MySpace users threaten to sue after years of blogs deleted

MySpace has been accused of deleting years worth of users’ personal blogs and histories after the site underwent a $20 million relaunch last month.

The move was a bid to shed the site’s outdated image and attract a new teenage fanbase, after millions of users migrated to Facebook as their primary social networking site in the late 2000s.

Purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2005 for $580m, a decision Murdoch has since called a “huge mistake”, MySpace’s focus on music and entertainment over social interaction has been credited as one of the reasons behind its decline.

At its peak, the site boasted 125m users and more webpage visits than Google. It now has around 25m users.

In 2011 Specific Media Group and pop heartthrob Justin Timberlake jointly purchased the company for $35m, and have since attempted to rebrand the site for the teenage generation through campaigns with rapper Pharrell.

This sleek new makeover has resulted in the deletion of blogs, videos, private messages, posts and comments without prior warning, much to the fury of its remaining loyal users.

Distraught fans created a thread entitled ‘I want my blogs and classic myspace back’ to vent their frustration at the move one user called “crass arrogance”.

They continued: “You have stolen 6 years of blogs and something that is priceless to me and cannot be replaced.”

Another lamented the deletion of her blogs, writing: “Openly and freely I shared intimate moments that can not be relived or retold for they where experienced. I would revisit myspace religiously because of my blogs… Myspace did an ultimate back stab.” [sic]

MySpace responded to concerns with the soothing message that the information had not been lost forever.

It said: “Change isn’t easy and there has been a lot going on lately. We understand that this information is very important to you. Please understand that your blogs have not been deleted. Your content is safe and we have been discussing the best ways possible to provide you your blogs.”

Hackers use Dropbox, WordPress to spread malware

The Chinese cyberspies behind the widely publicized espionage campaign against The New York Times have added Dropbox and WordPress to their bag of spear-phishing tricks.

The gang, known in security circles as the DNSCalc gang, has been using the Dropbox file-sharing service for roughly the last 12 months as a mechanism for spreading malware, said Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer for Cyber Squared. While the tactic is not unique, it remains under the radar of most companies.

“I wouldn’t say it’s new,” Barger said on Thursday. “It’s just something that folks aren’t really looking at or paying attention to.”

The gang is among 20 Chinese groups identified this year by security firm Mandiant thatlaunch cyberattacks against specific targets to steal information. In this case, the DNSCalc gang was going after intelligence on individuals or governments connected to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN is a non-governmental group that represents the economic interests of ten Southeast Asian countries.

The attackers did not exploit any vulnerabilities in Dropbox or WordPress. Instead, they opened up accounts and used the services as their infrastructure.

The gang uploaded on Dropbox a .ZIP file disguised as belonging to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. Messages were then sent to people or agencies that would be interested in the draft of a Council policy paper. The paper, contained in the file, was legitimate, Barger said.

When a recipient unzipped the file, they saw another one that read, “2013 US-ASEAN Business Council Statement of Priorities in the US-ASEAN Commercial Relationship Policy Paper.scr.” Clicking on the file would launch a PDF of the document, while the malware opened a backdoor to the host computer in the background.

Once the door was open, the malware would reach out to a WordPress blog created by the attackers. The blog contained the IP address and port number of a command and control server that the malware would contact to download additional software.

Dropbox is a desirable launchpad for attacks because employees of many companies use the service. “People trust Dropbox,” Barger said.

For companies that have the service on its whitelist, malware moving from Dropbox won’t be detected by a company’s intrusion prevention systems. Also, communications to a WordPress blog would likely go undetected, since it would not be unusual behavior for any employee with access to the Internet.

In general, no single technology can prevent such an attack. “There’s no silver bullet here,” Barger said.

The best prevention is for security pros to share information when their companies are targeted, so others can draw up their own defense, he said.

In The New York Times attack, the hackers penetrated the newspaper’s systems in September 2012 and worked undercover for four months before they were detected.

The attack coincided with an investigative piece the newspaper published on business dealings that reaped several billion dollars for the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister.

Facebook’s Balancing Act: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good news: Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) turned fabulously profitable in the just-reported second quarter thanks to a redesigned ad flow on mobile Facebook apps. Revenues jumped 23% from the first quarter to the second. Last year, the same comparison yielded just an 11% seasonal gain. The year-ago quarter’s net loss turned into a tidy profit.

In response, share prices jumped more than 30% overnight and sit very close to all-time highs that were set during the stock’s IPO.

The bad news: The ad assault is interfering with the user experience. A fresh survey (free registration required) from the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows Facebook dead last among online media sites in terms of user satisfaction. “Facebook users find the numerous changes to the site’s interface taxing,” says the ACSI. Twenty-seven percent of users surveyed complained that ads are ruining their Facebook experience these days.

The ugly news: The good news may not last very long. Facebook had better dial back the ad blitz if it wants those disgruntled users to stick around.

It’s a high-wire balancing act between monetization and user satisfaction. Lean too far in one direction, and you won’t make any money from those billions of page views. Err too far in the other direction, and those profitable page views will melt away as unhappy users find greener pastures.

Don’t think it couldn’t happen. Facebook is not too big to fail. Unless the company strikes that crucial balance before it’s too late, we could very well see another mass exodus from one leading social network to another.

Facebook itself killed MySpace by launching a better service in the same genre. Before that, MySpace trampled all over social pioneer Friendster in much the same way.

And there are Facebook alternatives waiting to crush the current king at the first opportunity, believe it or not.

Chief among these is Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) and its Google+ service, which benefits from tight integration with the world’s most popular search engine as well as with leading video site YouTube.

Twitter sings a somewhat different tune but can fill many of the functions of a Facebook account. LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD  ) is basically Facebook for corporate users and could very well expand into the consumer side of things if it wanted to.

All of these alternatives offer fewer ads and a cleaner experience than Facebook. LinkedIn ties with Facebook at the least satisfied end of the ACSI survey; everyone else runs miles ahead. Yes, even the much-maligned Google+ “ghost town.” And even LinkedIn reports fewer ad-taint complaints than Facebook.

That’s why I’d take this week’s Facebook share-price pop as a temporary boost, and not as a sustainable clean bill of health. The service currently leans far too heavy on the monetization side of the fence and runs a very real risk of finding out that the next era of social networking doesn’t include much Facebooking.

So my bearish CAPScall on Facebook stays in place until Mark Zuckerberg and company adjust their strategy again. If you can’t keep your users happy, the money will very quickly cease to matter.

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Apple Developer Website Online Again Following Cyberattack

Apple’s developer website was back online Friday, more than a week after it was targeted by a hacker who reportedly attempted to steal personal information, various media outlets have reported.

According to Bloomberg’s Jordan Robertson, the website used by engineers who write Mac and iOS device applications was said to be active as of 5pm Pacific time on July 26. The attack had forced it offline for a total of eight days.

“Developers use the site for software downloads, documentation and engineering information,” Robertson said. “The maker of iPhones and iPads said this week that it’s ‘completely overhauling’ its developer systems to prevent a security threat from happening again. While some of the website’s information was encrypted, Applesaid it hadn’t been able to rule out whether names, mailing addresses or e-mail addresses may have been accessed.”

The website targeted by the cyberattack is used by the Cupertino, California-based tech giant to communicate with its community of nearly six million software developers, according to Reuters reporter Aman Shah. A UK-based Turkish researcher named Ibrahim Balic has claimed responsibility for the attack, which he says was not malicious in nature, but not everyone buys his story.

“Balic, who describes himself as a security consultant, claimed on Sunday that he had discovered a number of weaknesses in the site at developer.apple.com which allowed him to grab email addresses of registered developers,” Guardian reporter Charles Arthur explained. “In all, Balic said he had been able to grab the details of 100,000 people registered on the site, and that he included 73 of them in a bug report to Apple.

“He claimed that he exploited a cross-site scripting (XSS) bug in the site,” he added. “However XSS attacks generally require the attacker – which in this case would be Balic – to ‘infect’ a page with a malicious piece of Javascript or HTML which would then be used to extract data from a visiting user. If Balic’s claim is correct, he seems to have used the XSS exploits against his own system.”

Arthur said they attempted to contact 29 people whose emails were allegedly extracted by Balic during the hacking, but seven of those emails bounced and none of the remaining 22 responded to requests to state whether or not they are registered Apple developers. Furthermore, none of the names or email addresses could be located online, which the Guardian notes would be unusual for active software developers.

“Many of the names and email addresses either don’t look like they would belong to Apple developers, or appear to have left no footprints anywhere else on the net,” added independent security consultant Graham Cluley. In addition, in reference to ten emails featured in a YouTube video created by the alleged hacker, Cluley said, “It’s almost as though these are long-discarded ghost email addresses from years ago or have been used by Balic in his video for reasons best known to himself.”

In related news, a new phishing scam involving Apple has arisen on the heels of the developer website hacking,according to CNET’s Charlie Osborne. Attempting to capitalize on security concerns raised by the cyberattack, the new phishing scam warns users to click on a link in order to change their passwords.

While the email is short, it may appear legitimate to some users, Osborne said. However, it includes a grammar mistake in the title, fails to capitalize Apple on several locations and includes a link that clearly does not lead to a domain registered or owned by the tech giant.

“Users have taken to Twitter to warn others of the phishing attacks, and security firm Kaspersky Lab has found that Apple-related phishing scams have skyrocketed in the last six months, with scammers focused on stealing login credentials and financial data,” the CNET writer added.

Facebook Earnings Review: What Wall Street Thinks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Facebook’s (FB_) second-quarter earnings focused on mobile revenue. Shares were soaring in premarket trading Thursday as Wall Street raised price targets and upgraded shares.

 The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social networker earned 19 cents a share on $1.813 billion in revenue for the quarter, as mobile advertising revenue accounted for 41% of advertising revenue this quarter. Total advertising revenue was $1.6 billion, 88% of total revenue, and up 61% year over year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters were expecting Facebook to earn 14 cents a share on $1.62 billion in revenue for the quarter.

The company ended the quarter with 1.15 billion monthly active users (MAUs), up 21% year over year. There was a 51% annual increase in mobile MAUs, which drove the strength in mobile revenue. Daily active users (DAUs) were 699 million, up 27% annually.

Following the earnings, many analysts were bullish, with several upgrading shares and raising price targets. Here’s what some analysts on Wall Street had to say:

JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth (Overweight, $44 PT)

“Facebook delivered its strongest quarter yet as a public company–results that we think could be thesis-changing for many–and we would continue to buy Facebook shares even after the ~17% move up in the after-market. Our revenue and nonGAAP EPS estimates increase 12% and 38% for 2013, and 22% and 46% for 2014.”

Topeka Capital Markets analyst Victor Anthony (Buy, $40 PT)

“Facebook needed to, and delivered, a blowout quarter. What is clear from the results is advertisers have validated Facebook as an advertising platform. For full year 2013, our revenue and Adj. EPS increases to $7.196B and $0.71, resp, from $6.733B and $0.63. We still see more upside for the stock and recommend purchase. There are several well defined catalysts over the next two years that should lead to further share price appreciation, including: 1) monetizing Instagram, which, per CEO Zuckerberg, will generate “a lot of profits”, 2) launch of auto-play video ads, 3) monetizing Graph Search, 4) a bigger push into e-commerce, and 5) the potential for S&P 500 inclusion. Further, only 1mm or 6% of FB’s 18mm potential advertisers are buying ads, implying a huge runway for advertiser uptake exists.”

Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia (Buy, $37 PT)

“We are incrementally bullish on FB’s prospects following 2Q results and believe the stock should be a core holding in Internet portfolios. 2Q’s highlight was Mobile advertising (+76% q/q versus consensus +20%). Overall revenue (53% y/y) and EBITDA (+57% y/y) accelerated from 1Q’s 38%/35% revenue/EBITDA growth. Better than expected user engagement, strong monetization and good cost control helped FB outperform even the most bullish expectations on the Street. Reiterating Buy.”

Oppenheimer analyst Jason Helfstein (Outperform, $36 PT)

“Following materially better than expected 2Q results, we are increasing our estimates and price target, and are reiterating our Outperform rating. 2Q upside was driven by higher advertiser demand for newsfeed, both on volume and price, and since mobile Newsfeed pricing is similar to desktop and advertisers are largely indifferent between mobile and desktop, revenues are tracking the consumer shift to smartphones. We believe this dynamic is an important differentiator vs. other ad-supported internet companies, that are being hurt by the mobile mix shift. As such, we are increasing ’13E and ’14E revenue by 3% and 5%, and non-GAAP EPS by 7% and 9%, respectively. Raising target to $36 from $32.”

Shares of Facebook were soaring following earnings, tacking on 30.48% to $34.59 in premarket trading.

Google’s Chromecast could throw your mobile and browser games onto your TV

Google was announced The Chromecast, a small WiFi-enabled HDMI dongle that may well prove big news for bringing mobile and browser games to your living room.

The Chromecast plugs into your television’s HDMI slot, and allows you to send content from Android and iOS devices to the TV screen via Wi-Fi, while also supporting Chromebooks, and the Chrome web browser for Mac and Windows.

The device that is connected to the Chromecast then controls everything you see on the TV. The one caveat is that mobile apps need to integrate the Googlecast SDK to be able to send content across (apps in a Chrome web browser will work via “Chrome tab projection.”)

The device costs $35, and is already available to purchase directly from the Google Play Store. Notably, the possibility of projecting mobile and browser games via the device is not mentioned on the official website, which focuses on the video and music capabilities of the device.

As such, there’s no word as-of-yet regarding whether games will be fully supported, or whether input lag will cause issues for this particular line of fire.

Facebook speeds PHP by crafting a PHP virtual machine

Social networking giant Facebook has taken another step at making the PHP Web programming language run more quickly. The company has developed a PHP Virtual Machine that it says can execute the language as much as nine times as quickly as running PHP natively on large systems.

“Our goal is to make PHP run really, really quickly,” said Joel Pobar, a Facebook engineering manager. Facebook has been using the virtual machine, called the HipHop Virtual Machine (HHVM), across all of its servers since earlier this year.

Pobar discussed the virtual machine at the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) being held this week in Portland, Oregon.

Shares its development tools

HHVM is not Facebook’s first foray into customizing PHP for faster use. PHP is aninterpreted language, meaning that the source code is executed by the processor directly. Generally speaking, programs written in interpreted languages such as PHP tend not to run as quickly as languages, such as C or C++, that have been compiled beforehand into machine language byte code. Facebook has remained loyal to PHP because it is widely understood by many of the Web programmers who work for the company.

To keep up with the insatiable user demand, however, Facebook originally devised a compiler, called HipHop, that would translate PHP code into C++, so it then it could be compiled ahead of time for faster performance.

While Facebook enjoyed considerable performance gains of this first version of HipHop for several years, it sought other ways to speed the delivery of the dynamically created Web pages to its billion or so users. “Our performance strategy for that was going to tap out,” Pobar admitted.

HHVM is the next step for Facebook. Under development for about three years, HHVM actually works on the same principle as the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). HHVM has a just-in-time (JIT) compiler that converts the human readable source code into machine-readable byte code when it is needed. (The previous HipHop, renamed HPHPc, has now been retired within Facebook.)

This JIT approach allows the virtual machine to “make smarter decisions at runtime,” Pobar said. For instance, if a call is made to the MySQL database to read a row of data, the HHVM can, on the fly, figure out what type of data it is, such as an integer or a string. It then can generate or call code on the fly that would be best suited for handling this particular type of data.

With the old HipHop, “the best it can do is analyze the entire Facebook codebase, reason about it and then specialize code based on its reasoning. But it can’t get all of the reasoning right. There are parts of the code base that you can not simply infer about or reason about,” Pobar said.

Virtual system speedier

Pobar estimated that HHVM is about twice as fast as HPHPc was, and about nine times as fast as running straight PHP.

Facebook has posted the code for HHVM on GitHub, with the hopes that others will use it to speed their PHP websites as well.

HHVM is optimized for handling very large, and heavily used, PHP codebases. Pobar reckoned that using HHVM for standard sized websites, such as one hosting a WordPress blog, would gain only about a fivefold performance improvement.

“If you take some PHP and run it in on HipHop, the CPU execution time [may] not be the limiting factor for performance. Chances are [the system is] spending too much time talking to the database or spending too time talking to [the] memcache” caching layer, Pobar said.

Yahoo Sports Launches New Fantasy App With Mobile Drafting

Yahoo announced that it has launched its new 2013 Fantasy Sports app today, which brings a new design, and new features to the experience.

One of the big new improvements is that it now features mobile drafting, which many will find tremendously helpful. It’s a lot of pressure to be at a computer during draft time.

 

“Managers can now sign up, draft a team and win their league championship from their iOS and Android device thanks to new technology incorporated by Bignoggins Production, Loki Studios and the Yahoo! Sports mobile team,” a spokesperson for Yahoo tells WebProNews. “The app also now features mock drafting, to help fans prepare and get an edge on the competition.”

Yahoo announced its acquisition of Bignoggins just a few weeks ago. They haven’t wasted any time.

“And starting with football, for the first time ever, all of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy games will live under one mobile roof – the Yahoo! Sports Fantasy app – including basketball, hockey and baseball,” the spokesperson adds.

According to Yahoo, the new app is faster than previous experiences. It also has free notifications.

The app is available for iOS and Android.

Opera Next 16 hints at new features

Norwegian browser developer Opera Software has confirmed the switch of its browser development to a rapid release cycle with the launch of Opera Next 16. The new version number comes less than a month after Opera 15 FINAL was released, which saw Opera switch from its own proprietary Presto web engine to the Blink engine used by Google Chrome.

As with all rapid release cycle updates, there are no major overhauls to be found in Opera Next 16, although a number of interesting new features have been showcased as the next iteration starts its journey towards final release.

Opera 16 — which is based on Chromium 29, the engine that powers Chrome 29 (currently in beta) — comes with support for the W3C Geolocation API, a form auto-filler tool and opera:flags, a shortcut to settings that allows adventurous users to play with experimental features.

Users will also find a new setting under Browser > Start Page called “Preload Discover contents”, which allows users to switch this feature off.

Platform-specific updates include support for Jump Lists in Windows 7 and 8, plus the addition of Presentation mode to the Mac platform.

In addition to these existing features, Opera has revealed the next set of features it’s working on, with the promise that early versions of these will be rolled out into the Opera Next build over the next few weeks. These include proper bookmarks support, synchronization via Opera Link, improved tab handling and themes.

Opera Next 16 is considered “alpha” software, which is why — like Firefox Aurora — it’s designed to run alongside an existing stable build of Opera, allowing users to experiment with new features without affecting their day-to-day browsing. Updates are frequent as bugs are discovered and fixed, but users should not attempt to rely on Opera Next as their primary browser, hence the separate installation.

Mozilla ponders blinkers for your browser

Mozilla Labs has outlined an experiment it’s conducting in improving the personalisation web publishers can offer readers who browse their sites using Firefox.

The outfit says it’s been working on the idea since last year, when it “conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking.”

In return for opting in to the trial, lab rats were offered “insight into how they spend time online.”

Mozilla Labs is now wondering “what if these interests were also available for the user to share with the websites they visit to get a better, more personalized browsing experience” so that “content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests”?

Here’s one scenario the outfit has imagined as resulting from this line of thinking:

“For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible.”

Some publishers have already pressed the API for this kind of thing into service, according to the Mozilla Blog, but the code is not in the wild and is being tested – technically and conceptually – as Mozilla figures out how people will react to websites that dynamically change content based on readers’ past behaviours.

One example of successful personalisation mentioned in the posts announcing the initiative is The Guardian’s offer to ensure its readers see no news about the birth of George Alexander Louis Windsor. That’s a service many will doubtless enjoy. Whether such personalisation can result in readers choosing only to encounter lines of inquiry and opinions they already agree with, and therefore deciding to consume media that re-enforces their feelings rather than offering broader perspectives, is a wider debate for another day. Or the comments.