Friendsy Gets $500k To Grow Its .edu-Only U.S. Tinder Rival

Friendsy Stay long enough in tech and you’ll see the same ideas being recycled, usually with a slight twist. To wit: Friendsy, a student-only social network that’s aiming to bringing Tinder-style meet-up ease to existing communities of U.S. college students. Like TheFacebook of yore, it requires users have a .edu email to sign up. While its app also includes the now ubiquitous Tinderish… Read More

Alibaba’s Cloud Computing Group Says Its New Artificial Intelligence Platform Is China’s First

cloud computing Aliyun, the cloud computing unit of Alibaba Group, is launching an artificial intelligence platform that it claims is the first in China. Called DT PAI, the service combines algorithms used by Alibaba with machine and deep learning techniques and presents them in a simple drag-and-drop interface. Aliyun says developers can use DT PAI to predict user behavior without having to write new code. Read More

Amazon Bans Flash Ads from Site

The e-commerce giant announced a change in its ad policy to eliminate Flash ads on the site starting September 1. The Flash ban aims to ensure customers have consistent experiences on Amazon. Recent browser setting updates from Google Chrome as well as existing browser settings from Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari that limit Flash content displayed on Web pages, led the company to make the move.

LINE for Android updated with big focus on low-cost calling

Reuters / Toru Hanai

LINE, Japan’s popular mobile messaging app that has been struggling to grow beyond its home turf, today released an updated Android app (version 5.4.0) with a new focus on low-cost calling.

The service now known as LINE Out, which lets users make calls to mobiles and landlines anywhere in the world “at competitive rates” from inside the app, has been rebranded from LINE Premium Call.

The company also wrote on its blog that the calling feature has been given a “major overhaul to make it easier than ever to use”, so the move to a simpler and more memorable name makes sense. LINE Out will likely sound familiar to anyone who has used Skype’s similar feature (previously called SkypeOut).

The update is likely part of a wider push by the company to appeal to a broader international user base after its Q2 earnings report at the end of July revealed it was struggling to grow outside Japan. Its revenues were also down quarter-on-quarter for the first time.

The company is likely looking to grow its paying phone calling customers — many existing users already have credit cards linked to their accounts — it could take some of the pressure off its other revenue channels. LINE currently makes most of its money through stickers ($75 million in its first year) and in-app purchases within its gaming titles.

LINE Out has also been given more prominence within the app, now available as a “Calls” tab from the main horizontal menu bar alongside the tabs Friends, Chats, and Timeline.

LINE's new Android app update

Above: LINE’s new Android app update

But the calling out experience still isn’t integrated entirely smoothly. Because users will oftentimes be calling friends or contacts on their mobile or landline who are not LINE themselves, there is some manual setting up required to make it all work.

From within settings, you will have to “sync up friends’ phone numbers registered inside your phone’s contacts to make easy and low-cost calls to friends who aren’t using LINE yet.” For LINE users who have already added phone numbers to their profiles, obviously this additional step won’t be required. But then when free voice calls are available within the app over an Internet connection, it seems unlikely that many LINE Out calls will be made to existing LINE contacts.

A built-in keypad is also accessible through an icon at the top right of the app’s home screen for users who want to dial a number “the old-fashioned way.”

While this update in and of itself may not seem especially notable, it is likely to be the first of many in what will emerge as a wider attempt to offer paid services that attract international users, and that help LINE to differentiate itself from more successful competitors like WhatsApp.

As further evidence of its continued push into new markets, earlier this month the company launched a ‘Lite’ version of its mobile messaging app globally (clearly aimed at users who don’t enjoy such fast speeds and generous data consumption as in Japan), as well as a new app that lets friends share their current locations in real time.

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China passed 250M 4G users in July, more than double the subscribers in the U.S.

Apple's CEO Tim Cook on a visit to China in 2014. Reuters / China Stringer Network

China’s 4G mobile users surpassed 250 million for the first time at the end of July, according to newly released data (link in Chinese) from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (hat tip to TechNode). If you throw 3G users into the mix, that number shoots up to a whopping 695 million users, with China’s total mobile user base now at 1.29 billion.

250 million is a milestone to be celebrated — it represents 4G penetration of nearly 20 percent, versus 40 percent (over 100 million) in the US at the end of 2014. Still, the figure belies a slightly shadier forecast: The report made clear that China’s mobile user growth rate so far this year has slowed to just a quarter of what it was over the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the country’s state-run English-language newspaper China Daily over the weekend notes that the country has achieved this explosive growth in a mere 20 months since regulators first issued telcos 4G licenses. Though, somewhat confusingly, the article pegs the country’s 4G user base at 225 million, possibly in reference to June’s numbers rather than July’s.

Xinhua, the Chinese government’s official press agency, on Monday also had the 250 million number. The same report pointed out that the country’s three telecom giants — China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile (currently the world’s largest telco) — “raked in a total of 75.3 billion yuan (about $11.8 billion) in the first half of 2015.” This was largely off the back of continued 4G growth.

Combined, 3G and 4G in the country now have a penetration of close to 54 percent among mobile users, according to the ministry’s report, and while the addition of new subscribers may be slowing, data consumption is through the roof. An average user in China now consumes around 330MB of data per month, almost twice as much (up 85 percent) as 12 months ago.

China’s International Telecommunication Union confirmed that it is actively developing 5G technology and industry, keeping up the blistering pace of development. But there has also been major reshuffling announced Monday at the very top levels of the country’s three telcos as Beijing aims to revamp state-owned firms.

4G growth aside, the broader challenges being faced by China’s volatile economy of late have rocked markets and tech stocks worldwide, leading Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to take the unusual step of issuing a statement to CNBC on Monday in an attempt to soothe investors. Apple, like an increasing number of smartphone makers, is heavily reliant (read: overexposed) on Chinese consumer demand to hit Wall Street’s targets.

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Hackers Now Going After Ashley Madison Targets

Ashley Madison Hackers have taken to the 36 million email list stolen during the Ashley Madison hack to attempt to extort folks who may or may not have used the app to cheat. Brian Krebs has spoken to an admin in Milwaukee named Rick Romero who has been actively blocking outdoing emails asking hacked users to send a single bitcoin to keep their accounts private. Hello, Unfortunately, your data was leaked… Read More

RIP Summer

After a multi-year bull cycle that raised the prices of domestic equities to levels that made value-focused investors squirm, the U.S. markets are suffering from a stiff correction , dropping in partial step with international shares and other assets. Apple opened dramatically lower this morning, mirroring broad index declines.

Alibaba’s Aliyun cloud launches DT PAI, an artificial intelligence service

Alibaba's headquarters in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Alibaba today announced the launch of DT PAI, a new service in its Aliyun public cloud that will be able to handle machine learning processes.

Aliyun will launch a free public trial of the service for a select group of early users in the next few weeks, DT PAI product manager Xiao Wei told VentureBeat in an email.

“DTPAI contains matured and advanced ML algorithms whose effectiveness are verified by Alibaba’s profound data scenarios in Taobao, Tmall or Alipay business,” Wei wrote. The service can deal with workloads such as classification, clustering, feature abstraction, and large-scale statistics, he wrote. The service will even be able to perform an increasingly popular type of artificial intelligence known as deep learning.

When it comes to logistic regression, a type of statistical model, DT PAI “can process data with 10 billion plus dimensions of features and 100 billion plus of records,” Wei wrote.

It’s not surprising to see Alibaba expand its cloud like this. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure have both released cloud services for machine learning in the past year. And Alibaba is quickly revving up to match the capabilities of those public clouds. Last month Aliyun announced plans to add graphic processing units (GPUs) and solid state drives (SSDs), and Alibaba also committed to spending $1 billion to expand Aliyun in Japan, Europe and the Middle East.

Alibaba is indeed based in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, far away from the West Coast, where Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are based. But the company is obviously looking to expand its business outside of China.

“We are happy to serve users worldwide and we support English,” Wei wrote.

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Marc Benioff, Salesforce Takes A Different Philanthropic Tack Toward Backing SF’s K-12 Schools

salesforce-schools As San Francisco’s population rapidly changes with an influx of new tech money and workers, a big question is what happens to the city’s K-12 schools and what tech’s ultimate influence on local education will be. Will tech’s presence improve public schools or bypass them by funneling even more students and wealth into pricey private schools? The answer is a little bit… Read More