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Google Under Investigation by FTC Again, This time Over Android

posted Saturday Sep 26, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Under Investigation by FTC Again, This time Over Android

Last week, Google was charged with antitrust in Russia. The charge was in regards to how Google treats its own services in Android, and how they force their policies on manufacturers through contracts. The way they best enforce these policies is by denying access to the Play Store on devices that don't give preferential treatment to Google's services, even above the manufacturer's.

This week, Bloomberg has reported on a new threat to Google's Android policies, stating,

FTC officials have met with technology company representatives who say Google gives priority to its own services on the Android platform, while restricting others, added the people, who asked for anonymity because the matter is confidential.

This means that 2 years after the FTC ended their search investigation in Google's practices, the organization is once again ramping up its investigation into Google. The previous investigation was mostly solo in the global market, while this one, which began earlier in the year, is matched in countries worldwide, including the charges in Russia.

Meetings between the FTC and Google indicate that the FTC is gathering physical evidence to support a possible case against the company. While it might seem like a slam-dunk, being as they have already been charged elsewhere, Google seems to be good at getting out of trouble. We do remember the slap on the wrist when they actively stole data from unsuspecting homes via their StreetView cars. Because of that, anything is still possible.

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AVG's New Privacy Policy Will Sell Customer Data to Advertisers

posted Sunday Sep 20, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

With the sensitive topic of data privacy and protection being so prevalent as of late, would you ever expect an anti-virus and Internet security company to breach consumers' trust of said data and privacy? This week, we might have seen it all, as AVG is now in the hot seat for their latest privacy policy, which openly states that it will sell your information.

A new privacy policy will be enacted across all AVG products beginning October 15th. In it, AVG says that in order to support its free version of the insanely popular anti-virus, it will be mining, collecting and selling your data. AVG says not to worry though, as it will not sell personally identifiable info.

We collect non-personal data to make money from our free offerings so we can keep them free, including:

- Advertising ID associated with your device;

- Browsing and search history, including meta data;

- Internet service provider or mobile network you use to connect to our products; and

- Information regarding other applications you may have on your device and how they are used.

There are two important things to note here. First, I do commend AVG for proactively putting up a blog post before implementing the policy, allowing users to decide whether or not to use their service moving forward. The second thing to mention is merely a friendly reminder that whenever a product is free, almost every time it is because the end-user is a product for the company. This is the case here, as it is with Facebook and many other services that have no charge to the consumer on the web.

AVG did say that even though it won't sell your address, age, IP and the like, that the info may still be shared with its partners if they ask. The Czech-based company also said that things like credit card details will never be sold, but they might be leaked inside your browsing history that AVG will send to advertisers. Those two facts alone should be enough for anyone to deter from using these products, so long as those people are concerned with their data. Again, the policy goes into effect on October 15th, giving you enough time to uninstall any AVG-related product and replace it with something else, if you so choose.

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AT&T Sues Three Former Employees, a Company, for Illegal Unlocking Scheme

posted Sunday Sep 20, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

AT&T Sues Three Former Employees, a Company, for Illegal Unlocking Scheme

The ability to unlock your smartphone may be beneficial to some people who want to switch carriers and take their device with them. But what would happen if your phone was being illegally unlocked, without your permission, using malware on AT&T's computers? Well, if you're AT&T, those actions have resulted in a lawsuit against the offending parties.

AT&T has filed suit against three people who formally worked for the company, along with a business that paid the employees to install malware on AT&T's computers that allowed them to unlock thousands of phones without consent of AT&T or the customer. Marc Sapatin, Nguyen Lam and Kyra Evans were all served this week with the suit papers, as well as Prashan Vira, who owns the company Swift Unlocks. AT&T alleges that the four conspirators were involved in the illegal operation in 2013 when the three employees were working at an AT&T call center in Washington.

AT&T says in the filing documents that by unlocking all of these devices, the employees have cost AT&T a ton of money from the disabling of pre-installed software.

"Unlocking" a phone disables certain software pre-installed by the phone manufacturers, which is designed to limit the activation of the phones exclusively to AT&T's network. Once a phone is unlocked, it can be used on multiple carrier systems rather than exclusively with AT&T.

The software is vital to AT&T's business because it allows AT&T to subsidize the cost of the phone to consumers while protecting AT&T's investment in the phones through term contracts. The software also protects AT&T's goodwill with respect to phones that carry AT&T's brand, because some of the phones' functionality may not work as effectively on non-AT&T networks.

Whether or not you believe that unlocking a phone disables a phone's functionality, the fact of the matter is Evans was paid $20,000 and Sapatin paid over $10,000 for the unlocking of the devices by Swift Unlocks. AT&T did not accuse Lam of receiving money but did accuse the employee of installing the malware to the workstations. Lam was fired by AT&T. Evans and Sapatin both quit.

AT&T clarified that the individuals involved in this did not access customer information not did their actions impact customers other than having their phones unlocked.

We're seeking damages and injunctive relief from several people who engaged in a scheme a couple of years ago to illegally unlock wireless telephones used on our network. It's important to note that this did not involve any improper access of customer information, or any adverse effect on our customers.

The accused parties will have 21 days to respond to the summons issued this week, with AT&T demanding a jury trial.

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Xbox Stays Committed to the 360, Launches Handful of New Updates

posted Saturday Sep 19, 2015 by Nicholas DiMeo

Xbox Stays Committed to the 360, Launches Handful of New Updates

Even though the Xbox One is well past its freshman year, Microsoft is still committed to the Xbox 360. With new preview programs, free games and other enhancements, both the current-gen and old-gen consoles are well worth their value. The Xbox team is looking to add to that value by giving Xbox 360 users more abilities and linking the console to the Windows 10 world.

First, one of the frustrations when using the 360 was that you were unable to see what your Xbox One friends were doing. That's no longer the case as a new 360 update will allow you to see what your friends are up to on Xbox One or in Windows 10.

The 360 also had its Cloud Storage featured upgraded. Major Nelson announced that the 512MB limit has been lifted to 2GB this week. That great benefit comes along with the ability to now redeem codes from messages, access Microsoft Movies & TV, play music from Groove Music and other minor improvements.

However, that's not where it ends. Xbox's Mike Ybarra took to Twitter to talk about more of the features that Xbox 360 users would see in the coming weeks. On that list is the ability to gift your friends money for their Microsoft accounts. His tweet, while naturally short, said,

Full flow for gifting $ to friends via 360 will be turned on soon. Not yet!

This is a huge deal as it is the first time we have seen the ability to give money to friends on consoles. And while there is no word if it will show up on the Xbox One, it would seem like a natural extension and fitting for the current-gen device to also sport the cash-gifting feature. Still, all of these updates to the 360 certainly extend the life of the console and further cement Microsoft's commitment to the console. Plus, an older but still very popular console is a nice testing ground for features that may be considered for the Xbox One. Microsoft has a captive audience and it makes sense for the company to use its loyal user base to test out future concepts and ideas.

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Original Star Wars Films Tipped for Re-Release

posted Saturday Sep 19, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Original <i>Star Wars</i> Films Tipped for Re-Release

It has been a long time since the original Star Wars films were available to the public. Because Lucas cannot leave a good thing alone, it seems like every few years he releases another special edition, with changes to the graphics, the characters, the environments and, in one annoying case, the story of the film. Well, it appears that Lucas, or possibly Disney, in their infinite wisdom, are considering re-releasing the original theatrical cuts of the films.

Director John Landis, a friend of George Lucas, has apparently suggested the importance of re-releasing the films before the next film releases. This would give a new generation of fans the ability to experience the films the way they were originally intended to be seen, not in their remastered, or bastardized depending on your views, versions.

Let's be clear - there is no official confirmation from either company about this topic. There is, however, a Q&A with Landis himself, speaking at the opening night of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort. Oblivious of the importance of the words being spoken, Landis discusses his conversation with George Lucas, documented on Twitter by Empire Magazine.

There will be issues before this potential becomes reality. First, George Lucas no longer owns Lucasfilm, the company that is responsible for the franchise. Disney would be responsible for approving the rerelease. However, Disney isn't the only company involved. Like with several portions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 20th Century Fox would have to be involved as well, as they have the distribution rights to Episode IV: A New Hope. Unfortunately, the two companies have not been working well together, with Fox preventing the inclusion of the X-Men and Fantastic Four from joining the primary storyline, so it is a longshot to get them onboard, assuming Disney is event interested.

As this rumor is beyond shaky, it is completely probable that absolutely nothing will come of this. However, the possibility of seeing Han shoot first on Blu-Ray is enough to get the Star Wars fans excited.

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Google Adds Another Country to Those Asserting Anti-Trust

posted Saturday Sep 19, 2015 by Scott Ertz

Google Adds Another Country to Those Asserting Anti-Trust

In the technology world, it sucks to be on top. In the late 90s, when the Internet was just becoming popular with average consumers, Microsoft saw that the Internet was the part of computers people understood how to use, and decided to make Windows more Internet-y. Rather than writing new software for this task, they included Internet Explorer as part of the operating system. What would become the EU wasn't happy, and they sued Microsoft for the convenience.

Today, Google is at the top of the Internet pile, and some of their decisions have brought upon them the same response that Microsoft received in the 90s. Country after country has started investigations of filed antitrust suits against Google for a variety of reasons. From the US FTC to France, the European Union and beyond, everyone seems to want a piece of Google. Some of the topics have been ridiculous, but others have some merit.

Russia believes they have enough of merit at this point, having ruled that Google has violated antitrust laws in the country. Their point of contention with the company is that Google requires hardware manufacturers to include certain Google apps and branding in their phones and tablets if they want to access Google Play.

Interestingly, Russia did not get involved in the Microsoft situation in the 90s. This varies from Microsoft in one really important way - the Google apps are not essential to the operation of Android, but instead are supplementary, and are included as a matter of forced policy as opposed to necessity. On the other hand, Internet Explorer was included as a matter of inclusion in the operating system and computer manufactures were free to install additional browsers and set them as default.

Under law, Google could face fines of up to 15 percent of revenue generated within the Russian Federation as a result of the deceit. It is not certain what the exact details of the ruling will be, but it is likely that the clause requiring Google services will be removed for the market, and a steep financial penalty. The full draft of the ruling, and its result, will be available within 2 weeks.

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