Verizon’s new app launcher brings spyware to all its Android phones, says EFF

spyphone.jpg

As Verizon prepares to roll out the AppFlash app launcher to all of its Android users, the company is essentially putting spyware on its subscribers phones, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The launcher will track what apps users have downloaded so it can provide more relevant ads, the group stated.

According to the EFF, Verizon’s use of AppFlash is a “display of wireless carriers’ stunning willingness to compromise the security and privacy of their customers by installing spyware on end devices.”

In late March, Verizon announced that it was working with app search technology provider Evie to create AppFlash as the default search experience for Android users on Verizon. As reported by TechCrunch, when users swipe left from their home screen, they will be able to access the search features or recommendation of AppFlash.

SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)

As pointed out by Corbin Davenport on Android Police, the new launcher doesn’t really offer any functionality above and beyond what the standard Google Search is capable of. That could give weight to the theory that it exists solely for information collection and advertising purposes.

Another concern is the AppFlash Privacy Policy itself, posted on the Verizon website here. Here’s what information the policy said is collected:

We collect information about your device and your use of the AppFlash services. This information includes your mobile number, device identifiers, device type and operating system, and information about the AppFlash features and services you use and your interactions with them. We also access information about the list of apps you have on your device.

With your permission, AppFlash also collects information about your device’s precise location from your device operating system as well as contact information you store on your device.

Information is used to personalize user experiences on their mobile devices, “including the advertisements you see,” the policy said. The policy also states that the information could be shared among other Verizon companies, such as AOL.

While this may sound concerning to some, the policy did say that users can control the collection of location and contact information in the settings, and that they can opt-out of targeted advertising.

“We are testing AppFlash to make app discovery better for consumers,” according to a Verizon spokesperson. “The test is on a single phone – LG K20 V – and you have to opt-in to use the app. Or, you can easily disable the app. Nobody is required to use it. Verizon is committed to your privacy.”

Outside of the privacy concerns, though, the EFF also said that AppFlash creates an increased attack surface for Android devices as well.

“You can bet that with Verizon rolling this app out to such a large number of devices, hackers will be probing it for vulnerabilities, to see if they can use it as a backdoor they can break into,” the EFF’s post said. “We sincerely hope Verizon has invested significant resources in ensuring that AppFlash is secure, because if it’s not, the damage to Americans’ cybersecurity could be disastrous.”

What do you think?

Is Verizon’s use of AppFlash a concern? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Verizon will soon roll out a new launcher called AppFlash, that some privacy advocates have accused of being spyware.
  2. The launcher tracks what apps users have installed, in order to provide relevant advertising for Android phones on Verizon.
  3. Users can opt-out of the data collection, but the EFF said it believes the launcher presents a cybersecurity concern as well.

Google reveals latest UK tax bill

Google office

Google was charged £36.4m in UK corporation tax last year, according to its latest annual results.

The US search giant recorded sales of £1.03bn and a pre-tax profit of £149m in the UK for the 12 months to the end of June 2016.

Google and other major tech firms have come under pressure over their tax arrangements.

The firm paid about £25m in UK tax last year, but said it expected to make a further payment of about £12m.

Google’s accounts also showed it hired an extra 600 workers to take its UK workforce to nearly 3,000 last year.

A Google spokesman said: “As an international business, we pay the majority of our taxes in our home country, as well as all the taxes due in the UK.

“We have recently announced significant new investment in the UK, including new offices in Kings Cross for 7,000 staff.”

Google agreed to pay to the UK last year, which was widely criticised as too lenient.

George Osborne, who was chancellor at the time, described the deal as a “victory”, while Labour’s John McDonnell said the sums were “trivial”.

Reckitt Benckiser slashes boss’s pay by 40%

Gaviscon packet

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Durex condoms and Gaviscon, has cut its chief executive’s pay package by 39% after a safety scandal that engulfed its South Korean division.

Rakesh Kapoor will receive £14.6m for 2016, down from £25.5m in 2015.

It also said it would be reducing his share awards for 2017 if RB’s proposed acquisition of Mead Johnson went ahead.

The firm has previously been accused of having excessive pay levels.

Judy Sprieser, chair of RB’s remuneration committee, said: “[We have] taken action in respect of both of these one-off events… following extensive engagement with our shareholders throughout the year.”

Last May, for selling a humidifier disinfectant that killed 93 people in South Korea between 2001 and 2011.

The firm apologised and set up a fund to compensate victims, however the tragedy led to one of its South Korean executives being jailed.

On Friday, RB said it had also cut Mr Kapoor’s pay in light of the events, even though they happened before he started his job.

It also said it had taken “feedback” from RB’s major shareholders over the , maker of infant formula.

Earlier this year, some shareholders suggested Mr Kapoor had pursued the £14,2bn tie-up to ensure he hit lucrative bonus targets.

Mr Kapoor said the deal was in line with company strategy and would generate £200m of cost savings after three years – although it would not generate a return for about five years.

Last year, some 17.7% shareholders voted against his remuneration package, while the firm faced criticism from lobby groups over its pay levels.

Mr Kapoor, who became chief executive in 2011, was Britain’s third highest-paid chief executive in 2015.

Ford CEO Fields’ compensation rose 19% last year

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields’ total compensation jumped 19 percent last year, a regulatory filing by the automaker showed.

His total compensation was $22.1 million, up from the $18.6 million he made in 2015, according to the company’s annual shareholder proxy statement, released Friday.

That includes a $1,787,500 base salary, a $2,736,000 million cash bonus and $14,298,356 worth of long-term stock and performance-based equity awards, making the value of the compensation awarded to Fields during the year — excluding changes in pension value and other costs — $18.8 million, up 8.4 percent from the prior year.

Part of the raise included a leap in pension values from $858,157 last year to $2.8 million this year. Pension values vary year to year and change based on factors Ford does not control.

Ford last year also spent $288,965 on Fields’ use of a private airplane.

Bill Ford

Executive Chairman Bill Ford’s total compensation rose 7.8 percent to $13.9 million last year, from $12.9 million in 2015. That included a $1,625,000 base salary, $760,000 in bonuses and $8.7 million in long-term stock options. The automaker spent $189,489 on Ford’s use of a personal aircraft and $898,066 on security for him.

Joe Hinrichs, president of the Americas, made $6.7 million in total compensation, up slightly from the $6.4 million he earned in 2015. His awarded compensation, including a base salary of $1,053,500, came to $5.8 million, down 4.7 percent from $6.1 million a year earlier.

Jim Farley, president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, received total compensation of $6.6 million, up 14 percent from $5.8 million in 2015. That included a $918,750 base salary, $949,050 in bonuses and $3,597,900 in long-term stock awards.

CFO Bob Shanks’ total compensation rose 13 percent to $6.3 million from $5.6 million a year earlier. That included a base salary of $858,000, $656,640 in bonuses and $3,793,207 in long-term stock options.

Missed targets

Last year, Ford Motor hit on 76 percent of its targets for executive bonuses, compared to 113 percent in 2015, the company said.

Much of that drop is due to a decrease in its quality targets. Ford hit 52 percent of its quality goals in 2016, down from 118 percent in 2015.

Ford measures quality in three phases: things gone wrong at three months of ownership; customer satisfaction at three months of ownership; and warranty spending per business unit. Ford would not break down each segment’s performance, but said its North American performance on things gone wrong was similar in 2015 and 2016, but the company had set more stringent targets for itself last year.

Shareholders’ meeting

Ford’s annual shareholder’s meeting will be May 11. Normally held in Delaware, where the automaker is incorporated, this year’s meeting will be virtual.

“We take very seriously the trust that our shareholders place in our leadership team,” Bill Ford said in a statement. “The annual meeting is an important opportunity for us to hear directly from our shareholders, and the virtual nature of this year’s meeting will enable us to increase shareholder accessibility, while improving efficiency and reducing costs.”

Shareholders will be able to listen, vote and submit questions from their homes or any remote location with internet connectivity.

On the agenda again is a shareholder proposal to end Ford’s two-tier class stock system, which allows family members to maintain control of the company.

Ford earned a $10.4 billion pretax profit last year. It expects to make about $9 billion this year.

Google launches free Optimize A/B testing tool for SMBs

google-optimize.png

Google Optimize, recently launched out of beta, offers small businesses a free way to test and improve their company website.

Google Optimize is aimed at small businesses and professionals and it is the free version of Google Optimize 360. It began beta testing six months ago. Meanwhile, the core version of Google Optimize 360 began beta testing earlier in 2016. Both provide website testing in conjunction with Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager and both are available in 180 countries.

Both versions of the tools allow businesses to try out different versions of their company websites to see how each version performs based on the desired outcomes. They allow for a full A/B test with a WYSIWYG visual editor with drag-and-drop components. Tests can be targeted to specific types of users, and URL rules can be set to determine the pages that should be tested.

Optimize is free, but Optimize 360 is not. Optimize 360 doesn’t have a price listed online, but Convert has listed it at more than $150,000 a year. The differences are mainly in how many tests can be run at once. The free version only allows for three concurrent tests, and target metrics are limited to three as well. Optimize 360 has unlimited tests and target metrics available.

SEE: How do multi-device consumers really behave? Google thinks Analytics 360 Suite will tell you (ZDNet)

The testing option is already proving to be popular, with approximately 250,000 users asking for access to Google Optimize since it entered beta last year, according to Google.

Three big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. Google has released Optimize out of beta and it’s free to use so that businesses can test various versions of their websites.
  2. Optimize A/B is the free version of the pricey Optimize 360, which some have pegged as high as $150,000 a year.
  3. The free version has the same features as the more expensive one, but it is limited in how many concurrent tests can be conducted on your site.

Verizon’s LTE Cat M1 network could make enterprise IoT deployments cheaper, faster

verizonioth.jpg

On Friday, Verizon launched a new commercial 4G LTE Category M1 (Cat M1) network, aimed at making it easier and cheaper for businesses to launch IoT deployments. The network, announced via press release, will cover 2.4 million square miles and is the “industry’s first” of its kind.

For those unfamiliar, Cat M1 is a type of chipset often used in the kind of low-power sensors one would find in an IoT device. As noted in the release, they are used in everything from asset trackers to connected water meters.

For users who want to begin investing in IoT, Verizon’s new Cat M1 network can provide scalability and coverage, as well as security features, the release said. The network, itself, is built on a “virtualized cloud environment,” allowing customers to more quickly deploy their IoT solutions. The release also noted that Verizon is using the network to provide more economical data plans.

SEE: Big data and IoT matter to 56% of organizations (Tech Pro Research)

“As the natural shift from CDMA-based IoT solutions to the more robust and cloud-based LTE technology occurs, it’s important we stay ahead of that technology evolution for our customers so we can continue to provide them service on the best and most advanced wireless network,” Mike Haberman, network vice president at Verizon, said in the release. “Our commercial deployment of the nationwide LTE Cat M1 network does just that.”

The rate plans for the data associated with the new network will occur in multi-year increments and will start at $2 per month per device, the release said. Businesses or developers looking to connect in bulk will have additional bundling options as well.

“By launching this network with a fresh set of connectivity rate options, we’re not only continuing to lead the way for IoT, but we’re also enabling true scalability from millions to billions of IoT devices in a simple, secure manner and at a reduced cost to connect, all on America’s most reliable LTE network,” Mike Lanman, senior vice president of business products and IoT at Verizon, said in the release.

Certified chipsets and other hardware are currently available from Sequans, Telit, Qualcomm Technologies, Encore Networks, Link Labs, and NimbeLink, the release said. Additional partners in Verizon’s Cat M1 ecosystem include Sierra Wireless, Gemalto, Qualcomm Technologies, and Altair.

Additionally, the release also said that the new Cat M1 network will also integrate with Verizon’s ThingSpace Platform and ThingSpace Client.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. On Friday, Verizon launched its 4G LTE Category M1 (Cat M1) network, which could make it easier and cheaper for businesses to launch IoT initiatives.
  2. Data plans for the new network will start at $2 per month per device, with other bundling options available for bulk activations.
  3. Verizon has a host of partners working in the ecosystem and the network will integrate with the company’s ThingSpace Platform and ThingSpace Client.

Apple drops clues about self-driving car program, confirms work with Bosch

Apple may have left another clue that its self-driving car project is still alive.

In February, the tech giant published a list of suppliers it is working with, including Robert Bosch. Apple lists Bosch’s office in Reutlingen, Germany, which houses the supplier’s automotive electronics division.

A spokesman for Apple declined to comment on the relationship and a spokesman for Bosch did not respond to a request for comment.

To be sure, Bosch’s Reutlingen office also handles non-automotive electronics, such as sensors for consumer electronics devices, according to the company’s website. However, many of the products developed in the division are automotive-related, including components for vehicle sensors and electronic control units, which power braking, steering and other vehicle systems.

Apple’s relationship with Bosch follows the company’s public comment on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s autonomous vehicle guidelines.

“The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation,” the comment states.

The comment, authored by Steve Kenner, who left his position as director of Ford Motor Co.’s automotive safety office two years ago to head Apple’s product integrity unit, rekindled speculation over Apple’s automotive aspirations after the company reportedly laid off many of the engineers working on its car project.

SpaceX makes history with recycled rocket launching a satellite

3336103520069c831d5c1k.jpg

Private spaceflight company SpaceX is one step closer to its goal of deploying thousands of communication satellites with Thursday’s successful launch of a recycled Falcon 9 rocket that delivered the SES-10 satellite into orbit.

The communications satellite was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida using the Falcon 9 rocket stage that had already been to space. Thursday’s rocket landed vertically on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean a few minutes after the launch.

Recycling rockets in this method reduces costs, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, talking to attendees at a Code Conference last year. Finding ways to cut expenses makes SpaceX’s bigger plan more feasible.

SEE: SpaceX plots 4,000 satellite constellation for home broadband (ZDNet)

SpaceX did a livestream of the launch, and after the launching, Musk said, “It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight.”

In November 2016, SpaceX filed a proposal with the FCC describing the company’s plan of a space internet with 4,425 satellites in non-geostationary orbit traveling 1,110 km to 1,325 km above the Earth’s surface, with at least one satellite a minimum of 40 degrees above the horizon, covering nearly every place on the planet. The initial deployment would consist of 1,600 satellites and the final deployment of an additional 2,825 satellites, according to the FCC filing.

The satellites will provide broadband and communications services for residential, commercial, institutional, governmental, and professional users around the globe. They will use advanced phased array beam-forming and digital processing technologies within the satellite payload to make use of Ku- and Ka-band spectrum resources, according to the filing.

The SES-10 will provide communications for Latin America covering Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and with 55 KU-band transponder equivalents, it will be one of the biggest satellites covering the area and will support SES’s coverage of the region, according to a Space-X press release.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. On Thursday, SpaceX launched a communications satellite into space using a recycled rocket, an aerospace first.
  2. The communications satellite is part of a bigger plan that SpaceX has to launch a total of 4,425 satellites into space to effectively cover the entire planet with communications capabilities.
  3. The SES-10 satellite launched on Thursday will provide wireless communications capabilities for some Latin American countries.

Search the world’s largest cybercrime library

istockwelcomia.jpg

Cybercrime is a global problem because hacking is low-cost and threat vectors are copious. Because threats originate from rogue actors, professional groups, and state-sponsored organizations, cyberdefense for multinational companies—including startups and SMBs—can be a legal morass.

The UN Cybercrime Repository was developed to promote technical assistance and strengthen international cooperation in the fight against cybercrime. The repository is the only tool in the world that archives cybercrime laws, cases, and key takeaways in a searchable database. The rapidly growing index cross-references global cybercrime incidents by topic, including global cyber investigations, requests for ISP stored traffic data, incidents of real-time traffic collection, and key takeaways.

SEE: Cybersecurity in 2017: A roundup of predictions (Tech Pro Research)

“The repository enables lawmakers to draw upon the database of legislation when drafting laws on cybercrime or electronic evidence,” said Loide Lungameni, chief of the UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) Organized Crime Branch. “[The repository] facilitates international cooperation by helping law enforcement and prosecutors to identify cybercrime legislative provisions applicable in other [member states].”

uncybercrime2013.pnguncybercrime2013.png

Established in conjunction with the 2013 Comprehensive Study on Cybercrime, the database is a response to the explosion of global connectivity at “a time of economic and demographic transformations, with rising income disparities, tightened private sector spending, and reduced financial liquidity.”

“Upwards of 80 percent of cybercrime acts are estimated to originate in some form of organized activity,” the study determined, “with cybercrime black markets established on a cycle of malware creation, computer infection, botnet management, harvesting of personal and financial data, data sale, and ‘cashing out’ of financial information.”

SEE: Cybersecurity spotlight: The ransomware battle (Tech Pro Research)

The study ascertained that while computer crime is an established phenomenon, the growth of global connectivity is inseparably linked to modern digital crime. In other words, as the internet spreads through mobile and IoT devices, so too will hacking and criminal activity.

uncybercrimecauses.pnguncybercrimecauses.png

As a result, the repository has quickly emerged as a mission-critical platform that aids in training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges. It also enables lawmakers to draw upon the database of legislation when drafting laws on cybercrime or electronic evidence, Lungameni said. “[The database] facilitates international cooperation by helping law enforcement and prosecutors to identify cybercrime legislative provisions applicable in other [member States].”

The index is segmented into three compartments: The Database of Legislation provides procedural documents and evidence on cybercrime from over 180 countries; The Case Law Database is an archive of jurisprudence and legal records; and Lessons Learned is a collection of best practices and effective strategies for preventing and combatting cybercrime.

SEE: Security awareness and training policy (Tech Pro Research)

Cyber-collaboration enabled by the repository is essential, said UNODC’s Chief of the Global Programme on Cybercrime Neil Walsh, because it aids capacity-building and “[enables] parliamentarians to understand the breadth, depth and complexity of legislation, international cooperation and picture-of-threat.”

Household savings ratio falls to record low, says ONS

Shoppers

Households ran down their savings to a record low in late 2016, according to official economic growth figures.

In its third estimate of growth for the final three months of 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed the economy grew by 0.7%.

Economists said that was driven by a rise in consumer spending, helping to offset a fall in business investment.

But the figures show this spending was funded by dipping deeper into savings and running up debt.

The savings ratio fell to 3.3% in the final three months of last year, the lowest level since records began in 1963, the ONS said.

Click to see content: savingsratio_ons

The ratio has been falling since mid-2015, as consumer spending has risen by more than households’ disposable incomes have, it said.

John Hawksworth, chief economist at PwC, said: “On the surface, today’s national accounts data reconfirmed the earlier picture that the UK economy remained relatively robust in the second half of 2016 following the Brexit vote.

“Beneath the surface though, some more worrying signs are evident.”

Among them is that household net borrowing in the fourth quarter rose to over £11bn, the highest quarterly level since 1987, he said.