Facebook and Google hit with $8.8 billion in lawsuits on day one of GDPR

On the first day of GDPR enforcement, Facebook and Google have been hit with a raft of lawsuits accusing the companies of coercing users into sharing personal data. The lawsuits, which seek to fine Facebook 3.9 billion and Google 3.7 billion euro (roughly $8.8 billion in dollars), were filed by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, a longtime critic of the companies’ data collection practices.

GDPR requires clear consent and justification for any personal data collected from users, and these guidelines have pushed companies across the internet to revise their privacy policies and collection practices. But there is still widespread uncertainty over how European regulators will treat the requirements, and many companies are still unprepared for enforcement.

Both Google and Facebook have rolled out new policies and products to comply with GDPR, but Schrems’ complaints argue those policies don’t go far enough. In particular, the complaint singles out the way companies obtain consent for the privacy policies, asking users to check a box in order to access services. It’s a widespread practice for online services, but the complaints argue that it forces users into an all-or-nothing choice, a violation of the GDPR’s provisions around particularized consent.

Shrems told the Financial Times that the existing consent systems were clearly noncompliant. “They totally know that it’s going to be a violation,” he said. “They don’t even try to hide it.”

The lawsuits are broken up into specific products, with one filed against Facebook and two others against its Instagram and WhatsApp subsidiaries. A fourth suit was filed against Google’s Android operating system.

Both companies have disputed the charges, arguing that existing measures were adequate to meet GDPR requirements. “We build privacy and security into our products from the very earliest stages,” Google said in a statement, “and are committed to complying with the EU GDPR.”

Facebook offered a similar defense, saying, “We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we meet the requirements of the GDPR.”

Google Just Quietly Made a Huge Change to Its Corporate Principles (It’s All About 3 Simple Words)

looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

We were all idealists once.

Life, though, has a way of injecting a little reality into our thinking.

This process has come very slowly to Silicon Valley. 

The Valley’s vast self-regard and tiny sense of how real people think and live has meant too many tech types believe they’re on a singular crusade to improve the world.

Slowly, it’s beginning to dawn on at least a few of them that the world may not be that much better at all.

A highly symbolic moment seems to have occurred in the past few weeks, under cover of darkness.

Google appears to have largely removed its most idealistic slogan from its code of conduct.

As Gizmodo reported, the phrase “Don’t be evil” has suddenly — and unaccountably — disappeared from the vast majority of Google’s employee instructions.

Once, the code of conduct read:

“‘Don’t be evil.’ Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But ‘Don’t be evil’ is much more than that.”

Now, the same section begins:

“The Google code of conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.”

“The highest possible standards.” Which might now include, one assumes, being a little evil.

If it’s entirely necessary, you understand.

The change has surely been a long time coming.

When you reveal that a Google Duplex robot can book a reservation for you and — at least as the demo showed it — make the human at the other end of the call think the robot is a person, how can ethical purity even try to make its last stand?

Yes, Google now says the robot will introduce itself as a robot. 

Oddly, it didn’t seem to cross the company’s mind to think about that before presenting its demo.

Once you’ve shown that duplicity — I’m sorry, I mean “Duplexity” — is possible, clinging to ethically pure apron strings may be no longer be wise.

When asked, a Google spokesperson did insist the last line of the code of conduct still leaves a small mention of the company’s past idealism.

It reads: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up!”

But let’s speak up and be a touch frank.

Google was never such a pure company, one in which saintly practices ruled.

From the moment word slipped out that its Street View cars were collecting people’s Wi-Fi data, it wasn’t hard to see Google as just like any other Valley company.

Or, some might mutter, sometimes worse.

Its cavalier attitude toward privacy has rivaled Facebook’s. Its focus not on what real people want but on what engineers think is cool has tended to render security and privacy as irrelevant concepts.

Indeed, even at the recently concluded Google I/O developer conference, the words “security” and “privacy” were absent.

Now Google employees are being asked to do the right thing. This is the very same thing that one of the Valley’s more reviled companies, Uber, is asking of its employees.

Oh, if only everyone had the same definition of what the right thing is.

That would be progress.

Up To 100 Million Apple iPhones at Risk Due to ‘ZipperDown’ Flaw

Apple iPhone users take note: a vulnerability that might affect tens of millions of users leaves devices open to dangerous attacks, China-based researchers have warned. The flaw, dubbed “ZipperDown,” resides in 15,978 iOS apps that have been downloaded 100 million times, according to famous iPhone jailbreakers Pangu Team.

Little is known about the bug right now, other than it “is a very typical programming error,” Team Pangu wrote on the ZipperDown website. The worst-case scenario? “It depends on the affected app and its privileges. In general, attackers could overwrite the affected app’s data or even gain code execution in the context of the affected app. Note that the sandbox on both iOS and Android can effectively limit ZipperDown’s consequence,” Team Pangu added, noting that an unknown number of apps on Google’s operating system were also affected.

To translate that, it means the attacks wouldn’t be catastrophic as Apple and Google limit what data on the smartphone is accessible to a hacker who exploits a single app. Such hacks should be contained to just the information controlled by that application. 

There is reason for some concern, despite the limitations of ZipperDown. Will Strafach, another big name in the jailbreaking scene and founder of app security firm Verify.ly, has been granted access to detailed information about ZipperDown and believes it’s more of “an unexpected way in, rather than a complete exploit” for iPhones.


Strafach, who agreed not to share more information before Pangu did, explained that the apps could be abused by a hacker sitting on the same network was as a target, such as an attacker who has access to ISP infrastructure or is sitting on the same Wi-Fi network. This is more of a concern for Asian and Middle Eastern targets, Strafach said, given those regions’ surveillance regimes that have close control over internet providers.
“But if you are on a public Wi-Fi network or even a bugged private network, then it is a risk for that as well by manipulating an ongoing download with content crafted in a specific manner,” Strafach said.
Neither Apple nor Pangu had responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Strafach had some good news, though: “An app update can fix it pretty easily.” So, if you’re an iPhone user, keep those applications up to date to avoid any complications should real-world hackers get hold of the exploits.

Yanny or Laurel? What do you hear?

Once there was the dress; now there’s Yanny or Laurel.

This audio illusion, which went viral after first appearing on Reddit, has the internet torn. After all, what kind of monster doesn’t hear Yanny?

When Verge Science listened to it this morning, fighting broke out between the Yanny and Laurel factions. (Ed. note: I briefly lost my mind, as I first heard Yanny, then heard Laurel for about two hours, and now hear Yanny again. Same device, same speakers. Please send help.) Obviously something was going on — so we called up some scientists to help us figure it out. According to Lars Riecke, an assistant professor of audition and cognitive neuroscience at Maastricht University, it’s not actually an illusion. In fact, it’s an ambiguous figure, the auditory equivalent of two figures in profile that also form a vase, called Rubin’s vase. “The input can be organized in two alternative ways,” he says.

The secret is frequency. The acoustic information that makes us hear Yanny is higher frequency than the acoustic information that makes us hear Laurel. Some of the variation may be due to the audio system playing the sound, Reicke says. But some of it is also the mechanics of your ears, and what you’re expecting to hear.

Older adults tend to start losing their hearing at the higher frequency ranges, which could explain why Riecke could only hear Laurel, but his eight-year-old daughter could hear Yanny. It’s a phenomenon you can mimic on a computer, he says: if you remove all the low frequencies, you hear Yanny. If you remove the high frequencies, you hear Laurel.

Most sounds — including L and Y, which are among the ones at issue here — are made up of several frequencies at once. So the problems with perception might have something to do with that. But Riecke suspects that these overlap more in the real world than in the audio recording that’s driving everyone up the wall. He thinks that the frequencies of the Y might have been made artificially higher, and the frequencies that make the L sound might have been dropped, Riecke says, although he notes this is speculation. Without knowing where this recording came from, he can’t be sure.

So if your sound card — or your ears — emphasize both the higher and the lower frequencies, you can toggle between the two sounds. And changing the sound mix to emphasize higher or lower frequencies might tip you toward Laurel or Yanny. That’s what it took for Riecke — changing his headset wasn’t enough.

We also called up Bharath Chandrasekaran, a professor in the department of communications sciences and disorders at the University of Texas at Austin. He told us that half his lab hears Yanny, and half his lab hears Laurel. But he also blames the file’s noise for the confusion. “It’s a little bit noisy, so that itself causes perception to be a little more ambiguous,” he says. “Because it’s noisy, your brain is filling in with what it thinks it should be.”

He also points to something else: the visual prompt that comes with the audio, Yanny or Laurel. That might help shape what people hear. Here’s another example of how prompts shape what we hear: the same word can sound like “bill,” “pail,” or “mayo” depending on what’s on-screen.

So it’s not just your ears or your speakers — it’s also your brain, Chandrasekaran says. Not only is it filling in what it thinks the sound should be, based on the prompt, it’s also quirky. What you hear — everything you hear — is shaped in some way by your previous experiences. This is most obvious with music, where training makes it easier to identify component parts of a symphony. So just like in a noisy cocktail party, your brain is filling in what it doesn’t quite hear, based in part on what you expect to hear and what you’ve heard before.


p id=”nNc16s”>So what makes someone a Yanny hearer instead of a Laurel hearer? Ultimately, Chandrasekaran is curious, more than anything. “We’re going to collect a bunch of Laurel people and Yanny people,” he says. They’ll listen to the recording and his lab can look at their brain waves. Maybe we’ll find out in a few years…

Easy Way Back Up your iPhone Data to an External Drive

A recent incident reminded me of the importance of backing up one’s phone regularly. Soon after carrying my recycling out to the curbside, I realized I had misplaced my 6-month-old iPhone. Cue brief panic, followed by deep concern that I’d somehow tossed my device into that transparent bag I’d left outside for the world to see.

That led me to yelling “Hey, Siri” a few times around my apartment until the familiar chime sounded, revealing my trusty phone was hiding on a stepladder underneath a coat. Phew.

I have no idea how or why I managed to leave my phone there, but had I not found it, the situation could have been much worse: It had been months since I’d backed up my data. I was lucky to escape what could have been a potential disaster caused by my absent-minded tendencies.

Save Main Drive Space

I bought my current laptop a little over a year ago and actually had some trouble managing backups at first. My partner and I use the same computer for backing up our phones, but with ever-increasing device storage capacities and solid-state hard drives still somewhat expensive, despite featuring in more and more systems, space is at a premium.

Apple demands a lot of storage for its backups, especially since it often stores multiple versions. A 256-GB hard drive to run one’s system and keep data safe is just not enough anymore.

The thing is, Apple does not make it easy to sync backups to an external drive automatically. Typically, iPhone owners will plug in their devices, and Apple will create a directory on the main hard drive and stuff the backup there. That’s easy, and it’s probably enough for most people. Forcing iTunes to store the backup elsewhere requires a redirect trick.

Using Windows 10

Here’s how I solved the problem on my Windows 10 machine. First, since I had the capacity on my current drive (but only just), I created an iPhone backup using the regular iTunes sync method to the default location, just in case any mishaps should occur. I went to the folder Apple uses to store backups, typically this one:

C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

You should replace [Username] with your own actual username, naturally.

You’ll want to copy that folder to your desired new backup location, and then either delete the original Backup folder or rename it as “BackupOld.” Then hold the shift key and click the right mouse button to open a command window. There, enter the following:

mklink /J “%APPDATA%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup” “[External Drive]:\iTunes Backup”

Of course, you’ll replace [External Drive] with your actual drive letter.

You can add subfolders here too if you like to keep your storage as organized as possible. So, something like this would work just fine:

E:\MyBackups\iTunes Backup

Then you can close the command prompt window, and try an iPhone backup to see if it works.

Using macOS

The steps are similar for Mac systems. You should find the standard backup folder here:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/

Copy, then remove or rename the Backup folder. Then open a terminal and type this:

ln -s /Volumes/[External Drive]/MobileSync/Backup ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

Close the terminal and then try an iPhone backup to see if it works.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Even if you have a main hard drive large enough to handle your backups without any concern, shuttling your data to an external drive has its advantages. It can act as an off-system failsafe in case your computer’s drive collapses beyond repair. It also frees up the main drive, which hopefully will keep your computer working snappily for a little longer.

In either case, please remember to back up your phone regularly. And maybe don’t put yourself in a situation where you wonder for 15 minutes if you tossed it out with the recycling.

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