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Looks like there may be some consolidation in the augmented reality scene: TechCrunch reports that the U.K.’s Blippar has bought Dutch rival Layar. Both companies focus heavily on bringing print ads to virtual life. Layar is a real AR veteran; 5 years ago its original, non-marketing-centric app did a lot to popularize the concept (at least, among geeks.) Now both Blippar and Layar are trying to make AR finally take off through the use of Google Glass. If the deal’s real — I’ve been unable to get confirmation — I wonder what will happen to Layar’s interoperability pact with Metaio and Wikitude.

In Brief

We’ve covered TransferWise quite a few times – along with one or two rivals such as CurrencyFair, the London-based financial technology startup offers a genuinely disruptive foreign exchange service that significantly undercuts the banks. Its backers apparently also continue to see great potential: having led TransferWise’s $6 million Series A round just over a year ago, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures has again participated in the firm’s $25 million Series B, alongside Index Ventures, Virgin boss Richard Branson, IA Ventures, TAG, and Le Monde owner Xavier Niel. TransferWise, run by former Skype director Taavet Hinrikus, says it will use the funds for marketing.

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In Brief

The not-at-all-creepily-named “digital engagement” firm LivePerson has bought a German startup called Synchronite for its co-browsing technology. The deal should help LivePerson boost its real-time customer service product by allowing agents to see what the customer sees, so they can guide him through form-filling, completing purchases and other functions of the client’s website. Other outfits doing similar things include Unblu, LiveLook and Firefly. The purchase price for Mannheim’s Synchronite was not revealed.

In Brief

Wearable computing and the internet of things are two trends that are set to take off and ARM – the British company whose processor designs already power the vast majority of the world’s mobile devices – wants to be riding those rockets. On Monday ARM announced a new CPU design center in Taiwan that will focus on ARM Cortex-M processors for the internet of things, wearables and other embedded systems that require connectivity delivered through a small form factor with low power consumption. ARM CEO Simon Segars said the new center, due to open this year, will allow the firm to “work even more closely with key regional partners seeking to accelerate this market.”

In Brief

The U.K.’s keenness to identify and prosecute online trolls and bullies is well-documented, but a Freedom of Information request by Sky News has given us some numbers. The channel found that British police deal with around 20 “social media abuse” cases a day. In the last 3 years, there have been 20,000 investigations involving adults and almost 2,000 targeting children – although, since around a third of police forces did not give up their data, the number must be higher. Over 1,200 children have been “charged with a criminal offence or given a caution, warning or fine,” including four 10-year-olds and one 9-year-old. All this points to both a serious bullying problem and increasing watchfulness over what happens online.

Black Cab on Westminister Bridge
photo: Shutterstock / Rob Wilson

The city’s transport authority says it reckons the services of companies like Uber don’t qualify for regulation in the same way as traditional taxi services do, but it realizes the law is unclear on this point and wants senior judges to step in. Read more »

In Brief

Facebook has asked the European Commission’s antitrust watchdog to review its $19 billion takeover of the messaging service WhatsApp, according to the Wall Street Journal and also my own sources. The move may seem counterintuitive, but it would save Facebook the hassle of seeking regulatory approval in each European member state. European carriers in particular are reportedly worried that the deal – already green-lit by U.S. regulators — would give Facebook too much leverage in the SMS-revenue-stealing mobile messaging market. Personally, I think that market is in too much flux for a dominant position to be a sure thing just now, at least in Europe, but the concern is understandable.

In Brief

Turns out Chromecast didn’t just launch in Japan and Australia this week: Google is also bringing its streaming stick to Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal. Combined with the European launch earlier this year and the expansion to South Korea two weeks ago, this means that Chromecast is now available in a total of 18 countries. Google VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz told me late last year that the company intended to launch in “a number of international markets,” in 2014, adding that people were going to be “pleasantly surprised” by the scope of this international expansion.

In Brief

Russia’s new Kremlin-friendly search engine Sputnik – planned since last year — reportedly achieved lift-off on Thursday. As spotted by Tech.eu on Wednesday and confirmed to me today by local sources, Sputnik was launched on Thursday by state-controlled Rostelecom. Recent reports suggest the venture cost $42 million to develop and Sputnik, unavailable from outside the country, will be the default search engine for government departments and state-controlled companies. Russia is increasingly keen on censoring the internet there, and having an amenable search engine will prove useful to the authorities … if they can get significant numbers of people to switch from rivals such as Google and market leader Yandex. Sputnik’s name may harken back to past days of technological glory, but it’s also fitting for these days of Cold War revivalism.

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