The Tech News Blog

July 10, 2014

FTC Sues Amazon Over Accidental In-App Purchases

The 10 Best Kindle Fire Games Amazon is the latest firm to find itself in hot water over unauthorized in-app purchases.

The Federal Trade Commission today filed suit, asking a federal court to require Amazon to refund customers whose children accidentally made purchases within apps downloaded from the Amazon Appstore. The agency also wants Amazon to forfeit any money it made on those unauthorized purchases since Amazon gets a 30 percent cut, the FTC said.

The FTC said unauthorized in-app purchases amounted to "millions of dollars of charges," including one kid who quickly racked up $360 in charges.

"Amazon's in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents' accounts without permission," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez in a statement. "Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created."

By now, the Amazon Appstore requires passwords for in-app purchases, but it took a few years to get there.

In-app purchases on the Amazon Appstore date back to 2011 with a beta program; the API was released to all developers several months later. At the time, there were no password requirements for making a purchase, the FTC said, and parents had no recourse if junior racked up charges on their Kindle Fire. The FTC complaint points to internal communications from Amazon employees in Dec. 2011, which said the lack of a password requirement was "clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers."

In March 2012, the rules were updated to require passwords on purchases over $20. An early 2013 update required passwords in more situations, but typing in a password once opened up a 15-minute window where a password was not required, allowing for unauthorized purchases. A June 2014 update required consent for in-app charges on newer mobile devices.

When asked for comment, an Amazon spokeswoman pointed PCMag to a July 1 letter that Amazon general counsel Andrew DeVore sent to the FTC's Ramirez.

Amazon held "constructive meetings" with the FTC in recent weeks, so news that it would still be filing a lawsuit was "deeply disappointing," DeVore wrote.

Amazon said the FTC was "unwilling to depart from the precedent it set with Apple despite our very different facts," referring to the $32.5 million settlement the FTC reached with Apple over in-app payments in January.

DeVore said that Amazon did provide refunds to those who complained, but argued that its program has always been lawful. "Pursuing litigation against a company whose practices were lawful from the outset and that already meet or exceed the requirements of the Apple consent order makes no sense, and is an unfortunate misallocation of the commission's resources."

Amazon was last in the news for in-app purchases when it dropped them from the ComiXology apps to avoid paying transaction fees to Google and Apple.

July 8, 2014

Thieves Pull Off Daring Heist at Samsung Factory

Samsung Galaxy S5 Mini In a story that sounds like something out of Ocean's 11, a Samsung factory in Brazil recently fell victim to thieves who made off with millions of dollars worth of merchandise.

As reported by Reuters, armed robbers attacked the factory near Sao Paulo and made off with gadgets worth about $36 million, police said. A Samsung spokeswoman, however, put the value of the stolen goods at a much lower $6.5 million.

Specifically, the thieves carjacked an employee shuttle, held about 100 factory workers hostage, and ultimately stole seven trucks filled with about 40,000 Samsung products - smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

According to MSN, the factory is located in Campinas, a college town about 60 miles north of Sao Paulo. The heist was pulled off by about 20 individuals; none of the Samsung workers were injured.

This is not the first time thieves have targeted pricey gadgets, of course. Last year, on New Year's Eve, armed robbers broke into a central Paris Apple Store, making off with roughly $1.25 million worth of iPhone, iPads, and other devices.

The year before, meanwhile, about $1.9 million worth of iPad mini tablets were stolen from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport; an employee was later implicated.

June 28, 2014

Aereo Suspends Service, But Not Yet Gone For Good

Aereo: Everything You Need to Know update Well, that didn't take long.

Aereo, the startup whose business practice involved taking free over-the-air TV broadcasts and streaming them online as part of a paid subscription package for its users, has officially disappeared.

It's not gone for good, the company is quick to note. However, those looking to take part in the company's streaming — or access any DVR-like recordings they might have made of broadcast programming — had until 11:30 a.m. (ET) to use Aereo. The service is now on what you might call a bit of a hiatus.

"On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court reversed a lower Court decision in favor of Aereo, dealing a massive setback to consumers," wrote Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia in a statement posted to Aereo's blog.

"As a result of that decision, our case has been returned to the lower Court. We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps. You will be able to access your cloud-based antenna and DVR only until 11:30 a.m. ET today. All of our users will be refunded their last paid month. If you have questions about your account, please email or tweet us @AereoSupport."

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June 25, 2014

Supreme Court to Police on Cell Phone Searches: Get a Warrant

Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court has spoken: Police must get a warrant before they can search the contents of your cell phone.

There is no ambiguity and no hedging in the unanimous, 38-page opinion which the Supreme Court handed down Wednesday. There's no benchmarking test for when a warrant would not be necessary. It doesn't matter if it is a smartphone or a feature phone (dumbphone). If the cops want to know what is on the phone, they need to talk to a judge.

"The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant," wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

Next Stop, NSA?
The decision is a sweeping endorsement of personal privacy, and confirms Americans have a constitutional right to privacy in the personal information stored on their mobile devices.

"By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today's decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans. We have entered a new world, but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government's ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives," Steven R. Shapiro, the national legal director of the ACLU, said in a statement.

"The Court today told Americans that the digital information contained in their cell phones is entitled to protection from warrantless government intrusion." said Nuala O'Connor, president of Center for Democracy and Technology. "The Court clearly recognizes the impact that modern technology is having on our daily lives, and the importance of applying Fourth Amendment protections in a digital age. As technology rapidly evolves, the law must also evolve to ensure that our most basic rights are protected as they have been in the past," O'Connor added.

Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed our right to privacy on our phones, perhaps the next step would be the Court weighing in on whether the National Security Agency's phone and computer surveillance methods should also require a warrant. That's something I would like to see.

Lock Your Device Anyway
Roberts acknowledged how dependent we are on our phones. Rather than being "just another technological convenience," cell phones are also our cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, and newspapers, he wrote. "Indeed, a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house."

There was also an interesting note on password protection:

"Similarly, the opportunities for officers to search a password-protected phone before data becomes encrypted are quite limited. Law enforcement officers are very unlikely to come upon such a phone in an unlocked state because most phones lock at the touch of a button or as a default, after some very short period of inactivity."

While it's great the Supreme Court thinks the majority of American users lock their phones, we know that's not the case. Even though the police are no longer allowed to trawl through your phone, locked or unlocked, we should all go ahead and get better about password protecting our mobile devices. Thieves and snoops still don't need a warrant, so use the fingerprint sensor, set a passphrase, or put some other lock on that device.

What the Police Can't Do Anymore…
The Supreme Court heard Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie in April. In the California case, during a routine traffic stop, the policeman saw guns in Riley's car and searched his phone. The information on the phone implicated Riley as a gang member in a shooting. The companion case, from Massachusetts, concerned a suspected drug dealer whose flip phone was searched after his arrest.

Generally, law enforcement officials are allowed to search a person's wallet or purse, even check the pockets, without a warrant. This was to ensure the person wasn't carrying any weapons that might endanger officials or allow the person to escape custody. The government argued that searching the contents of a phone was a natural extension of that rule.

The justices rejected that claim, noting that "digital data on the phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate an arrestee's escape." Police can still inspect the phone itself, so long as they don't try to view the contents. Since there are legal ways to prevent phones from being remotely wiped, or to still extract data afterwards, the police have time to convince a judge to issue a warrant.

According to the ruling, there are some possible exceptions to the warrant requirement. Examples include the person trying to text an accomplice to detonate a bomb, or a suspected kidnapper with information about the victim on the phone.

"We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime," Roberts wrote for the court. "Privacy comes at a cost."

June 17, 2014

Apple, States Reach E-Book Price-Fixing Deal


Apple has reportedly dodged an $840 million bullet by reaching a settlement with U.S. states and consumers over its alleged e-book price fixing scheme.

Steve Berman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, submitted a filing to the New York district court on Monday that said a deal had been reached. It was filed under seal, so details are not yet available. According to Bloomberg, however, Apple was facing a trial that could have involved up to $840 million in damages.

The case dates back to April 2012, when the Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers — Macmillan, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster—over an alleged "illegal conspiracy" involving e-book price fixing. State-level suits were filed at the same time.

June 13, 2014

Ex-Microsoft Employee Gets 3 Months in Prison for Win 8 Leaks

8 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8.1 Update

The ex-Microsoft employee who pleaded guilty to theft of trade secrets will spend three months in prison.

U.S. District Court judge also fined Alex Kibkalo $100 for his crime.

Kibkalo was arrested in March after he leaked early copies of Windows 8 to a French blogger. The seven-year Microsoft employee—first in Russia, then in Lebanon—provided documents to the blogger in 2012, just ahead of the OS launch.

In early April, Kibkalo pleaded guilty to the crime, which included sharing Windows 8 RT software updates, which were distributed only to manufacturing partners, as well as the Activation Server software development kit (SDK).

Microsoft pinpointed the leaker after searching the Hotmail account of the unnamed French blogger. Redmond initially defended the move, but later said that it would change its policy surrounding email snooping.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

June 5, 2014

Verizon Threatens to Sue Netflix Over Streaming Alerts

Nefflix Logo

Verizon has sent Netflix a cease-and-desist letter after the streaming service started displaying warnings that blamed buffering or slowdowns on Verizon's Internet service.

"Netflix's false accusations have the potential to harm the Verizon brand in the marketplace," Randal S. Milch, Verizon's general counsel, wrote in a Thursday letter to Netflix's general counsel, David Hyman.

The note was prompted by a Wednesday article from Quartz, which reported that some Verizon FiOS users, like Vox's Yuri Victor, were seeing warnings from Netflix that said streaming slowdowns were because "The Verizon network is crowded right now."

In the letter, posted online by Re/code, Hyman argued that there is "no basis" for Netflix's assertion that Verizon is responsible for streaming slowdowns.

"As Netflix knows, there are many different factors that can affect traffic on the Internet, including choices by Netflix in how to connect its customers and deliver content to them, interconnection between multiple networks, and consumer in-home issues such as in-home wiring, Wi-Fi, and devices settings and capabilities," Hyman wrote.

May 20, 2014

Report: Apple, Samsung Resume Patent Settlement Talks

Apple Samsung

Apple and Samsung will reportedly meet once again at the negotiating table in an effort to solve their patent dispute, according to the Korea Times.

Quoting unnamed sources directly involved in the case, the site said that "the key issue is how to dismiss all lawsuits."

The talks come shortly after a California jury awarded Apple $120 million in its most recent patent case against Samsung. That, however, was far short of the more than $2 billion it was requesting. The jury also found that Apple had infringed on some of Samsung's patents, and ordered Cupertino to pay $158,400, which likely made it easier for Samsung to get Apple into settlement talks surrounding their other cases, the Times said.

Recently, Apple and Google's Motorola Mobility agreed to end all litigation over mobile patents. That comes several months after Google and Samsung announced a cross-licensing deal that should cover the companies' existing patents as well as patents produced by either across the next decade.

May 15, 2014

Philips Sues Nintendo Over Patents, Wants Wii U Banned

Wii U

If you were getting all jazzed about the prospect of playing the much-loved Mario Kart 8 on Nintendo's Wii U console, you best be purchasing one quickly. Philips has sued Nintendo in a Delaware court, claiming that the gaming firm has infringed on two of the company's patents.

Consequently, Philips is seeking damages for the infringement and an injunction that bans Nintendo from "making, using, selling, offering for sale, and importing within the United States" its Wii U console and related products.

Philips claims that Nintendo's products infringe two of its patents: U.S. Patent No. 6,285,379, for a "Virtual Body Control Device," and U.S. Patent No. 8,537,231, for a "User Interface System Based on Pointing Device."

In Philips's lawsuit, the company alleges that Nintendo was first made aware of the company's '379 patent via a 2011 letter from Philips' Susumu Tsugaru to Nintendo's Toshiro Hibino.

A Philips spokesman told the AP that Philips and Nintendo had allegedly been attempting to negotiate a licensing arrangement, to no avail.

May 3, 2014

Jury Awards Apple $120M in Samsung Patent Case

Samsung Galaxy S III (T-Mobile)A California jury on Friday awarded Apple $120 million in its patent case against Samsung, but that sum was far smaller than the more than $2 billion Cupertino was hoping to get from the Korean electronics maker.

Apple, meanwhile, needs to hand over $158,400 to Samsung for an infringement of its own.

The trial began last month, and the jury deliberated for several days before returning their verdict.

Apple's winnings today pale in comparison to the $1.05 billion another California jury awarded the company in Aug. 2012, a number that was eventually dropped to about $900 million on appeal.

This second patent case, which took place in the same court, covered devices that could not be added to that earlier case due to timing.

Apple and Samsung have been fighting since 2011, when Apple fired the first shot. The legal spat has since expanded to courtrooms around the globe, and will likely not conclude for good anytime soon.

Jurors in this most recent case heard hours of testimony, including a deposition from Google lawyer James Maccoun, who confirmed that Google offered to pay some of Samsung's legal costs and damages if the Korean tech company lost to Cupertino.