Location analytics service Placed is now tracking up to 20 million locations a day

Mobile app location analytics provider Placed is now measuring up to 20 million pieces of user-generated location data a day through its free service, Placed Analytics.

Backed with $3.4 million in Series A funding from the Madrona Venture Group, the Seattle-based company is looking to break into the analytics market by providing developers location-based information that can tell them where, and how their mobile app are being used. Since launching its free open beta in June, Placed has already signed up several hundred developers, and their apps are now sending anywhere from 17 to 20 million locations back to the company every single day.

CEO and founder David Shim describes Placed as similar to the services provided by Flurry or Google Analytics, but for the outside world. While other mobile analytics services can show a developer what city a user is in, Placed can developers know what specific neighborhood a user is in and what kind of businesses they’re close to. Placed can even differentiate between three levels of movement: stationary, walking and in transit.

Although the information might seem excessive at first, it opens up many new possibilities to optimize an app for how it is actually used, explains Shim. “A developer can see what situations his app is used, so he can know not to rely on precise controls if the application is mostly used while walking,” says Shim. Developers can also track their location analytics month-over-month to determine trends and emerging usage patterns.

The service works by using GPS data and Placed’s own 300 million location meta-place database. For businesses that are located next to one another, Placed references time-based information to determine which business a user is more likely to be interacting with. For example, Shim says, if there is a McDonald’s and toy store located side-by-side, Placed can determine which business a user is more likely to be visiting based on how popular those locations are during the day. Placed also has home and work models to tell if users are actually out and about, or if they just happen to live or work in densely populated urban areas.

Of course, all this detail also raises concerns around privacy, something Shim tells us the Placed team has put a considerable amount of thought into. First, the service only tracks location when an app using Placed has received location permission from a user. Second, Placed doesn’t provide what Shim calls “individual level data” to developers — that means the most a developer can learn from Placed is that a user is in an area that measures 150 by 150 meters. “It’s all about aggregation,” says Shim. “You can’t see a random device ID and this is the places that they went to. That’s specifically for privacy reasons. That’s also why we’re not going into the ad targeting business.”

What Shim means by ad targeting business is GeoFence advertising — ads that are pushed to consumers when they enter a pre-defined area or pass near a specific business. The eventual monetization goal for Placed isn’t to serve location-based advertising, but to help developers understand the broader location landscape around their apps, something that will make location-based advertising more effective in the long term.

“If an application doesn’t have enough inventory of people actually going by 7-11, then you can sell [GeoFenced 7-11 ads] for a high CPM but they will have a very low value at the end of the day,” Shim explains. “The other obvious thing from an advertising perspective is you can start to understand what inventory is available. Imagine going to McDonald’s and saying ‘people who use my app are four times more likely to be nearby a McDonald’s then any other app out there, so you should really advertise.’ Alternatively you can say the same to Burger King, so they can get in front of those people before they step into a McDonalds.”

 

What Apple’s UDID phase out means to the iOS ecosystem

Apple is beginning to issue blanket rejections for apps that use Unique Device IDs (UDIDs) to track and identify users. Although the move is an answer to some of the privacy concerns around how iOS apps share user data, the lack of a clear alternative will have far-reaching impacts on how developers, analytics companies and advertising networks function and do business with one another.

UDIDs are 40-digit long, unique alphanumeric codes assigned to every iOS device. They’re used to track users from app to app, see what apps they’ve installed and how often they’re being opened, target advertising and measure the conversion rate and ROI of campaigns. Unlike other advertising tracking mechanisms, they can’t be cleared, blocked, removed or opted out of.

Apple has been trying to steer developers clear of UDIDS since the release of iOS 5.0 last August. At the time, the company depreciated access to UDIDs, telling developers to instead create their own identification systems. Depreciation in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean much — there are still depreciated features from before iOS 5.0 in active use — so last month Apple raised the issue again, reaching out to developers to get the ball rolling on the transition away from UDIDs.

Even though the writing was on the wall for UDIDs, Apple’s move to reject apps that call on them was “an unpleasant surprise,” in the words of Michael Oiknine, CEO of mobile analytics company Apsalar.

Although the move doesn’t affect apps already in the app store, developers wishing to push updates or new apps will now need to ensure that both their apps and any third-party SDKs aren’t calling on UDIDs.

“We’re waiting to see how it falls out,” explains Lei Zhang, the US general manager of Chukong (PunchBox and CocoaChina). The company runs its own advertising service and developed Fishing Joy, one of the most popular games in China. “I think the first hit will be analytics companies and developers that depend on analytics, which is everyone. We’re using Flurry right now and Flurry uses UDIDs to track users. Our next submission to Apple is going to be problematic. We can remove advertisement SDKs, but analytics is something we live by. Right now we’re holding off on new submissions and updates.”

Oiknine echos Zhang’s sentiments that the real challenge for the ecosystem will be going forward.

“When you’re using Apsalar data from one app to another there’s no problem. Where it becomes a drawback for vendors like Apsalar and advertising networks is that everyone will come with their own user IDs,” he explains. “If I want to work with an advertising partner to leverage that data for retargeting I need to have a bilateral relationship so we know how to correlate their IDs to our IDs. It directly affects advertising and indirectly affects developers because they won’t have a way to determine the ROI on their advertising dollars.”  For its part, Apsalar is rolling out a new SDK next week that will use Apsalar IDs rather than UDIDs.

There are some alternatives to UDIDs. Among those proposed have been CFUUIDs (core foundation universally unique identifier), unique identifiers developers generate themselves, the so-far-sporadically adopted open source alternative OpenUDID and the Media Access Control (MAC) address of a device’s Wi-Fi interface. Unfortunately, the most promising of the three — MAC addresses — are also most open to the kinds of privacy complaints that have caused Apple to phase out UDIDs. Like UDIDs, they’re tied to a specific device and can be used to track a user’s location. Its also very hard to change or spoof a MAC address.

“The MAC address is as loaded as UDIDs. It’s also owned by Apple, and its a hardware address and for all practical matters its exactly the same as UDID,” says Oiknine. “My feeling is that if developers start using the MAC address, it will work for a while, but at some point we should expect Apple to crack down on the MAC address as well.”

According to Oiknine, what iOS needs is a universal system with a clear way for consumers to opt-out, similar to how Cookies work online. He predicts whatever the new system will be, it will be the companies that track user data, and not Apple that will lead the way.

“We need to find an opt-out mechanism and Apple doesn’t want to get involved in that.”

Apple steps up outreach to developers over moving away from UDIDs

In the wake of a media outcry over giving developers too much access to users’ address books, Apple looks like it is stepping up efforts to close other privacy loopholes too.

We’ve been hearing from developers today that Apple has been reaching out to some of the larger companies on its platform in the last few weeks. Apple has been asking them to move away from using UDIDs or unique device identifiers, a couple developers have confirmed to me.

UDIDs can be used like cookies to track consumers as they move from app to app. Advertising networks can use the data collected through this tracking to target consumers with ads based on their browsing habits. The difference with UDIDs is that they can’t be cleared in the way that cookies can be deleted.

An investigation from The Wall Street Journal last year found that developers were sharing UDIDs with third-party ad networks and other service providers — a potential privacy risk especially if a UDID is tied with a person’s name. Not too long after, Apple said it would deprecate UDIDs and asked developers to start creating unique identifiers that work specifically with their apps.

However, deprecating any feature is a process can take months — if not more than a year — as Apple has to give developers time to change their code base. When Apple originally announced the change in August, there were still deprecated features from iOS 3.0 that were still in use.

With what we’re hearing this morning, however, it seems like Apple wants the developer community to move faster. Developers have been telling us that Apple has reached out to them asking them to move away from UDIDs if they’re still using them in their apps or any third-party libraries.

To replace UDIDs, Apple has some functions here that can create unique identifiers from a string or from a set of raw bytes. Some developers had told us they’re replacing the UDID with the MAC Address, or Media Access Control address, an identifier that’s assigned to networked devices like smartphones or laptops. But that carries most of the same privacy risks that UDIDs do.

The address books fiasco finally comes to an end as Apple says it will make developers ask for permission first

Apple says it will require developers to ask for permission first before they access a user’s address book.

It’s the culmination of a very strange weeklong media blowout that started when a Singapore-based developer discovered that Path was uploading personal contact information from users’ address books without their knowledge. Path apologized and said it would delete all of the user data it had collected this way. That spiraled into a discussion in The New York Times about whether Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have become too cavalier about privacy, by pushing the envelope first and then asking for forgiveness later.

That then escalated into a tangentially related discussion of the flaws in tech media as Path investors rushed to defend the company. Yesterday evening, both VentureBeat and the Verge returned to the core issue by looking at other apps like Foursquare and Twitter that were also sending address book information to their servers. This morning, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Commerce Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chair G.K. Butterfield sent a letter to Apple asking the company to explain the situation.

Apple finally responded today in an interview with AllThingsD, saying that it would change its policy around address book access:

“Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines*,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told AllThingsD. “We’re working to make this even better for our customers, and as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release.”

The way this entire story played out was pretty odd. Developers have long had access to address books on iOS and if they do store data, it’s usually to suggest friends when new users come on board. While the intentions are usually harmless, it is true that a malicious developer could do much worse with this data access.

However, hashing has been a fairly well-known tactic to preserve user privacy while making it easy to suggest friendships. Beluga, the group messaging startup Facebook acquired last year, hashed contact lists. To hash a contact, the developer assigns a unique code to each name and stores that instead of the original information. When it scans an address book and finds other names that produce the same hash code, the app can recommend a friend connection. It seems Path, whose chief executive was one of the key early Facebook employees that built out the company’s platform, was merely careless in not hashing contact information.

There have been many privacy flaws in the design of the iOS platform over the years, including the use of UDIDs. The address books issue has existed for years, and yet it was only until one tiny blog post from a single developer emerged, that a firestorm finally ensnared Congress and Apple.

Strange times, indeed.

Here’s the House committee letter to Apple:

Mr. Tim Cook
Chief Executive Officer, Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Cook:
Last week, independent iOS app developer Arun Thampi blogged about his discovery that the social networking app “Path” was accessing and collecting the contents of his iPhone address book without ever having asked for his consent.[1] The information taken without his permission — or that of the individual contacts who own that information — included full names, phone numbers, and email addresses.[2] Following media coverage of Mr. Thampi’s discovery, Path’s Co-Founder and CEO Dave Morin quickly apologized, promised to delete from Path’s servers all data it had taken from its users’ address books, and announced the release of a new version of Path that would prompt users to opt in to sharing their address book contacts.[3]

This incident raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts.
The data management section of your iOS developer website states: “iOS has a comprehensive collection of tools and frameworks for storing, accessing, and sharing data. … iOS apps even have access to a device’s global data such as contacts in the Address Book, and photos in the Photo Library.”[4] The app store review guidelines section states: “We review every app on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria. This review criteria is now available to you in the App Store Review Guidelines.”[5] This same section indicates that the guidelines are available only to registered members of the iOS Developer Program.[6] However, tech blogs following the Path controversy indicate that the iOS App Guidelines require apps to get a user’s permission before “transmit[ting] data about a user”.[7]

In spite of this guidance, claims have been made that “there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database.”[8] One blogger claims to have conducted a survey of developers of popular iOS apps and found that 13 of 15 had a “contacts database with millions of records” — with one claiming to have a database containing “Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number.”[9]

The fact that the previous version of Path was able to gain approval for distribution through the Apple iTunes Store despite taking the contents of users’ address books without their permission suggests that there could be some truth to these claims. To more fully understand and assess these claims, we are requesting that you respond to the following questions:

- Please describe all iOS App Guidelines that concern criteria related to the privacy and security of data that will be accessed or transmitted by an app.
- Please describe how you determine whether an app meets those criteria.
- What data do you consider to be “data about a user” that is subject to the requirement that the app obtain the user’s consent before it is transmitted?
- To the extent not addressed in the response to question 2, please describe how you determine whether an app will transmit “data about a user” and whether the consent requirement has been met.
- How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit “data about a user”?
- Do you consider the contents of the address book to be “data about a user”?
- Do you consider the contents of the address book to be data of the contact? If not, please explain why not. Please explain how you protect the privacy and security interests of that contact in his or her information.
- How many iOS apps in the U.S. iTunes Store transmit information from the address book? How many of those ask for the user’s consent before transmitting their contacts’ information?
- You have built into your devices the ability to turn off in one place the transmission of location information entirely or on an app-by-app basis. Please explain why you have not done the same for address book information.

Please provide the information requested no later than February 29, 2012. If you have any questions regarding this request, you can contact Felipe Mendoza with the Energy and Commerce Committee Staff at 202-226-3400.

Sincerely,
Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member
G.K. Butterfield, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade

Despite Google’s “Bouncer,” malware is still a threat on Android

In a bid to make downloading Android apps safer for consumers, Google has added an automatic scanning service to Android Market to find potentially malicious apps.

It’s an important move as Google does not review apps before appear in the store unlike Apple. Because the barrier to entry is so low, that sometimes means consumers unwittingly install malware on their phones.

The program, codenamed Bouncer, scans apps after they have been uploaded to the market, meaning developers still won’t have to go through an approval process to get their apps listed.

According to a blog post from Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s vice president of engineering for Android, Bouncer scans both new and existing applications for known malware, spyware, trojans and for behaviors that could indicate hidden malicious behavior. Google also analyzes new developer accounts to ensure that repeat offenders are prevented from uploading malicious apps.

Google revealed that Bouncer has been scanning the Android market for some time, reporting that “between the first and second halves of 2011, we saw a 40 percent decrease in the number of potentially-malicious downloads from Android Market.”

However, while Google is reporting downloads of malicious apps are decreasing, third-party analysts have found the amount of malware in the Android market is increasing as the platform’s larger reach makes it a more enticing target for unscrupulous developers. in November, the Juniper Global Threat Center reported it had seen a 472 percent increase in Android malware samples since July 2011 and in December Lookout reported it had found more than 1000 infected apps in the Android market — double the amount it detected in six months ago.

In January, AhnLab researcher JungSin Lee pegged Android as the OS under the most threat from malware due to its lack of a proactive screening policy. While Bouncer helps to address these concerns, the Android market has still had some recent, high-profile security incidents.

In November, a number of fake apps pretending to be popular games such as Angry Birds and Tiny Wings were removed from the store after customers complained they had bought the apps and they did not work. A month later Google had to remove 22 more apps from the Android market for SMS fraud.

Fighting malware can be like running faster just to stay in the same place. If Google adds one security measure, hackers eventually find another loophole. But Google is familiar with this dynamic, as it has had to battle search spam and black hat SEO (search engine optimization) for more than a decade.

There are currently more than 400,000 apps on the Android market.

Zombie smartphones and localized malware may be the biggest mobile security threats

South Korean information security company AhnLab is predicting botnets and malware targeting specific geographic regions could emerge as some of the most serious mobile security threats in 2012 as unscrupulous app developers become more sophisticated.

While malware is already a growing mobile security issue, this year AhnLab is predicting that the scope of attacks will expand, moving from situations where malicious apps rack up unauthorized charges on a user’s phone bill (as was the case in the RuFraud attack in December) to situations where the aim will be to establish a botnet of infected or zombie smartphones. A botnet of zombie smartphones could be used to send spam or conduct distributed denial of service attacks, just like botnets of infected PCs.

According to JungSin Lee, a researcher at AhnLab, that the first attempts to establish a smartphone botnet have already been made. In December a code named Geinimi appeared in the third party app market in China.

“Unlike other malicious codes which operate just for profit purposes, Geinimi had ‘bot’ functions including a remote control and downloading of additional malicious codes,” explains Lee.

Although the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, if Geinimi had been able to establish a botnet it would have been very difficult for users to tell their smartphones had become zombies and the attackers would have had access to every function on the infected phones, including call monitoring, voice capture and the ability to download, install and uninstall applications according to Lee.

AhnLab is also predicting more locally based malware this year, as attackers focus on countries with well developed smartphone using population bases such as Russia, Europe and China.

“By far, the most efficient way for attackers to distribute malicious codes is through a direct download-and-install method. However, users have tended to prefer apps with a local culture UI and language. As a result, attackers make more local focused malicious apps,” Lee says.  “Attackers investigate the local market before orchestrating the attack. In most cases, the malicious codes disguise themselves as a popular local applications such as a local game [or] adult apps.”

The company is also predicting an increase in the amount of malware transmitted through infected webpages to grow as smartphone users continue to increase the amount of websurfing they do from their phones. AhnLab is also expecting to see an upswing in malware specifically designed to attack jailbroken phones.

Lee highlighted third party app markets as the most common place to find malicious apps and pegged Android as the OS under greatest threat from malware. “Android is the most vulnerable,” he explains, “it has a mass number of users and a market policy that is not proactive in screening for malicious apps.”

AhnLab’s findings are bad news for Google, but don’t come as much surprise. Other mobile security companies such as Lookout and Juniper Networks have also called out Android for the same reasons. Lookout is predicting Android users will have a four percent chance of downloading a malicious app by accident this year and Juniper has tracked a 472 percent increase in the amount of malware found on the platform since July of 2011.

According to AhnLab, the best way for users to avoid malicious applications and malware is to use common sense approaches such as installing a mobile antivirus program and keeping it updated, checking applications before downloading them, taking caution when browsing the internet and avoiding the temptation to jailbreak a smartphone.

The New Alternative to UDIDs Seems to Be The MAC Address, But Privacy Issues Still Loom

Earlier this year, Apple said it was deprecating the ID system that developers and mobile ad networks have relied on to target consumers with personalized experiences or ads. At the time, there wasn’t a clear substitute to Apple’s Unique Device IDs (or UDIDs), but I mentioned the Wi-Fi MAC address as a possibility.

The MAC, or Media Access Control, address is an identifier that’s assigned to networked devices (whether they’re smartphones or laptops). Most developers seem to be targeting the MAC address of the Wi-Fi interface on iOS devices. Because it’s hard for normal people to change or spoof the Wi-Fi MAC Address, this shift rekindles the very same privacy issues The Wall Street Journal raised last year. The newspaper had criticized mobile apps like Pandora for sharing UDIDs with third-party ad networks.

Compared to tracking tools on the web like cookies, UDIDs and the MAC Address might be more sensitive because they’re tied to people’s phones and can be connected with their location. Ad networks have used UDIDs to keep track of what mobile apps a user has, so they can show ads that match their interests or block ads about apps they already have. Unlike cookies on the web, the UDID can’t be cleared or erased.

Since Apple announced it would deprecate UDIDs, developers have been hunting for something else — and the MAC address has looked the most promising.

One of the companies that specializes in driving downloads for mobile developers, W3i, recently ran a test where they were able to grab more than 78,000 MAC addresses from users of their free-app-a-day service AppAllStar. They did the test to help out developers who are unsure of what to replace UDIDs with.

Apple approved W3i’s app even as the company made it very explicit that they were going to grab MAC addresses by placing the code at a high-level with very clearly named classes showing that they were collecting the data. They also found that 99.96 percent of the addresses they collected were unique. (There were a few were duplicates, but this was probably because the devices were jailbroken or hacked. Unsurprisingly, China produced the largest number of duplicate MAC addresses.)

W3i’s findings underscore what I’ve been hearing anecdotally from multiple developers and ad networks: they’re turning to the MAC address as a substitute for UDIDs. What that means, however, is that the original privacy issues that UDIDs raised haven’t been solved at all. MAC Addresses are too complicated to change for most people unless you’re into jailbreaking and hacking into your iPhone.

Basically, The Wall Street Journal’s series on privacy won them a prestigious Loeb award for business journalism. But it didn’t really fix anything (at least in terms of privacy for mobile app users). At the time the Journal’s series broke, I said that there would be one of two outcomes. Either “uninformed policymakers will draft poorly targeted legislation. It could end up being unnecessarily destructive to consumer Internet businesses.” Or I said a fix could “be so cosmetic that it doesn’t really fix underlying problems.”

We’ve ended up with the latter situation. Apple has still not produced an elegant solution that balances the needs of developers to provide their customers with relevant experiences with respect for a user’s privacy.

Apple has said that developers should create unique identifiers that work specifically with their apps. There are a couple of issues with this though. If you’re a developer with a portfolio of apps, this doesn’t help with tracking a single user across multiple apps. Also, since a user can back-up their iPhone and put that data on another device, you might end up with a single ID code assigned to more than one device.

Because of these drawbacks, developers seem to be turning to an alternative that carries many of the same privacy issues the UDID had.

Mobile App Roundup: The Rise of Android, Halfbrick Targets China and More

Survey Finds iOS is Only Profitable for a Minority of Developers – According to a survey conducted by independent Canadian developer Streaming Colour Studios, 20% of iOS developers take home 97% of all revenue generated on the platform. This isn’t really surprising given the economics of most gaming markets. However, keep in mind that the survey probably excludes responses of the highest-grossing developers who may be venture-backed and can’t disclose sensitive information like monthly revenues. In terms of lifetime revenue, while 25% of iOS developers have seen more than $30,000 from their apps, the money is very concentrated – the top 1% of developers currently account for 30% of all revenue generated by the App store.

Microsoft’s Mango Arrives, Brings Extras – The highly anticipated OS update Windows Phone 7.5 – aka Mango, began a gradual roll-out this week. The updated included a variety of new features that were previously announced, and two that weren’t – the ability to tether internet from a WP7 device to up to five other devices and a web-based marketplace that allows users to browse apps on a computer and remotely install them on a WP7 phone.

Android Phones now Twice as Popular as iPhones, But iPhone 5 is Hotly Anticipated –
The competition between Android and iOS continues to heat up, making BlackBerry and Windows Phones look increasingly like also-rans in the smartphone market. According to a new report from Nielsen, over the last three months more than half of smartphone buyers have chosen Android, rather than iOS. The numbers broke down to 56% Android, 28% iPhone, 9% BlackBerry and 6% other (including Windows Phone 7). However, as TechCrunch notes, with a new iPhone imminent, the numbers could be inaccurate. That conclusion seems to be backed up by the results of a study conducted by InMobi that found up to 41% of mobile consumers may purchase an iPhone 5. RIM fared particularly badly in the survey; up to 52% of BlackBerry users in North America are considering switching to the iPhone 5.

Gameloft Offerings Coming to Mysterious Sony Tablets – French developer Gameloft has signed a deal to bring optimized ports of some of their most popular games to an upcoming Sony tablet line.  Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD, N.O.V.A. 2 – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance HD, Real Soccer 2011 HD, Spider-Man: Total Mayhem HD, and Green Farm HD will all be directly accessible on devices referred to as “Sony Tablet P” and “Sony Tablet S” by in a press release quoting Gameloft’s senior vice president of publishing, Gonzague de Vallois.

Microsoft & Samsung Reach Android Patent Detente – Microsoft and Samsung have agreed to halt legal battles over the use of Microsoft’s patents in Samsung’s Android devices. Under the terms of the new agreement, Samsung will now pay Microsoft a royalty fee for every Android phone and tablet it produces. Microsoft has also set up deals with HTC, Acer, ViewSonic, Velocity Micro and Winstron to license its portfolio of patents. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates that Microsoft will earn about $444 million in licensing revenue from such deals.

[Rumor] Ice Cream Sandwich to Debut on October 11th? – Samsung has announced a press event for October 11th, and industry watchers are betting that the event will see the unveiling of Samsung’s new Nexus Prime smartphone and the next Android OS update, Ice Cream SandwichVideo and photos of Ice Cream Sandwich have already leaked online, hinting that the update will bring interface improvements for notifications and the camera, as well as a slightly redesigned color scheme.

Halfbrick Wants 70 million More Chinese Downloads in Six Months – Fruit Ninja is already a big success for its developer Halfbrick; the game has been downloaded more than 66 million times and has been ported from iOS to Android, Windows Phone 7 and even Kinect, but the Australian developer is looking to China for continued growth. According to Halfbrick’s CEO Shainiel Deo, almost of third of Fruit Ninja’s downloads have come from Chinese users. In a speech at Beijing’s Mobitalk conference, Deo revealed that Halfbrick has formed a partnership with Chinese developer iDreamSky to develop free, localized versions of the game to combat piracy and allow Halfbrick to make money from in game ads and micro transactions.

Aquaria Coming to iPad – Indie developer Bit Blot is bringing its highly regarded game Aquaria to the iPad. The game, originally released in 2007 for PC, Aquaria is a 2-D action and adventure game set in a mysterious underwater world. The game was highly praised upon its release for its non-linear gameplay and impressive atmosphere, and won the grand prize at the Independent Games Festival in 2007.

Lara Croft is Coming to Android, But Only on the Xperia PLAY – Hit mobile game Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is coming to Android in November, but there’s a catch – only on the Xperia PLAY. This week Sony Ericsson announced a partnership with Square Enix that will see several of the developer’s hits come to the Xperia PLAY in the coming months.

Foursquare Revamps Home Checkins to Keep Users Safer – While nobody would ever say they don’t have any concern for their own privacy, according to Foursquare, a significant portion of its users love that they have the ability to check into their own homes. To address the demand, but to improve privacy and safety, the location based service announced that as of September 29th:

  • Only the person who creates a ‘home’ and their friends can see the address on the venue page.
  • On a home’s venue page, only those same people can see the map pin. Everyone else will see a map randomly centered somewhere near the address, with the zoom pulled out a bit.
  • The same rules apply to links shared on Facebook or Twitter.

Users can now also report locations as a home, setting them to be listed as private venues or removing them from the service all together. More details can be found on the Fourquare blog.

[Launch] Minecraft Now Available for More Android Devices – Minecraft, the mega-hit open-world exploration and crafting game from Swedish developer Mojang was released into the open Android market this week, much to the delight of the Android community.  Minecraft Pocket Edition was originally an exclusive title on Sony Ericsson’s Xperia PLAY. According to a video Mojang’s YouTube account, an iOS version of the game is also in development.

[Launch] Firebrand Branch Crawfish Games Tries Social and Mobile with Cutesy and Creepy – New studio Crawfish Games has finished setting up shop and is releasing its first two games, Cutesy and Creepy for iOS. Cutesy is available now and Creepy will be released on October 5th.  The games are targeted specifically at children 5 or older. By solving puzzles, players will be able to collect and share stickers with their friends. Crawfish games was founded as a way for parent company Firebrand Games (a UK developer who specializes in racing games for Nintendo consoles) to expand into the mobile, casual and online game marketplaces.

[Launch] Q&A Service Quora Releases iPhone App – Popular question-and-answer service Quora released a free iOS app this week for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. The new app lets users to search for nearby queries, receive push notifications, and “shuffle” questions.

[Launch] Yahoo Unveils Free Flickr App for Android – Flickr users with Android phones finally have access to an official app. The new app allows users to browse albums, take photos, share them, and apply image editing and effects and filters, a direct challenge to services like Instagram and Hipstamatic that have seen their growth from mobile applications. Unlike on iOS, where Instagram has been one of the top 10 downloaded applications in the last year, Android is open territory given that PicPlz forfeited the camera space a few months ago. According to its page on the Android Market, the free app is already doing well seeing more than 50,000 downloads since its launch. Flickr has had an official iPhone app since 2009.

Loss of UDIDs Is OpenFeint’s Gain as it Launches Replacement ID System

At least one company is seeing the silver lining in Apple’s decision to deprecate UDIDs, or unique ID numbers that developers use to track users across apps.

OpenFeint says it’s launching a single sign-on service for social games as a replacement later this fall. The company says the project, dubbed OFUID, will become a universal account system that criss-crosses platforms. So the same person who plays a game on Android and on iOS won’t be counted twice.

Since OpenFeint already gives users individual accounts so they can compete against friends, it’s not a huge leap for the company to build an ID and single sign-on system. If developers get permission from players to see their OFUID, then they can look at user behavior across games.

There are a few caveats to consider, however. OpenFeint wasn’t authenticating access to its API earlier this year and a New Zealand-based security specialist was able to use his UDID and OpenFeint’s API to expose his location, his account name and Facebook profile picture URL, which could have been used to discover his real name. OpenFeint fixed the security hole and presumably will take privacy very seriously with OFUID. However, this is not a good track record to start from.

Apple said it would deprecate UDIDs in iOS 5 after privacy concerns about the system were widely publicized in the media. Apple is instead asking developers to create unique user identifiers that are specific to their apps. Some developers have also talked about using the MAC address, which is a unique hardware ID that’s assigned to all devices connected to the web.

The other part of what OpenFeint’s announcing is an install trade program, which is interesting because it shows the company is trying to strengthen its direct relationships with consumers. OpenFeint will guarantee developers 1.5 new installs for every new install of Game Channel, a free-app-a-day vehicle.

OpenFeint is the largest pure mobile-social gaming network on iOS and it says it has 115 million users worldwide. It was able to acquire that many players because of the way it was designed as a social layer that other game developers could quickly install to give players features like social leaderboards.

But it also means that while millions of people have registered with the service, many of these players may not interact much with OpenFeint’s services directly on a regular basis. Having a direct, consumer-facing app would create more revenue opportunities for OpenFeint, which lost $6.6 million through the 2010 fiscal year.

Katango Could Solve Facebook Friend List Creation Problems, But For Now It’s Just Group Messaging

Katango is a simple mobile group messaging app built on technology with huge potential. The first Kleiner Perkins sFund investment, Katango’s debut is an eponymous iPhone app that lets users send email, private Facebook wall posts and in-app messages to lists of friend that it automatically that it automatically assembles. It’s this last part that’s so important.

Based on data about a user’s interconnectedness with their friends, Katango instantly and accurately builds what Facebook calls friend lists and Google+ calls Circles. When the company showed me a prototype web interface in early June, it allowed users to export these groups as Facebook friend lists.

Without the ability to send SMS to message recipients that haven’t download the app, it will be hard to compete in mobile messaging with GroupMe and Beluga. However, the algorithm that automatically create friend lists could be be a deciding factor in the battle between Facebook, Google and others for social network supremacy.

>> Read more at Inside Facebook.

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