EA forced to remove gun shop links

Screenshot from Medal of HonorMedal of Honor has been a major title since 1999

Links to browse and buy real weapons featured in popular war-based video game Medal of Honor have been removed from the title’s website.

It followed pressure from groups suggesting that video games were responsible for inciting real-world violence.

A representative for publisher EA said: “We felt it was inappropriate and took the links down.”

Company logos, and descriptions of the weapons, remain on the game’s website.

In the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, video game makers were criticised by influential US lobby group the National Rifle Association.

“There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people,” said NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre at a press conference last week.

A special panel led by US vice president Joe Biden is currently examining potential ways to curb gun violence in the country.

Among proposals under consideration is a study into any possible links between children’s exposure to video games and violence.

‘Unfair advantage!’

On the website for Medal of Honor, which has for years been a major seller for EA since the first title’s release in 1999, news updates on the latest title discuss “partnerships” with weapons manufacturers.

A partners page displays 14 logos of companies producing combat equipment – but no longer link directly to the firms’ individual sites.

In a separate news item on EA’s main website, Medal of Honor’s executive producer Greg Goodrich writes: “So head over to the Magpul website and gain an unfair advantage!”. It refers to a Colorado-based firearms firm.

A promotional video showing the Magpul equipment was also released by the companies.

Real-world weapons are commonplace in video games which, like other entertainment forms, strive for accuracy and authenticity.

Earlier this year, CBS News reported that seven US Navy Seals were reprimanded after allegedly sharing classified material with games designers working on Medal of Honor.

One of the Seals took part in the raid which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20850776#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Africa gets ‘homegrown’ smartphone

Vérone MankouVerone Mankou insists his devices are designed and engineered in Africa

A smartphone and tablet said to be the first designed by an African company have beenlaunched.

The products, designed by Congolese entrepreneur Verone Mankou, are manufactured in China.

His company VMK’s devices run Google’s Android software. They will retail at $170 (£105) for the smartphone and $300 (£185) for the tablet.

“Only Africans can know what Africa needs,” said Mr Mankou at the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg.

“Apple is huge in the US, Samsung is huge in Asia, and we want VMK to be huge in Africa.”

Technology blog Smartplanet reports that the tablet offers wi-fi connectivity and four gigabytes of internal storage. Its name, Way-C, means “the light of the stars” in the local Lingala language.

The smartphone has rear and forward facing cameras and a 3.5in (8.9cm) screen.

There are plans to sell the devices across 10 other West African countries as well as Belgium, France and India.

Mr Mankou said he hoped to launch a cheaper tablet for students next year.

First?

The devices will come up against several already well-established and popular brands.

Most notably, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) has a significant presence on the continent, despite flagging sales in the western market.

VMK tabletThe tablet is similar in size to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab

Popular too are handsets from Nokia which is working closely with Facebook to grow African’s interest in both mobile communication and social networking.

However, there is an increasing desire among African communities to support homegrown products, spurred on by fledgling technology scenes in various cities across the region.

‘Offended’

Attempts to be seen as African have caused some firms to be accused of dishonesty. Companies were highly criticised after they were deemed to be marketing products that were made offshore but simply branded locally.

VMK insisted that while the product was manufactured in China for cost reasons, the design and engineering was entirely African.

A page on the company’s website stressed that statement, saying: “We are somewhat offended by the disregard of those who persist in denying the authentication of our products, despite evidence.

“Most of those critics are either Afro-pessimistic (who argue that ‘nothing good can come from Africa’), or just (future) competitors.”

The company added that unlike previous “African” smartphones and tablets, there were no products matching the VMK devices in other countries under different branding.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20850778#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Porn producer to widen piracy blitz

Models pose for camerasMr Becker says he now intends to chase users suspected of illegally sharing US pornography

A pornographic film-maker has revealed plans to chase more internet users for compensation for pirating others’ adult movies.

The move follows a Court of Appeal ruling which overturned a previous block on Golden Eye offering its services to other rights holders.

It keeps about 75% of all payments.

Spokesman Julian Becker – who funded the case – said he now planned to travel to the US to offer to enforce local firms’ copyrights in the UK.

“I look forward to travelling to adult conferences in Los Angeles and Vegas in early January to offer Golden Eye’s services to other producers,” he told the BBC.

Piracy payments

The court ruling brings to an end a legal dispute between Golden Eye and the Open Rights Group (ORG).

The digital rights campaign group had challenged the company’s right to make internet service provider (ISP) O2 reveal the names of thousands of suspected copyright infringers.

An initial ruling went in ORG’s favour saying that while Golden Eye could see the details of about 2,800 people suspected of illegally downloading its own movies, it had no grounds to pursue individuals who had accessed other production companies’ material – despite its business arrangement with them.

The judge said that to permit such an agreement “would be tantamount to the court sanctioning the sale of the intended defendants’ privacy and data protection rights to the highest bidder”.

He added that if the other film makers wanted “redress” they would have to pursue the suspected pirates themselves.

O2 signThousands of O2 customers are set to receive letters from Golden Eye next year

Golden Eye appealed the judgement, and last Friday the Court of Appeals ruled in its favour.

“It was both illogical and inconsistent for the judge to deny the self-same relief to the other claimants merely because they have chosen to pursue their claims with the assistance of Golden Eye under arrangements which the judge had previously found to be both lawful and not part of a speculative invoicing scheme,” wrote Lord Justice Patten.

Legal letters

Mr Becker said he now intended to contact alleged infringers – identified by internet addresses linked to file-sharing activities – in the New Year.

Recipients will be told they are suspected of accessing one or several adult films via peer-to-peer networks and will be invited to negotiate a lump sum payment.

Golden Eye had originally indicated it wanted to demand a £700 penalty, however this was blocked on the grounds that the sum was “excessive”.

The Open Rights Group expressed concern at the appeal’s verdict.

“Such a decision effectively means that someone who themselves has no interest in a claim can acquire personal details to obtain large sums of money,” it said.

“In this case Golden Eye are not a firm of solicitors, and thus are not regulated in the same way solicitors are.”

However, Mr Becker suggested that opposition to his actions might be based on the distaste some had for the pornographic industry,

“Adult content is legal in the UK and should be given the same rights as mainstream films,” he told the BBC.

“However, in reality, I believe there is always going to be a bias against this genre of film production.

“85% of computers exhibit porn history, although 90% of users will preach against it. This makes me wonder, if Golden Eye represented the interests of mainstream producers, would there have ever been a necessity of such a long and expensive legal process?”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20852157#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Queen’s message hails Olympic stars



The Queen

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In her Christmas message, the Queen praises the ”skill, dedication, training and teamwork” of the Olympic athletes

The Queen is to pay tribute to the nation’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes in her Christmas broadcast.

She will hail the “splendid summer of sport” and highlight how the sportsmen and women allowed spectators to feel part of the “excitement and drama”.

For the first time the address will be broadcast in 3D.

On Sunday, the Queen missed church as she was recovering from a cold, Buckingham Palace said. But she is expected to attend on Christmas Day.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the speech, which will be broadcast in full on Christmas Day, would focus on “service, achievement and the spirit of togetherness”.

During the address the Queen will say: “As London hosted a splendid summer of sport, all those who saw the achievement and courage at the Olympic and Paralympic Games were further inspired by the skill, dedication, training and teamwork of our athletes.

The Queen with producer John McAndrew and director John Bennett Behind-the-scenes footage shows the Queen viewing the broadcast with 3D glasses.

“In pursuing their own sporting goals, they gave the rest of us the opportunity to share something of the excitement and drama.”

The Queen had her own starring role in the London Olympics, declaring them officially open after appearing to parachute into the stadium with James Bond.

It has been an eventful year for the royal family, with the Queen celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in June, marked with UK-wide celebrations.

She also became the first British monarch to reach a 65th wedding anniversary.

But there were health scares, with Prince Philip, 91, forced to miss some key events during the Jubilee celebrations after being taken to hospital with a bladder infection.

‘Absolutely lovely’

Earlier this month, her grandson Prince William announced that his wife the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting a baby.

Behind-the-scenes footage of the Christmas message, made on 7 December, has been released, showing the Queen meeting senior staff from Sky News which produced the broadcast this year.

In other footage she wears 3D glasses as she watches part of the broadcast.

The message was recorded in Buckingham Palace’s white drawing room with the Queen wearing a fine silk tulle gown by Angela Kelly.

The Christmas address is written by the Queen and usually has a strong religious framework, reflects current issues and draws on her own experiences over the past year.

Her use of 3D technology comes 80 years after George V first broadcast a Christmas speech on the radio and started the 25 December tradition.

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the monarch thought the broadcast was “absolutely lovely”.

She added: “We wanted to do something a bit different and special in this Jubilee year, so doing it for the first time in 3D seemed a good thing, technology-wise, to do.”

The message will be transmitted on both television and radio at 15:00 GMT on Christmas Day.

It will be available on the Royal Channel on the YouTube website and will also be shown in Commonwealth countries.

The broadcast will also be screened in standard and high definition.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20832562#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Newsweek unveils last print cover

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The last print edition of Newsweek

Click to enlarge image

The 80-year-old US current affairs magazine Newsweek has revealed the image that will grace the cover of its last-ever print edition.

A black and white photo of the publication’s Manhattan headquarters takes pride of place, with the strapline #lastprintissue.

The nod to Twitter is regarded as a backhanded compliment.

The death of the print edition was caused by falling advertising revenues, as audiences moved online.

From the new year, Newsweek will be a digital-only publication. Editor Tina Brown described it as “a new chapter” for the magazine.

In a defiant editor’s letter, she wrote: “This is not a conventional magazine, or a hidebound place.

“It is in that spirit that we’re making our latest, momentous change, embracing a digital medium that all our competitors will one day need to embrace with the same fervor.

“We are ahead of the curve.”

Ms Brown became editor of the publication two years ago, after it merged with The Daily Beast, a news website she co-founded in 2008.

‘Bitter sweet’

Newsweek’s first edition was published on 17 February, 1933. It made an immediate splash with its front cover, featuring seven photos – one news story for each day of the week.

Although it always took second place to its rival, Time, it gained prominence in the 1960s for its coverage of the civil rights movement.

At its height, it had a circulation of 3 million, but declining readership and advertising revenue saw it fall into losses.

It was sold by the Washington Post Company to businessman and publisher Sidney Harman for $1 in 2010, and was merged with the Daily Beast three months later.

Ms Brown is a former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She unveiled Newsweek’s final front cover via Twitter, saying: “Bitter sweet! Wish us luck!”

One reader commented that the hashtag headline was “like using your final breath to ID the killer”.

The move to a digital edition will allow Newsweek to cut costs such as printing, postage and distribution. However it will lose money from print advertisers, who traditionally pay more than their online counterparts.

As the final edition went to the printers, The Daily Beast confirmed it would be making many of its editorial staff redundant.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20837502#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Iran ‘fends off new cyber attack’

Researchers say Duqu exploited a Microsoft Word document vulnerabilityIran has regularly claimed success in defeating computer viruses

A power plant and other industries in southern Iran have been targeted by the Stuxnet computer worm, an Iranian civil defence official says.

But the cyber attack has been successfully rebuffed and prevented from spreading, Iranian media report.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment efforts were hit hard in 2010 by the Stuxnet worm, which was also blamed for problems at industrial plants and factories.

Tehran accused Israel and the US of planting the malware.

Provincial civil defence chief Ali Akbar Akhavan said Iranian industry was constantly being targeted by “enemy cyber attacks” and companies in Hormozgan province had recently been infiltrated, the semi-official Isna news agency reported.

“The Bandar Abbas electricity supply company has come under cyber attack,” he told a news conference. “But we were able to prevent its expansion owing to our timely measures and the co-operation of skilled hackers.”

map

The Bandar Abbas plant, on Iran’s southern coast in the Strait of Hormuz, is said to supply power to neighbouring provinces as well as Hormozgan.

Spyware

Iran has regularly claimed success in defeating computer viruses, such as Stuxnet and Flame, which have affected its industries.

In April, a malware attack on Iran’s oil ministry and national oil company forced the government to disconnect key oil facilities, including the Kharg Island oil terminal that handles most of Tehran’s exports.

Late last year, Iran said some of its computer systems were infected by the Duqu spyware which was believed to have been designed to steal data to help launch further cyber attacks.

The attacks have affected its energy exports as well as its controversial uranium enrichment programme, which Western countries suspect is aimed at constructing nuclear weapons. Tehran insists it is solely for peaceful purposes.

The biggest cyber attack so far was from the Stuxnet worm, believed to be the first known virus specifically targeted at infrastructure such as power stations.

In 2010, Iran accused the West of trying to disrupt its nuclear facilities with the Stuxnet worm.

Researchers estimated that five industrial processing organisations in Iran were hit repeatedly between June 2009 and April 2010 by the worm which they believed had been created by a “nation state” in the West.

Iran said centrifuges used in uranium enrichment had been sabotaged and the UN nuclear watchdog said the enrichment programme had been temporarily brought to a halt.

Reports suggested that the worm had infected the personal computers of staff at Iran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr.

In September this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that time was running out to stop Tehran having enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.

US President Barack Obama has said the US will do “what we must” to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20842113#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Child abuse Twitter accounts closed

Man using computerThe accounts were made public early on Monday morning

Several private Twitter accounts have been disabled after they were revealed to contain indecent images of children.

Some hacking groups are claiming to have unmasked them, the NSPCC said.

Members of the public have reported the accounts to Greater Manchester Police and North Yorkshire Police, while Ceop – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre – says it is “aware”.

The NSPCC asked people to “be vigilant” and report such suspicious activity.

Ceop – the policing unit dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children – said it had had 25 to 30 reports of these accounts.

A Ceop spokesman said Twitter had disabled the accounts and would be reporting the find to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) – Ceop’s US equivalent – which as an American company it was legally required to.

“NCMEC will forward the account details to law enforcement in the countries where the individual concerned is,” he said.

It is unclear whether the images were uploaded by a UK user, or a user based abroad.

The NSPCC said the accounts were made public in the early hours of Monday.

“To be honest, it’s not a massive surprise. In our experience sex offenders will use whichever mean they can to connect with each other. They are usually quite devious,” a spokesman said.

He asked people to be vigilant.

“It you see something, or are aware of something, you should report it.”

As for those people storing such content, Professor Alan Woodward, of the University of Surrey’s department of computing, said they were increasingly using social media rather than computers.

“If they use the web to keep any pictures then they will be able to claim it wasn’t them. The weight of evidence isn’t the same.”

Twitter is yet to comment.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20837224#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

DIY Tardis is ‘bigger on its inside’



The home made Tardis

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Greg Kumparak shows how his Tardis looks bigger on the inside

A US-based Doctor Who fan has built a model of the Tardis designed to look bigger on its inside than its outside.

Rather than circumvent the laws of physics Greg Kumparak has relied on augmented reality (AR).

The actual interior of his wooden model features a zebra-striped fabric.

But when a smartphone is held in front of it running an AR app, it appears to show a spacious interior modelled on the ninth and tenth Doctors’ time machine.

Mr Kumparak, former mobile editor at the Techcrunch news site, said he decided to embark on the project over his Thanksgiving break.

He had carved the exterior out of wood, painted it blue and attached a working light to its top before coming up with the idea of creating the illusion that the inside was huge.

“There’s a running gag in Doctor Who, wherein new characters are always dumbstruck by the Tardis being bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside,” he wrote on his blog.

Greg KumparakMr Kumparak said he came up with the idea after watching a “crazy ridiculous” amount of Doctor Who

“Once I realised I had a rough idea of how to pull that off, I couldn’t not do it.”

Digital dimensions

To bring his idea to life, the Silicon Valley-based designer first created a 3D computer model of the Tardis’s interior using the free-to-use open source computer software programme Blender.

He then used the Unity graphics rendering engine – commonly used by independent video games developers – and Vuforia – an AR app development platform made by the chip maker Qualcomm – to allow a smartphone to interact with his creation.

The only problem was that the software needed to latch onto a specific part of the model to be able to map out the appropriate view of the Tardis’s interior.

Mr Kumparak initially tried using the sign on the police box’s door which says: “Free for use of public”, but it proved to be too small to work.

So, he ultimately detached the front door and added a piece of material with a black-and-white pattern. The smartphone software could then use this to work out which part of its camera’s image should be superimposed and what angle of the interior image should be shown.

Reaction to the invention has been overwhelming positive on Twitter and YouTube – a site notorious for attracting some of the web’s harshest feedback.

“Insanely cool,” wrote one admirer. “You have just made my Xmas,” posted another.

One user suggested the inventor might like to add features – perhaps even allowing the Doctor and some of his companions to appear inside.

Dr Who photographThe Doctor Who Christmas special will feature a redesigned Tardis interior

“The feedback has been resoundingly positive so far,” Mr Kumparak told the BBC.

“Almost shockingly so, really. Doctor Who fans might be some of the nicest people on the internet.”

He added that there might be an opportunity to develop the idea further.

“I originally made this just to brush up on a few new skills and to have something fun for my desk – that so many others got excited about it is really just a wonderful surprise.

“I’ve had more requests than I can count to make it into something others can obtain, be it as a store-bought toy or a printable kit.

“If anyone in the right department at the BBC is reading this and wants to make that happen, I’d love to lend a hand.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20836747#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Game of Thrones tops TV piracy chart

Game Of ThronesGame Of Thrones is largely filmed in Northern Ireland, and is shown on Sky in the UK

Game of Thrones has emerged as the most-pirated TV show over the internet this year, according to news site Torrentfreak’s latest annual survey.

It said one episode of the series had racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads – slightly more than than its estimated US television audience.

The site said that overall there had been a “small increase” in the amount of illegal sharing.

That was despite a “levelling out” of the activity the previous two years.

The rise also followed increased efforts to shut down or block websites providing access to copyright infringing material.

Investigations by the US, Mexican and Ukrainian authorities led to two of the best known file-sharing services disappearing earlier this year – digital locker service Megaupload and Bit Torrent link site Demonoid.

The administrators of Newzbin2 – a site which aggregated links to illegally copied material sourced from Usenet forums – also abandoned the operation after the UK courts forced internet service providers (ISPs) to block access.

In addition, UK-based Surfthechannel went offline after its owner went on trial for “facilitating” copyright infringement – a crime which resulted in him receiving a four year prison sentence.

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Most pirated TV shows of 2012

1. Game of Thrones

2. Dexter

3. The Big Bang Theory

4. How I Met Your Mother

5. Breaking Bad

6. The Walking Dead

7. Homeland

8. House

9. Fringe

10. Revolution

(Source: Torrentfreak)

Several countries ISPs have also been ordered to block The Pirate Bay, although political activists at Europe’s Pirate Parties continue to offer proxy-based workarounds.

Delayed broadcasts

Despite all the closures, one episode of of Game of Thrones racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads, according to Torrentfreak. That was slightly more than than its estimated US television audience.

The level of piracy may be linked to the fact that the TV company behind it – HBO – does not allow Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or other US streaming services access to its programmes. It instead restricts them to its own HBO Go online product, which is only available to its cable subscribers.

Outside the US, Torrentfreak noted that Australia was responsible for a disproportionate amount of illegal copies of Game of Thrones and suggested this may have been because episodes were broadcast locally a week later than in the US.

Torrentfreak’s editor acknowledged that, despite his findings, HBO might still want to keep its current model.

“Not all of the people who pirate do it because it’s free – availability is also a big factor,” Ernesto Van Der Sar told the BBC.

“Most of the titles in the top 10 list are behind paywalls and are not distributed very widely. If TV companies offered them online to a broader audience, piracy would be lower than it is now.

“But I’m not sure that would be best for their revenues as they rely on expensive subscriptions which they still sell a lot of. If they allowed people to download individual episodes from Netflix, for example, they might not make as much money.”

Ditched laws

The latest effort to combat piracy is a newly announced action plan by Russia and the US.

It involves the two countries:

  • Co-ordinating efforts with rights holders and law enforcement agencies to force copyright infringing content off the net and take action against those responsible for putting it online.
  • Pledging to seize and destroy equipment used to make the pirated files.
  • Working together on legislation, including plans for a Russian law to make ISPs liable for piracy carried over their networks.

Claire Danes and Damian LewisHomeland has been a ratings hit for Showtime despite high levels of piracy

“Intellectual property rights not only protect our creators and innovators, but also promote foreign investment, economic development, and job creation.” said US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

It follows success at introducing other anti-piracy action over the past year.

A series of website blackouts and protests led to the US’s House of Representatives abandoning its Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Senate its Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa) in January.

An attempt to bring in an international treaty – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) – was also derailed after the European Parliament rejected it in July.

However, more recently countries have signalled they intend to press forward with anti-piracy efforts,

In September, Japan changed the law to introduce a maximum two year jail sentence for users found guilty of downloading pirated files.

Major ISPs in the US have announced plans to launch a “six strikes system” early next year, under which suspected pirates would be sent a series of warning letters before facing bandwidth throttling and other punitive measures. And the UK also plans to introduce a letter-writing scheme in 2013.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20836739#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Facebook tests paid-for messaging

Facebook sign in New YorkFacebook is testing new ways to generate revenue from its users

Facebook has begun a trial which allows users to pay $1 to send messages direct to people who are not their friends.

The fee will mean messages go straight to a recipient’s inbox rather than the Other folder which contains all unsolicited correspondence.

The trial is only for a “small number of people” and is initially being tested just in the US.

Users will be able to receive a maximum of one paid-for message per week, and no more than three each month.

“Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful,” the site said in a statement.

“For example, if you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their inbox.”

Spam prevention

The system is similar to one adopted by professional social networking service LinkedIn. Its InMail feature allows users to get in touch with people they are not connected to for a set monthly fee.

On Facebook, users can already send messages to anyone else on the network. However, depending on a user’s privacy settings, messages from users who are not friends mostly end up in the Other folder.

This folder, which is separate from the user’s main inbox, often goes unchecked.

The $1 charge will mean messages will go straight to a user’s inbox. Facebook said the level of cost is likely to prevent spam or irrelevant messages.

There are no immediate plans to launch the trial for users in Europe, but it could happen in the future, Facebook said.

The changes are the latest evolution of Facebook’s messaging service – an area of its site it is looking to expand.

The site’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has previously said he wants people to use Facebook messages instead of email – and the network rolled out @facebook.com email addresses to all users in June.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20810341#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa