Verizon stops blocking tethering apps on Android, settles for $1.25M fine

So, those tethering apps that Verizon use to block on the Google Play store?  Not cool, says the Federal Communications Commission. In fact, Verizon had to pony up $1.25 million for the trouble, according to a press release issued by the F.C.C. today.

The F.C.C. determined that the nation’s largest wireless carrier, according to GigaOm, was in the wrong in this situation, because Verizon purchased spectrum in 2008 that required it to allow open access to its network. Whoops!

The press release follows:

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister is now a Google Employee

Funny Story: Google just picked up Wildfire, the social networking analytics company for a reported $250 million.

As BI notes, one of those Wildfire employees that will be integrated into Google is Zuck’s sister, Arielle. Clearly, there might be some issues with hiring the sister of who founded Google’s major competitor. But, these things happen.

Arielle Zuckerberg is a junior product manager at Wildfire, and she maintains a blog where she even critiques Facebook on its design.

It will be very interesting to see if she joins Google with her colleagues.

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Google buys social ad firm Wildfire for a reported $250M

Google just acquired social media marketing company Wildfire.

AllThingsD reported “people familiar with the transaction” estimate Google bought the social ad business for $250 million, “plus earnouts, employment agreements, etc.”

Wildfire currently serves 16,000 customers, including 30 of the top 50 brands, and it reportedly raised $14 million since founding in 2008. Google will likely merge Wildfire into its ever-expanding social and advertising services to better entice marketers into buying either traditional or display ads for a variety of platforms— even direct rival Facebook.

Both companies took to their respective blogs today to confirm the buyout (below).

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Leaked slides reveal Android-powered Sony Xperia tablet, Surface touch cover-like keyboard, starts at $449.99 [Photos]

German news website Mobiflip appears to have leaked slides of the Sony Experia tablet.

The images depict a device, called the “Xperia Sony Tablet”, featuring a Tegra 3 processor, Android 4.0 or later, up to 64GB of built-in storage, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, 6000mAh battery, and a 8.8mm aluminum shell that is 42 percent thinner than the Tablet S.

Perhaps most interesting is the new super-thin keyboard that resembles the Touch cover keyboard that Microsoft announced earlier this year with its Surface Tablet. The Sony Experia’s keyboard cover seals the entire tablet and doubles as a kickstand.

One slide assigned the keyboard cover a $99.99 retail price tag, while the tablet is $449.99 for the 16 GB model, $549.99 for the 32 GB, and $649.99 for the 64 GB. A release date is notable absent.

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Planned NYC Subway changes now built in to Google Maps

New Yorkers and people visiting our fair city will appreciate Google’s latest update to Maps: Subway schedule changes are now built-in. That means you can see what kind of outages you are in for (especially helpful on the weekends!) when you are heading toward a subway station. While we once had to check the MTA’s website, this is much easier and more direct. From the blog post:

  • Since first making New York City public transit directions available in Google Maps, we’ve been working to deliver you with the most accurate and useful information about subway, bus, commuter rail, and ferry service across the greater metro area. Starting today, we’ll also be showing planned service alerts for the city’s subways, which serve more than 200 million people every year.
  • Have you ever arrived at a subway platform only to find that the train you intended to take is skipping stops, rerouted on another line, or isn’t running at all due to scheduled maintenance? Now when you click on any of the 468 New York City subway stations labeled on Google Maps, you’ll see whether any planned service changes are expected to affect that station at the time. In addition, the relevant alerts will be included in the step-by-step transit directions pointing you wherever you’re going. Read more

Nexus 7 to accessorize with dock and multiple colored travel covers next month

You do not get more convenient than this leak from Scandinavia. A $50 price tag for a dock that just has audio out seems a little steep. Throw in HDMI—and then we are talking. Also, those travel cover colors are not my cup, but I am sure they will be popular. It drops August 24, if these things are to be believed.

Nordic Hardware (via DroidLife)

Gmail video conferencing gets updated to hangouts, tops out at 9 additional participants

Big news from Google for Gmail users today. Instead of the Peer-to-peer video chat you are used to in Gmail, Google now pops in its superior Hangouts tech that allows up to 10 people to chat simultaneously.

Unlike the old video chat, which was based on peer-to-peer technology, Hangouts utilize the power of Google’s network to deliver higher reliability and enhanced quality. You’ll be able to chat with all the same people you did before and, in fact, with Hangouts you’ll now be able to reach them not only when they are using Gmail but also if they are on Google+ in the browser or on their Android or iOS devices.

This is huge not only for personal communications, but also for businesses that now have a free multi-caller video conferencing technology at their disposal. The Google Talk replacement might also explain the recent outage that knocked out Google Talk for most of the morning last week.

Not only will hangouts hopefully improve your chatting experience, but it will also bring more people and businesses into the Google Plus fold.

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Google is back to stocking Nexus 7 16GB versions, much quicker than expected

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So much for the report last weekend that it would take weeks (plural) to restock the flagship 7-inch tablet from Google, the Nexus 7. Merely a week later, it is back in the Nexus Store, but it really never left the virtual shelves of many third parties.

If you are ordering a Nexus 7, you can expect it in “3-5 days” now or by the end of the week.

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Apple and Google leading the bids for Kodak’s patents

Per the Wall Street Journal, Apple and Google are leading the pack for bids for Kodak’s patents.

CNBC shares another bit from the WSJ’s story, shedding light on the other bidders:

The Wall Street Journal has now published its full story:

At least two groups are expected to bid on Kodak’s trove of 1,100 patents, with a bevy of technology and patent heavyweights picking sides and competing for the patents, said people familiar with the matter.

Apple Inc., AAPL +1.79% Microsoft Corp. MSFT +2.04% and Intellectual Ventures Management LLC, a patent aggregation firm, are teaming to form one bidding group, the people said. The other consortium includes Google Inc., GOOG +3.52% Samsung Electronics Co., 005930.SE +5.20% LG Electronics Inc., 066570.SE +3.51% HTC Corp.2498.TW +3.94% and another patent aggregation firm, RPX Corp., RPXC +0.55% the people said.

The people familiar with the discussions cautioned that work on bids could continue over the weekend, with alliances changing and other bidders potentially emerging.

The potential bidders either declined to comment or didn’t immediately respond to requests to comment.

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Virgin releases low-cost Android 2.3 PCD Chaser at $80 unsubsidized, aimed at feature phone defectors

My favorite low-cost phone over the past two years is the LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile. You could often find the very capable, lightly skinned LG Android 2.2 phone for under $100 with Virgin’s unlimited data plans that start at $35/month. It is hard to beat that combo.

Today, Virgin replaced that low-cost Android phone with an even lower priced model called “the PCD Chaser” for just $79.99 without a contract. The Chaser comes with many of the same specs as the Virgin Optimus V, including a 3-megapixel camera, 800MHz processor, 3.2-inch display, and hardware buttons. The Chaser adds the new price tag and Android 2.3, which will be welcome by the low-cost folks but lamented by those who want to see Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean on their devices (Virgin never updated the Optimus V, so do not expect this one to get an upgrade either).

Doing the math: $79.99 + $35/month*12 = $500 for the first year of smartphone usage, including unlimited texts and data, is a pretty good proposition. The price is especially good considering the cost of Virgin’s high-end phone, the iPhone 4S, which runs for $650 without a byte of data. Many feature phone owners are probably paying more than that for their dumbphones.

For those wireless customers currently using a feature phone but now ready for an upgrade, the PCD Chaser comes with the best Android features without the hefty price tag. Today, Virgin Mobile USA offers the PCD Chaser for $79.99 with Beyond Talk unlimited data and messaging plans starting at $35 per month.

The device comes with a 3.2” touchscreen, 3MP camera, Android 2.3 operating system, and a powerful 800 MHz processor great for multitasking. Operating on the Sprint Nationwide Network, the PCD Chaser comes preloaded with Virgin Mobile Live, Virgin Mobile ID Packs, Facebook, Twitter, and more. This is a great, affordable 3G starter smartphone. It will roll out to national retailers beginning in September through October but you can get it now online.

ComScore, in a recent report titled “The Great American Smartphone Migration“, said smartphone usage grew 10 percent in the past year and passed the 50 percent threshold.

“The growing number of smartphones available to consumers, accompanied by the decrease in price points and surge in mobile media content, have made smartphone ownership possible and desirable for many more Americans,” said Mark Donovan, comScore SVP of Mobile. “Within the year, we expect to see smartphone owners become the mobile majority, a milestone that represents not only the evolution of the mobile landscape but highlights the enormous potential for marketers as these powerful, ubiquitous devices open new opportunities to reach a growing audience of consumers.”

PCD is a phone-outsourcing partner, not a manufacturer, so it is not quite clear who actually produces this phone ($80 says it is made in China). I hope to get a review up as soon as possible. Virgin said they will be available online immediately and at its retail partners shortly.
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Google-related movie ‘The Internship’ with Vince Vaughn spotted filming in Atlanta [Gallery]

An interesting post appeared on Reddit today about an upcoming movie on two 40-something interns trying to become successful at an Internet company, but, more intriguingly, the film’s plot supposedly has Google ties.

The Reddit poster claimed his college transformed into a “Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson movie called ‘The Internship’ where they play Google interns.” A quick glimpse at the comments revealed the picture is shooting at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga.

According to the college’s website, set preparations for the movie will begin this week, “with production scheduled to wrap up on Aug. 24.” Adam Carlson of Creative Loafing, an Atlanta-based entertainment blog, reported earlier this month that he also spotted the film crew in town with Google:

  • As it turns out, I showed up as the crew was beginning prep on an outdoor sequence across the street from the Studios, which would include both a fire hydrant specially painted red and a Google bus.
  • The scenes indoors probably had a Google connection, too, […] a Coke machine had been installed on a top floor with a Google banner across it, covering the logo.
  • Maybe Owen and Vince — who play out-of-work salesmen reinventing themselves with a tech firm internship — were meant to be at Google? No one would confirm, but the very humid, very Atlanta weather didn’t feel much like California.

A gallery is below.

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