Google rumored to be planning to buy WhatsApp for a cool billion (Update: Denied!)

Update: WhatsApp denies the rumor
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Digital Trends claims that Google is negotiating to buy the hugely popular messaging app, WhatsApp – with the company said to have rejected initial offers and to be holding out for a price said to be close to $1 billion (via Gizmodo).

Google is on record as acknowledging its weakness in the mobile messaging field, with Digital Trends arguing that the acquisition makes perfect sense.

There are rumors that Google Babel will combine Google’s disparate communication services under one roof, but the platform still needs to do something to innovate in this space; mobile messaging has been taken over by smaller apps and Facebook has made a major push as well. Google hasn’t given an answer to this competition. Even Google Product Manager Nikhyl Singhal confessed to GigaOM in June of last year that “We have done an incredibly poor job of servicing our users here.” Messaging is a huge, gaping hole in Google’s mobile strategy.

Google Voice already offers most of the features of What’s App making the acquisition primarily a subscriber play, but we’re not exactly holding our breath on this one. Remember Google already has some Bable thing being cooked up, so adding something huge like this might put a wrench in the works.

Confirmed. Google Fiber’s next stop: Austin, Texas

Update: Confirmed by KVUE

Venturebeat got the word from some invites that went out this week.

On Tuesday, April 9, at 11 a.m., the City of Austin and Google will make a very important announcement that will have a positive impact on Austinites and the future of the city. We anticipate more than 100 community leaders and elected officials to be in attendance to celebrate this announcement. The event invitation is attached for your convenience. Although we cannot share the details of the announcement with you in advance, we know readers will want to learn more, so we encourage you to join us on Tuesday.

I’d move to Austin.

Google cites $30B in patent privateering losses in campaign against patent trolls

Google today announced in a blog post on its Public Policy Blog that it has asked the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate and take a stronger stance against patent privateering and patent assertion entities, aka patent trolls. Google linked to a document submittedGoogle-building to the government agencies mentioned above and noted that BlackBerry, Earthlink and RedHat are among other companies backing the request.

Within its post, Google’s Senior Competition Counsel Matthew Bye cited losses of nearly $30 billion a year in the U.S. due to patent trolls and urged companies to help Google create “cooperative licensing agreements that can help curb privateering.”

Trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity—since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. The transferring company hides behind the troll to shield itself from litigation, and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by troll lawsuits and licenses.

Google described patent privateering as companies selling “patents to trolls with the goal of waging asymmetric warfare against its competitors.” While it didn’t name any companies specifically in its blog post or document submitted to the FTC, it did link to an article on Bloomberg that mentions Microsoft, Nokia, and Alcatel-Lucent as companies linked to patent privateering.

In the document submitted to the FTC, Google outlined its stance on patent trolls and recommended the FTC initiate an investigation into patent assertion entities and or expand its broader inquiry to include a number of important areas specifically related to patent privateering: Read more

Googlers turn Sergey Brin’s Tesla Model S into a pink Batmobile for April Fool’s Day (Photos)

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Google’s Nathan Johns posted a picture of an all-pink Tesla Model S yesterday complete with the official bat signal on its hood, bat wings as a spoiler, and Chrome’s logo embedded in the middle of its alloys.

This candy-coated Tesla apparently belongs to Google cofounder Sergey Brin. According to Search Engine Round Table, Brin’s beloved and spirited Googlers played an elaborate April Fool’s Day prank last Monday and transformed his zero-emissions car into a cute flashy Batmobile.

Brin—seen driving his Tesla around LinkedIn’s headquarters in the image above (via Brian Li)—is sometimes called “Batman” around Google because of his Batcave-like Google X repository.

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Facebook unveils ‘Home’ for Android phones (Photos)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is live on stage in Menlo Park, Calif., and he just unveiled his company’s new home on Android: called “Home”.

Facebook clarified that it’s not building a phone directly, nor is it building an operating system, instead the company unveiled “Home”. Home is for Android devices, and it is literally the home screen and “soul of your phone,” as Zuckerberg explained. Home is also “family of apps.”

9to5Google posted the first look at “Home” yesterday, but Facebook just gave a quick run down as to what the interface can really do.  For instance: Cover feed, a window that replaces the lock screen and home screen, allows users to navigate by flipping through, double tapping, etc.

Users can double-tap to “Like” a post and comment right from the home screen, and they can tap their own face and swipe to get to apps. Users can also swipe up to see their favorite apps in the launcher. There’s even a screen containing all apps, so they can drag their favorite apps to the launcher. Meanwhile, notifications come from people and not apps. Each notification has a person’s face, and users can collect all notifications in a stack and either swipe or save them.

Facebook also announced a new messaging service called “Chat heads” that works with both Facebook messages and SMS. A chat head appears with in the upper right, where users can tap on them, move them, or stack them. Tapping will bring up messages.

Facebook will launch Home via Google Play on April 12, with download availability coming for tablets in a few months. Facebook will maintain Home “just like the regular Facebook app,” and it promises to issue updates at least once a month with new features.

Only a few devices are ready for launch, including: the HTC One X, One X+, Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II, and eventually the HTC One and the Galaxy S4. There’s even a “Facebook Home Program” for phone manufacturers, and HTC, AT&T, Samsung, Sony, etc., have all signed up.

Zuckerberg just handed the stage over to HTC executives to unveil the first device that will officially run the platform— the HTC First. More details on Home are in the press release and videos below.

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Google sells Frommer’s travel guidebooks back to Arthur Frommer

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Arthur Frommer announced yesterday that he reacquired the rights to his travel brand from Google with plans to continue publishing Frommer’s guidebooks.

Google acquired Frommer’s last summer from the Wiley publishing company, but Skift.com reported recently that the Internet Giant intended to “cease production” of Frommer’s books.

Frommer, 83, originally sold his travel line to Simon & Schuster in 1977. Despite nearly 40 years of separation, Frommer told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he bought his brand back from Google.

“It’s a very happy time for me,” said Frommer. “We will be publishing the Frommer travel guides in ebook and print formats and will also be operating the travel site Frommers.com.”

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