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Feds Charge 61 People In Indian-Based IRS Phone Scam Case ( 46

BUL2294 writes: Following the arrests earlier this month in India of call center employees posing as IRS or immigration agents, USA Today and Consumerist are reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice has charged 61 people in the U.S. and India of facilitating the scam, bilking millions from Americans thinking they were facing immediate arrest and prosecution. "According to the indictment (PDF) -- which covers 20 individuals in the U.S. and 32 people and five call centers in India -- since about 2012 the defendants used information obtained from data brokers and other sources to call potential victims impersonating officers from the IRS or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services," reports Consumerist. The report adds: "To give the calls an air of authenticity, the organization was able to 'spoof' phone numbers, making the calls appear to have really come from a federal agency. The callers would then allegedly threaten potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines, or deportation if they did not pay supposed taxes or penalties to the government. In instances when the victims agreed to pay, the DOJ claims that the call centers would instruct them to go to banks or ATMs to withdraw money, use the funds to purchase prepaid stored value cards from retail stores, and then provide the unique serial number to the caller. At this point, the operations U.S.-based counterparts would use the serial numbers to transfer the funds to prepaid reloadable cards. The cards would then be used to purchase money orders that were transferred into U.S. bank accounts of individuals or businesses. To make matters worse, the indictment claims that the prepaid debit cards were often registered using personal information of thousands of identity theft victims, and the wire transfers were directed by the organizations using fake names and fraudulent identifications. The operation would then use 'hawalas' -- a system in which money is transferred internationally outside of the formal banking system -- to direct the pilfered funds to accounts belonging to U.S.-based individuals.

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'We're Going To Kill Cash' ( 226

At a media event on Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Touch ID on the new MacBook Pros will make it incredibly easy for people to do online money transactions. After the event, speaking to reporters Cook made a bold statement about how he sees Apple Pay. CNET reports: "We're going to kill cash," he said. "Nobody likes to carry around cash." He makes most of his purchases with Apple Pay (which is not surprising).Cook's comment comes days after Australia's top banks refused to support Apple Pay, saying that the company has been 'intransigent, closed and controlling'.

FCC Imposes ISP Privacy Rules and Takes Aim At Mandatory Arbitration ( 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission today imposed new privacy rules on Internet service providers, and the Commission said it has begun working on rules that could limit the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in the contracts customers sign with ISPs. The new privacy rules require ISPs to get opt-in consent from consumers before sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties. The rules apply both to home Internet service providers like Comcast and mobile data carriers like Verizon Wireless. The commission's Democratic majority ensured the rules' passage in a 3-2 vote, with Republicans dissenting. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was disappointed that the rules passed today did not include any action on mandatory arbitration clauses that prevent consumers from suing ISPs. But Chairman Tom Wheeler said that issue will be addressed in a separate rule-making. In the case of privacy rules, the FCC passed the NPRM in March and the final rules today. Clyburn argued that the FCC could have imposed mandatory arbitration restrictions today, because the privacy NPRM sought public comment about whether to ban mandatory arbitration. Under the FCC rules, ISPs that want to share consumer data with third parties such as advertisers must obtain opt-in consent for the most sensitive information and give customers the ability to opt out of sharing less sensitive information. Here's how the FCC describes the new opt-in and opt-out requirements: "Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative 'opt-in' consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children's information, Social Security numbers, Web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications. Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer 'opts-out.' All other individually identifiable customer information -- for example, e-mail address or service tier information -- would be considered non-sensitive, and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations. Exceptions to consent requirements: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship." ISPs must clearly notify customers about the types of information they collect, specify how they use and share the information, and identify the types of entities they share the information with.

Twitter Is Cutting 9% of Its Global Workforce ( 81

Twitter is planning to lay off 9 percent of its global workforce, as the ailing San Francisco tech giant struggles to please Wall Street despite beating earnings expectations. The company officially announced the cuts today in its third-quarter earnings, days after reports began to surface of the impending cuts. AdWeek reports: According to Twitter, the majority of the reductions will take place in its sales, partnerships and marketing divisions in order to "continue to fully fund our highest priorities," according to a letter to shareholders. However, the earnings also came with some good news. Total monthly active users grew for the second consecutive quarter to 317 million users, gaining 4 million over the past three months since its second-quarter results. Daily active users also increased, rising 7 percent year over year. Twitter's revenue totaled $616 million -- an 8 percent increase year over year. Earnings per share totaled 13 cents, beating expectations of 9 cents per share and $606 million in total revenue. However, the company reported profit fell by $103 million.

Hotel CEO Openly Celebrates Higher Prices After Anti-Airbnb Law Passes ( 262

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: A hotel executive said a recently-passed New York law cracking down on Airbnb hosts will enable the company to raise prices for New York City hotel rooms, according to the transcript of the executive's words on a call with shareholders last week. The law, signed by New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, slaps anyone who lists their apartment on a short-term rental site with a fine up to $7,500. It "should be a big boost in the arm for the business," Mike Barnello, chief executive of the hotel chain LaSalle Hotel Properties, said of the law last Thursday, "certainly in terms of the pricing." Barnello's comment adds fuel the argument, made repeatedly by Airbnb and its proponents, that a law that was passed in the name of affordable housing also allows established hotels to raises prices for consumers. It was included in a memo written by Airbnb's head of global policy, Chris Lehane, to the Internet Association, a tech trade group, reviewed by the Washington Post. LaSalle, a Bethesda, MD-based chain, owns hotels around the country, including New York City. The memo is the latest volley in a bitter fight that has pit the hotel industry, unions, and affordable housing advocates against Airbnb and its supporters. At the heart of the fight is a debate over the societal value of the Airbnb platform and its role in the economy of cities throughout the world. The question is whether Airbnb has been a net benefit, by enabling middle class city-dwellers to make extra money by renting out their homes, or whether it has had the unintended consequence of exacerbating affordable housing crises in expensive cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
The Almighty Buck

Rich People Pay Less Attention To Other People, Says Study ( 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: In a small recent study, researchers from New York University found that those who considered themselves in higher classes looked at people who walked past them less than those who said they were in a lower class did. The results were published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science. According to Pia Dietze, a social psychology doctoral student at NYU and a lead author of the study, previous research has shown that people from different social classes vary in how they tend to behave towards other people. So, she wanted to shed some light on where such behaviors could have originated. The research was divided into three separate studies. For the first, Dietze and NYU psychology lab director Professor Eric Knowles asked 61 volunteers to walk along the street for one block while wearing Google Glass to record everything they looked at. These people were also asked to identify themselves as from a particular social class: either poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or upper class. An independent group watched the recordings and made note of the various people and things each Glass wearer looked at and for how long. The results showed that class identification, or what class each person said they belonged to, had an impact on how long they looked at the people who walked past them. During Study 2, participants viewed street scenes while the team tracked their eye movements. Again, higher class was associated with reduced attention to people in the images. For the third and final study, the results suggested that this difference could stem from the way the brain works, rather than being a deliberate decision. Close to 400 participants took part in an online test where they had to look at alternating pairs of images, each containing a different face and five objects. Whereas higher class participants took longer to notice when the face was different in the alternate image compared to lower classes, the amount of time it took to detect the change of objects did not differ between them. The team reached the conclusion that faces seem to be more effective in grabbing the attention of individuals who come from relatively lower class backgrounds.

Delta Now Lets You Track Your Baggage In Real-Time ( 72

Let's face it, tracking down a lost bag at the airport is a pain-in-the-ass. While airlines will often compensate you with money and new clothes for your troubles, the experience is certainly not pleasant. Delta is now attempting to further reduce the number of lost bags through its real-time luggage tracker in the latest version of its mobile app. The Next Web reports: The feature apparently cost $50 million to build. It allows you to see where your stuff is -- provided that it's at one of the 84 airports that support Delta's new tracking tech. Here's how it works. All bags will get a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. This allows Delta to track them in real-time using radio waves. Scanners positioned throughout the baggage system will allow Delta to monitor where the bag is, and relay that information to the passenger. Delta has traditionally been one of the best airlines when it comes to handling baggage. During 2012, it lost only 200,000 bags. That sounds like a lot, but bear in mind it carried 98 million passengers during the same period. You can try the feature on your next Delta flight by grabbing the app from Google Play and the App Store.

Tesla Posts Second Profitable Quarter Ever ( 110

anderzole writes from a report via BGR: Tesla on Wednesday posted its earnings report for the quarter gone by and investors will have a lot to cheer about. While analysts on Wall St. were expecting Tesla to post a loss, Tesla during its September quarter actually posted a profit, and an impressive profit at that. When the dust settled, Tesla posted a quarterly profit of $22 million and EPS of $0.71. Revenue for the quarter checked in at $2.3 billion. Illustrating how impressive Tesla's performance was this past quarter, Wall St. was anticipating Tesla to post a loss amid $1.9 billion in revenue for the quarter. As far as deliveries are concerned, Tesla during the quarter boasted that it achieved record vehicle production, deliveries and revenue. More importantly, Tesla reaffirmed via a shareholder letter that the Model 3 is still on track for a late 2017 release. You can read Tesla's shareholder letter here.

Dyn DNS DDoS Likely The Work of Script Kiddies, Says FlashPoint ( 82

While nobody knows exactly who was responsible for the internet outrage last Friday, business risk intelligence firm FlashPoint released a preliminary analysis of the attack agains Dyn DNS, and found that it was likely the work of "script kiddies" or amateur hackers -- as opposed to state-sponsored actors. TechCrunch reports: Aside from suspicion falling on Russia, various entities have also claimed or implied responsibility for the attack, including a hacking group called the New World Hackers and -- bizarrely -- WikiLeaks, which put a (perhaps joke) tweet suggesting some of its supporters might be involved. FlashPoint dubs these claims "dubious" and "likely to be false," and instead comes down on the side of the script kidding theory. Its reasoning is based on a few factors, including a detail it unearthed during its investigation of the attack: namely that the infrastructure used in the attack also targeted a well-known video game company. The attack on Dyn DNS was powered in part by a botnet of hacked DVRs and webcams known as Mirai. The source code for the malware that controls this botnet was put on Github earlier this month. And FlashPoint also notes that the hacker who released Mirai is known to frequent a hacking forum called hackforums[.]net. That circumstantial evidence points to a link between the attack and users and readers of the English-language hacking community, with FlashPoint also noting the forum has been known to target video games companies. It says it has "moderate confidence" about this theory. The firm also argues that the attacks do not seem to have been financially or politically motivated -- given the broad scope of the targets, and the lack of any attempts to extort money. Which just leaves the most likely being motivation to show off skills and disrupt stuff. Aka, script kiddies.

In China, Some Apple Users Opt For iPhone Makeover Rather Than Buy New ( 105

Instead of buying a new iPhone model, some Chinese iPhone owners are giving their old models a makeover to look like the latest version -- a trend that could dent Apple's efforts to boost sales in what has been its biggest growth driver. Catherine Cadell, reporting for Reuters: Online sites offer shoppers makeover kits, false cameras and even dust plugs to hide the removed headphone jack to give their iPhone 6 or 6S the appearance of the iPhone 7 -- Apple's latest flagship product which launched last month. The makeover quirk mirrors a broader view among some Chinese users that the iPhone 7 doesn't have enough new features to convince them to trade up. "I don't have the money to upgrade, and the (iPhone) 7 is just so-so," said a Beijing-based sales worker, who said he was getting a Shenzhen firm to replace his iPhone 6 back casing with a fake iPhone 7 shell. "I'm changing it to show off," he said, giving only his surname Gao as he wasn't sure that what he was doing was legal. Searches on platforms including Alibaba's Taobao showed a range of products to transform older phones to an iPhone 7 -- from stickers and engraving services to replacing the outer casing and even some of the hardware.

Google Fiber Pauses Operations, CEO Leaves, and About 9 Percent of Staff Is Being Let Go ( 202

The future of Google Fiber has been shaky ever since Google's parent company, Alphabet, was founded. The original plan was to expand Fiber's blazing fast internet service to more than 20 cities, with the goal of eventually delivering nationwide gigabit service. However, Alphabet hit the reset button on those plans Tuesday. Not only is Google Fiber CEO Craig Barratt leaving, but about 9 percent of staff is being let go. That translates to about 130 job losses, since the business has about 1,500 employees. Bloomberg reports: Barratt wrote in a blog post that the company is pulling back fiber-to-the-home service from eight different cities where it had announced plans. Those include major metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Moving into big cities was a contentious point inside Google Fiber, according to one former executive. Leaders like Barratt and Dennis Kish, who runs Google Fiber day-to-day, pushed for the big expansion. Others pushed back because of the prohibitive cost of digging up streets to lay fiber-optic cables across some of America's busiest cities. "I suspect the sheer economics of broad scale access deployments finally became too much for them," said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research. "Ultimately, most of the reasons Google got into this in the first place have either been achieved or been demonstrated to be unrealistic."

Apple's Annual Sales Fall For First Time Since 2001 ( 226

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: Apple just posted its first annual sales decline since 2001, the year it launched the iPod and kicked off a tremendous run of groundbreaking products. The tech company revealed Tuesday that annual sales fell to $216 billion in the 2016 fiscal year ending September 30, from a record $234 billion in 2015. The sales decline is closely connected to the falling sales for the iPhone, which remains Apple's largest source of revenue. Apple sold 45.5 million iPhones in the September quarter, down from 48 million iPhones in the same quarter a year earlier. That marks the third consecutive quarter when iPhone sales and overall revenue have declined from a year prior. Many analysts have raised concerns that the global smartphone market is saturated. Customers are taking longer to replace their phones. And Apple's latest iPhone is a dead ringer for the previous two models, eliminating some of the desire to upgrade. The good news is that this sales decline may prove to be a blip and not the new norm. Apple is projecting that it will post sales of $76 billion to $78 billion in the upcoming quarter, up from $74.8 billion a year earlier.

Largest Auto-Scandal Settlement In US History: Judge Approves $15 Billion Volkswagen Settlement ( 116

A federal just has approved the largest auto-scandal settlement in U.S. history, a $14.7 billion settlement concerning Volkswagen Group's diesel car emissions scandal. USA Today reports: U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco approved the sweeping agreement between consumers, the government, California regulators and the German automaker in a written ruling a week after signaling he was likely to sign off. He said the agreement is "fair, reasonable and adequate." The settlement comes about a year after Volkswagen admitted that it rigged 11 million vehicles worldwide with software designed to dodge emissions standards. The company is still facing criminal investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and German prosecutors. The U.S. probe could lead to additional financial penalties and criminal indictments. About 475,000 Volkswagen owners in the U.S. can choose between a buyback or a free fix and compensation, if a repair becomes available. VW will begin administering the settlement immediately, having already devoted several hundred employees to handling the process. Buybacks range in value from $12,475 to $44,176, including restitution payments, and varying based on milage. People who opt for a fix approved by the Environmental Protection Agency will receive payouts ranging from $5,100 to $9,852, depending on the book value of their car. Volkswagen will also pay $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and another $2 billion for clean-emissions infrastructure.

Twitter Plans To Cut About 300 Jobs As Soon As This Week: Bloomberg ( 105

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Twitter Inc. is planning widespread job cuts, to be announced as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter. The company may cut about 8 percent of the workforce, or about 300 people, the same percentage it did last year when co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as chief executive officer, the people said. Planning for the cuts is still fluid and the number could change, they added. An announcement about the job reductions may come before Twitter releases third-quarter earnings on Thursday, one of the people said. Twitter, which loses money, is trying to control spending as sales growth slows. The company recently hired bankers to explore a sale, but the companies that had expressed interest in bidding -- Inc., The Walt Disney Co. and Alphabet Inc. -- later backed out from the process. Twitter's losses and 40 percent fall in its share price the past 12 months have made it more difficult for the company to pay its engineers with stock. That has made it harder for Twitter to compete for talent with giant rivals like Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Facebook Inc. Reducing employee numbers would relieve some of this pressure.

People Like Netflix's Original Content More Than Its Other Content: AllFlicks ( 77

According to a study by IHS Markit this month, in the last two years Netflix's spending on original content rose from $2.38 billion to $4.91 billion. The company has invested big in original programming -- and it looks to be paying off. The folks over at AllFlicks have found that Netflix's subscriber base prefers Netflix's original content to that of its syndicated content. AllFlicks reports: Netflix user ratings show that Netflix's subscriber base prefers Netflix's original content to its syndicated content. Netflix originals sport an average rating of 3.85 stars out of five; all other content averages 3.47 stars. That means that user ratings for Netflix originals are 11% higher, on average, than user ratings for syndicated content. Netflix does best in the documentaries category, where users rate non-original content, on average, at 3.54. Netflix's documentaries average 4.07 stars, a pretty impressive showing. Netflix's TV shows do the worst, but still edge their other TV show content by 5.7%. It's possible that the frequent reviewers among Netflix's user base differ from the user base as a whole, but there's not a lot of reason to doubt the raw data here. The Netflix originals and non-originals were both reviewed on the same service and using the same rating system, yet originals consistently outperformed the rest of the content.

New York Times Buys The Wirecutter For $30 Million ( 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: The New York Times is buying The Wirecutter, a five-year-old online consumer guide. The Times will pay more than $30 million, including retention bonuses and other payouts, for the startup, according to people familiar with the transaction. Brian Lam, a former editor at Gawker Media's Gizmodo, founded The Wirecutter in 2011, and has self-funded the company's growth. The Wirecutter provides recommendations for electronics and other gadgets that are both obsessively researched and simply presented. The Wirecutter also owns The Sweethome, which takes the same approach for home appliances and other gear. "We're very excited about this acquisition on two fronts," said Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times Company, in the acquisition release. "It's an impressively run business with a very attractive revenue model and its success is built on the foundation of great, rigorously reported service journalism." The Wirecutter tweeted earlier today: "Hey, we're still us. But we're a part of The New York Times now."

PayPal Payments and Notifications Are Coming To Facebook Messenger ( 21

PayPal has announced that it's rolling out as an additional payment option within Facebook Messenger, which currently supports payments via debit cards. From a VentureBeat article: PayPal has been pushing to expand its reach into the consumer realm, having struck partnerships with MasterCard, Visa, Vodafone, and Alibaba, among other companies in the past few months alone. With Facebook Messenger on board, this opens PayPal up to a potential one billion users. Facebook first unveiled plans to expand Messenger beyond a messaging app and into a platform last year, letting retailers connect with customers on one of the world's most popular messaging services. Retailers including Everlane and Zulily were among the first partners announced, while big-name brands such as KLM have since signed up to embrace Messenger as a platform.
United States

American 'Vigilante Hacker' Defaces Russian Ministry's Website ( 205

An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes CNN Money: An American vigilante hacker -- who calls himself "The Jester" -- has defaced the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in retaliation for attacks on American targets... "Comrades! We interrupt regular scheduled Russian Foreign Affairs Website programming to bring you the following important message," he wrote. "Knock it off. You may be able to push around nations around you, but this is America. Nobody is impressed."
In early 2015, CNN Money profiled The Jester as "the vigilante who hacks jihadists," noting he's a former U.S. soldier who now "single-handedly taken down dozens of websites that, he deems, support jihadist propaganda and recruitment efforts. He stopped counting at 179." That article argues that "the fact that he hasn't yet been hunted down and arrested says a lot about federal prosecutors and the FBI. Several cybersecurity experts see it as tacit approval."

"In an exclusive interview with CNNMoney this weekend, Jester said he chose to attack Russia out of frustration for the massive DNS cyberattack that knocked out a portion of the internet in the United States on Friday... 'I'm not gonna sit around watching these f----rs laughing at us.'"

Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban On Personally Identifiable Web Tracking ( 154

Fudge Factor 3000 writes: Google has quietly changed its privacy policy to allow it to associate web tracking, which is supposed to remain anonymous, with personally identifiable user data. This completely reneges its promise to keep a wall between ad tracking and personally identifiable user data, further eroding one's anonymity on the internet. Google's priorities are clear. All they care about is monetizing user information to rake in the big dollars from ad revenue. Think twice before you purchase the premium priced Google Pixel. Google is getting added value from you as its product without giving you part of the revenue it is generating through tracking through lower prices. The crossed-out section in its privacy policy, which discusses the separation of information as mentioned above, has been followed with this statement: "Depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google's services and the ads delivered by Google." ProPublica reports: "The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer. The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct. The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry's longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people's real names. But until this summer, Google held the line." You can choose to opt in or out of the personalized ads here.

Cisco Develops System To Automatically Cut-Off Pirate Video Streams ( 111

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Pirate services obtain content by capturing and restreaming feeds obtained from official sources, often from something as humble as a regular subscriber account. These streams can then be redistributed by thousands of other sites and services, many of which are easily found using a simple search. Dedicated anti-piracy companies track down these streams and send takedown notices to the hosts carrying them. Sometimes this means that streams go down quickly but in other cases hosts can take a while to respond or may not comply at all. Networking company Cisco thinks it has found a solution to these problems. The company's claims center around its Streaming Piracy Prevention (SPP) platform, a system that aims to take down illicit streams in real-time. Perhaps most interestingly, Cisco says SPP functions without needing to send takedown notices to companies hosting illicit streams. "Traditional takedown mechanisms such as sending legal notices (commonly referred to as 'DMCA notices') are ineffective where pirate services have put in place infrastructure capable of delivering video at tens and even hundreds of gigabits per second, as in essence there is nobody to send a notice to," the company explains. "Escalation to infrastructure providers works to an extent, but the process is often slow as the pirate services will likely provide the largest revenue source for many of the platform providers in question." To overcome these problems Cisco says it has partnered with Friend MTS (FMTS), a UK-based company specializing in content-protection. Among its services, FMTS offers Distribution iD, which allows content providers to pinpoint which of their downstream distributors' platforms are a current source of content leaks. "Robust and unique watermarks are embedded into each distributor feed for identification. The code is invisible to the viewer but can be recovered by our specialist detector software," FMTS explains. "Once infringing content has been located, the service automatically extracts the watermark for accurate distributor identification." According to Cisco, FMTS feeds the SPP service with pirate video streams it finds online. These are tracked back to the source of the leak (such as a particular distributor or specific pay TV subscriber account) which can then be shut-down in real time.

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