March 7, 2012
By Madison Ruppert
“A US Senator actually does something right in regards to privacy concerns. Hold the press. This is a historic moment.” –KTRN
United States Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer has recommended that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate the reports which claim that applications available on Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android operating system are able to steal private photographs and other personal information from users.
I previously reported on this widespread practice which, in fact, is far from secret as much of the abilities of such applications are outlined in the Android Market listings.
This latest request coming from Senator Schumer, a Democrat, comes after Apple made some changes to their privacy policies last month due to pressure from others in Washington.
Schumer said that he was concerned about a report from the New York Times which said that iPhone and Android applications are able to gain access to a user’s private photo collection, although that is far from all they can gain access to, as I have previously pointed out.
Indeed, some applications are able to remotely control the phone’s camera, even being able to take pictures and video without the user’s knowledge or consent.
He also pointed to last month’s revelation that some applications on Apple devices are actually able to remotely upload the entire contact list of a user to their own servers, including names, telephone numbers, email addresses and potentially any other information included in the address book.
“These uses go well beyond what a reasonable user understands himself to be consenting to when he allows an app to access data on the phone for purposes of the app’s functionality,” Schumer said in his letter to the FTC, according to Reuters.
His point is a valid one, as many people do not realize that by giving an application permission to use their location information, they give the application full control of such information and potentially the ability to gather and store data without users knowing.
January 26, 2012
By Paul Joseph Watson
Months before the debate about Internet censorship raged as SOPA and PIPA dominated the concerns of web users, President Obama signed an international treaty that would allow companies in China or any other country in the world to demand ISPs remove web content in the US with no legal oversight whatsoever.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was signed by Obama on October 1 2011, yet is currently the subject of a White House petition demanding Senators be forced to ratify the treaty. The White House has circumvented the necessity to have the treaty confirmed by lawmakers by presenting it an as “executive agreement,” although legal scholars have highlighted the dubious nature of this characterization.
The hacktivist group Anonymous attacked and took offline the Federal Trade Commission’s website yesterday in protest against the treaty, which was also the subject of demonstrations across major cities in Poland, a country set to sign the agreement today.
Under the provisions of ACTA, copyright holders will be granted sweeping direct powers to demand ISPs remove material from the Internet on a whim. Whereas ISPs normally are only forced to remove content after a court order, all legal oversight will be abolished, a precedent that will apply globally, rendering the treaty worse in its potential scope for abuse than SOPA or PIPA.
A country known for its enforcement of harsh Internet censorship policies like China could demand under the treaty that an ISP in the United States remove content or terminate a website on its server altogether. As we have seen from the enforcement of similar copyright policies in the US, websites are sometimes targeted for no justifiable reason.
The groups pushing the treaty also want to empower copyright holders with the ability to demand that users who violate intellectual property rights (with no legal process) have their Internet connections terminated, a punishment that could only ever be properly enforced by the creation of an individual Internet ID card for every web user, a system that is already in the works.
“The same industry rightsholder groups that support the creation of ACTA have also called for mandatory network-level filtering by Internet Service Providers and for Internet Service Providers to terminate citizens’ Internet connection on repeat allegation of copyright infringement (the “Three Strikes” /Graduated Response) so there is reason to believe that ACTA will seek to increase intermediary liability and require these things of Internet Service Providers,” reports the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
September 29, 2011
By: David Lazarus
You can’t know how big a hassle it is to have your identity stolen until some scammer enters your life and starts taking over.
Michael Kalbs and his wife, Judy Rosen, learned this the hard way recently when they discovered that someone was applying for — and receiving — credit cards in Rosen’s name and running up thousands of dollars in bills for gas and other everyday purchases.
Then they had to spend weeks untangling the mess with various banks, businesses and credit reporting companies.
An estimated 10 million Americans fall victim to ID theft every year, with related losses running in the billions of dollars. The Federal Trade Commission warned last month that fraudsters are increasingly snatching the Social Security numbers of children from school forms and using them to open credit card accounts.
“I have no idea how this happened to us,” Kalbs, 72, of Sherman Oaks, told me. “We’re not dumb. We’re educated people. But when it does happen, it can be hell to get out of.”
Pay attention now. What happened to Kalbs and his wife could easily happen to you.
First, Kalbs and Rosen were fortunate to have a credit-monitoring service keeping tabs on their files. The service, Privacy Assist from Bank of America, notifies you if there are any changes to your credit records.
Most people probably don’t need their credit files reviewed on a daily basis. If you do sign up for such a service, make sure it’s offered by a reputable outfit like a bank or one of the credit reporting companies.
“The best $12.99 a month I ever spent,” Kalbs said. “Of everyone we had to deal with, the Privacy Assist people really seemed to care. They walked us through the whole process.”
The first inkling of trouble came in June when Privacy Assist sent Kalbs and Rosen a notice that Rosen’s credit file had been changed. Kalbs immediately went online and saw that his wife’s address had been switched to a location in Illinois.
He also discovered that credit cards had been sent to that address by BofA, Chase, Wells Fargo and American Express, and that someone had been busy quickly running up tabs on each card.
So Kalbs set about doing what all ID theft victims have to do: Jumping through hoops to convince the world that you’re really you. He and his wife filed a police report and then worked their way through the fraud divisions at each bank.
“It can be really time consuming,” Kalbs said. “And frustrating.”
I know what he means. When my ID was stolen a few years ago by a man in Connecticut, I spent weeks trying to get rid of him. Each ID theft victim spent an average of 59 hours last year recovering from the incident, up from 41 hours in 2009, according to consulting firm Javelin Strategy & Research.
Kalbs thought he and his wife finally had things under control last month, but then they started getting calls from Wells Fargo saying they still owed hundreds of dollars for a credit card that wasn’t theirs. Worse, the bank didn’t seem interested in hearing that they were victims of fraud.
That changed after I contacted Wells Fargo on the couple’s behalf. “We apologized to them,” said Jennifer Langan, a bank spokeswoman. “It took us more time than it should have to correct this error.”
The Consumer Federation of America launched a new website the other day with plenty of tips to help you avoid the hassles of ID theft. It’s called IDTheftInfo.org.
Another tip: AAA members in Southern California can sign up for free monitoring of their Experian credit file. This won’t provide comprehensive protection — you’ll need to monitor all three of your credit files for that — but it’s better than nothing.
Along these same lines, here’s a cautionary tale about keeping your personal information under wraps.
Ernie Tamminga, 67, of Goleta, Calif., got a new Chase credit card a few months ago. He immediately went online and “opted out” from allowing the bank to share his information with marketers.
The next month, Tamminga received a letter from Chase instructing him to opt out again if he still wanted to keep his data to himself. Then he received the same instruction a month later. What was the deal? Would he have to opt out on a monthly basis?
The bank assured Tamminga that he had nothing to worry about — his privacy preferences were on file. “But I’m not so sure,” he told me. “At the very least it’s confusing as to whether I’m still opted out.”
Under federal law, once you opt out from having a financial institution share your personal info, you should never have to do so again — it’s set in stone until you tell the institution otherwise.
Some businesses make it easier than others to opt out. Generally speaking, all you should have to do is click on the privacy page of the company’s website, where you should find a link enabling you to opt out online.
Another resource to keep in mind is a program run by the Direct Marketing Assn. called DMAchoice. It allows you to put a halt to credit card solicitations, catalogs and other forms of direct-mail marketing. The service used to cost $1. Now it’s free.
As for Chase, a company spokesman had no explanation for why Tamminga received repeated opt-out letters. He said the company was looking into the matter and would reassure Tamminga that his preferences were indeed recorded.
One less opt-out to worry about.
David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes .com.
September 26th, 2011
General Motors’ OnStar in-car communications system violates privacy, a U.S. senator is charging.
OnStar, used by 6 million Americans, maintains its two-way connection with a customer even after the service is discontinued, while reserving the right to sell data from that connection, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says that’s a blatant invasion of privacy and is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. But OnStar says former customers can stop the two-way transmission, and no driving data of customers have been shared or sold.
“OnStar is attempting one of the most brazen invasions of privacy in recent memory,” Schumer said.
But the General Motors OnStar service says customers are thoroughly informed of the new practice. If a customer says he or she doesn’t want to have data collected after service is ended, OnStar disconnects the tracking.
And although OnStar reserves the right to share or sell data on customers’ speed, location, use of seat belts and other practices, a spokesman says it hasn’t done so and doesn’t plan to.
“We apologize for creating any confusion about our terms and conditions,” said Joanne Finnor, vice president of subscriber services. “We want to make sure we are as clear with our customers as possible, but it’s apparent that we have failed to do this. … We will continue to be open to their suggestions and concerns.”
A week ago, OnStar changed its policy and began continuing the connection for ex-customers unless they asked for it to be discontinued:
Finnor noted keeping the two-way communication active for former customers could someday allow for emergency messages to be sent even to ex-customers about severe weather or evacuations. The open line could also allow OnStar to alert drivers about warranty information or recalls, she said.
Schumer said he isn’t persuaded. He said customers shouldn’t have to “opt out” of the tracking after they end service. He accuses OnStar of actively deceiving customers.
Schumer is announcing the effort today by releasing a letter to the Federal Trade Commission seeking an investigation.
OnStar charges about $199 a year for basic service and $299 a year for service that includes navigation aid.
April 21st, 2011
The Huffington Post
By: Carla K. Johnson
Consumers searching for unbiased journalism on the acai berry diet clicked their way into a scam, according to federal regulators who have filed lawsuits in six states in an attempt to shut down the alleged Internet tricksters.
The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday it has asked federal courts to stop a wave of fake news sites that entice consumers to buy the unproven weight-loss products.
The sites violate federal law by using the logos of major news outlets to mislead consumers into thinking they’re reading real news reports, according to the court filings. In reality, the sites are advertisements.
Over the past seven days, the FTC filed complaints in federal courts in Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Washington. The complaints named 10 website operators and asked the courts to freeze their assets.
The defendants paid more than $10 million to advertise their fake news sites, the FTC said. It’s not clear whether the defendants allegedly running the sites are connected, although content on the sites is similar or the same, said FTC attorney Steven Wernikoff in Chicago.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Wernikoff told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “There was some copying of content going on. Regardless of the genesis of the content, the operators are still responsible for the deception on their sites.”
Courts granted temporary restraining orders in some of the cases and many of the websites have been taken down.
One typical lawsuit alleges that Tanner Garrett Vaughn of Mill Creek, Wash., claimed on a website called BreakingNewsAt6.com that a reporter tested an acai berry product and lost 25 pounds in four weeks without dieting or exercise. The FTC claims no real reporter tested the products.
Vaughn is cooperating with the FTC and the website is no longer operating, said Vaughn’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney James A. Kaminski.
“It’s our position that the defendant has done no wrong,” Kaminski said.
The Illinois attorney general’s office filed a separate lawsuit against Ishmael Lopez Jr. of Sauk Village. The office alleges Lopez used a fake news site to promote acai weight-loss products. A phone listing for Lopez could not be found.
According to court filings, the scam worked like this:
A consumer types “acai” into Google or another search engine. An ad pops up that says, “Health Reporter Discovers The Shocking Truth.” Clicking on that link leads the consumer to a fake news site featuring a first-person story about a fake reporter’s positive experience with the diet products. One more click and the consumer lands on an ad offering a “free trial” of an acai berry supplement.
The FTC received multiple complaints from consumers who paid from $70 to $100 for weight-loss products after having been duped by the fake news sites.
Acai, a popular beverage flavor, is a dark purple fruit from a palm found in Central and South America. Marketers sell a diet supplement purported to contain acai, often selling it with a separate “colon cleanser” product.
Last year, the FTC filed a separate lawsuit against a Phoenix-based company for using fake celebrity endorsements for acai berry products. In that case, still under way, Oprah Winfrey and Rachael Ray filed statements with the court denying they’d ever endorsed the products.
November 30th, 2010
By: Mitch Lipka
Just when it seemed as if infomercial king Kevin Trudeau was dealt a final knockout blow in his never-ending bout with the Federal Trade Commission, the Teflon pitchman is at it again – and he’s as cocky as ever.
Who was that guy talking smack about the FTC at 5 a.m. the other night? You guessed it.
After his latest round in court, it appeared as though TV’s insomnia-hours fixture had been banned from the airwaves. A federal appeals court allowed part of an earlier ruling to stand that severely limits Trudeau’s commercial appearances, permitting him on only previously-aired productions he doesn’t directly profit from. To air a new production, a judge said he must post a $2 million bond (the FTC asked for the bond to be set at $10 million) or be held in contempt of court.
“We’re on the air every day,” Trudeau says in an interview with Consumer Ally. “I haven’t posted a bond so I’m not airing any new shows.”
In characteristic fashion, Trudeau has found a way to remain in the spotlight. He’s not directly profiting from the books he’s currently promoting — Debt Cures and Free Money — because the rights are owned by a third party, but he’s still right there in front of the cameras pitching away in the wee hours of the morning.
To the FTC and the courts, Trudeau’s recent appearances are just one more slap in the face. The FTC has branded him a modern day snakeoil salesman who misleads consumers into buying a wide range of products that he claims can help people beat cancer, fix their finances, improve their memory… basically, fix almost anything.
It’s a cat and mouse game that has been going on for more than a decade. In 1998, the FTC and Trudeau negotiated a settlement over allegations his advertisements for “Hair Farming,” “Mega Memory System,” “Addiction Breaking System,” “Action Reading,” “Eden’s Secret,” and “Mega Reading” were deceptive. Then, in 2004, he was banned from infomercials — except for selling books — and settled his case with FTC by agreeing to pay $500,000 cash and by surrendering a “luxury vehicle” and a home in California. A few years later,Trudeau was back in the FTC’s crosshairs regarding claims he was making about his book The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.
The agency filed a lawsuit alleging Trudeau was using deceptive tactics to sell the book. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman fined Trudeau $37.6 million and banned him from infomercials for three years. If Trudeau were to air one of his traditionally long-form infomercials (the ones that resemble a talk show with only attractive women as guests) he would have to pay up. (Gettleman also found Trudeau in criminal contempt for exhorting his followers to pepper the judge with so many emails of support that they crashed his computer).
“Trudeau willfully deceived thousands of consumers by producing and publishing the deceptive infomercial at issue regarding the Weight Loss Cure book, causing tens of millions of dollars in losses to those consumers,” Gettleman wrote in his order earlier this year. “The court has no faith in the notion that Trudeau has somehow been reformed by these proceedings or anything else that has happened since the publications of the offending infomercials in 2007. Indeed, Trudeau continues to deny that he did anything wrong, contends that his deceptive information is somehow protected by the Constitution, and pretends that he did not profit from the book or the infomercials and thus should not have to pay anything to the people he deceived.”
Trudeau is appealing Gettleman’s ruling and and is contemplating elevating his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We’re pretty bullish the ruling is blatantly unconstitutional,” Trudeau says.
In fact, he maintains that while the FTC claims to be acting on behalf of consumers, he has done no harm to them. Trudeau says he has made more than 500 infomercials that have generated some $3 billion in sales and has never been the target of litigation over false or misleading advertising that came from customers.
“There’s not one consumer complaint at the FTC office,” he says. “It just shows the frivolous nature of what they’re trying to do.This is not about protecting customers.”
An FTC spokeswoman said the agency would not discuss Trudeau or the pending litigation. In fact, Trudeau remains a rather sensitive subject.
While the FTC refuses to engage outside of court with Trudeau, he knows no such bounds and, in a conversation with Consumer Ally, once again skewered the federal government and the judge’s decision.
“I’m very proud of what I’m doing. I don’t think we should be restricted or intimidated by the government when you write a book that they don’t like,” Trudeau tells Consumer Ally. “It’s blatant prior restraint. The government can’t stop you from doing something legally.”
Yet, even with all of this rhetoric, Trudeau has lost a few rounds in the past (he freely acknowledges his felony convictions from cons pulled in his younger days) and the government’s pursuit has had an impact on some of his actions. Now, nearly 80% of his business interests are overseas, for example.
“I find the business environment here very restrictive,” he says.
He even claims that the government has begun harassing him. “When you start blowing the whistle on what’s going on in Washington… I said I will be attacked,” he says. “Every single time (I fly), my bags are looked through. That’s statistically impossible.”
Will Trudeau beat the odds again and regain his place on U.S. airwaves or finally wilt under the relentless pressue of the government? Stay tuned.
October 28, 2010
By: Stephanie Kierchgaessner and Richard Waters
The top US consumer protection agency has dropped an inquiry into data collection breaches by Google, even as regulators in Europe and Canada have stepped up their scrutiny of the internet giant’s privacy policies.
David Vladeck, the director of the bureau of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission, said the FTC had decided to drop its investigation into Google’s allegedly inadvertent collection of consumer data in 2007 because it was satisfied that Google had adequately addressed the issue internally.
The FTC decision marks the end of at least one major probe into the most damaging privacy breach to hit the company to date. But the company is still facing ongoing investigations by individual state attorneys general in the US, and regulators in Spain and Canada both last week concluded that Google had broken local laws while investigations are underway in other countries.
Google admitted for the first time last week that the cars it had used to photograph residential streets for its Street View mapping service had illicitly collected some personal e-mails and passwords from the homes it passed. The breach was first announced in May.
At that time, however, the company said it had only collected “fragments” of information. Mr Vladeck said the revelation had caused “concern” among FTC staff because Google had only discovered the 2007 breach in response to a request from data protection authorities in Germany.
But in a letter to a Google attorney posted on the commission’s website, Mr Vladeck said Google’s decision to improve its internal processes to address the FTC’s concerns, including the appointment of a new director of privacy for engineering, gave staff enough assurances that the company had addressed the issue. FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz declined to comment on the decision.
“Google has made assurances to the FTC that the company has not used and will not use any of the payload data collected in any Google product or service, now or in the future,” Mr Vladeck said. “The assurance is critical to mitigate the potential harm to consumers from the collection of payload data.”
Google said it was pleased by the news. But the decision was met by outrage from privacy advocates.
Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, accused the FTC of making its decision based solely on Google’s own representations, without making any “independent” determination on whether the company had broken privacy rules.
Jeffrey Chester, another privacy watchdog, said he believed the FTC was giving Google a pass in part because of the White House’s close relationship with the company. Even though the FTC is the top consumer protection agency in the US, it has limited statutory authority to take enforcement action against companies.
The commission is due to unveil a new set of voluntary privacy guidelines in coming weeks. Mr Leibowitz has said that addressing the rampant collection of personal data by internet companies is a top priority.
August 27, 2010
The Financial Times
By: David Gelles
Last year the US Federal Trade Commission put advertisers, celebrity endorsers and bloggers on notice – mislead consumers online, and there would be penalties. Now the FTC is making good on that threat.
In its first enforcement of last year’s revised guidelines for the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising, the government has settled with a public relations company it accused of writing positive reviews in Apple’s iTunes store, without revealing it was being paid to do so.
The company, Reverb Communications, promotes new video games played on Apple’s iPhone, Sony’s PlayStation, and Microsoft’s XBox. But according to documents from the FTC, Reverb used deceptive marketing practices to woo gamers.
The complaint alleges that between November 2008 and May 2009 Reverb posted reviews about their clients’ games on the iTunes store “using account names that gave readers the impression the reviews were written by disinterested consumers.”
Because Reverb did not disclose that it was hired to promote the games, and sometimes received a percentage of the sales, the FTC ruled that readers were misled.
“Companies, including public relations firms involved in online marketing need to abide by long-held principles of truth in advertising,” said Mary Engle, Director of the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices. “Advertisers should not pass themselves off as ordinary consumers touting a product, and endorsers should make it clear when they have financial connections to sellers.”
Reverb said the FTC’s allegations were exaggerated, and claimed it was being made an example of.
“The FTC should evaluate if personal posts by these employees justifies this type of time, money and investigation,” the company said. “It’s become apparent to Reverb that this disagreement with the FTC is being used to communicate their new posting policy.”
But Reverb has faced scrutiny for allegedly writing undisclosed positive reviews, or so called “astroturfing”, before. Last year technology blogs claimed that the company was touting its ability to do as much in pitches to prospective clients.
Reverb has settled with the FTC, though it did not admit to breaking any laws and will not be hit with a fine. According to the settlement, Reverb and an executive, Tracie Snitker, are barred from making similar reviews without disclosing their affiliation with the parent company of the product they are reviewing.
June 2, 2010
Canada has launched a probe into Google Inc as legal problems escalate surrounding the search engine’s disclosure that it collected private data while taking photographs for its Street View product.
Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said on Tuesday that she was concerned about the privacy implications stemming from the collection of data from wireless networks in Canada, the United States and other countries.
“We have a number of questions about how this collection could have happened,” she said in a statement. “We’ve determined that an investigation is the best way to find the answers.”
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has already begun an informal inquiry into the matter.
Google said in a statement that it would cooperate with authorities to answer their questions and address their concerns. It has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The Internet giant has sent fleets of cars around the world for several years to take panoramic pictures that it uses in its online atlas.
Google first revealed that cars were also collecting wireless data in April, but said that no personal information from Wi-Fi networks was involved. But after an audit requested by Germany, Google acknowledged in May it mistakenly had collected samples of “payload data.”
Suits have been filed in Washington D.C., California, Massachusetts and Oregon by people who accuse Google of violating their privacy by collecting data from open Wi-Fi networks.
U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to look into the matter, and a district court in Portland, Oregon, has ordered Google to make two copies of a hard drive containing data from the United States and turn them over to the court.
May 20, 2010
by Martha Neil
A 30-day jail term for criminal contempt imposed on an infomercial pitchman after his followers flooded a federal judge’s BlackBerry and courthouse computer inbox with e-mail has been nixed by the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Court of Appeals.
Because U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman didn’t actually see the conduct at issue, which occurred outside the courtroom, and there was no need for an immediate, emergency sanction to keep his courtroom functioning, his summary finding that Kevin Trudeau was in direct criminal contempt was inappropriate, according to the court’s opinion today.
And, because the summary disposition of the case, without an evidentiary hearing, hasn’t established a sufficient record to determine on appeal whether a criminal contempt finding was appropriate under standard procedures, the appeals court vacated not only Trudeau’s 30-day sentence but the contempt finding itself.
However, Trudeau could still be found in contempt on remand, after evidence is presented, the appeals court said. His followers sent some 300 e-mails to the judge within 36 hours, some with threatening overtones.
As the court recounts in the opinion, Trudeau was already in federal court in Chicago for a civil contempt proceeding when the e-mail issue intervened. Initially fined $40 million for violating a consent order requiring him not to misrepresent the contents of his books on television, he was awaiting a new penalty after the 7th Circuit overturned the $40 million fine.
Meanwhile, he wound up being held in criminal contempt after urging his fans to e-mail Gettleman. The resulting deluge reportedly crashed both the judge’s BlackBerry and his court computer. (Gettleman thought he had not made his e-mail address public, but Northwestern University School of Law, where he teaches as an adjunct, had included it on his faculty Web listing, the opinion notes.)