Internet News (April 2017)

Uber’s president Jeff Jones has quit, citing that the company’s values aren’t compatible with his own.

Jones told Recode he “…joined Uber because of its Mission, and the challenge to build global capabilities that would help the company mature and thrive long-term.”

“It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.”

After the announcement, Uber’s PR summoned up a meager sentence to address his departure: “We want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best.”, also declining to elaborate further about his decision to leave.

Jones had only been at the company a short while, having come on board back in October 2016. His hiring was mainly due to his extensive marketing expertise, previously having been the CMO of retailer Target and executive VP of global marketing for the clothing company GAP.

According to Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick, in an internal email sent after Jones’ announcement, his motivations to depart the company were more to do with their intentions to hire a COO and his feelings about the hire being completely unnecessary.

Uber has been in a difficult situation for a while, not helped by the #deleteuber campaign that all started back at the end of January when Uber circumvented the taxi strike in New York City organised by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, attempting to fill the void and prey on the extra business.

On top of all this, the company’s lead map tech, Brian McClendon, who was previously part of the Google Maps team, is also stepping down, though his exit from the company has been stated as being “in the works for some time”.

A 48 years old, Evaldas Rimasauskas, has been arrested by Lithuanian authorities on charges of engaging in an email fraud scheme, posing as a hardware manufacturer from Asia, resulting in the defrauding of two U.S. companies for over $100 million.

The scheme, originating as far back as 2013 or even earlier, started with Rimasauskas registering a company in Latvia with a name identical to an Asian hardware manufacturer and setting up bank accounts in preparation for the attacks. Next he began sending emails, posing as this company, to employees of the two target companies, asking them to pay money they actually owed to the Asian company to accounts owned by the fake company.

This type of attack is more commonly referred to as whaling, a type of fraudulent social engineering whereby attackers misdirect their targets into wiring money into the wrong accounts which, with a little complacency, can be far more effective than you might initially be led to believe.

To create the optimal environment for success, he forged invoices, contracts, and letters that had been made to appear as if major executives had signed them off, and even bearing the embossed authenticity stamps of the victim companies to send to banks to support the credibility of the transferred funds.

Once the funds from the attacks had been successfully funnelled into the attacker’s accounts using these means, Rimasauskas then attempted to transfer the ill-gotten gains into numerous different accounts, including ones located in Latvia, Cyprus, Solvakia, Lithuania, Hungary, and Hong Kong.

Rimasauskas has been charged with one count of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Attackers that use ransomware are increasingly targeting organisations that are more likely to pay instead of losing their systems to the attack, typically critical governmental ones such as healthcare or critical infrastructure. Attacks on government tax authorities, for example, have grown more than fourfold since 2014 and the IRS suffered more attacks in January 2016 than all of 2015’s attacks combined, reports a recent study by PhishLabs.

Phishing attacks are growing constantly, in fact they have increased by more than 33% in the five most targeted areas, according to the PhishLabs report. With file encryption, ransomware has become the most prolific type of attack to be distributed, predominantly due to it being straightforward and profitable.

The influx of attacks peaked mid-year, mainly due to surrounding world events such as Brexit and a related increase in compromised web servers. Despite 59% of phishing sites being hosted in the United States, there has been an appreciable increase in Eastern European ones.

Windows Vista, one of Microsoft’s most hated operating systems (Windows ME will forever reserve the top spot) has ended its extended support.

“Windows Vista customers will no longer receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options, or online technical content updates from Microsoft”, a Microsoft rep stated.

“Microsoft has provided support for Windows Vista for the past 10 years, but the time has come for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources towards more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences.”

Vista was released to a rather frosty reception back in January 2007, with numerous issues plaguing the operating system right from the start, which led many to simply stick with the previous and, at that point, much more stable version, Windows XP.  Most of Vista’s systems support ended as far back as 2012.

As of the 11th of April the remaining support was finally withdrawn and Microsoft warned customers still using the operating system that their systems would potentially be open to being compromised by attackers in the future, adding that support for Microsoft Security Essentials for the system would be ending as it was part of that extended support framework.

Of course, Microsoft naturally recommends users to upgrade to Windows 10, as it’s in their best interests to consolidate their user base. For many though, that will probably involve buying a new computer or laptop as if they were still running Vista, the chances are they aren’t using very new hardware. That being said, Windows 10 does actually have a relatively small performance footprint in comparison even to previous versions of the operating system, so perhaps some will be lucky. Microsoft has partnered with Laplink to help ease the process with a limited time discount price on the software “PC Mover Express”, which helps users move their files from one operating system to another.

Typically, Microsoft have been willing to extend support for its older operating systems if your company can front the money to keep it going.  Britain’s National Health Service, for example, still use a significant number of Windows XP machines with Microsoft charging $200 for the first year of extended support and then doubling in cost every year following that.  Sources say that won’t be the case with Vista – perhaps Microsoft are just as sick of Vista as we were.

Twitter could be introducing a paid membership subscription for businesses and high usage customers in a bid to raise new revenues. In recent years, Twitter has struggled to make a profit which has left the social media platform looking for alternative ways to raise extra revenue.  The suggestion is that Twitter will introduce a new souped-up enhanced version of “Tweetdeck” which will offer paying customers more functions including alerts, trends, activity analysis, structure and posting tools within one functional dashboard.

Following a survey with a small group of users, Twitter representatives have said, “We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decision, and we’re exploring ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals”.

Twitter described how the tool would work via email to selected users, explaining that it would be easier than ever to keep up with daily trends and multiple interests, raising profiles and generating a greater audience. Why Twitter has taken so long to introduce a dashboard consisting of these functions it is unknown, however should Tweetdeck take off, it will compete with established dashboards such as SocialFlow and Hootsuite.  It remains to be seen whether Tweetdeck will become a more successful dashboard than its rivals.  Twitter have not made any decisions or announcements with regards to charging its regular users who might use the service.

On previous occasions Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have had to get the permission of customers to sell their browsing history.  However this could all be about to change as US politicians have voted to remove the regulations surrounding this. This ruling was first approved in October 2016.  The US senate  voted by a narrow majority to repeal these rules.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) have called the decision a ‘crushing loss’ for privacy, as did the politicians who called for the rules to be dropped as they were “harmful”.  These rules were first introduced by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) when the US was under the Democrats. These requirements also covered the way that ISPs prevented data from being stolen. They were due to be actioned in December 2017. Donald Trump’s appointment as President led to a shift of policy at the FFC especially those who were now in charge. This led to the scruntiny of the decisions that had been made, including the broadband privacy provision.

It has been said by the members of the US senate who have introduced the measure to overturn the FFC rules, that the rules were “overreaching” and that they could stifle economic growth.

Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, who has been appointed by President Trump, commented that the rules may confuse consumers. This is due to the rules being different to those which are enforced on the likes of Google and Facebook.

Now that the decision has been taken by the Senate, it has to go to the House of Representatives, as there are a large number of Republicans within the House, the proposal is likely to now be approved.

Dropping the rules would allow ISPs to gather, collate and pass on customer data to advertisers and marketing firms. Included in this would be browsing histories, viewing habits, location and applications usage. There would be nothing in place to protect customers in terms of letting them know who is getting the information, nor anything to explain how data was gathered.

“They want to collect and use this information without providing transparency or being held accountable”, Mr Nelson told news site Ars Technica.

The future is looking bright for landline and broadband customers that receive poor service. Ofcom are set to introduce new regulated policies that will enable customers get fair compensation, which means that they will no longer have to enter into long drawn fights to receive their payments. Ofcom have longed realised that customers are not treated fairly and that when their services go wrong and problems are not rectified quickly enough, the customer is often left with a service that they feel they simply cannot use.

Automatic compensation is to be introduced to customers that receive failed engineer visits, slow repairs and missed deadlines, worth an estimated £185 million according to Ofcom. Affected customers could receive their compensation either by cash payments or credits on their existing bills.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director said “When customers’ landline or broadband goes wrong, that is frustrating enough without having to fight tooth and nail to get fair compensation from the provider.  Proposals of this type would mean customers are properly compensated, while providers will want to work harder to improve their service”.

Ofcom’s proposals of charging £10 per calendar day when a service is not repaired, then £30 for failed/cancelled scheduled engineer appointments, and £6.00 for each calendar day where there is a delay in a new service has been acknowledged by British Telecom, Sky and Virgin and have since issued their own proposals for automatic compensation through a voluntary code of practice.

It is reported that 7.2 million customers were affected by faults with their telecommunication and internet providers each year.  However, only 1.1 million received any kind of compensation.

The telecommunications companies are keen to keep the industry working together to ensure that customers receive the best service possible.  They agree that customers should be treated fairly and welcome measures to ensure that consumers receive the reimbursements that they deserve.

Matt Hancock, the MP responsible for the Digital Economy Bill,  has welcomed Ofcom’s proposals. “Too many people are suffering from poor customer service when things go wrong with their broadband and phone lines, changes in the system will help make sure people are not cut off from friends, family and work for days on end, and are properly compensated if problems aren’t fixed quickly enough”.

With telecommunication and broadband being essential within households, it is the consumers right to receive some kind of compensation. Ofcom will hold a consultation on the 5th June, and are due to publish their decision with a public statement at the end of the year.

Graphics Interchange Format images, or “GIFs”, those animated and static images that we all send via social media or via our phones at some point or another are being introduced in Facebook comments,  allowing users to leave GIFs when responding to posts.  GIFs are already a feature in Messenger and will be used in the same concept.

Facebook have known for a while that users want to be able to use GIFs in comments, and have started to test the ability to add these animated images with a small percentage of its users. If the tests are successful, Facebook have announced that comment feeds may eventually be filled with ‘reaction GIFs’, for example a movie clip, television show or cartoon that expresses a mood or emotion of the user.

This year has seen the 28th birthday of the Web, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man widely applauded as its creator has warned users of three ‘challenges’ that acts as a brick wall and obstructs the web from fulfilling its true potential.

Personal data was the first on his list. Berners-Lee feels that users should be allow to have more control over information that is shared and who it’s being shared with, instead of being kept exclusively by the major web companies.

Berners-Lee called for more limpidity within the terms and conditions that are attached to everything that we do on the net. The creator of the net wants to see more freedom from government monitoring, as this allows websites and apps to use up data.

He also calls for more “transparency and understanding” in relation to online political advertising, with his second challenge. There should be a democratic approach to advertising – parties should not be able to carefully target their audience, which he described as “a near-impossible situation to monitor”.

And his third challenge will be to unfake fake news.  Fake news is a way for consumers to be deliberately misled.  This can spread and escalate through the web and is becoming a real threat. With the changes in modern technology, it has become easier for businesses to target users with information that may not to be totally correct.

“Through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain,” writes Berners-Lee.

It is time for tech firms and government to relax their hold on personal data according to Berners-Lee.  He has suggested that internet companies like Facebook and Google need to increase their efforts to overcome the spread of ‘fake news’.

“It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone,” Berners-Lee concludes.

Following on from Berners-Lee’s address, Facebook is now looking into ways of stopping ‘fake’ news being posted.  Adam Mosseri, the Vice President who is responsible for overseeing Facebook’s news feed has written a blog, in which he writes that the social network will initially going to deal with the “worst of the worst”: the posts that are blatantly false and that have only been generated for the gain of the spammers’.

The first thing that they are doing is to target the information gathered.  Once they have checked the information that is going into the article, then they can verify the validity of that article. Facebook have employed their own fact checking experts, to whom they send any articles that they do not trust or believe. If the article is not verified then it is flagged as disputed. They will also put a link to the post which explains why it is under scrutiny.

If a story is disputed due to its inaccuracies, it can still be posted and shared, even so, it will appear low down on user feeds, therefore not drawing direct attention to it.  If a user then attempts to further share the story a warning about its validity and reliability will pop up, Mosseri says.

Facebook is also starting to look to its users to flag up any stories that they believe to be untrue or fake.  In the top right hand corner of the post will be an option to mark the story as fake. This will signal the need for the storyto be further scrutinised.

Facebook is looking to hit people who post fake news items where it hurts – in their wallets.  Everytime a hoax is posted, the hoaxer profits from it. They benefit from the ads that are linked to the hoax. Facebook is removing the opportunity for spoof domains to be utilised by those using the network.  They will be examining their publishers sites to investigate where there may be the need for policy enforcement.

These ideas are currently under trial.  Once the success of this trial has been determined, then facebook will make these changes.

Internet News – March 2017

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