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Verizon Wins Top Honors For Mobile Network Performance In U.S. Cities

July 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

RootMetrics awarded Verizon Wireless its seal of approval in its latest biannual ranking of wireless network performance in cities across the U.S.

Verizon ranked first or was tied for first in 115 of 125 cities for overall network performance during the first half of 2014, leading all three other national carriers — AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Sprint didn’t finish first in any of the cities, while Verizon tied with either AT&T or T-Mobile, or both, in 56. That meant that AT&T was the only first place finisher in 59 cities, including major cities such as Cincinnati, Colorado Springs, Colo., Daytona Beach, Fla., Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Seattle.

RootMetrics found that Verizon finished first in 23 of 50 airport network evaluations for the first half of the year and tied for first in seven out of 50 airports. Verizon won or tied at four major airports: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver.

Verizon has its 4G LTE network in 500 U.S. cities, providing access to 97% of the U.S. population. RootMetrics used devices capable of connecting to Verizon’s XLTE network, now operating in 300 cities.

XLTE uses AWS spectrum.

RootMetrics is an independent research company that uses testers driving in cars and in stationary locations, both indoors and outdoors, to conduct thousands of tests in each city to evaluate reliability and speed of connections and call, data and text performance. The company uses unmodified smartphones purchased off-the-shelf from operator stores.

 

Google, Dropbox Team Up To Ward Off Patent Trolls

July 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google, Dropbox and a few other high-tech firms have devised a new way to help protect themselves against patent trolls.

Patent trolls, or “non-practicing entities,” are companies that buy up old patents and try to monetize them by accusing others of infringement. They usually request a one-off licensing fee to end a lawsuit, something many companies reluctantly pay because it’s cheaper than defending the claim.

The practice has become a significant problem in the high-tech field, in part because of the complex nature of modern software and hardware.

In an attempt to stop it, six high-tech companies have banded together to launch the License on Transfer Network, or LOT Network.

Members of Lotnet retain full ownership and licensing rights of their patents, but they agree to provide each other with a royalty-free license should any of the patents ever be sold.

That means if Dropbox, for instance, sells a patent on data storage to a third party, Google and the other members will first receive a license to the technology. That should insulate them from any lawsuits brought by the patent’s new owner.

Besides Google and Dropbox, the launch members include SAP, Canon, Asana and Newegg. They hope the agreement will reduce the nuisance of patent trolling.

“The LOT Network is a sort of arms control for the patent world,” said Allen Lo, deputy general counsel for patents at Google, in a statement. “By working together, we can cut down on patent litigation, allowing us to focus instead on building great products.”

The group is offering membership to other technology companies.

 

eBay’s Braintree Wants To Boost Mobile Shopping

July 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Braintree, the payments gateway owned by eBay Inc, is working on removing a hurdle for e-commerce companies by making it easier for customers to directly pay for products on their smart phones.

The company rolled out a set of tools for software developers on Wednesday that allows businesses to deduct payments directly from a customer’s PayPal account.

The developer kit is the first big push from Braintree since it was bought by eBay for $800 million last year to help PayPal, eBay’s payments division, expand its presence on mobile devices.

Eliminating the need for mobile shoppers to type in their credit card details on their phones should help boost sales, Braintree Chief Executive Bill Ready said in an interview.

This is especially critical as consumers spend more time on their smartphones, a trend that is forcing developers to design a “fundamentally different computing experience” for the smaller screen, Ready added.

Braintree processes payments for businesses including car service Uber and online home-rental marketplace Airbnb.

 

 

Can Mobile Devices Push Gaming To New Heights

July 11, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

By 2017, mobile and online games could push worldwide gaming software revenues to $100 billion. That’s according to Digi-Capital’s latest Global Games Investment Review report, which said the mobile/online game market could make up a whopping 60 percent ($60 billion) of that total thanks to a compound annual growth rate of nearly 24 percent since 2011.

The firm found mobile was the main driver of record mergers and acquisitions activity in the last year, accounting for $4.6 billion of a record $12.5 billion in games M&A. The free-to-play MMO market was the next biggest driver with $4 billion in M&A business, followed by tech interests with $2.8 billion.

That total covers the last year, but most of it has come in 2014, with gaming M&A accounting for a record $6.6 billion in the first six months of the year alone. Even if 2014 didn’t see another penny added to that total, it would be a new full-year record as well, having already eclipsed the $5.6 billion in mergers and acquisitions recorded for the entirety of 2013.

Digi-Capital offered a number of reasons for the increase of M&A activity beyond the simple attraction of massive growth in the field. The firm also said some acquirers were interested in “stopping mobile insurgents from eating their lunch,” indicating the Zynga pick-up of Natural Motion would fall under that category. It also said companies established in one region are looking to buy strength in a different part of the world (as with Softbank’s majority stake acquisition of Supercell), and lukewarm or delayed IPOs for a handful of companies in the market have made recent valuations seem like good bargains.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Facebook Takes On Lecpetex Spam Botnet

July 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook said police in Greece made two arrests last week in connection with a little-known spamming botnet called “Lecpetex,” which used hacked computers look for the Litecoin virtual currency.

As many as 50,000 Facebook accounts were affected, and as many as 250,000 computers worldwide, primarily in Greece, Poland, Norway, India, Portugal and the U.S., according to a blog post on Tuesday from Facebook’s Threat Infrastructure team.

The social networking site described the difficulties in shutting down the botnet, whose creators taunted Facebook through messages left on servers that were part of its network.

Those behind Lecpetex launched at least 20 spam campaigns between December 2013 and last month, affecting Facebook and other online services. Some of the victims received private messages containing a “.zip” attachment containing a Java JAR file or Visual Basic script.

Those files, if executed, would then retrieve other malware modules stored on remote sites. The modules were either DarkComet, a widely used remote access tool that can harvest login credentials, or variants of software that mines the virtual currency Litecoin, the team wrote.

By frequently refreshing and changing the malicious attachments, Lecpetex defeated Facebook’s filters designed to stop such malware from being distributed. The malware would also automatically update itself to evade antivirus products.

“The operators put significant effort into evading our attachment scanning services by creating many variations of the malformed zip files that would open properly in Windows, but would cause various scanning techniques to fail,” the team wrote.

Facebook said it reached out to other infrastructure providers and law enforcement when it realized security software wasn’t alone going to foil Lecpetex.

“Ultimately, remediating a threat like Lecpetex requires a combination of technical analysis capabilities, industry collaboration, agility in deploying new countermeasures and law enforcement cooperation,” it wrote.

The creators of Lecpetex eventually caught on to Facebook’s efforts. In May, they started leaving notes on command-and-control servers they knew Facebook was investigating, playfully saying they weren’t involved in fraud.

“These changes suggested to us that the authors were feeling the impact of our efforts,” Facebook wrote.

 

Standalone Wearables Coming This Year, Says AT&T

July 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

The most successful wearable devices will be ones that can operate without a phone, and AT&T will have at least one of them by the end of this year, the man who manages the carrier’s partnerships said.

“It needs to be an independent device. It needs to do something different for the end user, for people to buy it en masse,” said Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s president of emerging enterprises and partnerships.

A likely place to start could be wearables for wellness, such as a device that knows when your workout’s begun, holds your music, and lets you post information about your performance to social networks, he said. “I think you’ll see devices like that this year,” Lurie said.

The hottest devices will be able to work both on their own and with a phone, Lurie said. They’ll also have to be simple to use, a bar that no wearable has crossed yet, he said.

Once wearables start talking to LTE on their own, the sky’s the limit of what consumers will take with them, Lurie said. “Just like tablets, it’s going to all of a sudden explode.”

Cars will be another hot category of connected devices, with natural-language commands letting drivers do many things, he said.

“We believe technology in a car can make the car not only a safer place, but a place where you can do everything you can do today with your smartphone in your hand,” Lurie said. But there are hurdles left to be crossed: Cars will need to be able to talk to both Android and iOS phones without those phones coming out of the driver’s pocket. And as cars age through several generations of mobile technology, their software will have to be upgradable over the air. “The car is going to become a smartphone with four wheels.”

Lurie has overseen AT&T’s new businesses and partnerships for years, going back to the carrier’s blockbuster deal to carry the Apple iPhone exclusively for five years. Speaking before the audience at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, he wasn’t giving away any secrets about what manufacturers are showing off to AT&T.

“The things I’m seeing are pretty darn exciting,” Lurie said.

 

Verizon Says U.S. Government Made 150,000 Requests For Customer Data

July 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

The U.S. government made approximately 150,000 requests for customer information from Verizon Communications in the first half of 2014, most of them subpoenas, the country’s largest wireless carrier has reported.

The report is the second summary of government requests Verizon has publicly issued since shareholders pressured the company to divulge information it shared with the government in December.

The government issued 72,342 subpoenas, half of which request subscriber information on a given phone number or IP address, while others ask for transactional information, like the phone numbers a customer has called, according to Verizon.

Verizon also received over 37,000 court orders, including 714 wiretaps, which give access to the content of communications and over 3,000 pen registers and trap and trace orders, which give the government real-time access to outgoing and incoming phone numbers, respectively.

“We repeat our call for governments around the world to make public the number of demands they make for customer data from telecom and Internet companies,” Randal Milch, Verizon’s general counsel, wrote in a company blog.

The report included limited information on international requests. France led all foreign countries listed in the report in customer information point requests, which include phone numbers or IP addresses used to identify a customer, with 762 requests.

 

Another Security Flaw Found In Adobe Flash

July 10, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Another critical security flaw has been found for Adobe’s Flash plug-in. Google Engineer Michele Spagnuolo has written an exploit tool, called “Rosetta Flash” which allows hackers to steal your cookies and other data using malicious Flash .SWF files.

The flaw has been known about since Adam was a boy, had been left unfixed until now as nobody had found a way to harness it for evil. Twitter, Microsoft, Google and Instagram have already patched their sites, but beware of others that may still be vulnerable.

Adobe now has a fix, and if you use Chrome or Internet Explorer 10 or 11, your browser should automatically update soon with the latest versions of Flash, 14.0.0.145. However, if you have a browser like Firefox, you may want to grab the latest Flash version from Adobe directly. Just be careful, that Adobe does not stuff up your computer with its god awful McAfee plug-in.

Apps like Tweetdeck or Pandora will need to update Adobe AIR — that should happen automatically.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Firefox Losing Share Of Browser Market

July 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Firefox’s user share on all platforms — desktop and mobile — has spiraled downward in the last two months as its desktop browser continued to bleed and its attempt to capture users on smartphones failed to move the needle, new data shows.

Apple’s Safari fared almost as poorly since April, also losing significant user share, with a continued decline on mobile and a sudden slide on the desktop to blame.

During June, 17.3% of those who went online surfed the Web using a mobile browser, according to Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Net Applications. Mobile browsing’s climb of nearly 6 percentage points in the last 12 months represented a growth rate of 52%.

As in April, when Computerworld last analyzed desktop + mobile browser user share, June’s numbers put the hurt on Mozilla most of all: Firefox’s total user share — the combination of desktop and mobile — was 12.9% for June, its lowest level since Computerworld began tracking the metric five years ago, and 1.2 percentage points lower than just two months before.

Mozilla’s problem remains an inability to attract a mobile audience. Although the company has long offered Firefox on Android and its Firefox OS has begun to appear on a limited number of smartphones, its mobile share was just seven-tenths of one percent, about three times smaller than the second-from-the-bottom mobile browser, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Firefox hasn’t helped itself of late, either. For the eighth straight month, the desktop version lost user share in June, falling by 1.3 percentage points to end with 15.4%. In the last year, Firefox’s desktop user share as measured by Net Applications has dropped 3.6 percentage points, representing a 19% decline.

The timing is terrible, as Mozilla’s current contract with Google ends in November. That deal, which assigned Google’s search engine as the default for most Firefox customers, has generated the bulk of Mozilla’s revenue. In 2012, for example, the last year for which financial data was available, Google paid Mozilla an estimated $272 million, or 88% of all Mozilla income.

Going into this year’s contract renewal talks, Mozilla will be bargaining from a much weaker position, down 43% in total user share since June 2011.

Apple remained behind Mozilla in desktop + mobile browser user share, with a cumulative 12.3%, down from 13.1% two months earlier. Nearly two-third of its total was credited to Safari on iOS.

 

 

Blue Cross Mistake Exposes 18,000 Doctors Social Security Numbers

July 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The Social Security numbers of nearly 18,000 California doctors and health-care providers were mistakenly made public after a slip-up at health insurance provider Blue Shield of California, the organization said.

The numbers were included in monthly filings on medical providers that Blue Shield is required to make to the state’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC). The provider rosters for February, March and April 2013 included the data and were available under the state’s public records law.

“Because they did not recognize their error, Blue Shield did not mark the rosters as confidential or otherwise alert the DMHC to the inclusion of the SSNs,” the Department of Managed Health Care said in a letter to affected individuals.

The rosters included the Social Security numbers of providers along with their names, business addresses, business telephone numbers, medical groups and practice areas, and were released 10 times as a result of public records requests. Combined with other information, SSNs can be used in identity theft.

The requesters were other insurance companies, their attorneys and two members of the media, said Marta Green, a spokeswoman for DMHC. The department is contacting the requesters to ask that they destroy the CDs that contain the SSNs in return for new CDs with the SSNs deleted.

Typically, such requesters are using the data to evaluate their competitors, she said. As such, there is a low possibility that the data would be used for unscrupulous reasons.

Blue Shield said on Monday that it learned of the mistake after being notified by the Department of Managed Health Care. It has worked with the agency to notify the affected providers and to offer them free credit monitoring for one year, said Sean Barry, a spokesman for the organization.

“We have taken several steps to prevent this mistake from happening again,” Barry said.

DMHC said it has instigated new software routines that will attempt to detect when providers make such errors in the future.

 

AT&T Announces It Will Carry LG Smartwatch

July 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

AT&T Inc announced that it will be the first U.S. wireless carrier to sell LG Electronics’ smartwatch, a wrist watch that connects to Android phones and answers voice commands, and goes on sale on July 11.

The announcement comes as demand for wearable devices surges. Juniper Research estimates the value of the wearable device market this year at $1.5 billion, up from $800 million in 2013.

The LG “G Watch,” which was made in partnership with Google Inc, will sell for $229 and available for pre-orders starting July 8.

It has a 1.65 inch display screen that delivers notifications customers receive on their Android phones and can connect to calendars and applications.

“Because the LG G Watch works with so many of our Android smartphones, it should be a wearable device that appeals to a wide array of consumers,” Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices at AT&T, said in a statement.

“Its ability to anticipate your schedule and traveling needs will help you plan your schedule more efficiently while on-the-go.”

The announcement also comes as rumors swirl about the specifications on Apple Inc’s smartwatch, which has yet to be announced, but is expected as early as October.

 

Will EA Mimic Mobile Developers?

July 9, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Late last year, Frank Gibeau switched roles at Electronic Arts, moving from president of the PC and console-focused EA Labels to be the executive vice president of EA Mobile. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at E3 last month, Gibeau said he was enticed by the vast opportunity for growth in the mobile world, and the chance to shape the publisher’s efforts in the space.

“One of the things I enjoy doing is building new groups, new teams and taking on cool missions,” Gibeau said. “The idea was that EA is known as a console company, and for our PC business. We’re not particularly well known for our mobile efforts, and I thought it would be an awesome challenge to go in and marshal all the talent and assets of EA and, frankly, build a mobile game company.”

It might sound a little odd to hear Gibeau speaking of building a mobile game company at EA. After all, he described EA as “the king of the premium business model” in the mobile world not too long ago, when the company was topping charts with $7 apps like The Sims 3 or raking it in with paid offerings like Tetris, Monopoly, or Scrabble.

“Two years ago, we were number one on feature phones with the premium business model,” Gibeau said. “Smart devices come in, freemium comes in, and we’re rebuilding our business. I think we’ve successfully gotten back into position and we see a lot of opportunity to grow the business going forward, but if you had talked to me about two years ago and tried to speculate there would be a company called Supercell with that much share and that many games, we wouldn’t even have come close.”

Gibeau expects that pace of upheaval to continue in the mobile market, but some things seem set in stone. For example, Gibeau is so convinced that the days of premium apps are done, he has EA Mobile working exclusively on freemium these days.

“If you look at how Asia operates, premium just doesn’t exist as a business model for interactive games, whether it’s on PC or mobile devices. If you look at the opportunity set, if you’re thinking globally, you want to go freemium so you can capture the widest possible audience in Japan, Korea, China, and so on… With premium games, you just don’t get the downloads you do with a free game. It’s better to get as many people into your experience and trying it. If they connect with it, that’s great, then you can carry them for very long periods of time. With premium, given that there are so many free offerings out there, it’s very difficult to break through.”

Unfortunately for EA, its prior expertise is only so relevant in the new mobile marketplace. Its decades of work on PCs and consoles translated well to premium apps that didn’t require constant updating, but Gibeau said running live services is a very different task – one EA needs to get better at.

“Our challenge frankly is just mastering the freemium live service component of what’s happening in mobile,” Gibeau said. “That’s where we’re spending a lot of our time right now. We think we have the right IP. We have the right talent. We’ve got great production values. Our scores from users are pretty high. It’s really about being able to be as good as Supercell, King, Gungho, or some of these other companies at sustained live services for long periods of time. We have a couple games that are doing really well on that front, like The Simpsons, Sims Freeplay, and Real Racing, but in general I think that’s where we need to spend most of our time.”

As Gibeau mentioned, EA has already had some successes on that front, but its record isn’t exactly unblemished. The company launched a freemium reboot of Dungeon Keeper earlier this year and the game was heavily criticized for its aggressive monetization approach. In May, EA shuttered original developer Mythic.

“Dungeon Keeper suffered from a few things,” Gibeau said. “I don’t think we did a particularly good job marketing it or talking to fans about their expectations for what Dungeon Keeper was going to be or ultimately should be. Brands ultimately have a certain amount of permission that you can make changes to, and I think we might have innovated too much or tried some different things that people just weren’t ready for. Or, frankly, were not in tune with what the brand would have allowed us to do. We like the idea that you can bring back a brand at EA and express it in a new way. We’ve had some successes on that front, but in the case of Dungeon Keeper, that just didn’t connect with an audience for a variety of reasons.”

The Dungeon Keeper reboot wasn’t successful, but EA continues to keep the game up and running, having passed the live service responsibilities to another studio. It’s not because the company is hoping for a turnaround story so much as it’s just one more adaptation to running games with a live service model.

“If you watch some of the things we’ve been doing over the last eight or nine months, we’ve made a commitment to players,” Gibeau said. “We’re sincere and committed to that. So when you bring in a group of people to Dungeon Keeper and you serve them, create a live service, a relationship and a connection, you just can’t pull the rug out from under them. That’s just not fair. We can sustain the Dungeon Keeper business at its level for a very long time. We have a committed group of people who are playing the game and enjoying it. So our view is going to be that we’ll keep Dungeon Keeper going as long as there’s a committed and connected audience to that game. Are we going to sequel it? Probably not. [Laughs] But we don’t want to just shut stuff off and walk away. You can’t do that in a live service environment.”

Much like EA’s institutional experience, there’s only so much of Gibeau’s past in the console and PC core gaming world that is directly relevant to today’s mobile space. But as the segment grows out of what he calls the “two guys in a garage” stage, EA’s organizational expertise will be increasingly beneficial.

“These teams are starting to become fairly sizeable,” Gibeau said, “and the teams and investment going into these games is starting to become much greater. Now they’re much, much less than you see on the console side, but there’s a certain rigor and discipline in approach from a technology and talent standpoint that’s very applicable… If you look at these devices, they will refresh their hardware and their computing power multiple times before you see a PlayStation 5. And as you see that hardware get increasing power and capability on GPU and CPU levels, our technology that we set up for gen 4 will be very applicable there. We’re going to be building technologies like Frostbite that operate on mobile devices so we can create richer, more immersive experiences on mobile.”

Even if mobile blockbusters like Candy Crush Saga aren’t exactly pushing the hardware, Gibeau said there’s still a need for all that extra horsepower. With the increased capabilities of multitasking on phones, he sees plenty of room for improvement before the industry runs up against diminishing returns on the CPU and GPU front. He likens today’s mobile titles to late-generation PS2 games, with PS3 and Xbox 360-level games just around the corner.

“As it relates to games, this is like black and white movies with no sound at this point, in terms of the type of games we’ve created,” Gibeau said. “We’re just starting to break through on the really big ideas is my personal view. If you look at games like Clash of Clans, Real Racing, even Candy Crush, they’re breaking through in new ways and spawning all types of new products that are opening up creativity and opportunities here. So I think computing power is just something we’ll continue to leverage.”

The best part for Gibeau is that the hard work of convincing people to buy these more powerful devices isn’t falling solely on the shoulders of game developers.

“The beauty of it is it’s not a single-use device,” Gibeau said, “so people will be upgrading them for a better camera, better video capability, different form factor, different user inputs, as a wearable… I think there’s so much pressure from an innovation standpoint between Samsung, Apple, Google, and Windows coming in, that they’ll continue to one up each other and there will be a very vibrant refresh cycle for a very long period of time. The screens get better, the computing power gets better, and I don’t have to worry about just games doing it like we were in the console business. Those were pretty much just games consoles; these are multi-use devices. And the beauty of it is there will be lots of different types of applications coming in and pushing that upgrade path.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Samsung To Exit Plasma TV Market This Year

July 8, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung will halt production of plasma TVs, its serial digital interface (SDI) division has said, shutting down production of such television sets by 30 November this year.

The news was originally hinted at in January by VP of Samsung Visual Display John Ryu. However, the company has now confirmed that the reason for the shutdown is because no one was buying them. With the rise of LED and OLED 4K TVs in the last five years or so, that’s no great surprise, really.

“We plan to continue our PDP TV business until the end of this year, due to changes in market demands. We remain committed to providing consumers with products that meet their needs, and will increase our focus on growth opportunities in UHD TV’s and Curved TV’s,” a Samsung Electronics spokesperson stated.

The Samsung PNF8500 series plasma TV was the last plasma set that Samsung started shipping and was released in 2013. The firm didn’t launch anymore plasma TVs during 2014, and now we know why. Whether the PNF8500 series will be discontinued in the near future remains a mystery, but we can assume that it won’t stay on the shelves for much longer after Samsung’s announcement today.

Samsung’s decision to pull plasma TVs from its production line follows that of Panasonic, which pulled the plug on plasma TVs last year. This means that the plasma TV market has now been left in the hands of LG, which is likely to carry on production as it now has a plasma TV market monopoly.

Courtesy-TheInq

Microsoft Adds Anti-snooping Safeguards to Outlook, OneDrive

July 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has added encryption safeguards to the Outlook.com webmail service and to the OneDrive cloud storage service, in part to better protect these consumer products from government surveillance.

“Our goal is to provide even greater protection for data across all the great Microsoft services you use and depend on every day. This effort also helps us reinforce that governments use appropriate legal processes, not technical brute force, if they want access to that data,” Matt Thomlinson, vice president, Trustworthy Computing Security, at Microsoft wrote in a blog post.

The move follows similar ones from other cloud computing providers. For example, Google announced end-to-end encryption for Gmail in April, including protection for email messages while they travel among Google data centers. It recently announced similar encryption for its Google Drive cloud storage service.

It’s not clear from Microsoft’s announcement whether the encryption protection it announced covers Outlook.com messages and OneDrive files as they travel within Microsoft data centers. It’s also not clear what, if any, encryption OneDrive and Outlook.com have had until now. Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cloud computing providers like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and many others have been rattled by disclosures from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden regarding government snooping into online communications, due to the effect on their consumer and business customers.

As a result, these companies have been busy boosting encryption on their systems, while also lobbying the U.S. government to stop the stealthy and widespread monitoring of Internet services.

 

 

FTC Files Complaint Against T-Mobile Over Questionable Billing Practices

July 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile USA made hundreds of millions of dollars by charging customers for purported “premium” SMS subscriptions that, in many cases, they never subscribed to, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says.

The FTC, in a legal complaint filed Tuesday, says that T-Mobile pocketed 35 percent to 40 percent of the amount charged to customers for SMS-based services such as flirting tips, horoscope information and celebrity gossip, with the services typically costing US$9.99 per month.

T-Mobile, in some cases, continued to bill customers for these services, offered by what the agency called “scammers,” years after the company was alerted that the charges may have been fraudulent, the FTC said. The charges were often added to customers’ bills through a fraudulent process called cramming, the FTC said. Cramming involves adding charges to bills without customers’ approval.

With the allegations against T-Mobile, the FTC has opened a “new front in its long-standing campaign” against cramming, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said during a news conference. The agency doesn’t yet have an estimate of the number of T-Mobile customers affected, but it received “oodles of complaints,” she said.

The FTC’s goal is to ensure that T-Mobile repays affected customers, added FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “It’s wrong for a company like T-Mobile to profit from scams against its customers when there were clear warning signs the charges it was imposing were fraudulent,” she said in a statement.

T-Mobile called the FTC’s complaint “unfounded and without merit.”

The company stopped billing for the premium SMS features last year and “launched a proactive program to provide full refunds for any customer that feels that they were charged for something they did not want,” T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere wrote in a blog post. T-Mobile is “disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” he added.

The charges were added to T-Mobile customers’ bills through a third-party billing process, in which a phone company places charges on a consumer’s bill for services offered by another company, with the carrier sometimes receiving a substantial percentage of the amount charged.

In some cases, T-Mobile charged consumers for services that had refund rates of up to 40 percent in a single month, the FTC said in its complaint. With such a large number of people seeking refunds, it should have been an “obvious sign” to T-Mobile that the charges were never authorized by its customers, the FTC said in a press release.

With typical charge-back requests with percentages in the low single digits, T-Mobile “disregarded telltale signs of fraud,” Rich said.

 

The refund rate likely significantly understates the percentage of consumers who had the charges crammed on their bills, the FTC said. T-Mobile documents show that the company received a high number of consumer complaints as early as 2012, the FTC alleged. The practice goes back to 2009, the FTC said.

T-Mobile’s phone bills, which can be longer than 50 pages, made it nearly impossible for consumers to find and understand third-party subscription charges, the FTC alleged.