Google buys solar-powered drone company Titan Aerospace

Just a month after word came that Facebook was interested in the 20-person drone maker, Google snatches it up for an undisclosed sum.



An artist rendering of a Titan Aerospace Solera 50 drone.Titan Aerospace

Technology companies are expanding beyond the Net and taking to the skies — literally, with solar-powered drones that will beam broadband Internet access to the developing world, which houses growing numbers of newly minted Web users these companies want desperately to get their hands on.

Facebook recently purchased Ascenta, a UK-based startup that makes solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — or simply called drones — for $20 million. Now, Google has entered the fray, purchasing drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed sum, according to a posting on Titan’s now barebones Web site: “We’re thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google.”

In fact, Google scooped up the roughly 20-person startup, based in New Mexico and headed up by former Symantec CEO Vern Raburn, after it was widely reported that Facebook was interested in buying it.

Raburn will stay in charge of Titan Aerospace, Google told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the acquisition. His team will work closely with Google’s Project Loon, the outlandish initiative — born out of Google’s in-house “moon shot” facility Google X that brought us Glass and the self-driving car — to deliver Internet via air balloon. The drone company says it expects “initial commercial operations” to start in 2015.

Titan Aerospace, similar to Facebook-owned competitor Ascenta, is developing two insect-like drones — the smaller of the two with a wingspan a tad larger than a Boeing 767 — with wing-mounted solar panels that will power the aircraft’s batteries to keep it afloat at night. The aircraft, which will fly as high as 12 miles in the sky, are expected to have a long-term aerial lifespan of five years.


An artist rendering of the Solera 50, the smaller of two Titan Aerospace drones that — with a wingspan of 164 feet — will be slightly larger than a Boeing 767. Titan Aerospace

The drones’ primary function will be to help send Internet to places without a current connection at speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second, which — matching the speeds of fiber-delivered Internet — outranks many developed countries. The US averages only 7.2 megabits per second as of 2014, according to the most recent Akamai “State of the Internet” report.

Titan Aerospace also will be outfitting its drones with imaging technology that could bolster the efforts of other Google initiatives like Maps. This includes high-resolution imaging of the Earth, alongside atmospheric sensors and other satellite-provided cellular functions like data and voice call connection.

“It’s still early days for the technology we’re developing,” in particular “atmospheric satellites,” Titan said on its Web site. “There are a lot of ways that we think we could help people, whether it’s providing Internet connections in remote areas or helping monitor environmental damage like oil spills and deforestation.”

Beyond the seemingly humanitarian-geared goals of creating a satellite network of drones lies the next big technology arms race: turning the citizens of developing countries all over the world into not only active Web users, but consumers of products from the very same companies bringing them online. Google has Android and its slew of low-cost handsets that run on it to help in that effort, while Facebook has been working to make its social network function in areas of limited data connectivity bycreating a text-only version.

For Facebook, the plan is to ultimately create more users of its social network. For Google, it’s a more visible cycle of creating new users of its products and services and search engine, which drives advertising revenue that gets funneled back into projects like Loon that facilitate greater access to the Internet that, in turn, creates new users in the Google ecosystem.

From here on out, the battle between tech giants is no longer just over your smartphone and its OS, your search engine of choice, or the destination of your online social life’s most valuable, ad-targeted assets. The fight has gone to space, and it’s not likely to remain so uncrowded as more and more large corporations start snatching up companies like Titan Aerospace and Ascenta in the future.

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Since Facebook Owns WhatsApp, Here Are 5 Alternative Messaging Services

You shouldn’t feel forced to relinquish your messaging data to Facebook.


Facebook stunned the tech world last week when it scooped up the messaging application WhatsApp for $19 billion.

The deal was largely heralded as a win for both sides: Facebook gained a much-needed service it hasn’t yet delivered on, and the small startup cashed in big time. But the downside of the acquisition fell heavily on the shoulders of users—those 450 million people whose private data is now in the hands of Facebook.

If you’re a WhatsApp user who wants to break up with Facebook, or someone looking for a great new messaging application, we’ve put together a list of mobile messaging apps you should try.


Almost five million people signed up for Telegram after Facebook bought WhatsApp. As a messaging service, it is sleek and easy to use.

Telegram, which is built by a Berlin-based nonprofit, is cloud-based and heavily encrypted so users can use several devices to access their messages and documents including both mobile and desktop. Thecompany also claims Telegram is a free service that will remain so in the future, meaning no advertisements or subscription fees will ever be levied on customers.

Telegram is available on iOS and Android. Developers can access and implement the app’s API through Telegram’s open source code.


Snapchat’s sophisticated competitor Wickr brings government-strength security and encryption to your messages. Wickr lets you send self-destructing messages, documents, photos, videos and voice calls that disappear after a select amount of time.

Wickr is entirely anonymous, as the application doesn’t ask for any of your personal information. Wickr is also exceeds top secret and HIPAA compliance, so people in medical, law enforcement, and journalism fields can feel confident using Wickr for secure messaging knowing it can’t be traced or reproduced.

Wickr is available on iOS and Android.


Line is one of the most popular messaging services on the market for free voice and video calling.

The app is massively popular internationally, especially in Asia, and it finally entered the U.S. market earlier this year. Line is more than just a simple messaging application—it has branched out to offer in-app games and a variety of standalone apps like Line Camera and Line Tools. While the app is free, additional services like stickers and games provide revenue for the company. In the first quarter of 2013, Line made $17 million off sticker sales alone.

Line is available on iOSAndroid,Windows Phone, and Blackberry.


Kik is the world’s first messaging application with a built-in browser. The application boasts over 100 million users, a majority coming from North America and Western Europe.

Kik has over 30 HTML5 experiences built into the application for sharing pictures, videos and gaming, according to the company, and recently launched the in-app browser. Kik has also created open source tools to help developers build and optimize their websites for mobile.

Kik is available on iOSAndroidWindows Phone, and BlackBerry.


Tango, like Line, offers an all-inclusive social app with games, music, video, and voice and text messaging. The San Francisco-based company says the app has 150 million users.

Because of the additional features that extend beyond voice calling and messaging, users of more traditional messaging services like WhatsApp may find the interface a bit confusing, but users can personalize their profiles to find and make friends or discover people you may know nearby.

Tango is available on iOSAndroidand Windows Phone.

Breaking Up Is Hard

It’s inconvenient to switch to an entirely new messaging service, especially if all your friends are dedicated to one app. But you shouldn’t feel forced to turn over your data to Facebook either. All these applications provide messaging services that rival WhatsApp, without the commitment to Facebook services, meaning you’re not turning over your mobile phone book and payment information to the social network in exchange for an efficient messaging service.

Lead image by Susan NYC via Flickr. All other images via app stores. 

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Average WhatsApp User Sends More Than 1,200 Messages Each Month

by Matt Petronzio


Ever since Facebook announced that it will acquire popular social messaging app WhatsApp, there has been a lot of buzz about its impressive user base.

The app, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said is “on a path to connect 1 billion people,” currently has more than 450 million daily users. The average WhatsApp user sends more than 1,200 messages per month, receives more than 2,200 per month and uploads 40 photos.

The following chart, created by Statista, breaks down the averages WhatsApp user’s monthly behavior.

WhatsApp Usage Chart


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Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received


FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone Calls

FacebookLinkedInYahooGoogle, and Microsoft have all released new data about the national security requests they’ve received. Under new rules from the US government, each company is now allowed to provide how many requests for member data it’s received, the number of accounts impacted, and the percentage that they respond to.

With regards to Facebook, it says that within the last six months of 2012, only a “small fraction” of one percent of its users were the target of any government data requests, national security-related or otherwise. In the first half of 2013, the company again said that the total volume of requests was a small fraction of one percent.

Unknown 1 730x105 Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

In LinkedIn’s case, it has updated its transparency report to indicate that for the first six months of 2013, the professional social network company received “between 0 and 249″ national security-related requests.

Microsoft says that during the same time period, it received “fewer than 1,000″ FISA orders that sought the disclosure of customer content, which related to between 15,000 and 15,999 accounts. It stresses that this doesn’t necessarily mean more than 15,000 accounts were covered by the government requests though. Additionally, the company received fewer than 1,000 FISA orders for non-content data only, requesting information relating to fewer than 1,000 accounts. Lastly, Microsoft states it has received fewer than 1,000 National Security Letters covering fewer than 1,000 accounts.

Yahoo has also updated the global transparency report it launched back in 2013, showing that the number of accounts requested by governments amounted to less than “one one-hundredth of one percent” of its worldwide user base for the reporting period.

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 10.44.56 AM Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

Not to be outdone, Google has also released its own data that shows that it has received less than 1,000 requests for national security or content from governments from January 2009 to June 2013. It has published the complete table below showing a breakdown of requests and the number of users and accounts affected.

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 9.59.12 AM 730x700 Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft disclose new data about number of NSA requests received

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, says that the US government has agreed to allow companies to share this information, but only that it can be reported “in bands of a thousand”. What’s more, while the aggregate FISA data covers a six month period, it can only be published six months after the reporting period.

Last year, after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden published details about the US agency’s surveillance program “Prism”, tech companies immediatelywent on the defensive to deny accusations that they had provided server access to the government. Some went to court to get the government’s permission to help release some data to help them become more transparent, but were denied.

However, last week, President Obama’s administration decided to relax some rules as it seeks to reform the way it conducts surveillance around the world. Naturally, because of this action, lawsuits from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook have been dropped, but comes with a stipulation: tech companies are prohibited from revealing information about government requests for two years.

US Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the time: “Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public.” However, not everyone shares in the sentiment — the New York Times saysprivacy advocates fear this new rule will prevent the public from knowing if their government is spying on an email platform or chat service.

Since revelations about Prism were made public, tech companies like Google andMicrosoft have added new features and protocols to better protect user data from the NSA.

All of the companies have said they will be updating their transparency reports every six months so the public is aware of any government activity on its servers, but that it will also comply with the NSA rules that restrict when specific data can be revealed.

Photo credit: NSA via Getty Images

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A Tale Of Two ‘Papers’

by  (@jordanrcrook)

A Tale Of Two ‘Papers’

Here’s something that most people forget about the story of David and Goliath: both sides were at war. Facebook, our very own Goliath, and FiftyThree, the David-size company responsible for a design app called Paper, are well aware of this.

Until today, Paper by FiftyThree was the first app shown when you search for “Paper” in the iPad App Store. But Facebook’s new reader app, also named Paper, may usurp that spot very soon.

Facebook’s Paper app was announced last Thursday, but launched on the App Store just this morning. FiftyThree responded with their own blog post, explaining that after communicating with Facebook and asking that the name of the new app be changed, the social network refused.

“We reached out to Facebook about the confusion their app was creating, and they apologized for not contacting us sooner. But an earnest apology should come with a remedy,” reads the blog post, penned by CEO and co-founder Georg Petschnigg.

We reached out to Facebook as well, but the social network declined to comment.

Legally, the situation is complicated. As it stands now, no one lays claim to the term “Paper” on its own, as trademark lawyer Victor Cardona confirmed. So technically, Facebook hasn’t done anything wrong.

The trademark owned by FiftyThree is “Paper by FiftyThree,” which was filed for in May of 2012, and passed in December of the same year. Though FiftyThree declined to comment on legal matters with its trademark, Cardona (who is a partner at HRFM lawfirm) believes that the company chose to pair “Paper” with “by FiftyThree” so that it could slide a generic term like Paper through the process.

Cardona also added that in certain situations, trademarks are use-based. This means that “just by using a mark in a particular field, you’ve got rights,” said Cardona. “Some are state-based and some are federal-based, but if I start using a mark before you in the same area of goods or services, I’ve got rights to the mark over you.”

When asked if FiftyThree would move forward legally, Petschnigg simply said that FiftyThree is “keeping options open.” However, he did express that trademarks are use-based, and that Paper is recognizable as a FiftyThree brand, which hints that the company is certainly considering taking this one to court.

If such a scenario arises, Cardona believes that FiftyThree “has a good shot.”

According to Petschnigg, Fifty-Three filed an application to trademark the term “Paper” on its own, but would not disclose the timeline. USPTO applications show up in search almost immediately, and neither Cardona nor I could find FiftyThree’s application for just “Paper”. In other words, it’s entirely possible that Fifty-Three filed for the term “Paper” in the past five days, after hearing about Facebook’s new app name.

Trademark lawyer and expert, Roberto Ledesma, also believes that FiftyThree has a valid infringement case against Facebook.

“It really will come down to how many third-party Paper marks are out there in this industry, and whether or not FiftyThree’s mark has been made weaker by other third-party marks,” said Ledesma. “But Facebook should have been aware of FiftyThree’s prior trademark rights.”

But setting legalese aside, is Facebook right or wrong?

After all, Facebook has all the resources in the world, both financially and creatively, to come up with an original and simple name. Obviously, Paper by Facebook is an important app to the company — lately Facebook has been more focused on separating out services into stand-alone apps, and Reader just may be the one to replace Facebook altogether — so you’d think originality would be a top priority.

So why take a name from an app developer that claims to have strong ties to Facebook?

Here’s what the blog post said about it:

On a personal level we have many ties to Facebook. Many friends, former students and colleagues are doing good work at Facebook. One of Facebook’s board members is an investor in FiftyThree. We’re a Facebook developer, and Paper supports sharing to Facebook where close to 500,000 original pages have been shared. Connections run deep.

“At this point it’s about asking Facebook to do the right thing,” Petschnigg told TechCrunch. “We’re taking a stand for creativity and believe in having a level playing field when it comes to people building their brands and their companies.”

The apps don’t directly compete in terms of utility, so there’s certainly no hostility between the two companies. Which is why an explanation from Facebook seems even more warranted.

But is it?

Facebook has never been apologetic about the fact that its new products aren’t “original.” When Snapchat posed a threat, Facebook launched Poke, a shameless clone. Zuckerberg recentlyadmitted was a joke, but I bet Fifty-Three isn’t laughing today. And I bet Evan Spiegel didn’t laugh at Poke.

When Instagram started consuming the minds and thumbs of social media addicts, Zuck bought it.For $1 billion. Most recently, Zuck was reported to offer Snapchat a $3B acquisition after seeing the photo-sharing app’s rapid growth over the past two years.

Even the Paper app isn’t original. It’s just a rip-off of Flipboard and Pulse and other content curation services.

Ten years after the social network revolutionized the way we communicate and connect on the internet, Facebook is anything but original. And that’s not really a problem.

Some of the most successful companies in the world have piggy-backed off of the innovations of others, elevating an already-discovered technology to a more user-friendly place. Just look at Apple.

Does this make Facebook more lovable? No. Does it grow our respect for the social network as an innovator and world-changer? Certainly not. But that’s what happens when you grow up.

Facebook is no longer the mom-and-pop bakery where you get your morning coffee, nor is it the super private social network we used to connect with our college friends. Facebook is Wal-Mart. Facebook is Exxon. Facebook is a business, and a great one at that.

And no matter how much it sucks for Fifty-Three, who will forevermore deal with confusion over the name of their first-born product, Facebook really doesn’t care if their new app disrupts some startup’s business.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story either.

Like the last times, we’ll make a big fuss and then forget. Zuck will save the internet, or crush it with mobile ad revenues, or do something else awesomely Zuck-like, and it won’t matter who was crushed along the way.

It’s just good business.

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Pinterest more popular than email for sharing content online


Sometimes, the tech startup world can make your brain hurt. This tends to happen, for instance, when a website where people share pictures of their favourite hairstylescars, and historical moments is valued at  nearly $4 billion  (£2.4 billion).

But this particular site, Pinterest, has become a potent force on the internet. According to a new study, it’s now one of the primary ways that people share stuff online. It even tops email.

The study comes from  ShareThis, makers of a ubiquitous website widget that lets you share stuff in myriad ways. The company found that in the fourth quarter of 2013, Pinterest raced past email to become the third-most popular way to share online. It was topped only by Facebook and Twitter.

“In a sign of how quickly social media has changed the digital landscape, consumers are now ‘pinning’ things like articles, photos and recipes to share with their friends more often than emailing links,” wrote Kurt Abrahamson of ShareThis in a  blog post.

Facebook remained the most popular way to share, according to ShareThis. But Pinterest’s sharing stats are growing the fastest. Its popularity took a 58 percent leap, while Facebook came in just behind at 57 percent. LinkedIn’s growth was 40 percent, while Twitter topped out at 15 percent. Use of email, meanwhile, declined by 11 percent.

ShareThis says that the rise of Pinterest was driven in large part by women, a trend also identified by a recent  Pew survey, and by users in the Midwest. The West Coast leaned toward Facebook and Google+, while the Northeast preferred Twitter and LinkedIn.

Giving advertisers exactly what they want
Given Pinterest’s apparently massive popularity, it’s hard to imagine the company will have difficulty getting advertisers on board, especially because its users are so eager to share their consumer preferences.

On Facebook, you’re more likely to share pictures of your kids than the next pair of shoes you want to buy. On Twitter, you’re probably linking to  Justin Bieber’s mug shot. But Pinterest is perfectly tailored for aspirational consumerism. “I covet this” is the subtext of innumerable pins. For advertisers seeking to target a relevant audience, it looks like a pretty efficient way of spending their dollars.

The question is how Pinterest users will react to seeing ads among their pins. As with Twitter before  Promoted Tweets or Facebook before Sponsored Stories, Pinterest feeds enjoy a certain commercial-free purity, even though much of what people share and see through the site amounts to free advertising for whatever is being pinned.

Pinterest must design its ad streams carefully to avoid alienating its users. So far, its design instincts have been spot on, judging from the figures from ShareThis. If it can extend this to ads, that $4 billion valuation won’t make our heads hurt quite so much.

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WeChat, A Messaging App With 300 Million Users, Could Keep Facebook And Twitter From Expanding Into China


WeChat, China’s insanely popular messaging app, gained nearly 300 million users in three years. People use it as a way to send messages, photos, videos, and cartoony stickers to each other. It also has become a big hindrance for Facebook and other social services.

WeChat China Expansion

The New York Times David Barboza writes that the appcreated by Internet company Tencent has made it impossible for Facebook and Twitter to expand in Asia.

Barboza interviewed Forrester Research technology analyst Wang Xiaofeng who explained the core problem:

“Weixin has all the functionality of Facebook and Twitter, and Chinese have already gotten used to it.”

The Chinese government blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2009 without explanation. While Twitter and Youtube are still blocked, Facebook is patiently trying to find a way back into the market.

Barboza’s article says that WeChat is an mix of the most popular social media tools.Since the app is already capable of doing a multitude of tasks, users may not be interested in single services like watching videos on YouTube or adding pretty filters to a photo with Instagram.

Tencent’s future plans for WeChat is to possibly incorporate travel requests such as being able to book taxis and hotels but the company is commit ed to being the leader in social networking.

To read the rest of David’s article click here.

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