Whatsapp might have annoyed everybody by attaching themselves like a limpet to Facebook in a controversial $19bn deal, but there’s no denying they’re doing pretty well – with a staggering 500 million monthly users – making it almost as big as Twitter.

whatsapp1 Whatsapp boast 500m users, despite Facebook privacy concerns

The enormous figure appeared on the Whatsapp blog with this message:

‘Thanks to all of you, half a billion people around the world are now regular, active Whatsapp users. In the last few months, we’ve grown fastest in countries like Brazil, India, Mexico, and Russia, and our users are also sharing more than 700 million photos and 100 million videos every single day.’

The Facebook deal created a backlash against the messaging service, leading to an avalanche of privacy concerns and much gnashing of social media blog teeth, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered users too much.

In an attempt to address those privacy concerns, however, Whatsapp CEO Jan Kuom wrote:

‘Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built Whatsapp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by Whatsapp, and we really have no plans to change that.’

Well, they really have no plans to change that. But does Facebook?

No more blur promises fancy camera

April 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

zzzz54 300x180 No more blur promises fancy cameraA fancy new camera looks set to end blurring and the like. The Lytro Illum, will take ‘living pictures’ and will allow users to refocus their photos after taking them.

No more pictures that look like you’ve been infected by that ghoul from The Ring!

Lytro’s Illum camera resembles normal mirror-less cameras like Sony’s NEX cameras, but uses the company’s new 40-megaray light field sensor instead of a traditional camera sensor. The light field sensor captures the colour, intensity and direction of every light ray charging into the camera, rather than simply the colour and intensity of the light hitting a traditional camera’s sensor.

We’ve all been badly hurt by light simply hitting a traditional sensor, haven’t we?

So, the result of which is a digital image that can be refocused afterwards, using the light field information to recreate the image focused on a single point. Nerdgasm.

The Lytro Illum features an 8x optical zoom lens, with a fast shutter speed and a constant f/2.0 aperture, which ensures a high level of light enters the lens for clear photos.

Lytro is hoping that its new Illum camera, which is available for pre-order for an introductory price of $1,499 (£890!) for shipping in July, will offer enough to entice photographers to ditch their smartphones and digital SLRs and embrace light field technology where the company’s first generation Lytro camera failed.

Seriously though. The whole phone/camera thing is played out. GET A BLOODY PROPER CAMERA, YOU OH-SO-IMPORTANT DILETTANTES. Then you can go back to taking pictures of the dog. Sadly, the Lytro Illum hasn’t found the solution to making you look sexy in selfies.

90s student loan borrowers to get refunds

April 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

Did you go to university in the 90s? Did you wear tie dye and bad combat trousers and skin up on a copy of Dodgy’s first album?

90s raver 300x300 90s student loan borrowers to get refunds

WELL, here’s some good news for this generation of frazzled ravers. Due to a long running paperwork eff-up, thousands of student loan borrowers will be getting money taken off their loans, and in some cases are actually getting REFUNDS. Hurray!

58,000 former students with debts from before 1998 were affected by this long term correspondence error by the Student Loans Company, which was technically a breach of the Consumer Credit Act.

They sent letters to borrowers who missed two or more repayments saying their account was in arrears. They also should have sent individual statements of arrears to people with multiple loans, but instead combined their overall arrears in one document. This is against the Consumer Credit Act of 2008.

Since 2013 the SLC has been under the auspices of Erudio Student Loans, and there’s a lot of sorting out to do in order to rectify the mistake. So, if you’ve been affected, the SLC will write to you before the end of May. And if you were in arrears between 2008-13, you’ll be refunded any interest and charges paid since you received your arrears letter from the SLC. One person has already been refunded a staggering £816.

YAY! Let’s all pile into a camper van, go to Glastonbury and buy some acid off a guy called Spud!

If you want a mortgage, you’ll soon have to endure an intrusive THREE HOUR INTERVIEW with your bank, who will ask you a gazillion questions about your personal life, such as whether you’re trying to have children.
first time buyer mortgages Want to be a homeowner? Prepare for a Guantanamo grilling

The FCA has introduced a serious of tedious checks, which will apply both to first time buyers and long term borrowers, and the application process sounds like that tense scene in Green Card where Gerard Depardieu has to remember the name of Allie McDowell’s face cream. (What do you mean you haven’t seen Green Card??)

You’ll need to provide minute details of your income and outgoings, and you also have to prove whether you’ll still be able to afford your home if interest rates go up. Some banks will ask if you can afford a 1% rise – but if you’re borrowing big – up to £250,000, you’ll have to prove that you can cope with a whopping 7% rise – £500 more a month than you actually have to pay. So even if you could afford the actual mortgage repayments, you may be refused a loan.

Obviously, this test is an attempt to futureproof borrowers when interest rates inevitably go up, and to force lenders to re-examine the short term deals they offer. But it also seems like a cruel dashing of home owning dreams, especially if people can technically afford the repayments.

The new application process starts on Saturday. Apparently, you’ll also have to balance an orange on your head and walk on your hands in a straight line. Oh, and tell them what colour and texture your stools are.

Primark are going Stateside!

April 23rd, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

primark2 300x197 Primark are going Stateside!You’ve seen them on your high street, selling two-stripe trainers for £2 to people from Trafford and t-shirts with the Notorious B.I.G. on them to teenagers who don’t even like hip hop from Sheffield… but Primark have bigger ideas and they’re eyeing up the United States of America!

That’s right. The retailer is going to open their first US shops, kicking off with a 70,000 square foot store in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Boston store will be giving people more than a feeling at some point toward the end of 2015. There, they’ll be able to buy animal onesies and 500 pairs of black socks!

It isn’t ending there of course. There’s negotiations under way which see the company planning to open further shops in the north-east of America by 2016. We suspect Jimmy Fallon might be scouring the internet for ‘Primani’ jokes as we speak.

Primark’s owner – Associated British Foods – said half-year operating profits at their retail operations rose 26% to £298m, so they’ve got a bit of cash to gamble with and they said: ”After extensive research, it has been decided to take the [Primark] concept to consumers in the USA.”

One thing’s for sure – people like cheap stuff. Target and Wal-Mart, you’ve got some competition headed your way.

Tesco in new wave of new wave of price cuts

April 23rd, 2014 1 Comment By Ian Wade

tesco NEW Tesco in new wave of new wave of price cutsTesco is getting ready to lay down a fresh round of price cuts and a sort-out of its home shopping charges.

The supermarket leader has said it has dropped the price of more than 30 staples, such as bacon, eggs, sugar and bread. Although actual staples remain unaffected.

It is their response to the ongoing war against discount shops such as Aldi and Lidl.

Last week Tesco reported a second year of falling profits, with a 3% tumble – the worst yet since Philip Clarke took over from Sir Terry Leahy in 2011.

Clarke has promised more stable prices, as his shoppers tire of mixed messages pricewise across their shops. Where the Express stores seem to exist in a weird orbit up against its own bigger branches.

So now they’ve taken the Asda model of ‘everyday low price’ discounting, in a bid to tackle the permanent threat of the discount shops. Asda themselves have promised to spend £1 billion in cutting prices in the next five years.

With home-shopping a key battleground for the supermarkets, Tesco said it would stop charging for click-and-collect grocery orders. The service, available in 260 of its stores, used to charge shoppers £3 per order at the weekend and £2 on a weekday. Tesco is also to offer one-hour home delivery slots for as little as £1 for the first time.

The changes bring it into line with Asda, which already offers free click-and-collect on grocery orders and a £1 delivery charge, albeit with a two-hour delivery window.

gavel 300x200 Now it will cost you more to stand up for your rightsConsumer justice just got more expensive. For many people, small claims court offers the opportunity for aggrieved consumers to obtain financial redress through the court system, at a relatively low cost. However, from today, most small claims court fees are set to increase massively, in a move that will dismay and deter many consumers.

From 22 April, the cost to make a claim of between £3,000 and £5,000 will rise by 71% from £120 to £205. Worse, the fee for claims from £5,000 to £10,000 will go up by almost 82% from £245 to £445. So much for small claims court being a ‘low-cost’ means of resolving disputes without the need for a lawyer. The Ministry of Justice claims the new pricing structure is “crucial” to cover the cost of cases.

Although small claims court can be used by small businesses claiming for unpaid invoices, it is commonly used by consumers to resolve disputes over faulty or incomplete work, or failures under consumer acts, like when stores refuse to refund faulty goods.

If you are on benefits or have a low income, fees may be waived and it is important to note that the fees for the smallest claims, those under £1,000, remain unchanged, on a sliding scale between £35 and £70. All fees are cheaper if using the Government’s MoneyClaimOnline service.

However, Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice thinks small claims court is a last resort, warning that claimants could still end up out of pocket even if they win, if the compensation awarded doesn’t cover the costs or they need to pay more to enforce the ruling: “Cases can drag on for years, and people often recover minimal compensation after paying off their other costs.”

Alternative dispute resolution services, such as mediation, or ombudsman schemes (assuming there is one that covers the service/product you are disputing) might be a more cost effective route to a similar result.

If you’re flying from Heathrow next week, be aware – members of the RMT are planning to walk out at 3am on April 29th for 48 hours. It’s all down to a fight between the London Underground and the RMT over a so-called ‘toxic’ reorganisation of the workforce, (ie, replacing humans with MACHINES) which could threaten 953 jobs – 200 of which concern Heathrow Express staff.

heathrow express All aboard for a 48 hour strike on the Heathrow Express

Heathrow Express are trying to resolve the dispute, but if RMT staff walk out, they reckon they have what it takes to deal with staff shortages and keep trains running. Trying to keep the panic out of his press release, Heathrow Express MD Keith Greenfield said:

‘A strike is not the answer. It will increase costs when we are trying to reduce them, taking us further away from what we need to do to secure our business for the future. However… we have a robust contingency plan that will enable us to run regular trains for as long as any industrial action lasts.’

Meanwhile, the RMT have confirmed a five day tube strike, starting on April 28th until April 30th, then again between May 5th and May 8th.

So if you’re Heathrow bound, you could take the risk that the trains are running. Or you might want to reconsider your plans, or bring a sturdy pair walking boots. Or a skateboard. Or a jetpack. Or just stay in bed until the middle of May – which would be easier.

Household spending eased in March

April 22nd, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

According to a survey by Lloyd’s bank, our essential household spending slowed down last month, growing by less than 1%. Food costs have eased, and the fall in petrol prices has helped. This is also causing inflation to go down: in March it fell by 1.6%.

money jar 300x300 Household spending eased in March

So should we all be breathing a sigh of relief?

Well, Lloyds are optimistically seeing this slowdown as economic improvement, rather than desperate cost-cutting measures by people who can’t actually afford to buy food or to run their cars. Patrick Foley from Lloyds, no doubt wearing a striped shirt from Thomas Pink and leafing through a copy of Top Gear magazine, said:

‘The economic backdrop for consumers continues to improve, as ongoing growth in employment, and pay growth that finally begins to keep pace with inflation, feeds through to rising confidence.

As pressure on consumer wallets from essential spending continues to ease, both the willingness and capacity to undertake discretionary spending is likely to rise in the months ahead.’

Er, maybe hold your horses with your ‘discretionary spending’ on a gazebo and a new nest of tables, though – we’re not out of the woods yet. Energy bills still went up by 3%. Meanwhile, 71% of people surveyed in the Lloyd’s Spending Power survey said that the financial situation in Britain was ‘not good at all’. And pretty much everybody in the North East is unemployed and feeling very bleak indeed.

But apparently we’re slowly paying off our debts and consumer confidence is gradually improving. Unless you’re on the dole and eating your own hair, that is.

1 in 8 drivers use their mobile at the wheel

April 22nd, 2014 2 Comments By Mof Gimmers

car crash 239x300 1 in 8 drivers use their mobile at the wheelOne in every eight drivers are still using their mobile phones while at the wheel. That’s using it with their hands, rather than a hands-free kit or what-have-you. Tens years after it was made illegal, it seems drivers are still too keen to read and send messages while hurtling along.

This was discovered by road safety charity, Brake, and insurance company Direct Line. It wasn’t wholly bad news though, as they found that the number of people using hand-held devices at the wheel has actually fallen from 36% in 2006 to 13%.

The survey also showed that 68% of drivers polled agreed that it was dangerous to use any type of mobile phone while driving, with 36% supporting a ban on hands-free mobiles. 4% said all mobile phone use should be permitted.

Brake deputy chief executive Julie Townsend said: “It is shocking that, 10 years after the ban, one in eight drivers continues to flout the law and put lives in danger by using a hand-held mobile at the wheel.”

“Just as worrying is the widespread belief that using a hands-free kit is a safe alternative. Don’t kid yourself: it’s not. Using a hands-free phone while driving can end and ruin lives just as surely as using a phone hand-held, and no phone call or text is worth a life.”

“The Government needs to act now to stop this risky behaviour. We all need to take responsibility and put our phones safely out of reach and earshot while behind the wheel, and refuse to speak on the phone to others who are driving.”

Meanwhile, Direct Line’s motor director Rob Miles said: “The potential for casualties from mobile phone distraction is frightening. Hopefully, as drivers become more aware of the dangers inherent in the use of mobile phones whilst driving, it will become as much of a social taboo as drink-driving has become in recent years.”

What do you think?

Netflix celebrates profits by putting up prices

April 22nd, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

They’re rubbing their hands together and laughing maniacally at Netflix today, as the live streaming TV behemoths celebrated profits of $53m (£32m) during the first quarter of 2014.

netflix transparent Netflix celebrates profits by putting up prices

And to thank us all for devotedly putting them where they are today, they’re also considering a monthly price increase for new members. CHEERS! But it will only be ‘a dollar or two’, they say. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (who sounds like a Bret Easton Ellis character) has said that the price increase will help ‘acquire new content and deliver an even better streaming experience.’

Basically, thanks to the success of House of Cards, Netflix could show us their bumhole, fart the theme tune to Orange is The New Black and only show films in Swahili for a month and we’d still all love it. Shares are up 6%, the champagne is flowing, the bunting is up, and Kevin Spacey is looking rather smug.

However, globally speaking, HBO are still way ahead in terms of subscribers, with 130 million to Netflix’s 50 million. And will putting up monthly prices really increase their membership, or just send everyone scurrying to another service?

Apple offer worldwide recycling

April 22nd, 2014 4 Comments By Mof Gimmers

apple logo Apple offer worldwide recyclingApple are giving you the chance to throw expensive Apple gadgets in the recycling bin, worldwide. In some countries, they’re even allowing you to throw non-Apple products in the recycling too.

It seems they want to take some environmental responsibility and, over at their website, they’ve said that Apple retail stores will take back Apple products for “free, responsible recycling.”

The announcement offers gift cards if the unwanted product is reusable. Of course, you’ll be able to buy more Apple products with your gift card. If the product you hand in is nothing but unusable junk, Apple have kindly said that they won’t charge you to recycle it.

You might see parts of it being used in the next phone you buy from them, presumably.

That said, Apple will be stopping more than 421 million pounds of equipment going to landfills with this program.

“We believe we must be accountable for every Apple product at every stage of its use,” writes Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives.

If you want to find out more and watch a video about it all, click here.

Google accused of building digital superstate

April 18th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

google caterpillar logo 300x146 Google accused of building digital superstate Mathias Dopfner, the head honcho at Europe’s largest newspaper publisher Axel Springer, has gone after Google saying that they’ve abused their monopoly in the digital world, discriminating against rival search engines and building up a digital ‘superstate’.

Big talk.

Dopfner sent a letter to Google’s Eric Shmidt, saying that Google’s motto should be ‘pay us or be finished’.

Not only that, Dopfner said that he was scared of Google, because his company relies too much on Google. Of course, calling them names probably won’t help.

He stated that Google knows everything about their customers, thanks to private messages in Gmail being scanned, read and analysed by the company.

Of course, there’s Android handsets as well.

Most people realised a while back that Google weren’t exactly a nice company – at odds with their ‘don’t be evil’ ethos – but it is interesting to see a media mogul go on the attack in this way, even if the outcome is absolutely nothing changing.

Rupert Murdoch, another man with a media empire, called Google ‘parasitic’, but backed down from slagging them off because he suspected his papers weren’t as prominent in the search listings (although that might be something to do with paywalls and having rubbish publications).

Kraftwerk: for beauty we will ebay

April 18th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

zzzz53 300x218 Kraftwerk: for beauty we will ebayKraftwerk are having a bit of a clear out.

Robot-fetishists and all round geniuses Kraftwerk have been clearing out their old German studio, and bunged a load of kit on eBay.

So now – AT LAST! – you can get your hands on a Vermona Digital Rhythm Machine Drum Midi, a Analogue Solutions Europa 17 Track Midi Sequencer or even a Vikinx Network Analog Audio Matrix 64×64 Stereo Symmetric, all for the price of your next few months rent.

The more bargain conscious fan can get a Yamaha WX-7 Wind Controller Electronic Saxophone. But really, saxophones are vile at the best of times. An electronic one can only be worse than famine.

The page can be found here on German eBay.

Kraftwerk themselves can probably be found performing in an art gallery somewhere being all 3D and amazing.

gas meter 213x300 SSE overcharges 16,000 customers for energySSE is the energy company we all love to hate. Or one of them. In the same week that another independent provider breaches the £1,000 floor (First Utility), SSE admits that its faulty equipment has overcharged around 16,000 customers for their energy use.

Faulty electricity meters have caused the problem, with incorrectly calibrated meter clocks failing to correctly identify ‘Economy 10’ energy usage. This means that cost-conscious consumers who had tried to schedule their energy usage for the off-peak times were still being charged at the peak rate, which is currently 74% higher. The off-peak rate is 9.45p/KWh and the peak rate is 16.4p/KWh.

SSE said a “manufacturing fault” with one batch of electricity meters meant they were incorrectly switching back an hour after a power cut in winter. It also admitted a separate issue where meters had been “installed with the off-peak times set incorrectly for the customer’s supply distribution area”. Which suggests human, rather than mechanical error. The problems are estimated to have affected around 8,000 customers each.

SSE will now write to all customers who may have been affected to inspect their meters, but said it said it was impossible to tell exactly how much money customers had been overcharged. By way of redress, SSE has said it will attempt to approximate the loss and compensate customers by recalculating bills as though 70% of usage had been at off-peak times, rather than the average 50%.

“This recalculation method should work out favourably for the vast majority of customers who are affected by the fault,” said SSE, sticking two fingers up at the minority of customers who are still losing money owing to errors by the multi-million pound company.

EDF, British Gas and npower said they were “not aware” of any issues with their own meters