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Firms hold net neutrality protest

Written By andika jamanta on Rabu, 10 September 2014 | 23.58

10 September 2014 Last updated at 00:45 By Kevin Rawlinson BBC News

Twitter, Netflix and Reddit will take part in an "internet slowdown" protest in favour of net neutrality on Wednesday.

They are among dozens of firms worried that proposed new regulations will mean extra charges for fast internet access.

The US Federal Communications Commission said its proposals were designed to protect net neutrality.

Many groups taking part will display the spinning wheel, an icon for slow loading speed, but will run normally.

Indicating that it would take part in the protest, Netflix posted an animation of the wheel on its US Twitter account on Monday. The icon will link to a page showing readers ways to take action to defend "net neutrality", Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

The Netflix post also urged others to join the campaign. WordPress and the American Civil Liberties Union said they were also planning to take part on Wednesday.

A Twitter spokesman told the BBC: "We support the Internet Slowdown campaign and its efforts to draw public attention to a critically important issue. We're not planning to add a banner to our home page, but we'll participate in other ways." The spokesman would not elaborate on the form Twitter's protest would take.

According to one of the protest organisers, Free Press, Reddit and Netflix will be joined by Mozilla, Kickstarter and Upworthy, as well as Automattic - which runs WordPress - Digg and Vimeo.

Other online firms taking part will include Boing Boing, Thunderclap and Urban Dictionary, as well as Foursquare, Digg and Cheezburger.

"The cause of net neutrality is important to us as a business. It's important to our visitors, and it's important for our democracy. We're proud to take part in the Internet Slowdown and encourage others to join with us," said Reddit general manager Erik Martin.

Paul Sieminski, general counsel of Automattic said: "The free and open internet has been central to the economy and to global free expression. Everyone has to step up now and do everything they can to protect it," according to AFP.

"We need our leaders to stand up to the cabal of cable and phone giants that have called the shots in Washington for too long," Free Press Action Fund president Craig Aaron said.

'Grave threat'

The move follows the proposal from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which would require telecom providers to ensure that "all users have access to an internet experience that is sufficiently robust, fast and effectively usable".

The proposal came after a US Court of Appeals ruling in January that found that broadband providers were not under an obligation to ensure all internet traffic was treated equally.

The FCC's proposals defined users as both consumers and "content providers who do not enter into specific arrangements with broadband providers".

Providers would be banned from blocking downloads of legal content but the rules would leave the door open to them to charge for "prioritised" data delivery.

In response, more than 100 technology firms, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter, wrote to the FCC claiming the rules "would enable phone and cable internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against internet companies and to impose new tolls on them".

They wrote: "This represents a grave threat to the internet."


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Hackers take aim at iCloud users

9 September 2014 Last updated at 11:11

Cyber-thieves are exploiting the furore around iCloud by launching a phishing campaign that seeks to steal Apple IDs.

ICloud was at the centre of the stolen celebrity photo scandal last week as many of the images were grabbed by hackers that targeted the service.

Apple has responded by beefing up the security that notifies people when their iCloud account is accessed.

Attackers are now sending out bogus notification messages to trick people in to handing over login details.

The criminal gang behind the phishing email messages runs the Kelihos/Waledac botnet, said Symantec in a blogpost about the cyber-attack. A botnet is a large network of compromised computers used for a wide variety of cybercrimes, including sending out spam or mining victims' machines for saleable data.

The phishing campaign revolves around an email which appears to be from Apple and which claims that a song has been bought on iTunes via a person's Apple account. The message said the purchase was made from a device not previously used by that account and that the internet address used by whoever bought the track is in Volgograd, Russia.

Those receiving the bogus warning emails are asked to click on a link to verify their Apple ID. Clicking through to the page behind the link would put confidential data at risk, said the security firm.

"This page masquerades as an Apple website and asks the user to submit their Apple ID and password," it said. "If the victim does so, the attackers will presumably harvest their credentials for exploit or resale."

Symantec said users should be wary of any email claiming that online accounts need to be updated or changed. It also urged people to avoid clicking on links in messages and use security software that can spot or block phishing scams.

The campaign comes soon after Apple changed its iCloud notification system to do more to alert users about what is happening to their accounts. Alerts are now being sent when there is an attempt to change a password on iCloud accounts, when iCloud is used to download data to reset a device and when a login from a new device takes place.

In addition, noted the MacRumors website, Apple is now alerting people when iCloud accounts are accessed via a web browser.


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Most apps 'failing on privacy'

10 September 2014 Last updated at 13:38 By Dave Lee Technology reporter, BBC News

The vast majority of popular apps are guilty of basic failings over user privacy, a report has warned.

The Global Privacy Enforcement Network (Gpen) looked at 1,211 apps and found 85% were not clearly explaining what data was being collected, and for what reason.

Almost one in three apps were requesting an excessive amount of personal information, the report said.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has backed the findings.

"Today's results show that many app developers are still failing to provide this information in a way that is clear and understandable to the average consumer," said the ICO's group manager for technology, Simon Rice.

"The ICO and the other Gpen members will be writing to those developers where there is clear room for improvement.

"We will also be publishing guidance to explain the steps people can take to help protect their information when using mobile apps."

The ICO has previously published guidance for app developers (PDF).

Privacy International told the BBC that users being left in the dark on data collection was "completely unacceptable".

"Sadly this type of smash and grab is now becoming an industry standard, where apps are taking as much information as possible and hoping users don't notice.

"We deserve to be in control over what information is shared and under what circumstances, no matter the applications we use or size of the screen."

'Not surprising'

The ICO examined 50 of the most popular apps released by UK developers - on the Android and iOS mobile platforms.

Other data watchdogs carried out research in 39 countries, with Gpan collecting the results.

The resulting report suggested:

  • 85% of the apps surveyed failed to clearly explain how they were collecting, using and disclosing personal information.
  • More than half (59%) of the apps left users struggling to find basic privacy information.
  • Almost 1 in 3 apps appeared to request an excessive number of permissions to access additional personal information.
  • 43% of the apps failed to tailor privacy communications to the small screen, either by providing information in too small a print, or by hiding the information in lengthy privacy policies that required scrolling or clicking through multiple pages

Dr Steven Murdoch, a researcher at University College London, said the findings on data privacy were "sadly not surprising". He argued that often the use of third-party advertising platforms within apps is particularly troubling.

"Often privacy leaks from mobile apps don't come from the app itself, but from the advertisements which are added," he told the BBC.

"Quite frequently the people who are writing the application don't understand themselves what they advertisement code is doing.

"If you couple it with the fact that the money for these apps are made almost purely through ads - developers don't want to ask too many questions."

Gpan researchers did note some instances of good practice.

Regulators were said to be "impressed" by the use of notifications to warn users when certain instances of data collection - such as location information - were about to take place.


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Woman seeks to crowd-fund abortion

9 September 2014 Last updated at 17:15

Crowd-funding website GoFundMe has removed a page from a woman seeking to finance her abortion.

Known only as Bailey, the 23-year-old had set up a page to ask for $2,500 (£1,550) to pay for the operation, saying she was having a "rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy".

Following complaints, the website said that it no longer wanted to be associated with her campaign.

It has raised questions about how crowd-funding websites should be used.

GoFundMe decided that using the platform to finance an abortion was a step too far.

"In the event that a campaign contains questionable content, GoFundMe will conduct an internal content review to determine the most appropriate course of action. Given the sheer volume of campaigns, each review is handled on a case-by-case basis," the site told the BBC.

"In this particular case, GoFundMe determined that the fundraising campaign titled "Bailey's Abortion Fund" would be removed from the site."

It said that money already raised would be forwarded to her. It is believed that more than 100 people had donated a total of $1,654.

Potato salad

In an interview with Vice magazine that was published before the page was removed, Bailey described herself and her boyfriend, who set up the page as "broke kids who really need to have this abortion".

The pregnancy, which she said was at about 20 weeks, was not going well, she said.

"Sometimes the pain is so bad that I can't get out of bed, and I can't go to the bathroom," she added.

In recent months the limits for what can be crowd-funded has been tested with projects such as Zach Brown's $55,492 raised to make a potato salad or Eric Estrada's attempt to crowd-fund his mortgage.


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Google faces new stand-off in Europe

9 September 2014 Last updated at 12:52

The European Commission is seeking fresh concessions from Google on how it displays search results on web pages.

The long-running investigation aims to settle concerns that the search giant has abused its dominant position in the European search market.

Competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia revealed that he could also open a probe into Google's mobile operating system Android.

Google said it continued to work with the commission to resolve the matter.

The dispute has been running since 2010, after rivals, including British price-comparison site Foundem, complained that the way Google displayed results was anti-competitive.

In Europe Google has a 90% share of the search market.

Toll road

In a deal hammered out in February, Google agreed to reserve space near the top of its European search pages for competitors, which would be open to rivals to bid for via an auction.

This auction could generate an extra income of up more than 300 million euros for Google, said rivals.

"Under the auction system Google would get another massive revenue stream. It's a bit like telling a robber than he can't rob any more but instead can set a toll on the High Street," said David Wood, a lawyer that represents iComp (Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace) of which Foundem and Microsoft are members.

"The real remedy is for Google to use the same algorithm for third-party sites that it applies to its own," he added.

He urged the European Commission to push this solution as part of its powers.

Writing on the Google Europe blog, executive chairman Eric Schmidt quoted Mr Almunia saying that imposing "strict equal treatment could mean returning to the old world of Google displaying only 10 undifferentiated search results".

"We're trying to get you direct answers to your queries because it's quicker and less hassle than the 10 blue links Google used to show," he said.

"Nor is it true that we are promoting our own products at the expense of the competition," he added.

Mr Almunia had previously indicated that he was happy with the changes but had changed his mind in the wake of "very, very negative" feedback from rivals such as Microsoft and Expedia, he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

"Some complainants have introduced new arguments, new data, new considerations. We now need to to analyse this and see if we can find solutions, Google can find solutions, to some of these concerns that we find justified," he told reporters.

This represents the third rejection of Google's solutions and experts think that it is now unlikely that an agreement will be reached during Mr Almunia's term in office, which finishes at the end of October.

If no agreement is reached, Google faces a heavy fine.


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Apple unveils Watch and new iPhones

9 September 2014 Last updated at 19:44 By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor
Apple Watch

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WATCH: Richard Taylor tries out the Apple Watch

Apple has unveiled a smartwatch - the Apple Watch - its first new product line since the first iPad and the death of its co-founder Steve Jobs.

The device runs apps, acts as a health and fitness tracker and communicates with the iPhone.

While rival smartwatches already exist, experts said Apple had a history of entering sectors relatively late and then changing their direction.

Apple also unveiled two new handsets that are larger than previous models.

The iPhone 6's screen measures 4.7in (11.9cm) and the iPhone 6 Plus's 5.5in (14.0cm) - a change that analysts said should help prevent users migrating to Android.

It also announced a new service called Apple Pay, which chief executive Tim Cook said he hoped would "replace the wallet" in shops.

Watch apps

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes and is controlled by what Apple calls a "digital crown" - a dial on its side that allows content on its screen to be magnified or scrolled through, and can also be pressed inwards to act as a home button.

The display is a touchscreen that can detect the difference between a light tap and heavier pressure from the user's fingers. In addition, the device runs Siri - Apple's voice-controlled "personal assistant".

It offers a variety of different watch faces, can alert the user to notifications, act as a heart rate monitor and show maps.

Apple said that apps could be processed on an iPhone, but displayed on the watch in order to extend battery life. It did not say how often the device needed to be recharged.

Although some of these features are available from competing products, one observer said the device had the potential to ignite the wearable tech sector.

"I'm sure that for many people, waiting to see what Apple did was a first step before going out and buy a wearable technology product, whether or not it's an Apple one they get," said Tim Coulling, senior analyst at research firm Canalys.

Motorola's president, Rick Osterloh, told the BBC last week that he welcomed the idea of Apple "growing" the smartwatch market, even though it would compete with his own product, the Moto 360.

iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

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WATCH: Rory Cellan-Jones asks if Apple Watch can convert a sceptical public to wearable technology

Mr Coulling added that other rivals probably felt likewise.

"The buzz that Apple's entry will generate about wearables is unquestionable," he explained.

"It has a huge marketing budget and uses slick advertisers, so its launch will generate interest around the whole product segment."

The watch - which comes in three different editions - relies on its user owning an iPhone 5 or more recent model.

It will cost $349 (£216) - which is more than recently announced Android Wear watches from Motorola, Sony and others - and will not be available until "early 2015".

Bigger phones

While Apple Watch was the most anticipated product, the company's new handsets are likely to be its biggest earners.

Apple saw its global share of smartphone shipments slip from 13% to 11.7% between the second quarters of 2013 and 2014, according to research firm IDC, while Android's share grew.

"The main benefit for Apple in going to a larger size of screen is not so much to woo people over to its devices, but to prevent its customers defecting, particularly to devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Note," said John Delaney, head of IDC's European mobility team.

"But one should bear in mind that Apple's decline is relative - the smartphone market has expanded, and most of the expansion has taken place in the lower price bracket that Apple doesn't address."

Apple had previously justified the 3.5in and 4in screen sizes of its existing iPhones as being suited to one-handed use. In 2010, the company's co-founder Steve Jobs went so far as to say "no-one's going to buy" a phone that they could not get a single hand around.

But one expert said a market had developed for so-called phablets.

"Watching video is definitely something that appeals on a bigger display, as well as gaming. And for business customers, having more space to do emails properly and look at and edit presentations helps," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

SMARTPHONE SALES BETWEEN JANUARY AND JULY 2014:

UK US China

(Source: Kantar)

iOS

29.7%

33.5%

15.3%

Android

58.9%

60.0%

82.4%

Windows Phone

9.4%

4.7%

0.9%

Other

2%

1.8%

1.4%

Apple said that the A8 chip featured in the new phones would provide 25% faster compute performance than before.

The improved resolutions - dubbed "retina HD" - mean that the iPhone 6 offers 326 pixels per inch and the iPhone 6 Plus 401ppi. While better than before, the resolutions are still beaten in terms of raw numbers by Samsung's flagships - the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 - and the HTC One.

New sensors include a barometer, which Apple said would help fitness apps distinguish whether the owner was running up a mountain or along a flatter surface.

The M8 co-processor can now estimate distances as well, which should also help provide more accurate readings.

The handsets will be available for sale on 19 September.

Apple Pay

The Apple Pay service depends on an NFC (near field communication) chip featured in both the new phones and watch.

Apple described the service as being "secure" because it worked without Apple needing to store the credit card details itself, or the user having to share their name and card details with the cashier.

iPhone owners will be able to use it by waving their handset above an NFC reader at a shop's till.

Several other firms have tried to pioneer touchless payments, but they have yet to become popular beyond credit and debit cards that include the feature.

"We've been waiting a long time for Apple to get into contactless payments, and its solution is characteristically straightforward for ordinary people," commented Jason Jenkins, director of content at the news site Cnet.

"But with contactless so common in Britain, I have to wonder if Apple has missed the boat here - waving a credit card at a payment reader is hardly a challenge."

Apple's shares spiked higher during the press conference, but ultimately closed 0.4% down on the day.

Analysis : Richard Taylor, North America technology correspondent

The highlight of the event was undoubtedly Apple Watch, where the tech giant's signature hallmarks of elegance and simplicity are in evidence.

It is certainly a bold move to overhaul the user interface and use a "digital crown"; in terms of functionality it appears extremely comprehensive, although at $349 for the basic version - around 30%more than its Android rivals - it needs to be.

The nuances of its fitness tracking capabilities elevate it beyond the competition, though some features like "digital touch" to send bespoke messages and gestures to friends feel a bit gimmicky.

The square design may be a little too futuristic-looking for timepiece traditionalists, although making the watch in two sizes is a smart move which will broaden its appeal to women.

It is little surprise that Apple Watch supports Apple Pay, the new payment mechanism. By taking a cut from real-world and non-Apple online transactions, Apple Pay has the potential to be a hugely powerful revenue generator.

It is undoubtedly convenient - especially when used in conjunction with Apple Watch - but after the recent celebrity photo hacks, confidence in Apple's security is dented - and it will take time before many smaller retailers are on board.

Apple has previously waited for others to pioneer new tech before leapfrogging the competition as the graphic below illustrates:

INTERACTIVE

  • ×

    The Alto was one of the first computers to use a mouse, and an early pioneer of the "desktop" concept.

  • ×

    Apple's first almost-affordable, mass-market computer was launched with a futuristic ad by Ridley Scott.

  • ×

    The Rio had just 32MB of memory – enough to store roughly an hour of music.

  • ×

    Apple launched the original iPod with the slogan '1,000 songs in your pocket'.

  • ×

    Weighing half a kilogram and featuring a rather crude touchscreen, the Simon was able to send and receive emails, as well as take notes.

  • ×

    At the iPhone's launch, Steve Jobs told the audience the device was 'five years ahead of any other mobile phone'.

  • ×

    Based upon what used to be known as the 'slate form factor', Fujitsu's tablet PC could be operated with a pen or connected to a keyboard for use at a desk.

  • ×

    One million iPads were sold in 28 days after its launch in the US.

  • ×

    Developed in partnership with Microsoft and Palm, the Fossil could deliver traffic and weather reports, among other things.

  • ×

    The Apple Watch features a health tracker, as well as a new user interface.


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MPs: Smart meter savings too small

10 September 2014 Last updated at 00:02

Installing smart meters in every house in the UK will save consumers "only 2%" on their annual bills, a committee of MPs has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that, on average, consumers will save just £26 a year.

MPs also warned that the technology could be out of date by the time the roll-out is complete.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said smart meters will lower bills and make switching easier.

Installing the meters - which begins in earnest next year - will cost £215 per household, or £10.6bn.

Customers will be charged an annual amount on their bills to cover the cost, peaking at £11 a year in 2017.

The £26 annual figure would be the net saving, after the installation costs have been taken into account.

"Despite consumers footing the bill, they can on average make a saving of only 2% on the average annual bill of £1,328 by the time the roll out is complete," said Margaret Hodge, the chair of the PAC.

"Even this is conditional on consumers changing their behaviour and cutting their energy use," she added.

'Redundant'

The Committee also said that some of the technology is likely to be out of date by the time it is installed.

At the moment the meters carry an in-house display, which tells consumers how much energy they are using at any given time, and how much it is costing.

The idea is that will encourage consumers to use less electricity and gas.

But the MPs said customers could receive similar information on smart phones.

That could make the in-home displays "redundant," said the committee.

DECC said there would be no up front charge to consumers for having a smart meter installed.

Energy minister Baroness Verma said: "Smart meters put power into the hands of consumers, bringing an end to estimated billing and helping people understand their energy use.

"The nationwide rollout is part of the Government's complete overhaul of the UK's energy infrastructure which will revolutionise the market and support the development of smarter electricity grids.

"It will help reduce consumer bills, enable faster, easier switching and give households control at the touch of a button," she said.

The project has already run into delays, and has been criticised elsewhere as a waste of money.


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US states launch Home Depot probe

10 September 2014 Last updated at 00:08

Pressure is mounting on US retail giant Home Depot after what could be one of the biggest data breaches ever.

At least five US states have begun looking into the case, and there are calls in Washington for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

Credit and debit card data was taken, and although Home Depot has not said how many people were affected there are reports it runs into several million.

Home Depot confirmed the breach on Monday and apologised to customers.

A spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said that California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York and Iowa would lead a multi-state probe into the breach.

"We have had initial contact with the company," said , director of communications for Mr Jepsen. "We would decline any further comment at this time."

Meanwhile, two Senators, Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal, have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

"If Home Depot failed to adequately protect customer information, it denied customers the protection that they rightly expect when a business collects such information," the senators said in a statement.

"Such conduct is potentially unfair and deceptive, and therefore could violate the FTC Act."

Home Depot said customers who shopped at its stores as far back as April were exposed to the breach.

Malware

Security blogger Brian Krebs was the first to reveal the hack, which he said targeted credit and debit cards used on malware-infected cash registers.

According to the blogger, the Home Depot credit and debit card breach was aided by a new variant of the malicious software program that stole data from cash registers in Target stores around the US last December.

The malware, known as BlackPOS, siphoned data from cards when they were swiped at infected cash registers running Windows.

Meanwhile, Illinois resident Kelsey O'Brien has filed a lawsuit, seeking class-action status, compensatory and punitive damages and credit card monitoring services.

He said he used his credit card at Home Depot and had his personal financial information exposed.

Home Depot said it would cooperate with any investigations, but declined to comment further.


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Snapchat ends bitter owner dispute

10 September 2014 Last updated at 11:08

Messaging service Snapchat has ended a bitter dispute over the app's beginnings, in a private settlement.

Frank Reginald Brown, known as Reggie, had said he had come up with the original idea of images and videos that "disappear".

Snapchat's chief executive, Evan Spiegel, initially disputed that involvement but has now acknowledged Mr Brown's role.

Recent investments have valued Snapchat at about $10bn (£6.2bn).

'Vigorously defend'

In December last year, Mr Brown had said he should have ownership rights.

"It's definitely over £1bn we're seeking," his lawyer, Luan Tran, had told Forbes magazine.

Mr Brown had said he had shared his original idea with Mr Spiegel and Snapchat's chief technology officer, Bobby Murphy, when they had all been students at Stanford University.

Continue reading the main story

[We] appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground"

End Quote Evan Spiegel Chief executive, Snapchat

But, he had said, he had been then "excluded from all participation, profit and interest" in the partnership.

'Sexual harassment'

Also in 2013, Mr Spiegel said: "We are aware of the allegations, believe them to be utterly devoid of merit, and will vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous suit."

And later in the same year, Snapchat filed a restraining order against Mr Brown, alleging he had disclosed confidential information about the company to the media.

But on Wednesday Mr Spiegel said: "We acknowledge Reggie's contribution to the creation of Snapchat and appreciate his work in getting the application off the ground."

He added: "We are pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter in a manner that is satisfactory to Mr Brown and the company."

The terms of the settlement have not been made public - but as the statement made no mention of Mr Brown's alleged ownership, a payment as large as the £1bn his lawyer had said they had been seeking is considered unlikely.

In a separate case also resolved this week, dating service Tinder settled with its former vice-president of marketing, Whitney Wolfe.

Ms Wolfe had accused Tinder's founders of sexual harassment.

The terms of that settlement were also confidential - but Tinder said it contained no admission of guilt.


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Microsoft is 'set to buy Minecraft'

10 September 2014 Last updated at 14:02 By Leo Kelion Technology desk editor

The video games studio behind Minecraft is in talks to be taken over by Microsoft, according to reports.

It has been suggested that Mojang might sell for more than $2bn (£1.2bn).

In June, the Swedish studio said it had sold about 54 million copies of its hit world-building game. Since then it has also been released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, further boosting sales.

Mojang's founder, Markus "Notch" Persson has previously publicly criticised Microsoft.

Ahead of the release of the Windows 8 operating system, he had claimed that the company was "trying to ruin the PC as an open platform" because it had wanted to certify third-party titles before their release.

He had also been a vocal supporter of independent studios, saying in 2012 that: "The more studios that can remove themselves from the publisher system, the more games that will be made out of love rather than for profit."

But, according to Bloomberg news agency, it was Mr Persson who "reached out" to Microsoft a few months ago.

It said that a source suggested that if the deal went through, Mr Persson would help with the transition, but was unlikely to stay on afterwards.

The New York Times also reported that a person briefed on the talks had said that Mr Persson was expected to leave within six months, but added that Mojang was keen to hold on to its younger developers.

A spokesman for Microsoft said: "We don't comment on rumour and speculation."

Mojang also declined to comment. Mr Persson did not respond to the BBC's questions.

Virtual world

Minecraft was first released in 2011, and has since become the third bestselling game of all time and something of a cultural phenomenon.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has hosted an evening that explored its design culture, Lego has made spin-off toys, Ordnance Survey has created a version of mainland Great Britain within the game, and Denmark's government has also built a scale model of its country.

The title is set in a virtual world made of cubes of different materials, including dirt, rock and lava. Most of these can be used as building blocks and/or refined into usable raw materials.

Player use the blocks to build a shelter and to create weapons to defend their character against the game's zombies and other monsters.

They can also engage in huge construction projects to flex their creative skills.

One extreme recent example involved the creation of a working virtual hard drive.

Mojang has worked on other titles, but they have either fallen short of Minecraft's success - such as the role-playing game (RPG) Scrolls - or been shelved before completion - such as 0x10c, a space-themed game that Mr Persson had been working on until last year.

'Worried gamers'

The Wall Street Journal was first to report negotiations between Mojang and Microsoft, saying that the deal could be finalised this week.

It noted that this would be the first multibillion acquisition by Microsoft's chief executive, Satya Nadella, since he took charge of the company.

Harry Bradshaw, who has interviewed Mr Persson on the Twitch video site, said that many gamers would be concerned by the news.

"There have been cases in the past of big corporations taking someone else's game and turning it into a huge money-flip, just to see what they can make out of it," he said.

"Gamers will naturally be worried about this.

"And it does confuse me why Mojang would sell up, bearing in mind it is the bestselling PC game of all time and still sells thousands of copies a day."

One market watcher said that it was unlikely that Microsoft would pull existing Minecraft games from sale for the PlayStation, Mac, Android, Linux and other rival platforms.

However, he added that Microsoft's various systems might be given preference when it came to future products.

"Minecraft is one the leading IPs [intellectual properties] within the games space that is potentially acquirable," said Piers Harding-Rolls, lead games analyst at the consultancy IHS.

"The brand has the potential to continue for the next 10 years,

"So, as an investment - even one at a very high price - it still represents something of value to larger companies that are looking to acquire exclusivity around a highly-engaged franchise."


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