Архив метки: FTC

FaceApp gets federal attention as Sen. Schumer raises alarm on data use

It’s been hard to get away from FaceApp over the last few days, whether it’s your friends posting weird selfies using the app’s aging and other filters, or the brief furore over its apparent (but not actual) circumvention of permissions on iPhones. Now even the Senate is getting in on the fun: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FBI and the FTC to look into the app’s data handling practices.
“I write today to express my concerns regarding FaceApp,” he writes in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. I’ve excerpted his main concerns below:
In order to operate the application, users must provide the company full and irrevocable access to their personal photos and data. According to its privacy policy, users grant FaceApp license to use or publish content shared with the application, including their username or even their real name, without notifying them or providing compensation.
Furthermore, it is unclear how long FaceApp retains a user’s data or how a user may ensure their data is deleted after usage. These forms of “dark patterns,” which manifest in opaque disclosures and broader user authorizations, can be misleading to consumers and may even constitute a deceptive trade practices. Thus, I have serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it.
In particular, FaceApp’s location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of U.S. citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments.
For the cave-dwellers among you (and among whom I normally would proudly count myself) FaceApp is a selfie app that uses AI-esque techniques to apply various changes to faces, making them look older or younger, adding accessories, and, infamously, changing their race. That didn’t go over so well.
There’s been a surge in popularity over the last week, but it was also noticed that the app seemed to be able to access your photos whether you said it could or not. It turns out that this is actually a normal capability of iOS, but it was being deployed here in somewhat of a sneaky manner and not as intended. And arguably it was a mistake on Apple’s part to let this method of selecting a single photo go against the “never” preference for photo access that a user had set.
Fortunately the Senator’s team is not worried about this or even the unfounded (we checked) concerns that FaceApp was secretly sending your data off in the background. It isn’t. But it very much does send your data to Russia when you tell it to give you an old face, or a hipster face, or whatever. Because the computers that do the actual photo manipulation are located there — these filters are being applied in the cloud, not directly on your phone.
His concerns are over the lack of transparency that user data is being sent out to servers who knows where, to be kept for who knows how long, and sold to who knows whom. Fortunately the obliging FaceApp managed to answer most of these questions before the Senator’s letter was ever posted.

FaceApp responds to privacy concerns 

The answers to his questions, should we choose to believe them, are that user data is not in fact sent to Russia, the company doesn’t track users and usually can’t, doesn’t sell data to third parties, and deletes “most” photos within 48 hours.
Although the “dark patterns” of which the Senator speaks are indeed an issue, and although it would have been much better if FaceApp had said up front what it does with your data, this is hardly an attempt by a Russian adversary to build up a database of U.S. citizens.
While it is good to see Congress engaging with digital privacy, asking the FBI and FTC to look into a single app seems unproductive when that app is not doing much that a hundred others, American and otherwise, have been doing for years. Cloud-based processing and storage of user data is commonplace — though usually disclosed a little better.
Certainly as Sen. Schumer suggests, the FTC should make sure that “there are adequate safeguards in place to protect the privacy of Americans…and if not, that the public be made aware of the risks associated with the use of this application or others similar to it.” But this seems the wrong nail to hang that on. We see surreptitious slurping of contact lists, deceptive deletion promises, third-party sharing of poorly anonymized data, and other bad practices in apps and services all the time — if the federal government wants to intervene, let’s have it. But let’s have a law or a regulation, not a strongly worded letter written after the fact.
Schumer Faceapp Letter by TechCrunch on Scribd

FaceApp gets federal attention as Sen. Schumer raises alarm on data use

You might hate it, but Facebook Stories now has 500M users

You might think it’s redundant with Instagram Stories, or just don’t want to see high school friends’ boring lives, but ephemeral Snapchat-style Stories now have 500 million daily users across Facebook and Messenger. WhatsApp’s Stories feature Status has 500 million dailies too, and Instagram hit that milestone three months ago. That’s impressive, because it means one-third of Facebook’s 1.56 billion daily users are posting or watching Stories each day, up from zero when Facebook launched the feature two years ago.
For reference, Stories inventor Snapchat has just 190 million total daily users.
Facebook Stories
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the new stats on today’s Facebook Q1 2019 earnings call, which showed it’s user growth rate had increased but it had to save $3 billion for a potential FTC fine over privacy practices.
Facebook isn’t just using Stories to keep people engaged, but to squeeze more cash out of them. Today COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that 3 million advertisers have now bought Stories ads across Facebook’s family of apps. I’d expect Facebook to launch a Stories Ad Network soon so other apps can show Facebook’s vertical video ads and get a cut of the revenue.

Facebook’s aggressive move to clone Snapchat Stories not just in Instagram but everywhere might have pissed users off at first, but many of them have come around. If you give people a place to put their face at the top of their friends’ phones, they’ll fill it. And if someone dangles a window into the lives of people you know and people you wish you did, you’ll open that window regularly.

Facebook reserves $3B for FTC fine, but keeps growing with 2.38B users in Q1

You might hate it, but Facebook Stories now has 500M users

FTC smacks down robocallers, but the penalties don’t match their heinous crimes

The fight against robocallers is just getting started, and the wheel of justice turns slowly, but the FTC just took down a handful of major operations responsible for billions of unwanted calls, some of them adding additional fraud to the mix. The money coming out of the cases is surprisingly small, however — but there’s a reason for that.
In an announcement yesterday, the FTC said it had taken down four operations: NetDotSolutions, which did all kinds of marketing with a custom mass dialing platform; Higher Goals Marketing, which promised fake debt relief; Pointbreak Media, which threatened to delist companies from Google unless they paid; Veterans of America, AKA Saving Our Soldiers, AKA Act of Valor, whose creator Travis Deloy Peterson deserves a special place in hell for scamming people trying to donate vehicles to vets.
Together they accounted for some two billion calls, which in the context of the five billion made every month may seem to be a drop in the bucket, but at this point even a slight reduction is welcome.

FCC tells carriers they must adopt a system to detect scam robocalls by next year

What is less heartening is the scale of the penalties. Although the cases resulted in judgments totaling some 24 million dollars, the actual amount the scammers will end up paying will end up closer to $3-4 million. One scammer whose judgments totaled more than $5 million will be suspended when he pays just $18,332 — and whatever comes from the sale of his shiny new Mercedes.
I talked with an FTC spokesperson about why this is the case. They explained that the judgment amount is essentially a ceiling defined by how much consumer harm was done, but most times the defendants have nowhere near that much available as money or assets. You can only get as much as they have, and sometimes that’s not a lot.
Especially in Florida, they went on, where the Homestead rule means that houses can’t be seized in these proceedings — meaning a robocall scammer based in the state could make 10 million bucks, drop it all on a house, and then declare they have no assets when the FTC or whoever comes knocking. This seems likely to be the case with Mr “I only have 18 grand and a 2017 Mercedes CLS” above, who is indeed a Floridian.
The FTC goes to great lengths to investigate and enumerate a defendant’s assets, but they can’t seize what isn’t there. In the case of a large company like Dish, a massive judgment like last year’s $180 million one may end up being paid in full — but individuals and small, fly-by-night businesses are considerably harder to pin down.
Even so, the agency collects quite a bit of cash to return to affected consumers, which should happen with the money here as well. You won’t see a dime just for getting annoyed by calls, though — you’d need to show that it was one of these companies and that they defrauded you, or attempted to.
More importantly, the people and companies in question are immediately shut down and the people involved forbidden from doing anything like this again. Consumer relief is the FTC’s goal, and if they chose to litigate, the case could be drawn out for years, all while the company and call network continues to operate or develops layers of insulation against the law.
You can read the full release and order documents at the FTC’s site — but be warned it may make you angry to hear about these slimeballs living the high life.

FTC smacks down robocallers, but the penalties don’t match their heinous crimes

Facebook’s $38 Share Price Makes Instagram Deal Worth Nearly $1.2 Billion


Facebook’s $38 share price would make its deal to buy Instagram worth nearly $1.2 billion, up from the roughly $1 billion price the company announced in April.

That’s a nice little bump but the deal hasn’t gone through given regulatory reviews. On top of that, we don’t know the restrictions on the shares like when they vest or if they’re subject to lock-up period. Plus, shares may pop tomorrow and their value will probably fluctuate a lot by the time six-month lock-up date hits. When Facebook agreed to buy Instagram, it said it would pay with $300 million in cash and 22,999,412 shares of stock. That stock is now worth nearly $874 million, creating a $1.17 billion price tag.

Originally, Facebook said the deal was going to close by the end of June, according to its IPO filing. But now it appears that it may take longer because of a more thorough FTC investigation. There’s a requisite investigation if a deal is more than $66 million. But because of the more than $1 billion price that Facebook paid and the reach of both companies, the commission is said to be looking a little bit more closely at the deal, a source with knowledge of the talks tells us. The FTC usually doesn’t publicly confirm investigations until they’re over, and hasn’t publicly confirmed if they’re doing one on this deal.

But there is evidence that it’s taking longer than expected. Facebook changed its IPO filing earlier this month by amending a sentence projecting a second quarter close for the Instagram deal. It now forecasts a close sometime by the end of the year. If the government blocks the deal, Facebook has agreed to pay Instagram a $200 million kill fee, according to its IPO filing.

Because of this, Instagram’s dozen or so employees haven’t even started at Facebook. They’re still in limbo and they’re working from their San Francisco headquarters on the app, instead of Facebook’s Menlo Park office. Meanwhile, Facebook is also trying to improve its own mobile offerings; it recently boosted the size of photographs in the mobile news feed, making the overall experience more Instagram-like.

While the deal is ultimately expected to go through, a Facebook-Instagram acquisition poses several challenges for the FTC. For one, the FTC’s merger guidelines happen to focus a lot on pricing power, and how a merger would affect a company’s ability to raise prices and decrease output. But both Facebook and Instagram give their products away for free.

The other components of the FTC and Department of Justice’s guidelines have to do with market share. They’ll add up the square of different market shares for competing firms, creating a number called the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index. If it’s above 2500, then the market is highly concentrated. If it’s below 1500, then it’s unconcentrated.

But again, it’s not clear how this applies in a market where companies can rise and fall so quickly. Instagram basically appeared out of nowhere. It racked up nearly 40 million users in about 18 months. Plus, the time it takes for any given company to gain millions of daily active users is declining, partly because of the virality of the Facebook platform itself and then because the iOS and Android platforms are finally reaching scale.

So how do you apply a formula like this when changes in market share are so dynamic? The last time the FTC took a close look at a consumer web deal of this size, it was back in 2009 with the $750 million Google-Admob acquisition. The commission unanimously closed it after Apple entered the competitive field with its acquisition of rival mobile ad network Quattro, which became iAd. However, there hasn’t been a smartphone app deal of comparable size to Instagram — yet.

Facebook’s $38 Share Price Makes Instagram Deal Worth Nearly $1.2 Billion

Samsung Fined In Korea (Again) For Obstructing Price Fixing Investigation


When Samsung (among others) was called out for taking part in a mobile price-fixing scheme last week I expected the company to pony up the 14.2 billion won and keep their collective heads down for a while. That would’ve been the smart move: pay up, show remorse, move on, etc.

A few Samsung execs had a different idea though. According to the Korea JoongAng Daily, they instead obstructed an official investigation by the country’s Fair Trade Commission shortly thereafter, which netted the company another 400 million won ($356,000) in fines.

The fine may not sound like much — especially in comparison to the one they were hit with last week — but it’s the largest that the Korean Fair Trade Commission has ever meted out for obstructing an investigation. That should give you an idea of how seriously the Korean government seems to be taking this situation, but what exactly did those Samsung employees do?

The extent to which Samsung employees tried to cover up the company’s misdeeds was pretty astounding. A small group of Samsung security guards attempted to bar a team of investigators from entering the premises, even going so far as to say that President Lee Myung-Bak wouldn’t be able to enter without an appointment. While they ran interference, a “high-level executive in the wireless department” ordered employees to get ride of related data and replace computers to cover their tracks.

And that’s not all. The Korea Herald reports that Samsung occasionally provided the FTC with falsified information intended to throw off the commission’s investigation.

One unnamed Samsung executive was particularly tricky — he not only lied about attending a meeting in Seoul on the day of the investigation, he was also found to have completely wiped his PC’s hard drive. He later admitted that his computer contained information about their deals with carrier SK Telecom, who received the lion’s share of fines (20.2 billion won, or $17.9 million) doled out by the FTC last week.

You have to wonder what was going though these guys’ heads; did they honestly thought a quick-and-dirty coverup would be enough to stymie investigators? The whole thing seems very brazen to me, though I suppose I can see where fear and panic would take hold of these execs and drive them (and their employees by extension) to do some ridiculous things.

Samsung Fined In Korea (Again) For Obstructing Price Fixing Investigation