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Cybersecurity Experts Sound Alarm on Apple and E.U. Phone Scanning Plans

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More than a dozen prominent cybersecurity experts on Thursday criticized plans by Apple and the European Union to monitor people’s phones for illicit material, calling the efforts ineffective and dangerous strategies that would embolden government surveillance.

In a 46-page study, the researchers wrote that the proposal by Apple, aimed at detecting images of child sexual abuse on iPhones, as well as an idea forwarded by members of the European Union to detect similar abuse and terrorist imagery on encrypted devices in Europe, used “dangerous technology.”

“It should be a national-security priority to resist attempts to spy on and influence law-abiding citizens,” the researchers wrote.

The technology, known as client-side scanning, would allow Apple — or, in Europe, potentially law enforcement officials — to detect images of child sexual abuse in someone’s phone by scanning images uploaded to Apple’s iCloud storage service.

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When Apple announced the planned tool in August, it said a so-called fingerprint of the image would be compared against a database of known child sexual abuse material to search for potential matches.

But the plan sparked an uproar among privacy advocates and raised fears that the technology could erode digital privacy and eventually be used by authoritarian governments to track down political dissidents and other enemies.

Apple said it would reject any such requests by foreign governments, but the outcry led it to pause the release of the scanning tool in September. The company declined to comment on the report released on Thursday.

The cybersecurity researchers said they had begun their study before Apple’s announcement. Documents released by the European Union and a meeting with E.U. officials last year led them to believe that the bloc’s governing body wanted a similar program that would scan not only for images of child sexual abuse but also for signs of organized crime and indications of terrorist ties.

A proposal to allow the photo scanning in the European Union could come as soon as this year, the researchers believe.

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They said they were publishing their findings now to inform the European Union of the dangers of its plan, and because the “expansion of the surveillance powers of the state really is passing a red line,” said Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge and a member of the group.

Aside from surveillance concerns, the researchers said, their findings indicated that the technology was not effective at identifying images of child sexual abuse. Within days of Apple’s announcement, they said, people had pointed out ways to avoid detection by editing the images slightly.

“It’s allowing scanning of a personal private device without any probable cause for anything illegitimate being done,” added another member of the group, Susan Landau, a professor of cybersecurity and policy at Tufts University. “It’s extraordinarily dangerous. It’s dangerous for business, national security, for public safety and for privacy.”

The post Cybersecurity Experts Sound Alarm on Apple and E.U. Phone Scanning Plans appeared first on New York Times.

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Ironsource will buy mobile ad and app monetization firm Tapjoy for $400M

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IronSource said it plans to acquire mobile advertising and app monetization company Tapjoy for $400 million.

The deal is part of an ongoing consolidation trend in the mobile marketing ecosystem as growth, active investments, and industry disruption change the status quo of the industry.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based IronSource has become one of the consolidators with acquisitions of other mobile ecosystem companies such as Soomla. Ironsource said the deal will strengthen IronSource’s platform offering for app developers, and is intended to further expand its customer base in games and apps beyond games. More than half of IronSource’s business has been marketing and monetizing games, which account for the bulk of in-app purchases on mobile platforms.

San Francisco-based Tapjoy started out as an offerwall company, which enables players to make purchases inside their favorite games by viewing advertising deals. It recently has been offering surveys that people can fill out in exchange for in-app items.

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“Our platform-based approach to serving app developers means we’re able to plug in multiple strategic additions to our software platform to add more value for customers,” said Omer Kaplan, IronSource chief revenue officer, in a statement. “This acquisition follows that strategy, ultimately allowing us to serve our customers in the most beneficial way possible, by growing our SDK footprint, improving our monetization capabilities, and positioning our platform as a deep and integral part of the in-app and in-game economy.”

IronSource said its customers will be able to generate more revenue with greater access to diversified advertiser demand, including through the Tapjoy marketplace. In addition, customers will benefit from complementary technology allowing app developers to enrich their in-game economies.

The acquisition is also intended to increase IronSource’s software development kit (SDK) footprint among both apps and games, growing the company’s scale in the market. In other words, it can reach a lot more developers.

“We are delighted to be joining ironSource, a leading business platform for app developers,” said Jeff Drobick, CEO of Tapjoy, in a statement. “Tapjoy’s technology powers monetization, user acquisition, and customer research for some of the world’s largest brands and app developers, with our SDK integrated on approximately 66,000 apps reaching over 1.6 billion monthly active users. As the App Economy continues to grow, we believe that ironSource is the ideal partner to further leverage our products and expertise for continued growth.”

IronSource said the deal will be financed with cash from the balance sheet. Tapjoy experienced substantial revenue growth and is expected to generate approximately $81 million in net revenues in 2021. Tapjoy is highly profitable and the transaction is accretive to IronSource in 2022. The transaction is expected to close in next six months or so, subject to customary conditions including regulatory approvals.

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The post Ironsource will buy mobile ad and app monetization firm Tapjoy for $400M appeared first on Venture Beat.

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From spy satellites to mobile networks, S.Korea pins space hopes on new rocket

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SEOUL, Oct 15 – South Korea plans to test its first domestically produced space launch vehicle next week, a major step toward jumpstarting the country’s space programme and achieving ambitious goals in 6G networks, spy satellites, and even lunar probes.

If all goes well, the three-stage NURI rocket, designed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to eventually put 1.5-ton payloads into orbit 600 to 800km above the Earth, will carry a dummy satellite into space on Thursday.

South Korea’s last such booster, launched in 2013 after multiple delays and several failed tests, was jointly developed with Russia.

The new KSLV-II NURI has solely Korean rocket technologies, and is the country’s first domestically built space launch vehicle, said Han Sang-yeop, director of KARI’s Launcher Reliability Safety Quality Assurance Division.

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“Having its own launch vehicle gives a country the flexibility of payload types and launch schedule,” he told Reuters in an email.

MILITARY AND CIVILIAN BENEFITS

It also gives the country more control over “confidential payloads” it may want to send into orbit, Han said.

That will be important for South Korea’s plans to launch surveillance satellites into orbit, in what national security officials have called a constellation of “unblinking eyes” to monitor North Korea.

So far, South Korea has remained almost totally reliant on the United States for satellite intelligence on its northern neighbour.

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In 2020 a Falcon 9 rocket from the U.S. firm Space X carried South Korea’s first dedicated military communications satellite into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NURI is also key to South Korean plans to eventually build a Korean satellite-based navigation system and a 6G communications network.

“The program is designed not only to support government projects, but also commercial activity,” Oh Seung-hyub, director of the Launcher Propulsion System Development Division, told a briefing on Tuesday.

South Korea is working with the United States on a lunar orbiter, and hopes to land a probe on the moon by 2030.

TRIAL LAUNCH

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Given problems with previous launches, Han and other planners said they have prepared for the worst.

The launch day may be changed at the last minute if weather or technical problems arise; the craft will carry a self-destruct mechanism to destroy it if it appears it won’t reach orbit; and media won’t be allowed to observe the test directly.

At least four test launches are planned before the rocket will be considered reliable enough to carry a real payload.

According to pre-launch briefing slides, the rocket’s planned path will take it southeast from its launch site on the south coast of the Korean peninsula, threading its way over the ocean on a trajectory aimed at avoiding flying over Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other major land masses.

“This upcoming launch may be remembered as the hope and achievement of Korean rocketry historically no matter the launch is successful or not,” Han told Reuters.

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SENSITIVE TECHNOLOGY

Space rockets on the Korean peninsula have been fraught with concerns over their potential use for military purposes, leaving South Korea’s efforts lagging more capable programmes in China and Japan.

“Modern rocketry in Korea couldn’t devote its capability much in R&D of rockets because of long-standing political issues,” Han said.

The United States has viewed North Korea’s own satellite launch vehicles as testbeds for nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile technology. A North Korean space launch in 2012 helped lead to the breakdown of a deal with the United States.

“North Korea, of course, will not look favourably on South Korea’s rapidly advancing space capabilities, which are far more technologically advanced than those possessed by the North,” said James Clay Moltz, a space systems expert at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

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South Korea’s push into space comes as it speeds ahead with its own military ballistic missile systems after agreeing with the United States this year to end all bilateral restrictions on them.

“There is no concern on military applications in NURI launch vehicle development,” said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Korea Aerospace University. Unlike the liquid-fuelled NURI, South Korea’s military missiles use solid fuel, which is better for weapons, he added.

South Korea is not seen as a “threat” by either Russia or China, so it seems unlikely to affect their space programs, which are already highly militarized, Moltz said.

“Many space launch technologies are inherently dual-use,” he said, but noted that he hopes NURI’s development will “not lead to an arms race in space, but instead a safer ‘information race’” where South Korea has better intelligence to head off any future crisis.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The post From spy satellites to mobile networks, S.Korea pins space hopes on new rocket appeared first on Reuters.

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Go read this investigation into Amazon’s sprawling empire of in-house brands

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It’s no secret that Amazon owns a wealth of in-house brands that sell everything from affordable tech accessories (Amazon Basics) to e-readers (Kindle). But a new investigation from The Markup sheds new light on just how big this empire has gotten, and makes some troubling allegations about the advantages these brands seem to have over third-party competitors selling on Amazon. It’s a fascinating report that’s well worth a read.

For starters, just working out how many brands Amazon owns is a process that required The Markup to analyse public records from the US Patent and Trademark office. According to its reporting, the ecommerce giant has registered or owns over 150 brands, including some where their connection to Amazon isn’t obvious. But more worrying is that some of these brands, as well as others that sell exclusively on Amazon, seem to have no trouble outranking the competition in search results without getting as many positive reviews:

“The Markup found Amazon placed its Happy Belly Cinnamon Crunch cereal, with four stars and 1,010 reviews, in the number one spot ahead of cereals with better and more reviews including Cap’n Crunch (five stars, 14,069 reviews), Honey Bunches of Oats (five stars, 5,205 reviews), and Honey Nut Cheerios (five stars, 11,702 reviews). A vacuum cleaner from Amazon’s exclusive Noisz brand was placed on top, ahead of models from Bissell, Eureka, and Hoover with higher ratings and more reviews. And the Amazon-exclusive Concept 3sneaker from Skechers placed number one, four spots ahead of a similar but not exclusive to Amazon Skechers sneaker with the same star rating but 77 times more reviews.”

One former Amazon employee interviewed by The Markup alleged that the company’s employees have, in the past, used a tactic called “search seeding” to give its own products an advantage over the competition. Although the former employee, JT Meng, said that the practice had stopped by the time he left the company, he said that employees could effectively clone a competitor’s search ranking to give Amazon’s products a boost at launch:

“Meng worked on the launch for Amazon Elements baby wipes, which he said were seeded against similar products from Huggies, Pampers, and others.

Sales spiked so quickly that his team had to stop promoting the Amazon Elements wipes so they didn’t take too much market share, he said.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen allegations about how Amazon’s own brands compete with third-party sellers on its platform (The Wall Street Journal’s reporting from April is a good example). But The Markup’s analysis is notable for the sheer breadth of products analysed, not to mention the empirical data it’s gathered about Amazon’s rankings. The full report is well worth a read alongside the other articles produced as part of its package on Amazon.

The post Go read this investigation into Amazon’s sprawling empire of in-house brands appeared first on The Verge.

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