SilverPush is Actually Legal?!

Earlier this week we reported that the FTC was warning people about apps that used the SilverPush framework. The reason was that the FTC believed users should be aware that SilverPush automatically collected and sent the data on to third parties, without any notification. SilverPush has now responded and is looking to put this warning behind them.

The feature that was causing issues with the FTC was the “unique audio beacons” (UAB) system, which could identify sounds, both audible and those you can’t even hear, to detect what shows you were watching on your TV and even if you were on a laptop in the same room.

In their statement, SilverPush has responded by stating the UAB system is no longer used in their framework and that they don’t have any active partnerships with US-based developers. While this may be true, there is no way to prove it as the product still features as one of their core products and is even advertised under the cross device platform.

Even amongst all of this news, it would seem that the SilverPush framework and everything it does is actually legal, something that may surprise people, and not in a good way. Do you feel comfortable knowing that the only reason the FTC had an issue was that you weren’t being told the app could use your microphone or is the entire premise of spying on everything you do through your microphone a little too creepy to handle?

ASUS Agrees to Regular Security Audits

ASUS are a well-known brand for technology, creating everything from laptops to gaming mice. One thing people may not realise is that ASUS are also a maker of wireless technology, something that has unfortunately gotten them into trouble in the past.

ASUS, a Taiwanese manufacturer of hardware, once stated that their devices could “protect computers from any unauthorized access, hacking and virus attacks”. This is something you should never say, for anything, especially computer security. As a result of this, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) found several flaws in their routers security, some of which were described as critical.

Using the security flaws, it would have been possible that people could gain unauthorised access to the web based control panels, granting you access to information regarding the wireless network and the possibility to even install viruses or malware directly to the router.

This history of bad security should change now though with ASUS agreeing to the FTC’s condition that it subject itself to biannually security audits of its software, while also notifying its users when the latest update is available. It will also cost them in the future if they decide to make another “promise” which turns out to be false, with each violation costing them a staggering $16,000.

Advertisers Tracking TV, PC & Mobile Use Through Inaudible Sounds

Free internet advocates the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have raised concerns with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that online behaviour is being tracked across multiple devices via high-frequency sounds emitted by televisions and computers that are imperceptible to the human ear, but that can be recognised by tablets and smartphones. The inaudible sounds are embedded in TV and online commercials and act like cookies, tracked by handheld devices and used to compile data on a user and determine whether an advert triggers the user to search for the product online.

Sounds barmy, right? Like the kind of conspiracy cooked up by paranoid chemtrail proponents. But the technology is real and is being pioneered by a startup called SilverPush. SilverPush’s Unique Audio Beacon allows advertisers to surreptitiously hide ultrasonic noise within commercials to allow cross-device tracking.

According to the SilverPush website, this is how UAB works:

Add Beacon: Add our patented inaudible audio beacon to your TV creative

Measure: Millions of users with SilverPush powered SDK are listening to TV ads everyday

Retarget: Reach out to mobile users who have watched your TV ad.

The technology is already in use, with dozens of marketing companies utilising UAB in its advertisements.

The CDT outlined its concerns in a letter to the FTC:

“Cross-device tracking can also be performed through the use of ultrasonic inaudible sound beacons. Compared to probabilistic tracking through browser fingerprinting, the use of audio beacons is a more accurate way to track users across devices. The industry leader of cross-device tracking using audio beacons is SilverPush. When a user encounters a SilverPush advertiser on the web, the advertiser drops a cookie on the computer while also playing an ultrasonic audio through the use of the speakers on the computer or device. The inaudible code is recognized and received on the other smart device by the software development kit installed on it. SilverPush also embeds audio beacon signals into TV commercials which are “picked up silently by an app installed on a [device] (unknown to the user).” The audio beacon enables companies like SilverPush to know which ads the user saw, how long the user watched the ad before changing the channel, which kind of smart devices the individual uses, along with other information that adds to the profile of each user that is linked across devices.

The user is unaware of the audio beacon, but if a smart device has an app on it that uses the SilverPush software development kit, the software on the app will be listening for the audio beacon and once the beacon is detected, devices are immediately recognized as being used by the same individual. SilverPush states that the company is not listening in the background to all of the noises occurring in proximity to the device. The only factor that hinders the receipt of an audio beacon by a device is distance and there is no way for the user to opt-out of this form of cross-device tracking. SilverPush’s company policy is to not “divulge the names of the apps the technology is embedded,” meaning that users have no knowledge of which apps are using this technology and no way to opt-out of this practice. As of April of 2015, SilverPush’s software is used by 67 apps and the company monitors 18 million smartphones.”

Pretty shady, huh?

Image source

YouTuber Pockets £20,000 for Promoting Xbox One

A Federal Trade Commission investigation into publicity-for-pay allegations has revealed that one YouTube channel pocket nearly £20,000 for promoting the Xbox One console. The investigation by the FTC was launched on the back of revelations, back in January last year, that popular YouTube network Machinima was offering its partners bonus payments for in exchange for Xbox One plugs. It soon became apparent that the practice was commonplace, with game publishers secretly paying for YouTube advertising.

The FTC investigation has discovered that YouTube channel Syndicate took $30,000 (£19,639) for two videos promoting Xbox One, while SkyVsGaming was paid $15,000. Both channels agreed to mention Xbox One, without saying anything negative, and were contractually obliged to keep its agreement secret.

Microsoft has blamed Starcom, the advertising agency it hired to publicise its current-gen console, for the shady agreement, claiming that it had no knowledge of the practice. Such paid advertising is illegal in the UK, but is considered more of a grey area in the US. Nevertheless, the FTC has described such secret paid advertising as “false and misleading”.

“In numerous instances, [Machinima] has failed to disclose, or disclose adequately, that the individuals who posted the reviews were compensated in connection with their endorsements,” the FTC report reads. “This fact would be material to consumers in their purchasing decisions regarding Xbox One and the launch titles. The failure to disclose this fact, in light of the representations made, was, and is, a deceptive practice.”

Since its legality is fuzzy, the FTC has done little more than warn Starcom and Machinima to end its financial relationship and cease any other current or future paid advertising.

FTC About to Mail out 55 Thousand Checks Worth $1.9 Million

Multi-level marketing, or MLM for short, is an old scheme rarely used anymore because people aren’t stupid enough to fall for it now. It isn’t that long ago that it wasn’t the case and BurnLounge made a small fortune with their pyramid scheme.

A pyramid scheme and multi-level marketing aren’t completely the same, and some forms are even legal in some places, but let us just say it is one thing for the sake of this article. BurnLounge promised the path to riches with its digital music store concept, but the only ones that got rich in the experience were the founders.

The site promised six-figure incomes, but most people didn’t even make back their initial investment. The company was shut down in 2007 after the FTC filed a suit against it. Since then BurnLounge has been fighting the case, hoping to end up as a winner. In 2011, a US District Judge issued a judgment that this was a pyramid scheme and illegal. That was appealed and BurnLounge lost again earlier this month.

On Monday, the FTC announced that it is mailing 52,099 checks totaling nearly $1.9 million (~£1.2 million) to consumers who paid to become BurnLounge “moguls.” A long case finally closed.

It worked the way that BurnLounge customers got their own online music store on a pre-made web page. There were several pre-paid plans and selling music led to rewards points, which could be traded for cash if the consumer paid to join the Mogul program for an additional fee. The company guaranteed a minimum commission of just 50 cents for selling a $9.90 album, while offering bonuses of $10 to $50 for selling product packages—in other words, for recruiting. The FTC’s expert found that 90 percent of the bonuses paid, minimum, would be for packages tied to recruitment, not for music.

Thank you ArsTechnica for proving us with this information

YouTube’s Toddler App Full of Disturbing Videos

Looking for videos on how to juggle chainsaws? Drink battery acid? How about My little Pony peadophilia jokes, or Bert and Ernie overdubbed with  foul language?

You can see all of these on the brand new YouTube kids, the new application that google have released, stating it is perfectly safe for young children.

Consumer groups were set to ask the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday to investigate the new application on the grounds of unfair and deceptive business practices, the second official complaint since the kid “safe” service launched last month.

Dale Kunkel stated ““The deeper you get into this, the scarier it is in placing children at risk”. Dale is a communications officer for the University of Arizona “I’m astonished at the volume of inappropriate material, much of which will be harmful for kids if they see it.”

Google posted a statement on monday that it plans to work to make the applications videos as family friendly as possible. They said they take feedback very seriously, removing offensive content that has been flagged by users.

“The first step is to “algorithmically narrow it down to family-friendly content,”  Shimrit Ben-Yair  told the San Jose Mercury News. However that filter is not working according to advocates and some parents who wrote on the Google Play and itunes stores.

Do you think the application is safe for kids to use? let us know in the comments.

Thank you to Phys for providing us with this information

Images courtesy of Google

Comcast Attempt to Consume Time Warner Cable Fails

Comcast has at last given up on their attempt to merge with rival Time Warner Cable. Since the announcement of the merger early last year, the two largest cable providers in the United States have struggled against stiff consumer opposition. The final blow was struck as officials in the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice both started anti-trust investigations into the merger. If the merger had gone through, Comcast would have controlled over 57% of the broadband market with over 33 million customers.

Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts gave the following statement:

“Today, we move on. Of course, we would have liked to bring our great products to new cities, but we structured this deal so that if the government didn’t agree, we could walk away. Comcast NBCUniversal is a unique company with strong momentum. Throughout this entire process, our employees have kept their eye on the ball and we have had fantastic operating results. I want to thank them and the employees of Time Warner Cable for their tireless efforts. I couldn’t be more proud of this company and I am truly excited for what’s next.”

Opponents of the merger claimed that the result would have created an unstoppable monopoly and harmed competition. Comcast argued that the merger would have saved them billions in redundancies and that the two companies don’t compete against each other anyway. Two of the major complaints were Comcast’s terrible customer service track record and the fact that Comcast were unable to promise any savings to customers as a result of the merger.

Google Accused of Suppressing Search Results and Stealing Content

Google has been accused of manipulating its search results to promote its own services, to the detriment of other businesses, leading to “real harm to consumers”, and illegally taking content from Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon, a previously unpublished Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report has revealed.

The FTC ended its investigation into Google back in 2012 after the internet giant agreed to concessions, but the investigation’s documents were accidentally handed to The Wall Street Journal, which the newspaper subsequently published. The report claims that Google’s “conduct has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets”.

Yelp, Microsoft’s Bing, and travel websites TripAdvisor and Expedia all complained to the FTC that Google had damaged its business by suppressing its search results, and the FTC found that Google had been scraping data from Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon and used it to rank products while recycling reviews and ratings.

Kent Walker, Google’s General Counsel, responded by reminding that the FTC decided that no action should be taken against Google over its findings, saying,  “Speculation about potential consumer harm turned out to be entirely wrong. Since the investigation closed two years ago, the ways people access information online have only increased, giving consumers more choice than ever before.”

But David Wood, legal counsel to ICOMP, a coalition of online firms campaigning against Google, argues that business has trumped the rule of law, saying, “These revelations demonstrate that this is not about national interests but about competition problems. It is a fascinating insight into Google’s practices. It’s made public things they didn’t want made public and highlighted discrepancies between what they said in public and what they actually did in the US.”

Source: The Guardian

FTC to Approves Charges Against Snapchat Over User Privacy

After revelations regarding the Snapchat’s failure to protect user privacy, the US Federal Trade Commission has finalised charges against the company. On 31st December, the FTC released the list of charges to be filed against Snapchat.

In the advisory released by the FTC, the US governmental department accuses Snapchat of “[deceiving] consumers with promises about the disappearing nature of messages sent through the service,” and that “Snapchat also deceived consumers over the amount of personal data it collected and the security measures taken to protect that data from misuse and unauthorized disclosure.”

Snapchat is designed to send perishable photo messages that are deleted after viewing. However, it was discovered last year that not only does Snapchat archive sent messages, but that third-party apps are able to recover perished messages.

Snapchat suffered another privacy breach last year when 4.6 million account usernames, passwords, and associated phone numbers were leaked online.

Source: ZDNet

Apps Aimed at Kids Are Collecting Personal Data

Although mobiles apps aimed at children usually require parental consent, most parents probably aren’t aware that these apps are tracking and collecting data on their kids. A US bill was introduced in 2013 to protect children from such privacy violations, but many companies are circumventing this law.

Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, warned, “Kids are such a lucrative market, especially for apps. Unfortunately, there are still companies out there that are more concerned about generating revenue than protecting the privacy of kids.” In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission revised the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, expanding it to require parental consent for apps to collect data from anyone younger than 13, including phone number, phone identification data, and location.

“It’s upped the ante for companies deciding whether they are going to market to kids,” Michelle De Mooy, ‎Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said. “And that’s a good thing.” Kandi Parsons, attorney in the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, assures that the FTC is doing all it can to protect children, saying, “Our ultimate goal is compliance… [But] that doesn’t undermine our desire to bring cases against companies that violate COPPA… [W]here we find violations, we will bring cases against mobile apps.”

Source: CTV News

Sony Offers Customers Partial Refund After Misleading PS Vita Ads

 

The US Federal Trade Commission has ruled that Sony put out ads in the US that misled customers as to the “game-changing” capabilities of their handheld console, the PS Vita. Instead of fighting the decision, Sony has admitted culpability by settling the case with the FTC.

Sony’s advertising concerning the Vita’s Cross-platform Gaming, Cross-Save, Remote Play, and 3G connectivity capabilities were deemed by the FTC to be deceptive, since they either didn’t operate as advertised, or were non-existent.

“Sony claimed, for example, that PS Vita users could pause any PS3 game at any time and continue to play the game on their PS Vita from where they left off. This feature, however, was only available for a few PS3 games, and the pause-and-save capability described in the ads varied significantly from game to game,” said the FTC’s statement. “The FTC’s complaint also alleges that Sony’s PS Vita ads falsely implied that consumers who owned the 3G version of the device (which cost an extra $50 plus monthly fees) could engage in live, multiplayer gaming through a 3G network. In fact, consumers could not engage in live, multiplayer gaming.”

Any customer who purchased the video game system prior to 1st June, 2012 may be eligible for either a partial refund of $25 cash or credit, or a $50 voucher to spend on games and/or services.

Source: engadget

Butterfly Labs Mining Rigs “Useful Only As Room Heaters”

Butteryfly Labs Monarch

Butterfly Labs, a Missouri based system builder who design and sell computers for mining Bitcoin, have landed themselves in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Butterfly Labs have been charging firms a total of up to $50m (around £30m) for systems and services that were so late they were useless and in some cases, they didn’t deliver the goods at all!

The FTC is saying that Butterfly have been selling Bitcoin mining machines, some of which cost up to $29,899 that are a complete waste of money. The FTC say these systems are only good as “room heaters”; ouch!

Butterfly claim their Monarch system, which only launched last August, is the fastest Bitcoin miner so far and with a price that went well into the thousands, people have been putting money down for the new systems and so far, not one customer has been supplied with one of the new systems.

Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said: “We often see that when a new and little-understood opportunity like Bitcoin presents itself, scammers will find ways to capitalise on the public’s excitement and interest.”

“It appears the FTC has decided to go to war on Bitcoin overall and is starting with Butterfly Labs.” said a Butterfly representative. “Butterfly Labs is being portrayed by the FTC as a bogus and fake company. To the contrary, Butterfly Labs is very real. As pointed out in court filings Butterfly Labs made last night, Butterfly Labs has shipped more than $33m (£20m) in products to customers and voluntarily granted refunds approximating $17m (£10m) to customers for cancelled orders.” they added.

Butterfly Labs will have a chance to state their case in court this Monday and while the company make a lot of big claims, I’m not so certain they’re going to have much luck. Their systems have been deemed worthless by FTC investigators, the mining boom is over and there are a lot of angry consumers who have given them money, but failed to receive any goods; long story short, don’t order a Butterfly Labs system any time soon, just to be safe.

Thank you Sky News for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Butterfly Labs.

Anti-Scam Website Founder Agrees to Pay Millions in Scam Settlement


The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will collect more than £5.8 million in assets from two men that were a part of a mobile phone text messaging scam that tricked millions from users.

Sending “fun facts,” “love tips” and celebrity gossip alerts to customers for a whopping £5.88 per month, subscribers were unaware they were being billed.  The charges were found on bills using confusing names such as “77050IQ12CALL8663611606” and “25184USBFIQMIG,” with customers often not even realizing the charges were added.

The initial lawsuit was filed in December 2013, with defendants receiving a $150 million judgment – though that number was suspended because the two defendants, Andrew Bachman and Lin Miao, were unable to pay the full amount.

Phone “cramming” is a fraudulent behavior that charges unsuspecting phone subscribers with small charges, billed by a third-party company.  Cramming is becoming a more popular illegal tactic that the FTC is trying to crack down on, in an effort to protect phone subscribers.

In addition to the cash in multiple bank accounts, jewelry and cars seized, real estate properties in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, California and Chicago, Illinois also was forfeited.  The criminals lived lavish lifestyles, as a 2014 Range Rover, 2011 Audi and 2008 Bentley were confiscated, along with Tiffany watches and rings, and 10 and eight carat diamonds seized by the U.S. federal government.

Here is what the FTC complaint read:

“If consumers were able to find a phone number, they have often reached representatives who claim they will provide refunds, but do not.  In many cases, consumers have not received refunds for all of the months that they paid the bogus charges.”

Thank you FTC and Boston.com for providing us with this information.

Taiwan Investigating Samsung’s Malicious Comments Attack Against HTC

The authorities in Taiwan have launched an investigation after received complaints that Korean Electronics giant Samsung apparently hired students to post hateful comments about the products made by Taiwan based company HTC.

Complaints started coming in from this month from online users who alleged that Samsung Taiwan hired students through a local ad agent to write online articles against HTC and recommending Samsung phones. However, Samsung Taiwan says that they have not been contacted about the investigation by the Fair Trade Commission. Currently Samsung Taiwan has announced in their Facebook page that they’ve stopped all their internet marketing and posting contents on their website.

The authorities will also be probing into complaints that Samsung’s involvement in false advertising. If these allegations are true, Samsung and its local advertising agent will be found guilt and will have to pay a fine of $809,000.

FTC’s spokesman Sun Lih-Chyun said,”The case was set up last week after we received complaints.”

To note, Samsung was fined by the FTC for about of approximately $ 10,023 earlier this year for misleading advertising about the Samsung Galaxy Y Duos GT-S6102 camera functions. This could turn out to be a bigger trouble if Samsung is found guilty of such activities, possibility even buyers would think twice before reading Pro-Samsung user reviews/ articles.

As of now, Samsung is holding 30.3% share in global smartphone market, followed by Apple with 19.1% and HTC with 4.6%.

Source: The Inquirer