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The Almighty Buck

Plaintiffs From Seven States Sue Comcast For Misleading, Hidden Fees ( 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: Back in 2013 Comcast began charging customers what it called the "Broadcast TV Fee." The fee, which began at $1.25 per month, has jumped to $6.50 (depending on your market) in just three years. As consumers began to complain about yet another glorified rate hike, the company in 2014 issued a statement proclaiming it was simply being "transparent," and passing on the cost of soaring programmer retransmission fees on to consumers. There's several problems with Comcast's explanation. One, however pricey broadcaster retransmission fees have become (and keep in mind Comcast is a broadcaster), programming costs are simply the cost of doing business for a cable company, and should be included in the overall price. Comcast doesn't include this fee in the overall price because sticking it below the line let's the company falsely advertise a lower rate. Inspired by the banking sector, this misleading practice has now become commonplace in the broadband and cable industry. Whether it's CenturyLink's $2 per month "Internet Cost Recovery Fee" or Fairpoint's $3 per month "Broadband Cost Recovery Fee," these fees are utterly nonsensical, and inarguably false advertising. And while the FCC can't be bothered to take aim at such misleading business practices, Federal class action lawsuit filed this week in California is trying to hold Comcast accountable for the practice. Plaintiffs from seven states -- including New Jersey, Illinois, California, Washington, Colorado, Florida and Ohio -- have sued Comcast alleging consumer fraud, unfair competition, unjust enrichment and breach of contract. What's more, the fee has consistently skyrocketed, notes the lawsuit. Comcast initially charged $1.50 when the fee first appeared back in 2013, but now charges upwards of $6.50 more per month in many markets -- a 333% increase in just three years.

Germany Tells Tesla To Not Advertise Autopilot Feature, Fears Drivers Will Become Less Attentive ( 106

German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has asked Tesla to stop advertising its electric vehicles as having an Autopilot function, as this might suggest drivers' attention is not needed, his ministry said on Sunday. Reuters reports: A spokeswoman for the ministry, confirming a report in the daily Bild am Sonntag (BamS), said the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) had written to Tesla to make the request. "It can be confirmed that a letter to Tesla exists with the request to no longer use the misleading term Autopilot for the driver assistance system of the car," she said in a written response to a Reuters' query.

Ken Bone May Have Violated FTC Guidelines With Uber Tweet ( 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VICE News: In a lot of ways, unlikely presidential debate star Ken Bone is a marketer's dream. He is undecided on his political leanings (for now), inoffensive, instantly recognizable, and affable on TV and social media. So it makes sense that Uber asked him to send a promotional tweet for this week's launch of Uber's black car uberSELECT service in St. Louis, site of the debate Sunday night that launched him to fame. But there's one problem: Bone may have violated Federal Trade Commission guidelines for advertising on social media by not marking his tweet as an ad or mentioning that Uber paid him for making the tweet. "[The tweet] needs to disclose that he was compensated," said lawyer Rick Kurnit, of Frankfurt, Kurnit, Klein + Salz PC. "He and Uber are in violation of FTC guidelines, because Uber is also responsible for what their influencers do." The guidelines that Kurnit is referencing are pretty straightforward, and the FTC offers specific advice for how to craft sponsored posts on Twitter. "The FTC isn't mandating the specific wording of disclosures," an FTC guidelines FAQ states. "However the words 'Sponsored' and 'Promotion' use only 9 characters. 'Paid ad' only uses 7 characters. Starting a tweet with 'Ad:' or '#ad' -- which takes only 3 characters -- would likely be effective." Kurnit added that while the FTC "doesn't like" using simple hashtags for disclosures, he agrees that it might have sufficed. When VICE News initially reached out to Uber asking whether Bone was paid for the tweet, a spokesperson said the company is "providing him with Uber credit for his role in the launch." And although Bone and Uber wouldn't be fined for violating the FTC Act (Section 5 of which prohibits "deceptive advertising"), the guidelines say that "law enforcement actions can result in orders requiring the defendants in the case to give up money they received from their violations."

Yahoo Patents Smart Billboard That Would Deliver Targeted Ads To Passersby or Motorists ( 131

An anonymous reader writes: Yahoo has filed a patent for advertising billboards outfitted with a wide array of sensors -- including drone-based cameras -- which would use facial and vehicle recognition, data brokers, cell-tower information and social network information to attempt to identify worthwhile advertising targets and aim personalized ads at them as they pass on foot or in cars. The scheme, which was submitted on October 6th, anticipates using the same kind of micro-auction processes that currently determine which ads users see in webpages and mobile apps. The implementation of public ad-targeting brings up some fascinating and chilling prospects, as users find that the ads which "bloom" around them betray much about their private lives. Yahoo provides an example via its patent application: "According to one example, a digital billboard adjacent a busy freeway might be instrumented with or located near traffic sensors that detect information about the context of the vehicles approaching the billboard, e.g., the number and average speed of the vehicles. Such information might be used in conjunction with information about the time of day and/or the day of the week (e.g., Monday morning rush hour) to select advertisements for display that would appeal to an expected demographic and to display the advertisements for durations that are commensurate with the level of traffic congestion." The patent application also mentions how it will gather required information from individuals: "Various types of data (e.g., cell tower data, mobile app location data, image data, etc.) can be used to identify specific individuals in an audience in position to view advertising content. Similarly, vehicle navigation/tracking data from vehicles equipped with such systems could be used to identify specific vehicles and/or vehicle owners. Demographic data (e.g., as obtained from a marketing or user database) for the audience can thus be determined for the purpose of, for example, determining whether and/or the degree to which the demographic profile of the audience corresponds to a target demographic."
United States

Sean Parker Contributes $9 Million As States Push To Legalize Marijuana ( 255

Sean Parker has now donated nearly $9 million in his effort to legalize marijuana in California. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes Billboard: Whether it's founding Napster, guiding Facebook or investing in Spotify, Sean Parker has developed a reputation for pushing change forward, and now he's at the forefront of California's marijuana legalization movement... [A] competing proposal from the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform was folded into Parker's, making his the leading ballot measure, by default, for 2016 in a state with the largest medical marijuana market in the country.
The U.S currently has a hodgepodge of legislation, with marijuana entirely legal only in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as in the District of Columbia, and in individual cities in Michigan and Maine. But with five more states now voting on legalization, pro-marijuana campaign ads are being broadcast in Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, California and Arizona. ("You decide who wins -- criminals and cartels, or Arizona schools?") And meanwhile, Slashdot reader schwit1 has identified one voter who's definitely opposing police efforts to hunt down marijuana growers: All that remains of the solitary marijuana plant an 81-year-old grandmother had been growing behind her South Amherst home is a stump and a ragged hole in the ground... Tucked away in a raspberry patch and separated by a fence from any neighbors, the [medicinal] plant was nearly ready for harvest when a military-style helicopter and police descended on Sept. 21...

A Spotify Ad Slipped Malware Onto PCs and Macs ( 96

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes TechHive: Spotify's ads crossed from nuisance over to outright nasty this week, after the music service's advertising started serving up malware to users on Wednesday. The malware was able to automatically launch browser tabs on Windows and Mac PCs, according to complaints that surfaced online...the ads directed users' browsers to other malware-containing sites in the hopes that someone would be duped into downloading more malicious software.
It didn't last long -- Spotify quickly posted that they'd identified "the source of the problem." And they're not the only company dealing with hidden malware in ads, since the same thing has happened to both Google and Yahoo.

One U.S. Election-System Vendor Is Using Developers in Serbia ( 83

The Open Source Election Technology Foundation is trying to move U.S. voting machines from "proprietary, vendor-owned systems to ones that are owned 'by the people of the United States.'" But in the meantime, Slashdot reader dcblogs brings this report from ComputerWorld: One major election technology company, Dominion Voting Systems, develops its systems in the U.S. and Canada but also has an office in Belgrade, Serbia. It was recently advertising openings for four senior software developers in Belgrade... Dominion said it takes measures "to ensure the accuracy, integrity and security of the software we create for our products...."

Alan Paller, president and director of research at the Sans Technology Institute...said that "one shouldn't feel complacent about maintaining software development and manufacturing all within the United States because foreign agencies have successfully placed technically competent spies on the payroll of American technology companies." But Suzanne Mello-Stark, a forensic computer scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a focus on voting machines, wants software and hardware transparency in voting systems. "The systems are proprietary and we don't know what the code looks like," said Mello-Stark.


How Tech Companies Are Responding To Hurricane Matthew ( 38

South Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew at 11 a.m. EST, after the hurricane killed at least 300 people in Haiti (with Reuters estimating Haiti's death toll over 800). But as the U.S. declares a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, and with the power out for more than a million people, an anonymous Slashdot reader looks at the role tech companies are playing in responding to the storm system: AirBNB "has been advertising free rooms in parts of Florida and South Carolina" reports Motherboard. AirBNB's Disaster Reponse Tool connects people needing shelter with volunteers who are offering their residences for free. Meanwhile, Uber promised to cap its "surge pricing" for the area, while Lyft promised its fares would rise no more than two times their normal rate.

But many escaped the path of the hurricane thanks to Shofur, a startup that books chartered buses and matches riders to low-cost tickets, according to the Daily Dot. "Through Thursday night and into the early morning hours of Friday, Shofur evacuated an estimated 10,000 Floridians and Georgians to areas such as Atlanta, Florida's west coast, and the panhandle."

NASA is also flying a huge 15,000-pound drone over the area to collect real-time weather data, while Verizon is testing a 17-foot drone which may one day provide LTE mobile connectivity to first responders. In addition, a Verizon spokesperson says drone-enabled connectivity has "set the stage" for connecting drones to their IoT platform next year.

AT&T To End Targeted Ads Program, Give All Users Lowest Available Price 44

AT&T has confirmed to ArsTechnica that it is getting rid of Internet Preferences, a controversial program that analyzed home internet customers' web browsing habits in order to serve some targeted ads. From the report:"To simplify our offering for our customers, we plan to end the optional Internet Preferences advertising program related to our fastest Internet speed tiers," an AT&T spokesperson said. "As a result, all customers on these tiers will receive the best rate we have available for their speed tier in their area. We'll begin communicating this update to customers early next week." Data collection and targeted ads will be shut off, AT&T also confirmed. Since AT&T introduced Internet Preferences for its GigaPower fiber Internet service in 2013, customers had to opt into the traffic scanning program in order to receive the lowest available rate. Customers who wanted more privacy had to pay another $29 a month for standalone Internet access; bundles including TV or phone service could cost more than $60 extra when customers didn't opt in.

No Man's Sky Under Investigation For False Advertising ( 261

No Man's Sky is one of the most talked about games this year. The game sees the protagonist explore the space and experience uncertain places. But its controversial promotional material may also have played an instrumental role in making the title a sleeper-hit success. Polygon reports: No Man's Sky's promotional material has come under fire since launch, and it's now the subject of an ongoing investigation. The U.K.-based Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed to Polygon that it's received "several complaints about No Man's Sky's advertising," which angry customers have criticized as misleading. "I can confirm we have received several complaints about No Man's Sky advertising and we have launched an investigation," the ASA told Polygon. A representative for the ASA declined to comment on the particulars of the investigation, but a thread on the No Man Sky's subreddit details some of the most prominent issues Steam users have with the game's store page, which they passed on to the organization. Screens and video on Steam suggest a different type of combat, unique buildings, "ship flying behaviour" and creature sizes than what's found in the actual game itself. The store page overall has also been criticized for showing No Man's Sky with higher quality graphics than can be attained in-game.

YouTube-MP3 Ripping Site Sued By IFPI, RIAA and BPI ( 310

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Two weeks ago, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry published research which claimed that half of 16 to 24-year-olds use stream-ripping tools to copy music from sites like YouTube. The industry group said that the problem of stream-ripping has become so serious that in volume terms it had overtaken downloading from 'pirate' sites. Given today's breaking news, the timing of the report was no coincidence. Earlier today in a California District Court, a huge coalition of recording labels sued the world's largest YouTube ripping site. UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Warner Bros, Sony Music, Arista Records, Atlantic Records and several others claim that YouTube-MP3 (YTMP3), owner Philip Matesanz, and Does 1-10 have infringed their rights. The labels allege that YouTube-MP3 is one of the most popular sites in the entire world and as a result its owner, German-based company PMD Technologies UG, is profiting handsomely from their intellectual property. YouTube-MP3 is being sued for direct, contributory, vicarious and inducement of copyright infringement, plus circumvention of technological measures. Among other things, the labels are also demanding a preliminary and permanent injunction forbidding the Defendants from further infringing their rights. They also want YouTube-MP3's domain name to be surrendered. "YTMP3 rapidly and seamlessly removes the audio tracks contained in videos streamed from YouTube that YTMP3's users access, converts those audio tracks to an MP3 format, copies and stores them on YTMP3's servers, and then distributes copies of the MP3 audio files from its servers to its users in the United States, enabling its users to download those MP3 files to their computers, tablets, or smartphones," the complaint reads. "Defendants are depriving Plaintiffs and their recording artists of the fruits of their labor, Defendants are profiting from the operation of the YTMP3 website. Through the promise of illicit delivery of free music, Defendants have attracted millions of users to the YTMP3 website, which in turn generates advertising revenues for Defendants," the labels add.

New York Fines Viacom, Mattel and Hasbro For Tracking Kids Online ( 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: Companies that operate popular kids websites like and agreed to a $835,000 settlement and to change their practices after an investigation found the sites were enabled with technology that tracked kids' internet activities. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office reached settlements with Viacom, Mattel, Hasbro and JumpStart Games after an investigation into the companies found violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The investigation, called "Operation Child Tracker," found that websites operated by the companies enabled third-party vendors, such as marketing and advertising companies, to track children's online activity -- which violated federal law. Federal law prohibits the unauthorized collection of children's personal information on websites aimed at children under age 13. Viacom will pay $500,000; Mattel will pay $250,000; and JumpStart will pay $85,000. [Hasbro will not pay a penalty because it is part of a "safe harbor program" through the Federal Trade Commission that already requires more disclosures of web activity, Schneiderman said.]

Ask Slashdot: What Are Anonymous Ways To Pay For Goods and Services? 212

Long-time Slashdot reader mspohr submitted a report a couple of days ago from Richard Stallman via The Guardian, which argues that we should be able to pay for news anonymously. "Online newspapers and magazines have come to depend, for their income, on a system of advertising and surveillance, which is both annoying and unjust... What they ought to do instead is give us a truly anonymous way to pay." In response to that report, an anonymous Slashdot reader writes: There was a recent article posted here on Slashdot about Richard Stallman and his attempt to make paying for online content anonymous. The corollary to that question is: What are the remaining ways to pay for stuff -- in the "real" world and online -- that are truly anonymous? Even cash can be tracked, but what about other methods? Have we completely given up on anonymous payments? No more anonymous/numbered bank accounts, no more pre-paid/virtual bank cards in Europe (just happened recently), for that matter no more prepaid phone numbers (you have to register the number in Europe)? What is left after we had let the politicos run rampant with forced registrations of all payment services?

Richard Stallman: Online Publishers Should Let Readers Pay Anonymously ( 160

Long-time Slashdot reader mspohr writes: The Guardian has an opinion piece by Richard Stallman which argues that we should be able to pay for news anonymously. From the article: "Online newspapers and magazines have come to depend, for their income, on a system of advertising and surveillance, which is both annoying and unjust... What they ought to do instead is give us a truly anonymous way to pay."

He also (probably not coincidentally) has developed a method to do just that. "For the GNU operating system, which was created by the free software movement and is typically used with the kernel Linux, we are developing a suitable payment system called GNU Taler that will allow publishers to accept anonymous payments from readers for individual articles."

Publishers "can profit from defending privacy rather than from exposing their readers," argues Stallman, ending his article with a simple plea. "Publishers, please let me pay you -- anonymously!"

Feds Spend Nearly $500K To 'Combat Online Trolling' ( 184

mi writes: Washington Free Beacon reports: "The National Science Foundation is spending roughly half a million dollars to combat 'online trolling.' A joint project by Northwestern and Northeastern universities is examining how to create 'trolling-free environments' on the internet. The researchers define online trolls as those who try to influence public opinion by boosting 'misleading' and 'inauthentic comments.'" Just how can the "misleading" and "inauthentic" speech be eliminated by the government without violating the First Amendment? "Today almost every browser click that users make is collected by numerous trackers associated with a variety of online services (e.g., advertising networks, online social networks, e-commerce platforms)," a grant for the project states. "Users have often expressed concern about the lack of privacy and control over their personal data. Nonetheless, despite a substantial effort to expose and control this prevalent behavior, the reality is that users keep accepting updated online privacy policies, which in turn grant the gathering of more personal data. This project explores re-using this extensive tracking infrastructure for the benefits of both the users themselves and web services, with a goal of preventing online trolling (scenarios in which various groups deploy tactics to influence public opinion on the internet, by leaving biased, false, misleading, and inauthentic comments, and then artificially amplifying their ratings). The project aims to show how the tracking infrastructure can be re-used as a user 'fingerprint,' allowing a lightweight and privacy-preserving form of identification for third-party web sites." The lead researchers on the project, Aleksander Kuzmanovic from Northwestern University, and Alan Mislove from Northeastern University, said: "Public opinion is of paramount importance in any society. It is thus not a surprise that many governments, political parties, and various other groups deploy tactics to influence public opinion on the internet, a practice commonly referred to as trolling." They say their work could help combat "troll armies" used by Russia and China.

Creators Call Out YouTube For Demonetizing Videos ( 193

Striek writes: "On Wednesday, several YouTube creators posted videos that voiced concerns over the platform's process of demonetizing videos for not being friendly to advertisers," reports Daily Dot. Many YouTube creators have similar concerns that no, this isn't censorship in the strictest sense, but that YouTube owes its users a better commitment to free speech than most private companies due to its dominant marketplace position. Its criteria for videos being "advertiser-friendly" is also incredibly vague or restrictive, or both. The Daily Dot reports: "Content that is considered inappropriate for advertising includes: Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humor; Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism; Inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language; Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items; Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown." You read that right -- any YouTube video covering any war or natural disaster is considered inappropriate for advertising, which essentially includes all news and current events shows. This might not seem like a big deal to many people, but it would be, if you made your living creating YouTube videos. So while technically not censorship, many people are arguing YouTube has gone a few steps too far with this, and are likewise worried that this will be too selectively enforced. justthinkit adds: On August 31, 2016, YouTube demonetized videos for reasons that appear to punish those who attack "Social Justice Warriors" and the mainstream media. Philip DeFranco has spoken out about it and hinted he may have to move to other video platforms. Is this an issue most should care about or is it merely a first world problem? The reason this is a story is because YouTube has "recently improved the notification and appeal process to ensure better communication." What this means is YouTube has been making users more aware of the issue with language or content, and the chance to appeal a demonetized video. What has upset many creators is the fact that the company has been demonetizing videos without telling the creators. YouTube has only recently started telling partners what is going on. In addition, there has been a discrepancy as to which channels/networks have been demonetized. For example, while one YouTube creator may be reporting on a current event that isn't "advertiser-friendly" and has been denied monetization as a result, another YouTube creator via a large network like CNN may be covering the same current event but be allowed monetization.

Players Seek 'No Man's Sky' Refunds, Sony's Content Director Calls Them Thieves ( 467

thegarbz writes: As was covered previously on Slashdot the very hyped up game No Man's Sky was released to a lot of negative reviews about game-crashing bugs and poor interface choices. Now that players have had more time to play the game it has become clear that many of the features hyped by developers are not present in the game, and users quickly started describing the game as "boring".

Now, likely due to misleading advertising, Steam has begun allowing refunds for No Man's Sky regardless of playtime, and there are reports of players getting refunds on the Play Station Network as well despite Sony's strict no refund policy.
Besides Sony, Amazon is also issuing refunds, according to game sites. In response, Sony's former Strategic Content Director, Shahid Kamal Ahmad, wrote on Twitter, "If you're getting a refund after playing a game for 50 hours you're a thief." He later added "Here's the good news: Most players are not thieves. Most players are decent, honest people without whose support there could be no industry."

In a follow-up he acknowledged it was fair to consider a few hours lost to game-breaking crashes, adding "Each case should be considered on its own merits and perhaps I shouldn't be so unequivocal."

Fake Google Salesmen Are Actually SEO Telemarketers ( 105

Long-time Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes: It seems like almost every day I get junk solicitation phone calls "from Google." They call about my Google business local listings, about my not being on the first page of Google search results, and so on -- and they want me to pay them to "fix" this stuff. When I look up the Caller ID numbers they use, I often finds pages of people claiming they're Google phone numbers. Sometimes the Caller ID display actually says Google!

Is Google really doing this? Negative. NONE of these calls are from Google. Zero. Zilch. Nada. These callers are inevitably "SEO"; (Search Engine Optimization) scammers of one sort or another. They make millions of "cold calls" to businesses using public phone listings (from the Web or other sources) or using phone number lists purchased from brokers. If you ever actually deal with them, you'll find that their services typically range from useless to dangerous.


One Year in Jail For Abusive Silicon Valley CEO ( 287

He grew up in San Jose, and at the age of 25 sold his second online advertising company to Yahoo for $300 million just nine years ago. Friday Gurbaksh Chahal was sentenced to one year in jail for violating his probation on 47 felony charges from 2013, according to an article in The Guardian submitted by an anonymous Slashdot reader: Police officials said that a 30-minute security camera video they obtained showed the entrepreneur hitting and kicking his then girlfriend 117 times and attempting to suffocate her inside his $7 million San Francisco penthouse. Chahal's lawyers, however, claimed that police had illegally seized the video, and a judge ruled that the footage was inadmissible despite prosecutors' argument that officers didn't have time to secure a warrant out of fear that the tech executive would erase the footage.

Without the video, most of the charges were dropped, and Chahal, 34, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor battery charges of domestic violence... In Silicon Valley, critics have argued that Chahal's case and the lack of serious consequences he faced highlight the way in which privileged and wealthy businessmen can get away with serious misconduct.. On September 17, 2014, prosecutors say he attacked another woman in his home, leading to another arrest.

Friday Chahal was released on bail while his lawyer appeals the one-year jail sentence for violating his probation.

Facebook Rolls Out Code To Nullify Adblock Plus' Workaround ( 426

An anonymous reader writes: The Wall Street Journal issued a report Tuesday that said Facebook will begin forcing ads to appear for all users of its desktop site, even if they use ad-blocking software. Adblock Plus, the most popular ad-blocking software, opposed Facebook's plan and found a workaround to Facebook's revision two days later. Now, TechCrunch is reporting that Facebook is well aware of Adblock Plus' workaround and their "plan to address the issue" is coming quick. "A source close to Facebook tells [TechCrunch] that today possibly within hours, the company will push an update to its site's code that will nullify Adblock Plus' workaround," reports TechCrunch. "Apparently it took two days for Adblock Plus to come up with the workaround, and only a fraction of that time for Facebook to disable it." An update on their site says, "A source says Facebook is now rolling out the code update that will disable Adblock Plus' workaround. It should reach all users soon."

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