said Randy Pitchford, the president and cofounder of Gearbox Software, in a statement. “It is the passion of the fans driving the growing success of Borderlands that brought what I believe to be the best team of film producers, marketing and distribution experts in the world together to deliver the exciting story and unique characters of Borderlands to the big screen.”

The deal was handled by a Lionsgate team led by Levin, president of interactive ventures and games, as well as Summit Entertainment president of production Geoff Shaevitz and Lionsgate motion picture group president of business and legal affairs Patricia Laucella.

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Parse CEO Ilya Sukhar is leaving Facebook ‘to do something new’

The Facebook logo is pictured at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California January 29, 2013.

This morning Ilya Sukhar, the CEO and cofounder of Parse, announced on Twitter (of all places) that he’s leaving Facebook.

In a series of tweets, Sukhar said: “it’s time to do something new,” “For now, I’m going to eat burritos and write questionable code on my couch,” and “…you’ve seen this week how big Messenger is thinking. Excited for what I worked on to launch!” Sukhar announced his move from Parse to Facebook’s Messenger team in May.

This follows Branch founder Josh Miller‘s departure yesterday and Facebook’s recent milestone: 1 billion people used the site in a single day.

Facebook acquired Parse more than two years ago for a rumored $85 million.

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Inside Runtastic’s $239M Adidas acquisition

Runtastic & Adidas

Austria isn’t synonymous with big-money tech acquisitions, but Runtastic put the country firmly on the global startup map this month when it was snapped up for a cool $239 million by sports giant Adidas.

VentureBeat caught up with cofounder and CEO Florian Gschwandtner this week to get the lowdown on the deal — how it came about, and where things could go from here.

The story so far

It’s fair to say that Runtastic has come a long way since it was founded out of Linz, the third-largest city in Austria, by Gschwandtner and three friends back in 2009.

While the company is perhaps best known for its eponymous GPS fitness tracking app, it offers other apps for working out at home, improving your sleep, and building six-packs. Runtastic also entered the virtual reality (VR) realm with a new app for Oculus Rift.

Besides apps, Runtastic also offers hardware, with fitness-tracking wristbands, scales, heart-rate monitors, GPS watches, and smartphone mounts for bikes.

Runtastic: Oculus Rift

Above: Runtastic: Oculus Rift

Image Credit: Runtastic

Enter Adidas

But what exactly sparked Adidas’s interest, and why sell now?

While big-name American brands such as Runkeeper and Nike+ are perhaps better-known globally, Runtastic has notched up 140 million downloads around the world, and claims 70 million registered users. Runtastic is a big company in its own right, one that often falls under the mainstream radar. It was its size that ultimately attracted the sports accessories behemoth, but Adidas wasn’t the only company sniffing around.

“After the acquisition that happened earlier this year, with Under Armour and those other players, some companies came knocking on our door,” said Gschwandtner.

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The acquisition Gschwandtner is referring to is American sports clothing company Under Armour, which bought MyFitnessPal and Endomondo — two massive fitness platforms — for $560 million. It seems this might’ve prompted Adidas and others into action, and Runtastic was an obvious target.

While Gschwandtner couldn’t confirm which other companies, or how many, were showing interest, he did state that it was “more than a handful” from around the world, with talks kicking off around four months ago.

It’s also worth noting here that Runtastic had a majority shareholder in the form of Germany-based Axel Springer, one of Europe’s biggest media companies. The company bought a 50.1 percent stake in Runtastic back in 2013 for an enterprise value of €22 million ($25 million), with the Runtastic’s four founders, and a single angel investor, retaining the other 49.9 percent.

As events transpired, Axel Springer did rather well out of the deal, with Adidas paying €220 million ($239 million) to gain 100 percent control of the company. Divide that figure down the middle, and that’s not a bad return on Axel Springer’s initial investment two years ago.

To outsiders, however, Axel Springer and Runtastic was an odd pairing. Faced with interest from Adidas and others, Gschwandtner was in a position where he had to decide whether staying semi-independent or becoming a fully owned subsidiary would be the best way forward. “We said [to ourselves], our company is doing well, we’re growing in a very good way, we have 140 people now, we’re very profitable, and we have a very good roadmap,” continued Gschwandtner. “But if we find a more advanced strategic partner than Axel Springer, we would like to do it in a way that we feel good.”

Runtastic brought in a partner to help manage meetings with various interested companies but by the end there was only one real contender. “We figured that Adidas is a very good strategic fit for Runtastic — we saw the German culture, and they’re just three-and-a-half hours away from our HQ by car,” said Gschwandtner. “And there’s this common understanding — building something big, German engineering, that was just a really, really good fit.”

It’s interesting that sometimes a decision such as this can come down to simple practicalities, such as Adidas being a short commute over the border from Linz.

The future

With the acquisition now fully signed and sealed, what does the future hold for Runtastic as an Adidas company? Gschwandtner is adamant it will remain “independent” in spirit and physicality — the headquarters shall remain in Austria. But with €14.5 billion in revenues last year across the Adidas group, Runtastic is in good company, and Runtastic promises “some big improvements” in the future.

While Gschwandtner didn’t commit to any specific new products, he did give a hint as to what might come in the future.

“People always asked me, ‘Flo, when are you building the Runtastic running shoe,’ and I’d say that’s probably never going to happen,” he said. “But now with Adidas, there are many, many new possibilities on how they can help us, and we can help them to build even better products.”

For a company that started as a simple GPS fitness app six years ago, to now be talking in terms of connected running shoes is remarkable. If nothing else, it helps illustrate why startups do agree to join larger companies — it opens the door to many more possibilities.

“There are many things we can connect, and I think their [Adidas] knowledge in building the perfect running shoe and the perfect apparel, combined with our digital knowledge, could lead to something great in the future that helps you understand your way of running better,” added Gschwandtner. “There are so many potential synergies.”

Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman Exits Company Following Ashley Madison Hack

noel-biderman1 Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman is stepping down, the company announced this morning. Avid Life Media, or ALM, operates the dating site for cheaters, Ashley Madison, which was affected by a massive hack that exposed the account details of 37 million users, along with sensitive company information contained in emails. Among other things, those emails revealed that Biderman himself… Read More

CEO of Ashley Madison steps down after catastrophic hack

Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses with a poster during an interview at a hotel in Hong Kong August 28, 2013.

Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman is no longer working at the company. His departure comes after subsidiary site Ashley Madison suffered a major hack and leak of its internal data.

Ashley Madison, with its famed tagline “Life’s short. Have an affair,” was made aware that hackers had stolen much of its user and company data in July. The perpetrators of the attack identified themselves as the Impact Team and threatened to reveal the stolen information if Ashley Madison didn’t shut down its site.

In August, the Impact Team made good on its promise by dumping a trove of Ashley Madison data onto the Web, exposing millions of users.

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In the wake of the release, several lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada have popped up, many of which are seeking class action status. In at least one case, the plaintiff is seeking more than $500 million in damages.

Here’s the full statement from Avid Life Media:

Effective today, Noel Biderman, in mutual agreement with the company, is stepping down as Chief Executive Officer of Avid Life Media Inc. (ALM) and is no longer with the company. Until the appointment of a new CEO, the company will be led by the existing senior management team

This change is in the best interest of the company and allows us to continue to provide support to our members and dedicated employees. We are steadfast in our commitment to our customer base.

We are actively adjusting to the attack on our business and members’ privacy by criminals. We will continue to provide access to our unique platforms for our worldwide members.

We are actively cooperating with international law enforcement in an effort to bring those responsible for the theft of proprietary member and business information to justice.

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New York-based “Shazam” for machines, Augury, snags $7 million in funding

New York-area startups and venture capitalists are making funding deals with the hopes of creating the next profitable company. Here's one deal announced today: Who gets : New York-based Augury Inc., founded in 2011, uses technology to figure out how to troubleshoot problems in large machines, such as a pump or HVAC system, by listening to the sounds they emit.

Thread, The U.K. Online Personal Styling Service For Men, Scores $8M Series A

Thread Using a mixture of algorithms and human stylists, London-based Thread works on the premise that a lot of men hate clothes shopping, however much they like stylish attire. The online styling service claims 200,000 customers since it was founded in 2012 and has this week hit a significant funding milestone with the closure of an $8 million Series A round led by Balderton Capital. Read More