Facebook Roll Out New Auto-Play Video Feature on Mobile

Social networking behemoth Facebook has rolled out its latest on-site feature – auto-playing videos in users’ News Feeds.

The move is the company’s most recent attempt to garner attention from prospective online advertisers, with video advertisements also set to be introduced alongside users’ own shared content.

Facebook, which has sought to address investor unease regarding its inability to convert app download figures and “likes” to real revenue since its initial public offering last year, moved to evangelise the impact the feature could have on its app advertising space.

The company explained that videos will begin playing as soon as users scroll over them in their News Feed, but will only begin playing sound once a user has clicked to expand the video. USA Today says that the effect is similar to the effect generated by videos on Vine – a video hosting site that has become immensely popular with teens over the last few months.

Facebook hopes that the feature, which will only be available through the social network’s app for the time being, will allow the company to compete for a slice of the video advertising market, a niche which is set to explode in popularity over the coming years. In 2016, online video advertising is expected to be worth around $8bn in the U.S. alone, double the $4.1bn it’s expected to top this year.

The company began the roll out by testing the feature on a small number of users in the US on Friday. It will expand to the rest of its US base, and eventually to the rest of the world, in the coming weeks.

TechCrunch notes that only videos which originate from the Facebook platform, or from integrated sites like Instagram, will play automatically. Embedded videos from third-party sites like YouTube and Vimeo will have to be played as normal.

The feature’s big reveal took place two days after the Federal Trade Commission announced that it is probing an alteration the company made to its privacy policy back in August. The FTC is investigating if the company infringed on the rights of its users by altering its policy in order to allow it to use users’ images and information for marketing purposes without the consent of the user.

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Dell committee accepts founder’s increased offer to take the tech giant private

Michael Dell’s hopes of being allowed to take the company he founded private received a significant boost on Friday after a special committee of Dell’s board agreed to accept an increased offer that would see the tech mogul tack a dividend to his original offer.

Michael Dell, along with partner firm Silver Lake, last week offered to buy the company at a price of $13.75 per share. The revised offer will see an extra 13c paid out to shareholders for each share owned.

As part of the augmented deal, Michael Dell will be allowed to avail of new, more favourable voting rules. Before, ballots which had not been marked because their holders abstained counted as votes against; the new rules will see abstainers not counted. Experts believe that the new paradigm will force those in the middle to climb down from the fence or withdraw their vote, conditions which are expected to benefit Michael Dell’s bid.

The offer will also see the prospective new owners guarantee that the company’s 8c-per-share third-quarter dividend is paid promptly.

“The committee is pleased to have negotiated this transaction, which provides as much as $470 million of increased value, including the next quarterly dividend that will now be paid regardless of when the transaction closes,” commented Alex Mandl, Chairman of the Special Committee.

Mandl also expressed his delight at the new voting system proposed by Michael Dell, saying that it provides a “level playing field” for shareholders. He explained that the original system was designed to facilitate a vote on whether to accept a bid or to maintain the status quo, and that it was not suitable for a straight yes/no ballot.

The new offer was approved just 30 minutes before shareholders were due to meet, most likely to reject the offer. Since, several angry shareholders have voiced criticism of the board’s handling of the offer, claiming that some of its members openly displayed favouritism for Michael Dell, ignoring other options.

Among the shareholders to voice their anger was Carl Icahn, who had tabled an alternative offer in conjunction with property firm Southeastern Asset Management. Icahn, who announced his intention to sue Dell on Thursday in an attempt to prevent the company from changing the recorded date of Michael Dell’s first offer, criticised the offer for falling short of what investors should have been offered.

The vote had already been delayed twice as Michael Dell could not rally enough support to make a count worthwhile.

The ballot on whether or not Michael Dell will be allowed to take the company he founded as a teen private will take place on September 12.

After the announcement was made by Dell’s board, shares in the company rose by more than 5 per cent – or 64c – to $13.65, a three-month high.

Potential Attack Prompts US State Department Travel Alert

The US State Department has issued a travel alert to all US citizens planning to travel to abroad, advising them to keep vigilant and be aware of the threat of a potential terrorist attack.

The warning, which has already prompted the US government to temporarily shut a number of its embassies around the world, focuses on the threat posed by militant groups linked to al-Qaida in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, the department said, without being more specific.

“The Department of State alerts US citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring or emanating from the Arabian peninsula,” read a statement issued by the department.

“Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement explained.

The State Department said that the alert will remain in place for the entire month, expiring effective August 31. It said that its decision to close some embassies was taken purely out of caution and that they will remain closed beyond Sunday – a business day in Muslim countries.

The warning comes as the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan approaches – a period when fighting is traditionally put on hold – approaches.

Several high-ranking legislative officials have spoken out about the seriousness of the threat. Ed Royce, a Republican and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the committee is aware of “a series of threats”. “In this instance, we can take a step to better protect our personnel and, out of an abundance of caution, we should”.

House Intelligence Committee member Dutch Rupersberger said that the committee’s most important duty is the protection of American lives and that the warning was not issued as a result of the “regular chit-chat” it normally analyses.

Although the warning is aimed specifically at US citizens, its message has been heeded by a multitude of global bodies, including the European Union, which issued a statement saying it is taking “all necessary precautions” to ensure safety within its borders.

Alerts like the one today are often issued around international events or widely observed anniversaries. One of the last notable alerts was issued by the State Department last year on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, after which the US ambassador to Libya and three others were killed as protests raged in Benghazi.

Media speculation suggests that today’s alert may be somehow connected the inauguration of the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, which will take place on Sunday.

The State Department is recommending that all US citizens planning to travel abroad register their plans with the Consular Section of the US Embassy through its travel registration website and that they enrol in the Department’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Programme.

Facebook Releases Info about NSA Requests

Social networking giant Facebook has revealed that it received thousands of requests from the US government for the personal data of users in the second half of 2012. The Palo Alto, California-based company made the disclosure after being granted permission by Washington to release data pertaining to previously classified government requisitions.

The world’s largest social network, majority controlled by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, requested permission to release the information to the public in order to limit the damage the recent NSA hacking scandal has had on its user base, experts believe.

Facebook says that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for information from the US government – and by proxy from the NSA – in the last six months of last year, a figure which represents a “tiny fraction” of its overall user base. The company said that the requests, which in all affected around 20,000 users, were lodged by government sources seeking to root our foreign and domestic terrorist organisations, and criminal fugitives.

The US Justice Department said that many of the requests were made as part of routine police investigations, a practice which is also commonplace in Ireland and the UK.

Facebook’s general counsel Ted Ulloyt explained in a blog post that the company hopes the disclosure will help to repair Facebook’s often tenuous relationship with its users, and provide a measure of reassurance to users worried about their online privacy.

“With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one per cent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of US state, local, or federal government request,” Ulloyt wrote. “We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.”

Facebook added that it did not comply with all of the requests, challenging some. In all, the internet behemoth said it complied with 79% of the NSA’s applications.

Facebook was not the only internet giant to move to allay fears of privacy breaches – Google and Microsoft also made similar disclosures after submitting appeals of their own. Microsoft said that it received slightly less of the so-called data security warrants than Facebook at between 6,000 and 7,000, while Google says it is still negotiating with lawmakers in the hope of providing users with information about exactly why it received and complied with the requests.

“We have always believed that it is important to differentiate between the different types of Government requests,” the Mountain View, California company said in a statement. The company added that it already deals with criminal requests and national security requests separately – explaining that any less would be a step in the wrong direction for users.

In an open letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, the company’s top brass insisted they had “nothing to hide”. “Google’s numbers clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made,” the company’s chief legal officer David Drummond wrote.

The disclosures come after the companies reached an agreement with the US Justice Department to release some details – though experts say the amount of data released is nowhere near adequate enough to quell internet users’ fears and address reservations. Some companies which are known to have been the subject of requisitions – like Apple, PayPal and Yahoo – have not yet attempted to provide reassurances. Apple and AOL have released statements saying that they never heard of PRISM – the NSA operation under which the requests for user data was made.

After Facebook and Microsoft made their announcements, a spokesperson for the Justice Department confirmed that the government had “reached agreements with certain providers” about the release of some information. The spokesperson, Andrew Ames, explained that the companies’ requests were granted “to afford greater transparency to the public while preserving confidentiality required for law enforcement or national security reasons”. Some, he said, were the result of the issuance of criminal warrants or grand jury subpoenas.

Fermanagh G8 Summit Set to be Among Most Peaceful Ever

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called on all segments of the North’s population to ensure that this year’s G8 summit is remembered as the “most peaceful summit in G8 history”.

McGuinness, who was speaking on the lawn of 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson and British Prime Minister David Cameron, said that he hopes “those people who are visitors to our country over the course of the next couple of days will respect the work to build the peace process that we have been engaged in for many years”.

Only a small scattering of protests have been held so far in the UK, with one high-profile raid last weekend leading to the detention of a handful of protesters in London, some 500km from the Lough Erne resort where this year’s summit is taking place. Smaller protests have been already taken place in Dublin and Belfast, both of which are reported to have ended without any violence or intervention from authorities, and although some protestors are expected to travel to Enniskillen – the town nearest to the resort – to protest in the next few days, the demonstrations are expected to pass off peacefully.

“My belief is its relatively small numbers would be wanting to cause trouble and the vast, vast sense of this is people wanting to protest peacefully,” commented Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Finlay. “The vast majority of people are from Nothern Ireland or the island of Ireland and they don’t want us being put on the map for the wrong reasons.”

Finlay explained that although a small number of dissidents, mostly republican, are planning to use the summit to highlight their cause, it is likely that the 8,000 plus police and 900 strong Garda contingent which will patrol the Monaghan and Cavan borders, will present a strong enough security presence to deter any attacks.

“The sad reality is the dissidents are there, they will want to draw attention to themselves, but usually in a way that is targeting people (PSNI officers) and will be away from where the essence of the strong security round an iconic figure like the President (Obama) would be,” Finlay said.

Although the primary concern for the PSNI and Garda is rogue dissidents, the forces will also be tasked with policing planned protests, most of which have followed proper procedure and informed the authorities of their intentions beforehand. While the protests are not likely to pose the same security risk as dichotomous republicans, organised protests, like London in 2005, when the G8 was held in Gleneagles, Scotland, and in Rome a few years later, prove that even planned marches can pose problems for the authorities.

Among the groups planning demonstrations in Enniskillen is the Socialist Workers Party, which is billing its march as an ‘anti-summit’. “There’s going to be a lot of different groups there,” commented People Before Profit’s Brian O’Boyle. “So you might have every group from charities to trade unions to radical left organisations to the environmentalists. They’ll all have their own specific focus.”

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy added that he doesn’t think protesters will flock from all corners of Europe to march, as was the case in London and Rome, predicting that most will travel to Enniskillen from somewhere in Ireland.

Around 1,500 people turned out in Belfast earlier on Monday to take party in a march organised by the Northern branch of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Like the protests in Fermanagh, many of the attendees were far-left liberals, with Amnesty International, pro-Palestinian groups and the anti-fracking community also represented. Observers estimated that around 1,500 protesters attended the march, which passed off peacefully without need for any significant police presence — a feature which had been a staple of any Northern Irish protest until only a few years ago.

While many of the headlines surrounding the G8 will focus on the issues highlighted by protesters, the leaders congregating in Lough Erne will be penning deals and thrashing out policies aimed at resuscitating global economic growth. US president Barack Obama has already held bilateral talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin and David Cameron prior to the summit, and is widely expected to focus his attention of shoring up ties with Pacific powers Japan and China during his time in Co Fermanagh.

Although each of the powers and protestors has its own agenda, the largest benefactor of the talks is set to be the host, Northern Ireland, with as mentioned above, a high-profile investment package already approved by Westminster, and the news that Obama is ready to engage with Stormont on a deeper level, including creating the position of a permanent US envoy to the region – reason enough some commentators believe for protesters in the North to keep their anti-capitalist sentiment to themselves for the next week.

Iran Hacks Energy Firms, US Says

Officials in Washington are claiming that Iranian hackers have stepped up attacks on the cyber networks of U.S. multinational corporations, focusing their attention on energy companies.

One former official said that the hackers have gone far enough for their actions to “worry people”, with the infiltrations enough in some cases to allow the attackers to control and manipulate the flow of oil and gas in the U.S..

The attacks follow similar action taken by the U.S. on Iran, where the Stuxnet worm – developed jointly the U.S. and Israel – managed to knock out an Iranian nuclear facility. Officials have again warned that Iran’s actions, which are thought to be more dangerous than the relatively benign Chinese attacks which gained publicity in recent months, could provoke yet more retaliation.

“This is representative of stepped-up cyber activity by the Iranian regime. The more they do this, the more our concerns grow. What they have done so far has certainly been noticed, and they should be cautious,” a Washington official explained.

The Iranian regime has denied any involvement in the attacks, claiming that the country has chosen to take the higher ground and ignore attacks made on its systems by U.S. based hackers.

“Although Iran has been repeatedly the target of state-sponsored cyber attacks, attempting to target Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities, power grids, oil terminals and other industrial sectors, Iran has not ever retaliated against those illegal cyber attacks,” commented Alireza Miryousefi, Iran’s spokesman at the United Nations.

“In the lack of international legal instruments to address cyber warfare, Iran has been at the forefront of calling for the creation of such instruments,” Miryousefi explained. “We categorically reject these baseless allegations used only to divert attentions.”

Although Washington has felt the need to speak out about these latest attacks, Iranian infiltration of U.S. computer networks is nothing new – Iranian hackers have were blamed for attacks on U.S. banking systems in late 2012 and early this year.

News of the hacks comes about two weeks after Washington warned citizens of possible impending attacks, when officials said that they were “highly concerned” about the potential for large-scale disruption to the country’s energy network. Months before, chemical, water and electrical plants had been highlighted as possible targets for hackers by officials in the U.S. capital.

The information provided by officials builds on an executive order handed down by President Barack Obama in February to distribute information about potential cyber attacks more quickly.