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Original author: 
Nate Anderson


The ghost of Steve Jobs will not be pleased to see this.

Zack Henkel

Robert Silvie returned to his parents' home for a Mardi Gras visit this year and immediately noticed something strange: common websites like those belonging to Apple, Walmart, Target, Bing, and eBay were displaying unusual ads. Silvie knew that Bing, for instance, didn't run commodity banner ads along the bottom of its pristine home page—and yet, there they were. Somewhere between Silvie's computer and the Bing servers, something was injecting ads into the data passing through the tubes. Were his parents suffering from some kind of ad-serving malware infection? And if so, what else might the malware be watching—or stealing?

Around the same time, computer science PhD student Zack Henkel also returned to his parents' home for a spring break visit. After several hours of traveling, Henkel settled in with his computer to look up the specs for a Mac mini before bedtime. And then he saw the ads. On his personal blog, Henkel described the moment:

But as Apple.com rendered in my browser, I realized I was in for a long night. What I saw was something that would make both designers and computer programmers wince with great displeasure. At the bottom of the carefully designed white and grey webpage, appeared a bright neon green banner advertisement proclaiming: “File For Free Online, H&R Block.” I quickly deduced that either Apple had entered in to the worst cross-promotional deal ever, or my computer was infected with some type of malware. Unfortunately, I would soon discover there was a third possibility, something much worse.

The ads unnerved both Silvie and Henkel, though neither set of parents had really noticed the issue. Silvie's parents "mostly use Facebook and their employers' e-mail," Silvie told me, and both those services use encrypted HTTPS connections—which are much harder to interfere with in transit. His parents probably saw no ads, therefore, and Silvie didn't bring it up because "I didn't want [them] to worry about it or ask me a lot of questions."

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Original author: 
mattstroud

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By Matt Stroud and Joseph L. Flatley, with additional reporting by Jesse Hicks

Barron Hansen is a self-employed web developer and researcher in San Diego. Like many people who work from home, he spends a lot of time alone in front of the computer, listening to talk radio. Over time, he began to notice that all of his favorite radio personalities seemed to be endorsing a “business opportunity” called Income At Home.

“Start making money on your own terms,” said one ad, read by Glenn Beck. It sounded too good to be true, the kind of thing most listeners probably dismiss without a second thought. And as long as Hansen had been hearing the endorsements, that’s exactly what he did. That is, until last January, when one of his web...

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Facebook's user-targeted ads have been fueling profits and unsettling privacy advocates since the beginning, but a new report shines a light on just how extensive the company's research is. As it turns out. Facebook's data-collection efforts don't stop once you leave their site. They don't even stop when you leave the internet.

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In the wake of growing debates over mobile privacy, the US Federal Trade Commission has urged mobile platform and app developers to make users aware of what personal information is being collected and how it's being used. In a new report, the FTC notes that mobile devices "facilitate unprecedented amounts of data collection," since they're virtually always turned on and carried with a single user. To stop information from being collected and spread without users' knowledge or consent, the FTC says platforms and developers should require agreement when sensitive information like geolocation is accessed, and that they should consider doing the same for less sensitive but still personal data like photos or contacts.

That last point is an...

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We all know about the patent wars that have dominated the mobile industry over the last couple of years.

Apple and Samsung, Motorola and Microsoft, Oracle and Google — to name just a few. But there are also the patent disputes that you never hear about.

Many of these lawsuits are filed by little-known companies whose sole purpose in being is to bring patent actions and collect money for their owners. Often dubbed patent trolls, such non-practicing entities now make up the bulk of patent suits.

Within the broader category of non-practicing entities are different types of firms, including defensive patent collectors, start-ups as well as companies whose sole business is suing companies with products in the market. That last category now accounts for more than three-fifths of all patent action, according to a study by Santa Clara University Law School professor Colleen V. Chien.

Chien, who presented her findings at a Department of Justice/Federal Trade Commission event on Monday, said that while the economics of bringing suit help keep overall patent actions in check, the economies of scale have made patent trolling into a profitable business.

First of all, while companies that make goods are typically countersued for infringing on their target’s patents, non-practicing entities don’t make anything and therefore can’t be countersued.

Secondly, while big companies like Apple, Samsung and Google rack up huge legal fees in their battles, non-practicing entities have found a more cost-effective option. Much like injury victims, the patent firms often find lawyers willing to work on a contingency basis.

That leaves the companies with only the direct expenses related to their lawsuits, which are themselves often minimized by filing multiple similar suits against different companies. That spreads out the costs and lessens the impact of losing any one case.

As a result, the incentives that may be forcing deals such as Apple’s recent settlement with HTC aren’t having the same effect on the non-practicing entities.

“The assumption is that companies will eventually tire of the smartphone wars between operating companies,” Chien told AllThingsD. “Suits invite countersuits and are expensive, disruptive, and messy. These restraints don’t apply to companies that assert patents as a business model.”

And for every suit brought, there are dozens more that get settled before a court action is filed, in large part because the targets know it is cheaper to settle in many cases than to fight things out.

While many of these non-practicing entities have names few people have ever heard of, the field has spawned some big players, perhaps most notably Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures. (Several spinoff businesses have come out of Myhrvold’s firm, which touts its in-house invention capabilities in addition to its collection of acquired patents.)

Even start-ups, particularly well-funded ones, are finding themselves in the crosshairs, Chien said.

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In the United States, two out of every three searches go through Google, which serves up a total of three billion search queries per day. "Googling" has become so ubiquitous that the company has become a verb in English (and in other languages, too).

Given that most of us use Google several times a day and may also use it to send e-mail, to plan our calendar, and to make phone calls, questions commonly arise about how all of that data is used. Google has said that it needs access to such large amounts of data as a way to “make it useful” and to sell personalized ads against it—and to profit substantially in the process.

However, a March 2012 study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that two-thirds of Americans view a personalized search as a “bad thing,” with 73 percent of those surveyed saying that they were “not OK” with personalized searches on privacy grounds. Another recent poll of California voters recently reached similar results, as “78 percent of voters—including 71 percent of voters age 18-29—said the collection of personal information online is an invasion of privacy.”

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On a warm summer day in 2002, in Charlevoix, Michigan, Richard Joseph’s bad luck began. The lawyer, husband, and father of two was walking across the driveway with a bag of garbage when his bare foot slipped in a puddle of water that had collected beneath his car’s air conditioner. His leg gave out and he landed on his back. While nothing was broken, the blow prevented blood from reaching his spinal cord. He laid there for an hour, unable to move, while his daughters watched television in the living room. By the time he was discovered, the damage had been done. He'd never walk again.

Eventually, Joseph would make it back to work at his law firm, although he couldn’t keep up his old pace. By August 2007, complications prevented him...

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