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Today in Tech: Xbox Live, Carrier IQ, Facebook to acquire Gowalla

Xbox Live relaunches Tuesday: Big changes are coming to the Xbox 360 dashboard, though Windows fans will likely find them oddly familiar.

The new layout is a complete departure from the design Microsoft introduced for the console in 2008 and instead embraces the “Metro” design elements now on Windows phones and planned for Windows 8. The unification works beautifully on the Xbox, eliminating the clunky flipcard design in favor of the tiles that make up the core of Metro’s design.

The real change to the dashboard is not in its looks, but in the greatly expanded voice and motion control. Pulled way beyond the “Kinect Hub” on the current interface, users can use their hands and voices to navigate through the vast majority of Xbox menus. This expansion, combined with the console’s new Bing integration, has made searching for content on Xbox Live far more intuitive.

It has also introduced a cloud-saving feature that’s made it easier for gamers to switch profiles and access their games from anywhere with an Internet connection without having to tote their USB drives to friends’ houses.

Adding cloud saves takes away one of the few features that PlayStation Plus had over Xbox Live. Luckily for Sony, Microsoft still hasn’t added a browser to its services, though the YouTube app can probably fill a chunk of the functionality gamers might want from a browser.

Gowalla acquired by Facebook: Gowalla confirmed in a Monday blog post that it is being acquired by Facebook. Co-founder Josh Williams said that the location-based service will be winding down in January. He said that the acquisition is the result of a conversation the services’ co-founders had with Facebook during the F8 conference.

“About two months ago, my co-founder Scott and I attended F8. We were blown away by Facebook’s new developments,” Williams wrote. “A few weeks later, Facebook called, and it became clear that the way for our team to have the biggest impact was to work together. So we’re excited to announce that we’ll be making the journey to California to join Facebook!”

Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s data, Williams said, though the company will be providing a tool to export Gowalla users’ information.

Carrier IQ draws European scrutiny: Carrier IQ, the company that has been accused of installing surveillance software on smartphones, is now facing scrutiny from European regulators, PC World reported. The British Information Commissioner’s Office and the European Consumers’ Organization have also expressed concerns about the software. All major carriers in Great Britain have said that they do not use the software in their handsets, ZDNet reported last week.

The Bavarian State office for Data Protection has sent a letter to Apple asking the company about its use of Carrier IQ, the report said.

In research posted by security researcher Trevor Eckhart, the software appeared to react to each key press and to read Web sites, including those using the secure HTTPS protocol. Dan Rosenberg, a researcher who works with Virtual Security Research has posted his own research saying that there isn’t evidence that any information beyond what’s needed for network diagnostics is being recorded or sent off of the device. He did, however, join Eckhart in calling for Carrier IQ to be completely transparent about what it collects, and that consumers need to able to opt out of the data collection.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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