Category Archives: New Products

Snapchat improves app security after user account leak


After the usernames and mobile numbers of 4.6 million users found their way onto the Web this week, Snapchat has taken steps to plug the some of the security gaps in its photo sharing app. In a blog post that seems short on contrition, the development team promises that an update is on the way to prevent this sort of large-scale data harvesting in the future.

At the center of the security storm is the Find Friends feature that enables your friends to add you on Snapchat via your phone number. With a little bit of hacking, an unscrupulous individual can ping Snapchat’s databases to match names to numbers, and this is exactly what has happened.

Snapchat’s official blog post starts off with a defence of the Find Friends feature before firing a shot across the bows of Gibson Security, who first brought this Snapchat vulnerability to the public’s attention: “A security group first published a report about potential Find Friends abuse in August 2013. Shortly thereafter, we implemented practices like rate limiting aimed at addressing these concerns. On Christmas Eve, that same group publicly documented our API, making it easier for individuals to abuse our service and violate our Terms of Use.”

“On New Years Eve, an attacker released a database of partially redacted phone numbers and usernames. No other information, including Snaps, was leaked or accessed in these attacks,” continues the statement. “We will be releasing an updated version of the Snapchat application that will allow Snapchatters to opt out of appearing in Find Friends after they have verified their phone number. We’re also improving rate limiting and other restrictions to address future attempts to abuse our service.”

So there you have it — you can pull your number out of the Find Friends database once you’ve used it to build up your Snapchat contacts, and the developers will also make it tougher to harvest several million names next time around. According to security firm AdaptiveMobile, users in California and New York were the worst hit by the data breach, with Colorado, Illinois and Florida also heavily targeted.

At the time of writing the Snapchat app update hasn’t yet arrived, but it shouldn’t take long to appear in your app store of choice.

Aviary:The world’s best photo editing SDK


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Alibaba’s New Online Personal Finance Product Hits 2.5 Million Users, $1 Billion Already Deposited


A few weeks ago it was interesting to see China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba move in to disrupt China’s personal finance industry with a new, online-only finance product aimed at the regular Zhou. Giving China’s prudent savers a higher interest rate than most banks’ time deposit offerings (Alibaba’s is currently giving 6.299 percent), the new service has been explosively popular. With no marketing, Alibaba’s Yuebao has today grown to 2.5 million users who have collectively deposited RMB 6.601 billion ($1.07 billion).

In the 18 days since it launched, it has become China’s most popular single personal finance fund.

Basically, Yuebao is a money-market fund that’s pegged to corporate debt and government bonds. When it first quietly rolled out, Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma told Chinese media:

China’s financial industry, especially the banking industry, only serves 20 percent of clients, and I see there are 80 percent of the clients are not covered. Financial services should be about serving the layman, rather than playing inside your own circles and make money yourself.

While Alibaba’s Yuebao hasn’t been fully approved by the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Alibaba is in the process, via its Alipay platform for e-payments, of getting the online fund its regulatory approval. If that’s not done, the fund might be penalized by the CSRC.

In a sign that Alibaba and Alipay is hedging closer to being an online bank, the company’s Alipay Wallet app was updated yesterday to support managing your Yuebao fund.

Baidu announces upcoming launch of Baifa as it moves into personal finance


Baidu announced today that it will officially launch a new finance platform on the 28th.

According to Netease News, Baidu’s new personal investment platform will be called Baifa and will be launched in collaboration with Baidu Finance and China Asset Management. Users can make a minimum investment of RMB 1 (about $0.16) and can see annual interest rates of up to eight percent.

The company said in a statement to Chinese media that Baidu Baifa will use the power of the internet, big data, and advanced data mining tools to understand the financial preferences of its users. Plus, it can help customize users’ financial activities, and help users receive the greatest returns on their investments in a minimal amount of time with a minimal amount of capital.

By establishing Baifa, Baidu follows in the footsteps of Alibaba, a competitor internet giant which, like Baidu, is quickly expanding into a wider range of online services. Since most banks in China offer extremely low interest rates for average customers, personal finance has been one area where large online companies have sought to fill a void. This summer, Alibaba launched Yuebao, a personal finance platform that offers customers interest rates of just over six percent. In the first 18 days, that service gained a whopping 2.5 million registered users.

6 Useful Hidden Features of iOS7


Seems like everyone has found the SAME “Top 10 Hidden iOS7 features,” already, so they’re not really all that hidden anymore. Here are MY favorite semi-hidden features — ones that I find useful.

1. Turn Siri into an English butler. Ask him to “Call Josh,” and he’ll respond, “Ringing Josh.” His confused responses to your silly questions seem downright charming. General –> Siri –> Language –> ENGLISH (UNITED KINGDOM)……

2. A special sub-tip: Siri can now read you any bit of text you select. Accessibility -> Speak Selection –> (On), Voices -> Select. And choose the speed, too. Then, when you select text, you move the black bar to the left until you see the “Speak” selection.

3. Want a more ANDROID-like interface? Though it’s possible to adjust the size of the default font, (Accessibility –> Larger Type), you can also invert the colors entirely, turning your white pastel experience into a more clear, machine-like display. (Accessibility –> Invert Colors.)

4. Save your passwords and credit card numbers in Safari. This is quite convenient, and saves you from having to re-enter your credit card number inside the window of the mobile version of a website. Settings –> Safari –> Passwords and Autofill, Saved Credit Cards — and enter in your card, and then toggle Credit Cards” to on. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re reasonably confident that your device won’t be stolen, but Safari won’t show you the card you entered, so even if someone manages to access your phone, you should be ok.

5. Save battery by reducing automatic system service updating. This requires a bit of hunting. Settings –> Privacy –> Location Services — scroll ALL the way down, past all of yours apps — to System Services, and you’ll see a plethora of toggles corresponding to different ways that your phone can communicate with cell towers and other devices. Some of them, like Diagnostics and Usage, tend to run constantly in the background; others run only when you start up an app. Disable a few of them, and your battery life should last a little bit longer.

6. The new Control Center can be useful, but it can also be annoying if you’re playing a game. It’s easy to disable it. Just go to “Settings –> Control Center –> and hit the “Access within apps” toggle.

Startup Whisper banks on secrets


Social-networking sites such as Facebook create a massive stage for people’s public persona, but what about a place for private thoughts?

Enter Whisper. The startup’s mobile app provides a popular place where people anonymously post their secrets in stylized fonts overlaid on top of photos. These often-whimsical remarks can be daring, funny or candid and allow for others to respond with likes or messages.

Whisper has seen explosive growth. Membership has swelled to more than 3 million using the app from just 500,000 six months ago. Monthly page views have ballooned to 2.5 billion from about 500 million in the same period. All of this points to a new craze around anonymous social sharing.

“It’s no secret, people like to talk about themselves, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people share their inner most secrets with the world anonymously. Whisper is our mobile confessional, adding another avenue of communication to our arsenal of social networking apps, one of the hot categories we see growing in app stores,” says Marcos Sanchez, spokesman for app data firm App Annie.

Investors agree: Whisper attracted $21 million in a second round of funding, announced today, led by Sequoia Capital with participation from Lightspeed Venture Partners and Trinity Capital. Lightspeed has invested in another startup whose business model works the anonymity angle: Snapchat, the app for sending photos that disappear.

“When Tumblr was acquired by Yahoo, that was at about 14 billion monthly page views, so for whisper to be at 2.5 billion, that’s a sizable proportion,” says Lightspeed partner and Whisper board member Jeremy Liew. “It’s growing like crazy and it’s hitting a nerve. These are the people that drive popular culture.”

Whisper messages run a range of emotions, and the company makes efforts to curate it free from hate speech and pornography. Posts on Whisper can range deeply personal to confessional: “After 25 years I think I’m ready to: come out of the closet this weekend. Wish me luck,” wrote one. Another wrote: “I’m a guy.. Football, Boxing, Cars, are me…No one would guess I’m crossing fingers wishing the gender of my baby to be a Princess.”

Whisper co-founder and CEO Michael Heyward has a personal favorite: “I’m scared that my headphones are going to fall off at the gym and everyone’s going to know that I like Taylor Swift.”

That last one, while funny, also point to a possible business model: sponsored Whispers around brands or even musicians. What that means is companies could pay to promote certain posts to give them more prominence in front of members. “People are already whispering about brands, so it’s a natural,” says Liew.

Whisper declined to comment on the company’s current valuation or exact business plans. But the company said it’s experimenting with different models and would consider advertising at some point within its flow of messages.

Under the deal, Sequoia Capital partner Roelof Botha joined the board of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Whisper.