Google Pushed Illegal Phone Spyware to Snoop on Your Spouse

Theyre the sort of capabilities you might ordinarily prescribe to a cybercrime group or law-enforcement agency: intercepting text messages, remotely eavesdropping on phone calls, or sweeping up emails and social-media messages en masse.

But dozens of firms around the world sell powerful mobile-phone spyware to the everyday consumer, and in many cases with the explicit purpose of enabling surveillance on husbands, wives, and lovers.

And though the U.S. Justice Department has convicted people who use this technology as well as those who sell it, Google, through its ad services, has kept on running advertisements for many of the companies that offer it, The Daily Beast has found. After being informed of the issue, Google removed thousands of offending ads, but the news still highlights how Silicon Valley companies are sometimes unwitting accomplices to the sale of illegal technology, and how those same companies often let dubious clients slip through the cracks.

Spy on wife app […] invisible mode, a Google ad from one company read Monday.

With these pieces of malware, an attackerbe that a jealous or suspicious lover or stalker, for examplewill need physical access to the targets mobile phone. Typically, theyll visit a webpage that hosts the malware and download a specially crafted app, which can keep itself hidden from the user, and that will then collect whatever data from the phone the attacker wants and send it to them in an email or store it in an online account to access later. Software is available for both Android and iPhone devices, but for the latter the phone needs to be jailbroken, which allows the installation of unauthorized apps. With Android phones, the attacker may need to turn off a security setting for similar reasons.

The threat from this software, though, is real: Spouseware has a long history with domestic and sexual violence, and even murder. In one recent case, a man allegedly used spyware to monitor his ex-wifes phone during divorce proceedings. And a 2014 NPR investigation found that three-fourths of 70 surveyed domestic-violence shelters came across victims whose abusers had listened in on conversations using some form of hidden app.

Companies sell this software for anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars, depending on how potent its capabilities are and how long the stalker wants to use it. Hundreds of thousands of people have purchased this type of software over the years, judging by a number of data breaches that included customer records.

And, it works: This reporter previously bought a piece of spyware for $170 that, among other things, tracked the phones GPS location and siphoned photos taken with the devices camera. A colleague in New York even sent a text message to the phone in Europe and triggered the devices microphone and recorded a conversation.

Many of these companies market their products directly to those wanting to spy on their beloved. In 2014, the Justice Department ordered the creator of a piece of consumer malware called StealthGenie to pay a $500,000 fine. A woman was also sentenced to three years of probation for using the software.

According to internal data belonging to one spyware company called FlexiSpy that was acquired by Motherboard, the firm researched search-engine optimization phrases such as how to catch a cheating spouse, and how to know if your husband is cheating.

These recently discovered ads on Google seem to follow that same sort of marketing strategy. On Monday, typing terms such as spy on wifes phone or spy app wife, for example, would sometimes return adverts for related products. These ads would appear prominently on the page, with some being in the first few results.

#1 Wife Android SpyLimited Time 50% Off, another recently uncovered Google ad reads.

Other adverts were less explicit in whether the software could be used to target a spouse; but in the consumer-spyware industry, that sometimes means very little. Even when a companys website says the software should only be deployed to monitor children or employeeswhich can be done legallycustomer-support reps will often undermine those statements entirely, by admitting that customers can use this on their wifes phone without permission. In a similar way, although the company linked to the first Google ad makes it very clear on its website that the software should only be used legally, the advert itself markets the product for spying on someones wife. The company behind this ad did not respond to a request for comment.

Thanks for flagging these to us. We strictly prohibit advertising of these kinds of services and have removed these ads. When we find ads that violate our policies, we take immediate action to disable the offending sources, a Google spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a statement.

These adverts violated Googles Enabling Dishonest Behavior policy, which includes products or services that enable a user to gain unauthorized access (or make unauthorized changes) to systems, devices, or property. This would also cover items such as malicious hacking services and radar-jammers, the policy continues. The Daily Beast confirmed that the previously scrutinized search terms no longer return any adverts as of Tuesday.

This response sits in stark contrast to how YouTube, which is owned by Google, handled a similar situation. When Motherboard found that networks of YouTubers were making videos advertising spyware to monitor lovers, and were taking a cut of any referred sales, YouTube reacted with a proverbial shrug, left many of the videos online, and did not provide a statement.

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Apple unveils HomePod speaker to take on Amazon Echo and Google Home

Smart speaker announced along with new iMac Pro coming in December while iMacs and MacBook Pros get immediate spec bumps

Apple is launching a smart home speaker called HomePod to compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, the company revealed at its annual worldwide developer conference.

The Cupertino company described the 7in device, which comes in white and space grey, as a breakthrough home speaker designed to rock the house. This means that Apple has placed an emphasis on audio quality, packing the speaker with an array of seven tweeters and a woofer as well as spatial awareness that detects its location in a room and adapts the output automatically.

In announcing the HomePod, Apple CEO Tim Cook said there were many companies making products for enjoying music in the home but none have nailed it yet. He mentioned wireless speaker systems such as Sonos that sound good but are not smart and other smart speakers (presumably a reference to Amazon Echo and Google Home) that dont sound great.

We want to combine this all, he said.

HomePod is controlled using Siri, the companys voice-activated personal assistant, which has, according to Apple, been trained to be better at answering questions about music such as Hey Siri, whos the drummer in this?

Apple reinvented portable music with iPod, and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes, said Philip Schiller, Apples senior vice-president of worldwide marketing.

The device can also be used to send messages, get updates on news, sports and weather and control smart home devices connected using Apples HomeKit.

Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the Homepod. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At $349, it will be more expensive than Google Home ($109) and Amazon Echo ($179) but cheaper than the Sonos Play 5 ($499). The product will launch in the US, UK and Australia in December 2017 and in other markets in 2018.

I think its a very Apple-esque product in that it seeks to stake out the high end of a market with its technology, price and positioning, said analyst Paul Erickson from IHS Markit.

However, Erickson described the price point as aspirational given that consumer expectations have been set by cheaper competitors, although Apple has done a great job of being extremely profitable without having to cater to the mainstream, and they will drop their price over time, he said.

Besides the HomePod, Apple unveiled a collection of new and upgraded products, including a new computer, the $4,999 iMac Pro. The more powerful iMac is intended to address concerns of creative professionals who had been limited to much less powerful iMacs or the much-loved Mac Pro, which hasnt been updated since 2013.

There was also a new 10.5in version of the iPad Pro, the tablet for professional users, which can support a full-sized keyboard cover. The device has a better display, is faster, and comes with 64GB of memory. The device will start at $649 and start shipping next week. Theres also a 12.9in version that starts at $799.

Weve been pushing the boundary of iPads, and today, were going to push them further than we ever have before, Cook said.

Just as Google and Facebook did at their developer conferences this year, Apple announced an augmented reality platform called ARKit to allow developers to more easily create augmented reality apps, such as Pokmon Go, which overlay digital objects on to the real world.

Apples senior vice-president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, demonstrated the companys AR capabilities by placing a virtual coffee cup, lamp and vase onto a real table. Given that it is already supported by millions of iPads and iPhones it will, Federighi said, be the largest AR platform in the world.

There were also a couple of updates to Apples web browser, Safari, including a speed boost that makes it, according to Apple, the fastest ever desktop browser. It also introduced autoplay blocking, which stops music and video from playing automatically without your permission on websites as well as intelligent tracking prevention, which stops ads from following you around the web.

Read more about Apples announcements from WWDC on the Guardians liveblog.

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Google-funded loan startup to pay $6.3m for ‘deceptive’ practices

Experts say the LendUp case is significant for firms in the emerging online fintech sector that claim to offer a better alternative to payday loans

A Google-funded lending startup will have to pay $6.3m in fines and refunds for a number of deceptive practices, signaling the US governments interest in regulating the growing industry of online alternatives to traditional payday loans.

LendUp a San Francisco firm that claims to offer a secure, convenient way to get the money you need, fast misled customers, hid its true credit costs, and reversed pricing without disclosing it to consumers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws, bureau director Richard Cordray said in a statement Tuesday, announcing the settlement.

The company, which has funding from high-profile Silicon Valley venture capital firms and GV, Googles venture capital branch, began marketing its services in 2012.

The startup claimed it would help consumers move up the LendUp Ladder by building credit and improving their scores. The firm promised customers the opportunity to eventually progress to loans with more favorable terms, such as longer repayment periods and lower rates.

But regulators allege that the startups offerings did not match its advertising and that the firm failed to properly provide information to credit reporting companies, which denied consumers the opportunity to enhance their credit.

The federal agency has ordered LendUp to pay a $1.8m penalty and provide more than 50,000 consumers with roughly $1.8m in refunds.

The California department of business oversight also investigated the firm and announced a settlement this week requiring LendUp to pay $2.7m to resolve allegations it charged illegal fees and committed other widespread violations of payday and installment lending laws.

The state agency said the startup had paid $1m in refunds but still owes $537,000 to borrowers.

Experts say the case is significant for firms in the emerging online fintech sector that have claimed to offer better services than traditional payday loan industry businesses, known for trapping low-income Americans in cycles of debt.

Companies like LendUp have attracted positive press from the tech media in recent years.

TechCrunch said the startup would make the loan experience for the millions of unbanked Americans more fair and transparent. Time Magazine said it offered an innovative new payday loan banking model thats more Silicon Valley than Wall Street.

The violations raise questions about that kind of praise and suggest that regulators must do a better job scrutinizing online startups, said Liana Molina, director of community engagement for the California Reinvestment Coalition, a group that advocates for fair banking access for low-income communities.

The main takeaway here is that online payday loans … are just as dangerous if not more so than those products available in the storefronts, she said, adding that restrictions across the board need to be strengthened to better shield vulnerable people from harmful loans.

Theres a lot more work to be done [but] it sends a strong message to quote-unquote innovators in this space that they need to adhere to existing protections.

In June, the CFPB pushed forward new rules aimed at regulating the $38.5bn payday loan industry, requiring lenders to verify the income of borrowers to ensure they can afford to repay the loans.

As a result, digital lending services are rapidly expanding, said Paige Marta Skiba, Vanderbilt University economist and law professor. Were about to see the kind of wild wild west of online lending.

This weeks enforcement actions could impede funding efforts for LendUp and its competitors, which could have hurt companies trying to offer fairer alternatives, Skiba added.

People willing to invest in this kind of startup are going to be all the more scared Its going to be difficult, if not impossible.

LendUp downplayed the penalties in a statement, saying the penalties address legacy issues that mostly date back to our early days as a company, when we were a seed-stage startup with limited resources and as few as five employees.

The firm now has dedicated compliance and legal teams and has fully addressed the issues cited by our regulators, including discontinuing some services, the statement said.

The LendUp penalties are also noteworthy given that Google, a key funder, announced this year that it would no longer sell ads for payday loan companies, saying they were dangerous products classified in the same category as guns and tobacco.

At the time, LendUp criticized the ban, saying it was too broad and would negatively affect them.

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What if Lost Was Hilarious? Inside the Making of Wrecked

The cast and crew of TBSs dark new Lost satire, Wrecked, explain how they made the gruesome reality of a plane crash so morbidly funny. (No polar bears in sight.)


In the opening scene of Wreckeda sequence, perhaps pointedly, not too unlike the beginning moments of the 2004 pilot for Losta plane crashes on a deserted island in the tropics. 

Passengers are on fire. One mans legs are crushed. Blood, bodies, and debris are everywhere. Survivors are wheezing, dazed, and crying in pain.

Three men stumble from the crash to the beach and take in the wreckage when they notice a dashing hero running towards them, knocking people out of harms way, ripping off his shirt to use as a tourniquet (revealing his washboard abs, to boot), and saving about a dozen lives in a matter of seconds.

The men stare blankly until one finally breaks the silence: Holy shit that guy is handsome.

I dont know why, but I was like, Yep, thats awesome, says Zach Cregger, who plays flight attendant Owen, the only surviving member of the planes crew, in the new TBS series, which premieres Tuesday night. I just love the idea that among all the carnage and mayhem three straight guys are fixated on how hot this guy is.

Its the morbid-meets-absurd sense of humor that permeates the ghoulish dark comedygrotesque bloated carcasses of crash victims and passengers on fire fuel other big comedy bitsand also sets into motion the series sly take on its initial branding as a straight-on Lost spoof.

Without a doubt, that distractingly handsome guy represents the planes Matthew Fox Jack character, the fearless leader with all the answers and, most importantly, the survival instinct. But two-thirds of the way through Wreckeds pilotand this is a light SPOILERa piece of the planes cockpit falls on distractingly handsome guys head, crushing him. Matthew Fox is dead.

To me that ends the Lost comparisons, producer Jesse Hara says, sitting across from series creators and writers Jordan and Justin Shipley. They always talk in a funny way about how they are huge Lost fans, he continues, looking at the Shipley brothers. They were like, All those people in the background who are just waiting for things to happen? Who are they?

Jordan laughs. Like those people in the back of every scene who are like, Jack, what are we doing today? Thats us. Justin chimes in: The most capable man had to go immediately. The rest of these people have no skills.

Justin and Jordan Shipley, it must be said, are 27 and 25 years old, respectively. Baby geniuses, Jessica Lowe, who plays walking millennial contradiction Florence, calls them. And they were two years younger when they sold Wrecked, their first script ever, to TBS. I thought that we should end their bio with a joke: We assume it only gets easier from here, Hara laughs.

Youth, it turns out, is a creative asset. Theyre bright and fluffy and havent been beaten into being formulaic by years of hearing no in the industry, Lowe says. Some healthy blind optimism and maybe even some ignorance of the industry also, it turns out, doesnt hurt either.

The pilot for Lost that Wrecked draws fromdont worry, the rest of the series evolves quickly and far from Lost comparisonscost a reported $10-14 million to make, as a reference point. 

Because of the budget it takes to create a plane crash on a deserted island, We always assumed wed have to change things, Justin says. But they let us do it with so much money. Then, laughing: Some might say too much money.

TBS didnt reveal the shows budget. But its not hard to see signs of the atypically large amount of resources the network funneled into it. For one, in addition to the massive marketing campaign, the shows press junket is being held in Cancun, Mexico. An exact replica of a crashed plane is on the beach just feet away. A DJ is spinning tracks from the fake cockpit. (Full disclosure: We were part of this junket. We danced to said DJ.)

TBS has a lot to prove, Cregger says. Theres the old TBS, the Very Funny TBS that never made a show that I cared about. Then theres the new TBS, the one like, We know people have associations with that network. That network is gone. 

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Theres also the fact that Wreckeds 10 episodes were shot on-location on the beaches and jungles of Puerto Riconot a cheap or easy shoot.

We were really getting bitten by bugs, says Brooke Dillman, who plays Bing executive turned ruthless game hunter Karen. My first day shooting I came down to the set and theyre like, Well, the wave came in and took the camera Thats not normal.

In fact, the money and attention spent on some of the comedys bigger set pieces became a bit of a running joke for the cast, several of whom chuckle remembering reading the pilot script and its stage directions. The scene takes place on a nice beach it read, and then in brackets, or whatever the budget will pay for.

There was a scene in a script where an adorable baby boar comes up and makes the cutest, most adorable face a boar has ever made, Cregger remembers. Im like, guys, youre in your twenties and Ive been doing this a long time. Youre never going to get a baby boar to behave. Cut to the shoot wrapping: They fucking get a baby boar and its apparently magical. 

In getting the cast to describe the tone of the show, youre met with equal wondermentagain, the good kind. Its an action-comedy, at a time when action-comedy is something that really doesnt exist among the, and this is a real number, 400-plus series airing on TV.

In addition to, well, surviving a plane crash, characters get into shoot-outs, weather ocean waves in rafts while wielding torches, and, in the case of co-star Brian Sacca, even have flames shoot out of their leg.

Sacca plays Danny, a slightly neurotic, slightly overweight survivor who decides to reinvent himself as a police officer when introducing himself to group of strangers who survived the crash.

There was one day where he had to film a scene shooting a gun in the ocean, so he followed the stunt master and climbed over coral to get the perfect shot. Suddenly, the stunt master looked over and just said, Shit. The tide had come in and massive, impenetrable waves were crashing on the coral.

We were getting pummeled, screaming, and laughing, Sacca laughs. I was this fat, bearded action star. 

Shooting in the elements lent one shade of realism to what would otherwise be a bit of a surrealist series. But more surprising was the horrifyingly realistic way the show confronts the gruesome reality of a plane crashthe blood, the gore, the deathand then manages to temper that with comedy.

Pressed for their favorite example of the way the show balances that, the cast uniformly brings up the funeral pyre.

When the survivors start getting creeped out by the dozens of rotting, dead bodies that are washing up on shore, Karen insists that they burn them in order to prevent disease. Its a dark, gory, and surprisingly emotional storyline, culminating in the group gathering to pay tribute to the victims as their bodies burn in a fire.

Slowly, the group starts recoiling and covering their noses. Burning flesh, it turns out, smells disgusting, like 100 assholes on fire! moans one survivor before vomiting in repulsion, kicking off a puke chain that has the entire cast doubled over.

That just crystallizes the humor of the show, Sacca says. Balancing the reality of the crash with absurdist humor? Theyre two stilts on the same house, Cregger agrees. The more horrific, the funnier. If the stakes were lower and a car broke down on a tropical island, it wouldnt be funny.

Suffice it to say, youll see no such scene if you go back and revisit the Lost pilot. And thats why the comparisons, though perhaps initially apt, annoy some of the cast. There are parallels, sure, Sacca says. But there are also parallels to Gilligans Island, Castaway, and the whole genre of stranded entertainment. 

I prefer to say its like Lord of the Flies, but instead of children its morons, Cregger laughs. Put that on the poster.

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Jimmy Kimmel Joins Internet in Ridiculing Steph Currys Wildly Unremarkable Sneakers

The late-night host joined the internet in ribbing the NBA MVP over his very, very plain new signature kicks. “>

On Friday, Under Armour released images of the Curry 2 Low Chefa remarkably plain white low-cut sneaker endorsed by Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.

And boy, did Twitter have a field day, dragging the two-time MVPs lackluster kicks worse than Elizabeth Warren dragged Donald Trump.

They were, for a day, the new Crying Jordan meme. And late Friday night, comedian Jimmy Kimmel took his swings at the funky sneaks on his late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Steph Curry has been getting a lot of attention today for his new signature sneaker, said Kimmel. It is a great pair of shoes to own whether you are a Steph Curry fan or just a middle school lunch lady. I see those shoes doing very well with fans in Ft. Lauderdale. These shoes are so white they just endorsed Donald Trump for president.

I really dont understand this, he continued. Couldnt Steph have saved himself a lot of trouble by just releasing this old pair of Sketchers? Theyre almost exactly the same and they already have his initial on them!

Kimmel then ran a mock TV ad for the sneakers, marketing them towards middle-aged fathers who shop at Walgreens.

During his postgame press conference after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Friday night, Curry addressed the treasure trove of online jokes the shoes are receiving.

I wish I had them in my road bag, he said, shaking his head and chuckling. I definitely would have worn them to show how fire they are.

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Google’s ban on payday loan ads recasts debate of morality in media for digital age

The likes of Facebook and Microsoft have spurned fireworks, paintball guns and erectile dysfunction ads, much as publishing outlets have done for decades

Google was widely applauded this week for announcing it would stop selling ads for long-reviled payday loan companies. Facebook, it turns out, banned payday loan ads last year, along with those for weapons and unsafe supplements.

Yahoo wont advertise paintball guns, knives or fireworks and other explosives, Microsoft prohibits erectile dysfunction ads for Xbox users and all major tech firms, it seems, ban pornography adverts.

But does it matter how tech firms draw the line over who they do business with, or what type of ads users should be subjected to?

Googles decision offers the latest evidence that technology companies are not just, as some perceive them, a neutral global commons where all ideas compete. They are also media behemoths, hosting content, soaking up advertising dollars and making the awkward decisions confronted by publishing outlets for decades.

Questions about the morality of running ads arent new. Congress banned cigarette television ads starting in 1971.

Its all about protected first amendment choices and the discretion that publishers in this country enjoy, said Karlene Goller, the former press freedom attorney for the Los Angeles Times and now a media lawyer in private practice. Goller noted that when she was at the Times, the paper didnt run cigarette ads, escort service ads, or other ads that they decided were inappropriate for a newspaper of general circulation.

Whats different now is that an increasingly small number of technology firms control what an ever expanding number of people see online. And theyre willing to go beyond what is circumscribed in law to make their own decisions maybe shaping society in areas where governments wont act.

This change is designed to protect our users from deceptive or harmful financial products, Googles director of global product policy, David Graff, wrote in a blogpost announcing the ban, which goes into effect this summer.

Facebook officially banned payday loan ads last August, though in practice it wasnt permitting such ads before then, a person familiar with the matter said. Yahoo and Microsoft representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Chris Moore, marketing consultant and a principal with Greenwich, Connecticut-based Brains For Rent, has written about advertising ethics for the Advertising Educational Foundation. Google, he says, is continuing a long tradition of media companies managing their brands by deciding which ads they want to run.

They are also rarely moral choices, Moore said.

Technology companies motives for policing ads can be hard to determine, but they often come under pressure to ditch certain companies.

Facebook has run into bad press and angry parents for occasionally allowing teens to see ads for inappropriate dating sites and weapons. And Google in 2011 agreed to forfeit $500m to the US justice department over ad sales to illegal pharmaceutical companies.

Facebook and Google have the right to not run ads, said Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

In this case, Taplin said he was not convinced Google was acting to better society. Id call it a publicity stunt, he said. Their notion of whats bad and whats good is fungible.

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