The Upload: Your tech news briefing for Wednesday, March 25

Google wants to let you pay bills inside Gmail

Google has a project in the works to let Gmail users not only receive bills but pay them from within the mail service, re/code reports. The news site viewed details of the project, called Pony Express, and said it is scheduled to start in the fourth quarter.

Microsoft packages Azure for Web and mobile developers

Microsoft brought out an integrated set of Azure-based services on Tuesday that are meant to ease the process of developing applications that run in the cloud. The new Azure App Service could help organizations build Web applications or mobile applications that connect to a variety of data sources that reside in the cloud or in internal IT systems.

Dutch utility wants to try heating homes with servers

Dutch utility Eneco is inviting five families to use radiator-sized servers to heat their living rooms for free. In the trial, servers that deliver cloud computing services will simultaneously throw off enough heat to potentially save each household €400 on their annual heating bill. Cloud company Nerdalize pays for the electricity, but because it doesn’t have to deal with the space and cooling costs of a data center, it can sell its services for 30 to 55 percent less than more conventional cloud-providers.

FTC eyes privacy, security with new investigations group

The Federal Trade Commission is creating an Office of Technology Research and Investigation to keep an eye on the growing privacy and security implications of technology, in particular connected cars, smart homes, new payment methods, big data and the Internet of Things. And it’s also, hearteningly, targeting what it calls “algorithmic transparency,” so tech companies that shrug, disclaim responsibility and say “it’s all in the algorithm” are on notice that the watchdog may ask to take a closer look into their black boxes.

Tech companies to press for quicker NSA reform

A coalition of tech heavyweights including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter are pressing for speedier reform of the National Security Agency’s practice of bulk collection of phone records, The Washington Post reports. In a letter going to the White House on Wednesday, the companies are demanding greater transparency and want the records to stay with telecommunications companies, a provision of reform legislation that stalled in the Senate last year.

Apple reportedly picks up FoundationDB

Apple has acquired a database company called FoundationDB, TechCrunch reports. FoundationDB said on its website that it had decided to evolve its company mission, and is no longer offering downloads of its NoSQL database. Apple did not confirm a deal; TechCrunch speculated that the acquisition is meant to bolster Apple’s cloud services.

Android flaw puts personal data at risk

Almost half of all Android devices are vulnerable to an attack that could replace a legitimate app with malicious software that can collect sensitive data from a phone. While Google, Samsung and Amazon have released patches for their devices, 49.5 percent of Android users remain vulnerable to a malicious application installed using the vulnerability, which would have full access to a device, including data such as usernames and passwords.

Google chooses new CFO from Wall Street

With its stock underperforming, Google has gone to Wall Street to find a new CFO, hiring Morgan Stanley’s Ruth Porat. The Wall Street Journal says that in her five years as finance chief at the investment bank, she strengthened its position; the New York Times calls the hire “one of the most visible examples yet of the talent that has been flowing from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.”

FAA unclips wings of commercial drones

The Federal Aviation Administration has loosened restrictions on commercial drone flight: Companies no longer have to obtain airspace clearance for flying approved drones. However, that applies only to about 50 companies that have been granted an exemption from current FAA regulations banning commercial operation of drones. The new policy lets those companies conduct drone flights as long as the drones weigh less than 55 pounds, don’t go higher than 200 feet, fly during daytime and stay within line of sight of operators.

HP moves on from Beats, partners with Bang & Olufsen on audio

Hewlett-Packard, which relied on Beats for audio technology before the company was acquired by Apple, has found a new partner in sound: Bang & Olufsen. Beats, led by rap artist Dr. Dre and longtime record producer Jimmy Iovine, may have more street cred these days but Bang & Olufsen has a long history and is well-regarded as a maker of quality audio products. Audio is becoming more significant for PCs and tablets as more music and movie streaming services become available.

Watch now

Google’s Johnny Lee shows how a Project Tango tablet instantly creates a 3D model of its environment.

One last thing

Ars Technica got hold of the Oakland Police Department’s entire license plate reader database—and found that a lot of information, about a lot of people, can be inferred from the automatically collected data.

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