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The Almighty Buck

Amazon Will Refund Millions of Unauthorized In-App Purchases Made By Kids (techcrunch.com) 49

Amazon will refund millions of dollars worth of unauthorized in-app purchased made by kids, having dropped its appeal of last year's ruling by a federal judge who sided with the Federal Trade Commission in the agency's lawsuit against Amazon. "The FTC's original complaint said that Amazon should be liable for millions of dollars it charged customers, because of the way its Appstore software was designed -- that is, it allowed kids to spend unlimited amounts of money in games and other apps without requiring parental consent," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The issue had to do with the way the Amazon Appstore's in-app purchasing system worked. The Amazon Appstore is the store that comes preloaded on Amazon mobile devices, like Kindle Fire tablets, for example, though there is a way to load it onto other Android devices, too. In Amazon's Appstore, which launched back in 2011, the company didn't originally require passwords on in-app purchases. This allowed kids to buy coins and other items to their hearts' content. One particularly awful example involved a game called "Ice Age Village" that offered an in-app purchase of $99.99. Amazon introduced password-protected in-app purchases in March 2012, but then only on those where the purchase exceeded $20. In early 2013, it updated the system again to require passwords, but also allowed a 15-minute window afterwards where no password was required. The FTC said Amazon didn't obtain "informed consent" until July 2014. To make matters worse, parents complaining weren't told how to get a refund and Amazon had even suggested at times that refunds weren't possible, the FTC's complaint had said. More than $70 million in in-app charges made between November 2011 and May 2016 may be eligible for refunds, the FTC notes. It's not likely that all affected customers will take the time to make their requests, however.
Canada

Canada's RCMP National Police Force Reveals Use of Secretive Cellphone Surveillance Technology (www.cbc.ca) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBC.ca: The RCMP for the first time is publicly confirming it uses cellphone surveillance devices in investigations across Canada -- but at the same time says the potential of unauthorized snooping in Ottawa, as reported by CBC News, poses a threat to national security. The RCMP held the briefing in the wake of a CBC News investigation that found evidence that devices known as IMSI catchers may be in use near government buildings in Ottawa for the purpose of illegal spying. After shrouding their own use of the technology in secrecy for years, the RCMP took the unprecedented step of speaking publicly about the devices -- also known as Stingrays or Mobile Device Identifiers (MDIs) -- to address public concern amidst mounting questions about their use. The RCMP says that MDIs -- of which it owns 10 -- have become "vital tools" deployed scores of times to identify and track mobile devices in 19 criminal investigations last year and another 24 in 2015. [RCMP Chief Supt. Jeff Adam] says in all cases but one in 2016, police got warrants. The one exception was an exigent circumstance -- in other words, an emergency scenario "such as a kidnapping," said Adam, whose office tracks every instance where an MDI has been used by the RCMP. He says using an MDI requires senior police approval as well as getting a judge's order. And he says the technology provides only a first step in an investigation allowing officers to identify a device. He says only then can police apply for additional warrants to obtain a user's "basic subscriber information" such as name and address connected to the phone. Then, he says, only if the phone and suspect are targets of the investigation can police seek additional warrants to track the device or conduct a wiretap to capture communications. Adam says the RCMP currently has 24 technicians trained and authorized to deploy the devices across Canada. He knows other police forces own and use them too, but declined to name them.
Cellphones

Scientists Invent Smartphone Screen Material That Can Repair Its Own Scratches (ibtimes.co.uk) 55

drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: Researchers say they have developed a new material that could pave the way for self-repairing smartphones, robots and other electronic devices. Scientists from the American Chemical Society claim that the material, which can stretch up to 50 times its usual size, is able to heal itself "like nothing has happened" even when cut in two. The material is flexible, transparent and shares similar properties to human skin. When exposed to electrical signals, a current is generated that creates a chemical bonding reaction between molecules. The most obvious applications for electronics devices seems to be self-healing displays, although lead researcher Dr Chao Wang is also exploring the possibility of a self-healing lithium-ion battery. While the technology is similar to the hydrogen-infused rear cover found on the LG G Flex, which allows for small scratches to be healed, the material developed by the American Medical Society is a completely new innovation that can "automatically stitch itself back together" within one day of being sliced into pieces. The team will present its research at a Tuesday meeting of the American Chemical Society, according to Business Insider.
Privacy

'Extreme Vetting' Would Require Visitors To US To Share Contacts, Passwords (theguardian.com) 505

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration is considering whether or not to deploy "extreme vetting" practices at airports around the world, which could force tourists from Britain and other countries visiting the U.S. to reveal their mobile phone contacts, social media passwords and financial data. "Travelers who want to enter the U.S. could also face questioning over their ideology, as Washington moves away from a default position of allowing people in to a more skeptical approach to visitors," reports The Guardian. From the report: Trump made the "extreme vetting" of foreign nationals to combat terrorism a major theme of his presidential election campaign. But his executive order imposing a travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries has twice been blocked in court. Media reports suggest it has already hurt the tourism industry. The changes might include visitors from the 38 countries -- the UK, France, Australia and Japan among them -- that participate in the visa waiver program, which requires adherence to strict U.S. standards in data sharing, passport control and other factors, one senior official told the Journal. This could require people to hand over their phones so officials can study their stored contacts and possibly other information. The aim is to "figure out who you are communicating with," a senior Department of Homeland Security official was quoted as saying. "What you can get on the average person's phone can be invaluable." A second change would ask applicants for their social media handles and passwords, so that officials could see information posted privately in addition to public posts, the Journal said. The Journal report said the DHS official working on the review said questions under consideration included whether visa applicants believe in so-called honor killings, how they view the treatment of women in society, whether they value the "sanctity of human life" and who they view as a legitimate target in a military operation.
Communications

IoT Garage Door Opener Maker Bricks Customer's Product After Bad Review (arstechnica.com) 421

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Denis Grisak, the man behind the Internet-connected garage opener Garadget, is having a very bad week. Grisak and his Colorado-based company SoftComplex launched Garadget, a device built using Wi-Fi-based cloud connectivity from Particle, on Indiegogo earlier this year, hitting 209 percent of his launch goal in February. But this week, his response to an unhappy customer has gotten Garadget a totally different sort of attention. On April 1, a customer who purchased Garadget on Amazon using the name R. Martin reported problems with the iPhone application that controls Garadget. He left an angry comment on the Garadget community board: "Just installed and attempting to register a door when the app started doing this. Have uninstalled and reinstalled iPhone app, powered phone off/on - wondering what kind of piece of shit I just purchased here..." Shortly afterward, not having gotten a response, Martin left a 1-star review of Garadget on Amazon: "Junk - DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY - iPhone app is a piece of junk, crashes constantly, start-up company that obviously has not performed proper quality assurance tests on their products." Grisak then responded by bricking Martin's product remotely, posting on the support forum: "Martin, The abusive language here and in your negative Amazon review, submitted minutes after experiencing a technical difficulty, only demonstrates your poor impulse control. I'm happy to provide the technical support to the customers on my Saturday night but I'm not going to tolerate any tantrums. At this time your only option is return Garadget to Amazon for refund. Your unit ID 2f0036... will be denied server connection."
Android

Android Overtakes Windows as the Internet's Most Used Operating System (betanews.com) 138

As expected last month, Android has surpassed Windows to become the world's most used operating system, according to the web analytics firm StatCounter. From a report: Usage figures published by StatCounter show that Android accounted for 37.93 percent of the worldwide OS Internet usage share in March. Windows is not far behind at 37.91 percent, but Android taking the lead is being described as a "milestone in technology history." The fact that Android is now topping the charts can be attributed to the fact that mobile devices are now used to connect to the Internet far more frequently than desktop computers and laptop. Coupled with declining PC sales, Windows is starting to lose out overall, although it still accounts for 84 percent of the worldwide desktop operating system market.
Wireless Networking

The US May Finally See Widespread 'Super Wi-Fi' Deployment (siliconvalley.com) 76

The end of the FCC's spectrum auction last week "should give a clear indication of how much space will be available in each TV market for Super Wi-Fi," according to the Bay Area Newsgroup. An anonymous reader quotes their report: [T]he technology has promised speedy internet for rural citizens and to help urban dwellers get connected in buildings and rooms that are now twilight zones for Wi-Fi signals... And because the spectrum is regulated and largely reserved for television signals, Super Wi-Fi transmissions don't have to contend with interference from random devices like microwaves or cordless phones, as do signals in other wireless bands. Super Wi-Fi signals generally won't be as fast as regular Wi-Fi signals, but for many customers, they'll be faster and provide better service than what they'd get otherwise...

It's widely expected that there will be plenty of room for Super Wi-Fi in rural areas where there are few television signals, which is why companies like Cal.net and Q-Wireless have pressed forward with the technology even before the auction closes. The big question is whether regulators will preserve sufficient space for Super Wi-Fi in areas like New York and Los Angeles where there are lots of broadcast stations and in cities like Detroit and San Diego that have to share the airwaves with cities from other countries. If there's not enough space in those areas, Super Wi-Fi, in this country at least, will likely be relegated to rural areas.

Facebook

Telcos Gear Up To Fight Facebook and Google Over How You Log Into Websites (mashable.com) 50

Mashable has an interesting article that talks about the penetration of "social authentication" services: There are two ways to log in on websites: try to recall the email address and password you registered with -- or simply hit the "Facebook Login" button. The convenience of the latter underscores the popularity of social authentication options. You'll see Facebook and Google login buttons on popular sites including Netflix, Uber, Spotify, Imgur and Linkedin, just to name some. Facebook itself estimates that some 350 million people log into a new app or site with their Facebook credentials every month. Olga Kuznetsova, Engineering Manager at Facebook told us that the Facebook Login button ranks in the top three of consumer account creation and sign-in preferences worldwide. More than 85 of the top 100 apps in the U.S. market use Facebook's Login gateway as a login, she added. For years, Google and Facebook have assumed control over the social authentication space, the article adds, citing numbers from companies and analysts. But interestingly, telecom operators are prepping to fight for a slice of the space. So-called mobile identity is one of several projects being developed in the industry to reinforce the position of network operators, which have already suffered an erosion of their traditional communications businesses by the rise of large US technology groups such as Facebook and Google, analysts say. The article adds: Mobile Connect is an authentication solution that the GSMA, the global telecoms industry trade organisation, has been working on for over three years. Through Mobile Connect, GSMA is offering users a much more convenient and "more secure" sign-in option, Jaikishan Rajaraman, global head of technology at GSMA said. The authentication service only requires users to enter their phone number when signing in. There is no password box. When a customer enters her phone number, her carrier (telecom operator, in this case) vouches for her identity. Incredibly, over 42 operators in 22 nations are on-board with Mobile Connect, and the service is already live to over 3.1 billion people. The article adds that GSMA is in talks with governments to add Mobile Connect on their websites and apps. Interestingly, banks, that have long resisted the idea of having Google's and Facebook's authentication service, are also showing interesting.
Microsoft

Windows 10 Mobile Needs To Be Put Out of Its Misery (betanews.com) 180

From a column on BetaNews: It's time for Microsoft to pull the plug. Windows 10 Mobile has been on life support for a long time, and the software giant is only making things worse by not giving it the mercy killing it deserves. It may sound harsh, but there's no future for Windows on smartphones in its current state. Microsoft wants to keep the door open to future developments but, let's face it, when it decided to sell Samsung's new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ through its stores it basically sealed its own platform's fate. There is no turning back from this. We know it and its fans know it too. [...] Really, the only reason I can see Microsoft developing Windows 10 Mobile -- or Windows on smartphones -- further is to give its fans the illusion that something could happen. One day. Someday. Eventually. Maybe. Hopefully. If all the stars align. And Apple and Google and all the other successful vendors are wiped out from the face of the Earth. Hey, it could happen!
Cellphones

Smartphones May Be To Blame For Unprecedented Spike In Pedestrian Deaths, Says Report (cnn.com) 200

According to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, the United States saw its largest annual increase in pedestrian fatalities since such record keeping began 40 years ago. "The [association] estimated there were 6,000 pedestrian deaths in 2016, the highest number in more than 20 years," reports CNN. "Since 2010, pedestrian fatalities have grown at four times the rate of overall traffic deaths." From the report: The thing that has changed dramatically in recent years is smartphone use. The volume of wireless data used from 2014 to 2015 more than doubled, according to the Wireless Association. Drivers and pedestrians who are distracted by their smartphones are less likely to be aware of their surroundings, creating the potential for danger. The Governors Highway Safety Association looked at data from the first six months of 2016 that came from 50 state highway safety offices and the District of Columbia. The complete data will be available later this year. The findings come as traffic safety experts have called for totally eliminating deaths on roadways. Near-term solutions include designing roads and vehicles to be safer. Cutting down on speeding and drunk driving are obvious targets.
AT&T

AT&T Receives $6.5 Billion To Build Wireless Network For First Responders (reuters.com) 57

The First Responder Network, FirstNet, an independent arm of the Department of Commerce, has awarded a contract to AT&T to build a nationwide wireless broadband network to better equip first responders. "FirstNet will provide 20MHz of high-value, telecommunications spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to support the network buildout," AT&T said in its announcement. Reuters reports: The effort to set up a public safety network was triggered by communications failures during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when first responders were unable to effectively communicate as they used different technologies and networks. The FirstNet network will help emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers communicate vital information on one single network in real time, as opposed to using thousands of separate, incompatible systems. The rollout of the network, which will cover will cover all states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, will begin later this year, AT&T said on Thursday. AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the period of the 25-year agreement to build, operate and maintain the network.
Android

Microsoft To Sell Customized Edition of Samsung Galaxy S8 Android Smartphones (zdnet.com) 83

Done with selling its own phones, Microsoft is getting back at the smartphone business. This time, selling Samsung's Android powered flagship S8 and S8 Plus smartphone. From a report: Microsoft says it is making available for pre-order the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ Microsoft Edition. Both phones will be available for purchase beginning April 21 at brick-and-mortar US Microsoft Store locations. Details as to exactly what "Microsoft Edition" means are scarce. But based on an email I received from a Microsoft spokesperson, I believe this means these phones will need to be unboxed inside a Microsoft Store, connected to the Microsoft Store Wi-Fi and automatically populated with Microsoft apps, including Office, OneDrive, Cortana, Outlook, and more Microsoft apps.
Games

One in Five Mobile Phones Shipped Abroad Are Phoney (theregister.co.uk) 60

Nearly one-fifth of mobile phones and one-quarter of video game consoles shipped abroad are fake, according to a report by the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Register adds: The Trade in Counterfeit ICT Goods report, published ahead of the 2017 OECD Global Anti-Corruption and Integrity Forum this month, identified a growing trend in fake goods. Smartphone batteries, chargers, memory cards, magnetic stripe cards, solid state drives and music players are also increasingly falling prey to counterfeiters. On average, 6.5 per cent of global trade in ICT goods is in counterfeit products, according to analysis of 2013 customs data, that is up from 2.5 per cent of overall traded goods found to be fake in a 2016 report. China is the primary source of fake ICT goods, and US manufacturers are the worst affected by lost revenue and erosion of brand value, the report said. Almost 43 per cent of seized fake ICT goods infringe the IP rights of US firms, followed by 25 per cent for Finnish firms and 12 per cent for Japanese firms.
Android

The Galaxy S8 Will Be Samsung's Biggest Test Ever (theverge.com) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: You know what's coming tomorrow, you've known and waited for it for months now. Samsung's 2017 flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, will be officially announced, and one of the most critical periods in the company's history will begin. The phone Samsung launches on Wednesday will carry greater expectations and have to prove a lot more than usual. Even as the world's biggest smartphone maker, Samsung's mobile credibility was deeply shaken by the Galaxy Note 7 snafu, so it now needs to reassert its reliability while also rebooting its technological advantage. Vlad Savov provides a "rundown of the biggest challenges facing Samsung" in his report. While Samsung will need to nail the design and camera performance, as well as many other things, the most critical area will be the battery, given how the Note 7 was recalled due to battery issues. Even though that incident took place half a year ago, we are still faced with the consequences. Samsung is still trying to figure out what to do with the "recalled units" and people are still making bad jokes about "explosive Samsung news." If the Galaxy S8 is to have any battery issues whatsoever, the result could be catastrophic for the company. Though, Samsung is well aware of this and has likely packed "the most robust and durable batteries we've ever seen in a smartphone" inside the Galaxy S8 devices.
IOS

Apple is Upgrading Millions of iOS Devices To a New Modern File System Today (theverge.com) 191

Apple today began rolling out iOS 10.3, the latest point update to its mobile operating system. iOS 10.3 brings with it several new features, chief among which is a new file system -- called the Apple File System (APFS). From a report: It's a file system that was originally announced at WWDC last year, and it's designed with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV in mind. Apple has been using its 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) for iOS devices so far. It was originally designed for Macs with floppy or hard disks, and not for modern mobile devices with solid state storage. Even its successor, HFS+, still doesn't address the needs of these mobile devices enough. Apple's new APFS is designed to scale across these new types of devices and take advantage of flash or SSD storage. It's also engineered with encryption as a primary feature, and even supports features like snapshots so restoring files on a Mac or even an iOS device might get a lot easier in the future.
Cellphones

Is Microsoft Building A Foldable 'Surface' Phone? (hothardware.com) 100

"This past week, Microsoft received a new patent for a foldable handset, and once again there are rumors that it is related to the long awaited, mythical Surface Phone," writes HardOCP, noting Samsung and LG are also rumored to be working on foldable phones. An anonymous reader quotes Hot Hardware: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that he doesn't want to kick out just another run-of-the-mill smartphone that looks and functions like every other device out there, but one that is unique in some aspect... This is not the first time Microsoft has filed a patent for what could be a folding Surface Phone. Just two months ago it was discovered that Microsoft filed a patent for a "Mobile Computing Device Having a Flexible Hinge Structure"...
Microsoft's patents include curved edges "intended to draw light away from the gaps, which would create an optical illusion of one continuous image," according to the article. "In this way, Microsoft could create a folding phone with multiple active displays appearing as a single, continuous image."
Patents

Apple Explores Using An iPhone, iPad To Power a Laptop (appleinsider.com) 76

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple has filed a patent for an "Electronic accessory device." It describes a "thin" accessory that contains traditional laptop hardware like a large display, physical keyboard, GPU, ports and more -- all of which is powered by an iPhone or iPad. The device powering the hardware would fit into a slot built into the accessory. AppleInsider reports: While the accessory can take many forms, the document for the most part remains limited in scope to housings that mimic laptop form factors. In some embodiments, for example, the accessory includes a port shaped to accommodate a host iPhone or iPad. Located in the base portion, this slot might also incorporate a communications interface and a means of power transfer, perhaps Lightning or a Smart Connector. Alternatively, a host device might transfer data and commands to the accessory via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other wireless protocol. Onboard memory modules would further extend an iOS device's capabilities. Though the document fails to delve into details, accessory memory would presumably allow an iPhone or iPad to write and read app data. In other cases, a secondary operating system or firmware might be installed to imitate a laptop environment or store laptop-ready versions of iOS apps. In addition to crunching numbers, a host device might also double as a touch input. For example, an iPhone positioned below the accessory's keyboard can serve as the unit's multitouch touchpad, complete with Force Touch input and haptic feedback. Coincidentally, the surface area of a 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is very similar to that of the enlarged trackpad on Apple's new MacBook Pro models. Some embodiments also allow for the accessory to carry an internal GPU, helping a host device power the larger display or facilitate graphics rendering not possible on iPhone or iPad alone. Since the accessory is technically powered by iOS, its built-in display is touch-capable, an oft-requested feature for Mac. Alternatively, certain embodiments have an iPad serving as the accessory's screen, with keyboard, memory, GPU and other operating guts located in the attached base portion. This latter design resembles a beefed up version of Apple's Smart Case for iPad.
Cellphones

Feds: We're Pulling Data From 100 Phones Seized During Trump Inauguration (arstechnica.com) 233

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In new filings, prosecutors told a court in Washington, DC that within the coming weeks, they expect to extract all data from the seized cellphones of more than 100 allegedly violent protesters arrested during the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Prosecutors also said that this search is validated by recently issued warrants. The court filing, which was first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News, states that approximately half of the protestors prosecuted with rioting or inciting a riot had their phones taken by authorities. Prosecutors hope to uncover any evidence relevant to the case. Under normal judicial procedures, the feds have vowed to share such data with defense attorneys and to delete all irrelevant data. "All of the Rioter Cell Phones were locked, which requires more time-sensitive efforts to try to obtain the data," Jennifer Kerkhoff, an assistant United States attorney, wrote. Such phone extraction is common by law enforcement nationwide using hardware and software created by Cellebrite and other similar firms. Pulling data off phones is likely more difficult under fully updated iPhones and Android devices.
Security

WikiLeaks' New Dump Shows How The CIA Allegedly Hacked Macs and iPhones Almost a Decade Ago (vice.com) 113

WikiLeaks said on Thursday morning it will release new documents it claims are from the Central Intelligence Agency which show the CIA had the capability to bug iPhones and Macs even if their operating systems have been deleted and replaced. From a report on Motherboard: "These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain 'persistenc'' on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware," WikiLeaks stated in a press release. EFI and UEFI is the core firmware for Macs, the Mac equivalent to the Bios for PCs. By targeting the UEFI, hackers can compromise Macs and the infection persists even after the operating system is re-installed. The documents are mostly from last decade, except a couple that are dated 2012 and 2013. While the documents are somewhat dated at this point, they show how the CIA was perhaps ahead of the curve in finding new ways to hacking and compromising Macs, according to Pedro Vilaca, a security researcher who's been studying Apple computers for years. Judging from the documents, Vilaca told Motherboard in an online chat, it "looks like CIA were very early adopters of attacks on EFI."
Privacy

Hackers Claim Access To 300 Million iCloud Accounts, Demand $75,000 From Apple To Delete the Cache of Data (vice.com) 122

A hacker or group of hackers calling themselves the "Turkish Crime Family" claim they have access to at least 300 million iCloud accounts, and will delete the alleged cache of data if Apple pays a ransom by early next month. Motherboard is reporting that the hackers are demanding "$75,000 in Bitcoin or Ethereum, another increasingly popular crypto-currency, or $100,000 worth of iTunes gift cards in exchange for deleting the alleged cache of data." From the report: The hackers provided screenshots of alleged emails between the group and members of Apple's security team. One also gave Motherboard access to an email account allegedly used to communicate with Apple. "Are you willing to share a sample of the data set?" an unnamed member of Apple's security team wrote to the hackers a week ago, according to one of the emails stored in the account. (According to the email headers, the return-path of the email is to an address with the @apple.com domain). The hackers also uploaded a YouTube video of them allegedly logging into some of the stolen accounts. The hacker appears to access an elderly woman's iCloud account, which includes backed-up photos, and the ability to remotely wipe the device. Now, the hackers are threatening to reset a number of the iCloud accounts and remotely wipe victim's Apple devices on April 7, unless Apple pays the requested amount. According to one of the emails in the accessed account, the hackers claim to have access to over 300 million Apple email accounts, including those use @icloud and @me domains. However, the hackers appear to be inconsistent in their story; one of the hackers then claimed they had 559 million accounts in all. The hackers did not provide Motherboard with any of the supposedly stolen iCloud accounts to verify this claim, except those shown in the video.

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