David Gelles

Social gaming company Zynga seems attached to Facebook at the hip.

The vast majority of Zynga’s 120m monthly users come from Facebook, and the slightest change in the Facebook news feed can have a major impact on how Zynga promotes its games.

As of December, Zynga and Facebook even share the same investors.

Mark Pincus, Zynga’s chief executive, sat down with the FT to talk about Facebook, the iPad and the future of social gaming. Read more

David Gelles

Yelp has bowed to pressure from disgruntled small business owners and is making changes to its popular reviews platform.

In the wake of three class action lawsuits that accused Yelp of extortion, chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman today announced a series of changes to the site and the formation of a new small business advisory council.

The most dramatic change is that advertisers will no longer be able to choose the featured review that had appeared at the top of their business’ page. This was prime real estate, and undoubtedly one of the most compelling reasons businesses would advertise in the first place. Read more

David Gelles

Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft’s business division, sat down with the FT for a chat about the competitive landscape, Google and Office 2010.

David Gelles

The latest changes to Facebook’s privacy policy are already drawing the ire of privacy advocates concerned about the social networking site’s plans to automatically share user information with certain sites.

Yet included in the proposed changes are hints that Facebook is also preparing to make location-sharing an integral part of its service, something that could further push the boundaries of how much personal information users are, perhaps unwittingly, exposing to the public. Read more

David Gelles

The hacker who hijacked the Twitter accounts of celebrities including Britney Spears and US President Barack Obama was arrested in France on Wednesday, only to be released and ordered to appear in court in June.

“Hacker Croll” gained notoriety last year by taking over some of the most prominent accounts on Twitter, then sending out fake messages to millions of unsuspecting followers. A hacker by the same name also accessed a trove of internal corporate documents from Twitter and leaked them to TechCrunch, though it was not immediately clear if the man arrested on Wednesday was responsible for both attacks.

The AFP reported that the arrest was the culmination of a months-long operation that involved French authorities and the FBI. It was not immediately clear if the man was charged with a crime. Read more

David Gelles

After taking so much flack for its frequent outages and the regular attacks on its system, it is only fair that Twitter gets to toot its own horn once in a while.

In a bit of very good news for the company, Twitter says it has finally gotten spam on the site under control.

As Twitter was going through its major growth spurt last year, spammers and scammers flocked to the site. From May through October, as much as 9 per cent of all tweets were spam, according to Twitter’s own numbers. Now that number is down to about 1 per cent, said Twitter chief scientist Abdur Chowdhury in a blog post. Read more

David Gelles

As anticipated, location-sharing services were the talk of the town in Austin as engineers and entrepreneurs convened for the South by Southwest Interactive festival.

“Location, location location,” Playfish chief operating officer Sebastien de Halleux told me when I caught up with him. “It’s a big theme for the web at this stage.”

That may be true. But despite the genuine promise of location-based services, and all the hype around the budding rivalry between Foursquare and Gowalla — rival applications that let users “check-in” and share their location with friends — this stuff is still a long way from being mainstream. Read more

David Gelles

The US Department of Defense has backed off its tough stance on social networking.

Last year the Marine Corps banned employees and service members from accessing sites such as Facebook and Twitter from Department computers, citing concerns that lax protection on social networks might allow malicious code to infiltrate government computers. The move was part of a broad reassessment of how the Pentagon and troops were engaging with an increasingly open web.

Now the Department has released a new policy that allows service members to access social media sites “from nonclassified government computers, as long as it doesn’t compromise operational security or involved prohibited actives or Web sites.” Read more

David Gelles

Twitter may already seem hard to escape on the Web, but it is now trying to become truly ubiquitous.

Its new @anywhere platform, announced at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, will allow other sites to integrate Twitter deeply into their own content pages. A dozen sites, including The New York Times, Amazon.com, msnbc.com and The Huffington Post are participating in the launch.

Sites that implement @anywhere will be able to add Twitter-rich hyperlinks; when a user rolls over a link to, say, the name of a person, a bubble will appear with that person’s Twitter handle, last Tweet and other information. The new platform will also allow users to perform some actions — such as following and retweeting — without leaving the partner site.

“The big thing that @everywhere does is reduce friction,” said Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, announcing the platform during a conversation with Umair Haque. “It gives [sites] a connection back to the users that [they] didn’t have before.” Read more

David Gelles

A welcome cautionary note opened SXSWi today as Danah Boyd, a leading social media researcher, warned technologists not to disregard the users’ privacy as they build services that share ever more personal information with the public.

“No matter how many times a privileged straight white male tech executive tells you privacy is dead, don’t believe it,” she told upwards of 1,000 attendees during the opening address. “It’s not true.”

Ms Boyd focused on the recent rows around the launch of Google Buzz and Facebook’s resetting of its privacy features, citing the furore that surrounded each episode as evidence that web users are still very concerned about how much information they share with the public. Read more

David Gelles

South by Southwest Interactive gets underway today in Austin, Texas, and a broad swath of the technology community will be headed there to check out the bands, barbecue, and, oh yeah, the startups.

Ever since Twitter had its breakout moment at the 2007 festival, SXSW has been considered a king-maker of sorts. Yet no startup has yet been able to replicate Twitter’s success.

This year the major theme is set to be location based services, and the battle between Foursquare and Gowalla in particular. The two similar services let users “check-in” to different locations and earn virtual badges and points, and tech enthusiasts believe that with the proliferation of smartphones, both companies could become hugely successful. Read more

David Gelles

In another validation of the suddenly hot collective buying trend, LivingSocial has landed $25m in Series B funding from a group of investors including US Venture Partners and Steve Case’s Revolution, LLC. But even with new money backing several similar companies, it is still unclear if the latest thing in e-commerce will last for long.

LivingSocial got started as developer of Facebook applications and launched the hugely successful Pick 5 app. But the company seems to have developed a real business with it’s LivingSocial Deals, which offers a deep discount at one restaurant or local business each day to users in a dozen cities. Read more

David Gelles

Indian PayPal users can once again use local banks to withdraw money from their accounts, resolving a hiccup that for weeks had prevented users in the world’s second most populous country from getting cash from their accounts.

The trouble began last month, when Indian regulators threw a wrench into PayPal’s business in the country as they investigated whether PayPal, the world’s largest online payments company, should be considered a remittances business.

As a result, PayPal stopped allowing users to transfer funds directly from one personal account to another, and also made it impossible for its customers in India to withdraw PayPal funds through a bank, effectively shutting down the only method for retrieving an account’s balance. Person-to-person transfers will likely be suspended for a few months as the company works with regulators to obtain new licenses that will allow it to legally handle remittances. Read more

David Gelles

A new alliance should make it a bit easier to get around the web without accumulating yet more usernames and passwords.

The Open Identity Exchange will enable users of PayPal, Google and Equifax to sign into certain US government websites using their credentials from those sites.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the first government website accepting these credentials. Once signed into the NIH website with, say, a PayPal ID, users can perform customized library searches, access training resources, register for conferences, and contribute to medical research wikis. Read more

David Gelles

Local reviews site Yelp is facing some unflattering reviews of its own service.

In a class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, the red-hot startup is accused of unfair competition and what amounts to extorting small businesses.

The plaintiff in the suit, an animal hospital in Los Angeles, alleges that after negative reviews about its business appeared on Yelp, sales representatives from the company called and said that for $300 per month, they could make the ads disappear.

Don’t be surprised if this sounds familiar. In a lengthy article last year, the East Bay Express leveled similar charges against the company. But in an interview with the FT, Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman flatly denied the claimsRead more

David Gelles

Last week’s announcement by Facebook that it would use PayPal as its payments provider brought together two of the most potent forces on the internet – e-commerce and social networking.

Yet for all the promise each sector holds, the two have been slow to converge. Online shopping is still a generally solitary affair, while social networking has yet to place much emphasis on buying stuff. This may soon change.

Today the chief executive of Ebay, which owns PayPal and is the world’s largest online auctions site, offered new insights into how e-commerce and social networking might work in concert with one another, and what he sees as the next big opportunities for collaboration. Read more

David Gelles

The Lower Merion School District is not going to get off with just a slap on the wrist.

Last week it was revealed that the suburban Philadelphia school district had installed security software that allowed it to activate the webcams on laptops distributed to 2,300 students, no matter if they were in class or at home.

The programme was made public when a 15-year-old student and his parents filed a class action lawsuit against the district, accusing it of violating multiple state and federal laws, and the Fourth Amendment.

Now district officials are facing inquiries from local prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Read more

David Gelles

Those who use the mobile web use it a lot. In urban centres it’s not uncommon to see dozens of people walking down the street peering into a smartphone screen.

Sometimes they are surfing the web or checking email, but oftentimes they are looking to do something — make a reservation at a restaurant, find a show or movie to go to, or make travel arrangements. But navigating the full web on a tiny screen can be cumbersome (especially when you’re walking or driving or on the train).

Siri, a startup that just launched its “virtual personal assistant” today, has identified this pain point and come up with an elegant solution. Read more

David Gelles

As Stephen Colbert prepared to announce the nominees for Song of the Year at the Grammys on Sunday night, he reached into his pocket for the list.

“And the nominees are . . . I’m sorry where’s the list?” he said, looking offstage.

Then he turned to face the audience. “Oh I know,” he said. “It’s on my iPad.”

Colbert then unbuttoned his jacket and pulled out an Apple iPad. (Video after the jump.) Read more

David Gelles

To the critics, fanboys and sceptics who have been waiting for Apple iPad for months, today’s first impressions ranged from elation to exasperation.

Writing at Slate.com, Farhad Manjoo said the iPad is the second computer he’s been looking for. “I wanted a flat, portable, easy-to-use machine that I could use for e-mail and reading the Web,” he writes. “The iPad is that device. Jobs described it as the perfect hybrid of a laptop and a phone, and I agree. Everything about it—its size, shape, weight, and fantastically intuitive user interface—feels just right.” Read more