Friday, 27 January 2012

Facebook sues alleged clickjacking spammer sparking row

Some analysts have linked Facebook's spam crackdown to an imminent stock flotation

Facebook is suing a marketing firm, accusing it of "spreading spam through misleading and deceptive tactics".Adscend Media is alleged to have carried out "clickjacking".
The practice involves placing posts on the social network which include code that causes the links to appear on the users' homepages as a "liked" item without their permission. The links are designed to take users to other sites.
Adscend Media said it "vehemently denied" the "false claims".
Facebook likened its security efforts to an "arms race" and said that it was committed to pursuing "bad actors".
"Facebook's security professionals have made tremendous strides against this particular form of attack and we are intent on eradicating it completely," said Craig Clark, the firm's lead litigation counsel.
"We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to ensure that scammers do not profit from misusing Facebook's services."
Washington State also filed a related lawsuit. Its lawyers said that they believed that this was the first time any state had gone to court to combat spam on the social network.
"We don't 'like' schemes that illegally trick Facebook users into giving up personal information or paying for unwanted subscription services through spam," said the state's attorney general, Rob McKenna.
Mr McKenna's office said that Adscend Media had earned as much $1.2m (£766,000) a month from the practice.
Strong denial
However, the accused firm released a statement on Friday evening which said: "At no time did we engage in the activity alleged in the complaints.
"Adscend Media strictly complies with its legal obligations under federal and state law. We are undertaking an investigation to determine whether any of Adscend Media's affiliates engaged in the activity alleged by the Attorney General's office and Facebook.
"If they did, we are fully certain that the activity was conducted without the company's knowledge."
The firm's lawyer went on to accuse the Washington State authorities of being "irresponsible".
"We find it deeply troubling that the Attorney General's office made a public spectacle of these serious allegations without first questioning the company as part of its investigatory process and, even more inexplicably, without notifying the company that the complaint was being filed," said Mark Rosenberg.
He added that Adscend Media was now prepared to pursue a defamation action against those "responsible for tarnishing the reputation of the company".
Invisible buttons
Facebook has posted an article about the case in which it explained that it believed the "scam" had worked by exploiting a vulnerability in people's internet browsers that allowed its 'Like' button to be hidden.
"Once the 'Like' button is made invisible, scammers can overlay pictures and other content, to trick the user to click on the invisible 'Like' button," it said.
"First, Facebook users are encouraged to click the 'Like' button on the scammers' Facebook Pages, which then alerts their friends to the existence of the page. Then they are told that they cannot access the content unless they complete an online survey or advertising offer."
It said one case had involved a link promising to show a man who had taken a picture of his face every day over eight years.
Facebook said that the content often had not existed, and users had been directed to third-party sites. It alleged that "the scammers receive money for each misdirected user".
Stock sale
Facebook said that less than 4% of the content shared on its site was currently spam.
The internet security firm, Sophos, acknowledged that the network was trying to combat the problem, but suggested further steps should be taken.
"Facebook tried to introduce anti-clickjacking technology to fight the problem, but it was never entirely satisfactory," said the Sophos's senior technology consultant Graham Cluley.
"What would have been good would have been if Facebook had introduced a 'confirmation' dialog every time a user 'likes' a page on a third-party website. That way, the clickjackers would have been able to trick you into clicking like but you would still have had to confirm that you really wanted to share the message with your online friends.
"In the run-up to IPO [initial public offering], we're sure to see Facebook doing more to present itself as company that is fighting security threats like this."
This is the second time this month that Facebook has accused a group of illegal activity on its site. Last week it named several Russia-based suspects who it said were responsible for a malware attack known as the "Koobface worm".
Multiple reports suggest that the network may float its stock within the next four months. Bloomberg says the firm may sell a minority stake for $10bn, valuing the firm at 10 times the price.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Twitter to selectively 'censor' tweets by country

Twitter said it would be transparent about which tweets had been removed.

Twitter has announced that it now has the technology to selectively block tweets on a country by country basis.
In its blog, Twitter said it could "reactively withhold content from users in a specific country".
But it said the removed content would be available to the rest of the world. Previously when Twitter deleted a tweet, it would disappear worldwide.
The move comes at a time when the company is in the process of expanding its global business.
In its blog post, Twitter explained that its international growth meant entering countries "that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression", citing France or Germany which ban pro-Nazi content as examples.
"Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country - while keeping it available in the rest of the world," the company said in a blog post titled Tweets Must Flow.
"We haven't yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld," it added.
A number of Twitter users have expressed dismay over the move, with some pointing out the adverse impact it would have on free speech, especially outside the US.
Twitter, along with other social networking sites like Facebook, has played a vital - if disputed - role in organising everything from the Arab Spring to the London riots in 2011, according to the BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.
However, the micro-blogging service - which said it had more than 100 million active users as of September 2011 - has also had to balance local laws with free speech in the process.
The blog statement acknowledged that Twitter would not be able to operate in all countries, saying: "Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there."
Twitter is blocked in China, where microblogging alternatives known as Weibo have surged in popularity in the past year.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Google in privacy policy changes across its services

Google has faced privacy concerns from regulators over its social networking sites

Google has changed its privacy policy, streamlining it across its multiple services including search, email, video and social networking sites.
More than 60 different policies will be combined into one that will go into effect 1 March, the company said.
Google said the new policy will give people more relevant search results and help advertisers find customers.
Google has previously faced criticism over the sharing of users data.
"We're rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of our products and explains what information we collect, and how we use it in a more readable way," said Alma Whitten, Google's director of privacy, product and engineering.
The single privacy policy will apple to Google search, Gmail, YouTube and Google+, its social networking site.
The main change applies to users who have Google accounts.
"If you're signed into Google, we can do things like suggest search queries, or tailor your search results, based on the interests you've expressed in Google+, Gmail and YouTube," the company said, explaining the changes.
The revision comes after Google's previous attempt at social networking, Buzz, was shut down.
The company was criticised for inadvertently revealing users' most e-mailed contacts to other participants through the Buzz platform.
Last year, Google and the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement to prevent Google from misrepresenting how it uses personal information and from sharing a user's data without approval.
Google said it had been in touch with regulators over these latest changes to its privacy policy, which will apply globally, according to the Associated Press news agency.

IMF: Global economy 'in danger zone' over euro crisis

Jose Vinals, IMF: "A failure to address underlying tensions could precipitate a global crisis"
The world's economy is "deeply into the danger zone" because of risks from the eurozone, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said.
The IMF predicts the global economy will grow by 3.25% in 2012, down from an earlier forecast of 4%.
The growth forecast for the UK economy has been cut to 0.6% from 1.6%.
But the eurozone is set for a "mild recession" in 2012, with GDP expected to shrink by 0.5%, compared with a previous forecast of 1.1% growth.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls called for the government to rethink its austerity plan in the light of the IMF estimates.
"Last year the IMF was clear that if growth undershot expectations then the British government should reconsider the pace of spending cuts and tax rises which choked off our recovery well before the recent eurozone crisis, pushed up unemployment and has seen borrowing forecasts soar," said Mr Balls.
"Now the IMF has slashed their growth forecasts and confirmed that growth in Britain will indeed be much lower than they expected. And they have called on countries with low interest rates, like the UK, to reconsider the speed of their spending cuts and tax rises."
In response, the government said the IMF predictions matched those made by the independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility, which informs government economic policy.
"The IMF has downgraded its growth forecasts for all the major economies, reflecting the deterioration in the global outlook since their last forecasts in September," said a Treasury spokesperson.

"Their expectations for UK growth are in line with those of the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, and stronger than for the other major European economies."
Eurozone growth
Growth estimates have been reduced for the main eurozone countries, including Germany, which is widely seen as the powerhouse of the region.
Germany is forecast to grow 0.3% in 2012, down from the 1.3% originally predicted in September.
France is expected to show 0.2% growth in 2012, down from 1.4%.
However, the IMF stands by its 1.8% growth prediction for the US, based on recent strong domestic data on jobs and manufacturing.
Risk of 'spillovers'
Emerging markets, such as central and eastern Europe and Asia, could also be hit by the eurozone crisis.
The IMF said: "While these markets have been quite resilient to shocks and developments in major economies in the past year, recent indicators have weakened significantly and the general business climate has deteriorated."
The IMF said Europe's most pressing challenge was to restore confidence and put an end to the crisis in the euro area.
It added that world economies needed "decisive and consistent policy action" to improve the current financial environment.
"There are three requirements for a more resilient recovery: sustained but gradual adjustment, ample liquidity and easy monetary policy, mainly in advanced economies, and restored confidence in policymakers' ability to act."
Separately, EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said he expected a "moderate recession" across Europe in the first half of this year.
On Monday, IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned the global economy could fall into an economic spiral reminiscent of the 1930s unless action was taken on the eurozone crisis.
In its update to its September report, the IMF warned that the "United States and other advanced economies are susceptible to spillovers from a potential intensification of the eurozone crisis".

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sony 'boosts low-light picture quality' with white pixels

Sample pictures suggest that images taken with the new technology (right) display more detail

Sony is promising improved low-light photography from its forthcoming range of smartphone camera sensors, thanks to the addition of white-light pixels.
The technology adds the white-light detectors to the red, green and blue (RGB)-sensing pixels already included in its existing devices.
Kodak patented a similar technology in 2007 but never put it to use. It is unclear whether Sony licensed the idea.
The move may help Sony sell more sensors to other manufacturers.
Smartphones typically use smaller lenses and image sensors than dedicated cameras, delivering blurred or dark pictures in low light.
Only a limited number have flashlight capability, which can be taxing on battery life and produce washed-out pictures.
After focusing on megapixels for years, camera sensor-makers are increasingly promoting low-light functionality as a selling point.
"This is good news for device makers, they can improve their cameras and give consumers a more functional camera that will work in better lighting situations," said Brian Blau, research director at the technology consultants Gartner.
"That really means consumers have to think less about how to process their pictures and just have fun taking them."
Dynamic range
Although white-light sensing pixels cannot distinguish colour, they have a higher sensitivity to light across the entire visible spectrum thanks in part to the fact they do not have a colour filter covering them.
Software is then used to combine this information with the detail recorded by the RGB pixels to provide a better shot.
"The reason why they are doing it is to capture more information about the shadow areas and to help it increase the dynamic range of the image, which in theory should help mobile phone sensors and very small compact camera sensors pick up more detail," said Richard Sibley, senior technical writer at Amateur Photographer magazine.
When Kodak patented the idea it noted that the technology would be suitable in situations involving "short exposure time, small aperture, or other restriction on light reaching the sensor".
It specifically mentioned "non-camera devices such as mobile phones and automotive vehicles" as two examples.
Sony's press release notes that introducing white-light sensing pixels would normally have the side-effect of "degrading" the picture.
But it adds: "Sony's own device technology and signal processing realises superior sensitivity without hurting image quality."
Sony aims to ship samples of the new sensor in March and says consumers may be able to buy devices using the technology later this year or early 2013.
Neither Sony nor Kodak responded to requests for more detail about the patents involved.
Organic sensors
Several camera makers are pursuing new ways of improving low-light performance.
The most common method is to use another technique pioneered by Sony: "back-lit" sensors.
The method involves shifting the circuit wiring that supports the pixels from the top of the sensor to its underside, allowing the pixels to be larger and so capture more light.
Sony's new "RGBW" sensors also use this feature.
However, Fujifilm is also working on an alternative technology involving a sensor with an ''organic'' layer which it says improves sensitivity, allowing the pixel sizes to be made smaller while capturing similar levels of detail. The firm was granted a US patent for the invention last year.
However, Fujifilm's innovation is thought to be destined for large mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, rather than the smartphones Sony is targeting with its new hardware.