TIME Regulation

AT&T to Pay $105 Million Settlement Over Extra Charges on Customers’ Bills

Settlement follows allegations that T-Mobile also engaged in hiding bogus charges in customers' bills

AT&T will pay $105 million to settle allegations brought by the Federal Trade Commission that the wireless carrier unlawfully billed customers for extra charges on their cellphone plans. The practice, known as “cramming,” involves charging customers $9.99 per month for unwanted features from third parties like ringtones, text message horoscopes and love tips.

According to the FTC, AT&T received 1.3 million customer complaints about the bogus charges in 2011 alone. That same year AT&T changed its refund policy so customers could only be reimbursed for two months’ worth of faulty charges, the FTC claims. The charges were listed under a line item called “AT&T Monthly Subscriptions” on customers’ bills, so many did not know they were coming from third parties.

AT&T will offer refunds totaling $80 million to customers who paid cramming charges over the years. The company will also pay $20 million in penalties and fees to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as a $5 million penalty to the FTC.

“This case underscores the important fact that basic consumer protections – including that consumers should not be billed for charges they did not authorize — are fully applicable in the mobile environment,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a press release.

AT&T stopped billing people for premium SMS content in December 2013. The company says it was the first in the industry to end the practice. “While we had rigorous protections in place to guard consumers against unauthorized billing from these companies, last year we discontinued third-party billing for PSMS services,” AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an email.

The FTC has been especially focused on bringing penalties against telecom and Internet companies over the last year. T-Mobile was accused of similar cramming practices in July, but the wireless carrier is disputing the claims in court. Apple and Amazon have also faced FTC allegations that their app store policies allowed children to easily rack up massive charges of in-app purchases on their parents’ devices.

TIME Tablets

Apple’s Next Event Is Oct. 16, Possibly to Unveil New Gold iPad

Apple Unveils New Versions Of Popular iPad
An attendee looks at the new iPad Mini during an Apple announcement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on October 22, 2013 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

New models may have bigger screen, come in gold

Apple will host a press event next week where it’s expected to announced updates to its iPad product line. The company sent invitations to media outlets today featuring the tagline “it’s been way too long,” a coy reference to the fact that Apple just unveiled the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch at an event on Sept. 9.

The iPad event will take place Oct. 16 at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters at 10 a.m. PT, according to an invite received by Fortune:

Apple

Among the rumors churning about the new iPad include the possibility of a gold model and a version with a larger, 12.9-inch screen. Apple may also announce a new iMac and provide more details about or a public release of its upcoming operating system upgrade, OS X Yosemite.

[Fortune]

TIME Gadgets

Teens Aren’t So Hot on the Apple Watch

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

It may be the $350 starting price tag

Fairly or not, teenagers are often seen as arbiters of taste in the tech sector. So it might be a little disconcerting for Apple that they’re expressing little interest in the company’s upcoming Apple Watch, according to a new survey by an investment bank.

The Piper Jaffray survey of 7,200 teens, conducted in person and online across 41 states, aims to find out about teens’ consumption habits and technological preferences. While Apple’s iPhone was popular among the teens surveyed—two-thirds said they had one—just 16% said they were interested in buying an Apple Watch, according to Re/Code. Currently just 7% of the teens surveyed own a smartwatch, numbers that reflect their slow adoption across the board. The Apple Watch’s price tag, which starts at $350, could be one factor muting teens’ interest.

There is some good news for Apple in the survey as well. 54% of teens said they own an iPad, compared to 16% with an Android tablet and 6% with a Kindle Fire. Beats by Dre headphones, a part of the Beats Electronics company that Apple is buying for $3 billion, are also growing in popularity among young people.

Overall, kids prefer to splurge on many things besides electronics. Teens surveyed spend 21% of their money on clothes, 9% on their cars and 8% on shoes, compared to 7% on gadgets.

TIME ebola

Fear, Misinformation, and Social Media Complicate Ebola Fight

Twitter Shadow Sillhouette
Dado Ruvic—Reuters

Information—both accurate and not—spreads faster thanks to sites like Twitter and Facebook

Based on Facebook and Twitter chatter, it can seem like Ebola is everywhere. Following the first diagnosis of an Ebola case in the United States on Sept. 30, mentions of the virus on Twitter leapt from about 100 per minute to more than 6,000. Cautious health officials have tested potential cases in Newark, Miami Beach and Washington D.C., sparking more worry. Though the patients all tested negative, some people are still tweeting as if the disease is running rampant in these cities. In Iowa the Department of Public Health was forced to issue a statement dispelling social media rumors that Ebola had arrived in the state. Meanwhile there have been a constant stream of posts saying that Ebola can be spread through the air, water, or food, which are all inaccurate claims.

Research scientists who study how we communicate on social networks have a name for these people: the “infected.”

Trying to stem the spread of bad information online actually shares many similarities with containing a real-world virus. Infected Internet users, who may have picked up bogus info from an inaccurate media report, another person on social media or word-of-mouth, proceed to “infect” others with each false tweet or Facebook post. “We have millions and millions of people on these social networks,” says Ceren Budak, a researcher who studies online communications at Microsoft Research. “Most of them in certain cases are not going to have reliable information, but they’re still going to keep talking.”

Part of the problem is the piecemeal way in which people now gather their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, almost a third of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from Facebook, where authoritative sources are jockeying for position with friends and relatives. Experts say people are more likely to trust information that comes from people they know. “When your friends say something to you, it’s not just the information itself,” Budak says. “It’s the fact that ‘Oh, he’s my friend and I trust him. Therefore I trust the piece of information.’”

Meanwhile on Twitter, a single false statement can quickly affect thousands. During the confusion following the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, would-be online sleuths misidentified a missing college student as a primary suspect in the case. His name ended up trending nationally on Twitter, though he had nothing to do with the attack. When hackers broke into the Associated Press’s Twitter account last spring and posted a message claiming that the White House had been attacked, the S&P 500 Index immediately tumbled, briefly wiping out about $130 billion in value.

People like to believe they aren’t gullible enough to fall for a hoax or rumor, but research shows that isn’t always the case. If a piece of information is highly surprising or comes from a trusted source, experts say people are more likely to spread it. A 2011 University of Michigan study of five rumors on Twitter showed that 43% of the users studied seemed to believe the false information they were posting (rather than debunking it or posting it neutrally).

Moments of crisis, when there’s a vacuum of accurate information, only exacerbate this. “Fear has a role,” says Emilio Ferrara, a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University’s Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research. “If I read something that leverages my fears, my judgement would be obfuscated, and I could be more prone to spread facts that are obviously wrong under the pressure of these feelings.”

Quick, accurate information disseminated as widely as possible, experts say, is the only way to combat the spread of falsities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for its part, has been sending out constant updates on Ebola on its website and social media accounts. Less than three hours after confirming the Ebola case in Dallas, the CDC sent a tweet featuring detailed, illustrated explanations for how people can and can’t contract the virus. It’s been retweeted more than 4,000 times, a record for the agency. The CDC also hosted a Twitter chat Oct. 2, answering more than 150 questions about Ebola. “Rumors move much more quickly in the social media space than they would have otherwise,” says Barbara Reynolds, head of public affairs for the CDC. “People want information and one of the best things we can do is give them information in a way that they can take it in and manage their emotions.”

Still, timely information may not be enough to stem fear-mongering on the Web. Asking the social networks themselves to monitor bogus information is a non-starter, rumor experts say, as that could basically amount to censorship. The most effective way to beat back a rumor that won’t die is to get influencers in different spheres to spread correct information in their individual networks of friends. “The people who are being misinformed are not necessarily the people who were listening to CDC to begin with,” Budak says. “It’s really crucial to study this problem as a network problem and to leverage the connections between ordinary people.”

To some extent, that’s already happening. Tweet Like a Girl, a humor-focused Twitter account with more than 1 million followers, tweeted the CDC’s “Facts About Ebola” image and warned followers to stop “freaking out.” The message has been retweeted almost 12,000 times, spreading much further than it did through the original CDC tweet. In this case, one of the most-shared messages of the Ebola crisis is spreading fact instead of fiction.

Alexandra Sifferlin contributed to this report.

TIME Companies

Twitter Is Suing the Government So it Can Tell You More About Surveillance

The Twitter logo is displayed on a banner outside the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013 in New York.
The Twitter logo is displayed on a banner outside the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013 in New York. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Twitter is making a First Amendment argument over transparency

Twitter is suing the U.S. Justice Department to disclose more information about the types of data the government seeks about Twitter users. Twitter, which has acted as a staunch free speech advocate in the past, wants to publish more detailed information in its biannual transparency report information about how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) it receives from the government.

FISA orders and NSLs allow the government to secretly gather communications data on what it says are national security threats. Recipients of such requests cannot legally disclose that they have received them. However, following revelations about government surveillance from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the U.S. government reached an agreement with several tech giants to allow them to publish information about how many sensitive data requests they received, but only in very broad ranges. In one variant of the stipulations, for example, companies can only disclose that they received between 0 and 999 FISA court requests for data about Twitter’s users.

Twitter — not one of the companies that reached the settlement with the government — wants to be more specific about how many data requests it receives, which it believes it has the constitutional right to do.

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

Unlike other tech companies like Google, Twitter does not specifically break out the number of FISA court requests it receives in its transparency reports. Overal, Twitter receives less government requests for user data than larger Internet companies like Google and Facebook.

The case was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Northern California.

 

TIME ebola

Watch How Word of Ebola Exploded in America

Exclusive Twitter data shows how conversation about the virus has escalated dramatically

As Ebola has taken more lives and crept into more countries, the virus has come to dominate both news headlines and social media conversation. On Twitter, a whopping 10.5 million tweets mentioning the word “Ebola” were sent between Sept. 16 and Oct. 6 from 170 countries around the world. The map below, based on data TIME obtained exclusively from Twitter, shows how the conversation blew up in early October.

The country where Ebola dominates conversation most is Liberia, where the virus has already claimed more than 2,000 lives. In terms of sheer volume, though, most Ebola tweets are sent from the United States. Global conversation about the disease exploded after a Liberian man was diagnosed with the disease at a Dallas hospital on Sept. 30. On the night of Oct. 1, Twitter users were firing off missives about Ebola at the rate of more than 6,000 per minute, up from about 100 per minute before Sept. 30. Check out the heat map of Ebola tweets below to see how quickly talk of the virus spread following its arrival in the U.S.

Here’s a breakdown of the tweets per minute about Ebola over the last several weeks:

Research scientists who study the way we communicate on social networks borrow much of the terminology that’s used by health officials who are trying to control an epidemic. Internet users who pick up misinformation and false rumors are known as the “infected,” and they can infect others with every errant tweet or Facebook post. Much of what has been posted on social media about Ebola has been helpful—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s illustrated tweet explaining how the virus spreads has been retweeted more than 4,000 times—but there have also been bogus rumors about Ebola reaching Idaho and an unwarranted panic after a passenger became sick on a flight in Newark, N.J.

TIME Companies

Meet the Woman Heading Facebook’s Huge International Growth

Key Speakers At The Dublin Web Summit
Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president for EMEA at Facebook Inc., gestures as she addresses delegates during the Dublin Web Summit in Dublin on Oct. 30, 2013. Aidan Crawley—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Like many of the U.S. tech giants, Facebook is increasingly betting its financial future overseas. The company, whose social network has already achieved widespread adoption in North America and Western Europe, is focusing more of its resources on fast-developing markets like Africa, the Middle East and India. In April Facebook announced that it had 100 million users in India, and it reached the same milestone in Africa in September.

The company is trying to get more people in these regions online through its Internet.org initiative, which aims to beam Internet connectivity to remote areas. At the same time Facebook is courting marketers by offering up region-specific advertising units that are tailored to the different ways people communicate around the world.

During New York’s Advertising Week, TIME sat down with Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s Vice President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, to discuss the growth of Facebook’s business abroad, how privacy concerns differ across cultures and whether Yo isn’t such a crazy app idea after all.

TIME: Obviously Facebook’s mobile transition has been a big story the past couple of years. But here when people think about it, they think of smartphones. Was Facebook’s feature phone business one that happened after smartphones or was it happening concurrently?

Mendelsohn: Two thirds of the world are accessing Facebook through feature phones, so it’s a hugely important part of how people access the platform. What we’re trying to do is make the world more open and connected so people can share more. Mobile means many different things depending on where on the planet you are and how you access Facebook and the Internet.

We’ve made a change in how we go to market in terms of our advertising products. It used to be that we had exactly the same advertising product all around the world. We’ve now started to place more and more resources in the developing markets, like Africa, like India, like Indonesia, to really understand how people are using Facebook, how they’re using mobile and come up with different products that work better there.

One is an insight borne out of what we saw in India. Data is expensive, and for a lot of people it can be prohibitive in terms of how they access Facebook or the Internet. What we saw was a whole “missed calls” phenomenon that was going on. Between us we’d create our own language—one missed call means go pick the kids up, two means let’s meet for a drink, three means I’ll meet you for lunch or whatever it is. We set up the missed call product so that advertisers could have the opportunity to tap into this meme and deliver information to people, some of whom are coming onto the Internet and to Facebook for the very first time and who are actually really excited to get messaging from advertisers. That’s the first place that we’ve done this, and the results are such that we’re going to look to do this in South Africa as well.

TIME: You just mentioned that a lot of people in these markets might be excited about seeing advertising because they haven’t been exposed to the Internet as much. Is the appetite for ads there higher than in America, where people are exposed to ads all the time?

Mendelsohn: People like advertising if it’s relevant and entertaining and useful to them. What we see in some of the high-growth markets is that brands are talking to them for the very first time, and there is an excitement about that because it’s new and it has not happened before. We see behaviors where people actually share the adverts that they see with other people because it’s of interest and it’s new information.

TIME: Out of that 100 million users in Africa, which are the countries you are most focused on?

A: That’s Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa.

TIME: Do you expect, going forward, that the feature phone market is going to increase, or do you see with Android One and these cheaper smartphones that people are going to transition to those devices really quickly?

I think there will be an acceleration of these cheaper smartphones, driven in particular by the price. But I think they’re not going to have all the same features that the ones we have in the U.S. and the U.K. have. There will still be challenges on things like data costs. Actually the challenge becomes greater when you have the smartphone because it has access to so many more bells, gadgets, widgets. If you want to connect the planet, data and cost is something that is prohibitive to that. It’s one of the reasons that Mark Zuckerberg launched Internet.org.

TIME: Facebook’s average revenue generated per user is much lower in these emerging markets than it is in the U.S. What is Facebook’s plan to boost that number in the future?

What is the primary concern in this part of the world is how we connect everyone to the Internet. That’s the primary focus. In terms of the ARPU, that will emerge in different ways.

TIME: You’re dealing with a lot of different types of cultures across a vast number of countries. Do you see different privacy concerns in different areas? How do you deal with that on an individual basis?

For us, privacy is the most important issue and making sure that people know and are in control of the data they share and who they share it with. I think that’s important for people wherever you are the world. One of the nuanced differences that we see in some of these countries is the fact that people like to be friends with lots more people than perhaps they might in mainland Europe. We see people want to have lots of friends, including people that they’ve never never before, and share information with those people. That is a difference that might sit uncomfortably with other people in different parts of the world.

TIME: Are you familiar with the app Yo?

No, I’m not. Tell me about Yo.

TIME: All it does is send the word Yo to other people. It was actually pretty heavily mocked when it came out over the summer. But it sounds like from what you’re saying that’s a logical use case that actually exists, where people would want to send a single word that can provide context about what they’re doing.

I can’t talk to [Yo], but I think people communicate in different ways. The uptake in stickers—people sending emoticons just to express their feelings—is a different way of showing how people communicate. Not necessarily in Africa but in some of the more developed markets. People are becoming much more visual.

We’ve always seen with any new technology that’s come on since the printing press, that it causes people to think about how they communicate in different ways. One of the things that’s been surprising about this technology revolution is that it’s shortened some of the ways that we communicate with each other rather than increasing it. If the printing press meant that we could write canon of books, the mobile phone means I can write “LOL” and we both understand what that means.

TIME iPhone 6

Check Out How Much Faster Wi-Fi on the iPhone 6 Is

The iPhone 6 is a speed demon compared to its predecessors

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are not only bigger than their predecessors—they’re faster, too. A Wi-Fi speed test by iClarified shows that the iPhone 6 Plus’s throughput speed is more than twice as fast as the old iPhone 5s.

The new iPhones boast a more advanced Wi-Fi standard called 802.11ac. On its website, Apple says the improved technology can provide for throughput speeds three times faster than older iPhones. However, users must have a router that supports 802.11ac to benefit from the speed boost.

TIME Technology & Media

Facebook Changing Research Methods After Controversial Mood Study

Facebook Inc. Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings Figures
The Facebook Inc. logo is displayed an Apple Inc. iPad Air past water droplets in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently"

Facebook has issued a mea culpa for a controversial experiment on its users that gained widespread attention over the summer, promising to revamp its research practices going forward.

In a blog post, Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer acknowledged the social network mishandled a 2012 study that altered the types of posts some users saw in their News Feeds to in order to determine whether such a change would affect the emotional tone of their own posts. The results of the study were published this June, angering some users because no one gave prior consent for the study nor did it clear any kind of review board, a step typically undertaken by academic research organizations.

“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently,” Schroepfer wrote. “For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”

The company is now instituting a new framework for handling both internal experiments and research that may later be published. Research that is studying specific groups of people or relates to “deeply personal” content (such as emotions) will go through an “enhanced review process” before being approved. Facebook has also set up a panel of employees from different parts of the company, such as the privacy and legal teams, that will review potential research projects. The social network will also incorporate education on research practices into the introductory training that is given to new company engineers and present all the public research it conducts on a single website.

Facebook did not provide any detail on what the enhanced review process would look like or whether external auditors would review the company’s research. The company also retains the right to conduct any experiments it deems appropriate through its data use policy.

TIME Economy

Why Everyone Who Lives in Alaska Is Getting $1,884 Today

North slope oil rush Alaska
The North slope oil rush in Alaska, circa 1969 Ralph Crane&—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

That's enough to buy a trip to somewhere warmer

If polar bears and Snow Dogs weren’t enough to make you want to move to Alaska, consider this: You can get paid thousands of dollars a year just for living there.

Today, Oct. 2, almost every permanent resident of Alaska — even babies — will get paid $1,884 as a dividend from the state’s Alaska Permanent Fund, a government fund that invests proceeds generated from the state’s oil reserves to ensure future wealth for the state.

When the first dividend checks were issued to residents in 1980, TIME predicted that the windfall would be long-lasting:

Nor is there any end in sight to the flow of dividends from the oil fund, which by the end of this year is expected to total more than $1 billion. Oil price increases could also continue to swell the fund. While most Americans complain bitterly every time OPEC members raise prices, Alaskans have reason to applaud. With the price of domestic oil now decontrolled, Alaskan crude can rise to the world level; thus the state’s royalties will grow with each foreign price hike.

Today the Alaska Permanent Fund is valued above $50 billion, and the dividend paid to residents this week will total $1.1 billion.

And for the individual who’s squirreled away his dividend payment each year since the program launched in 1980? He’s made a cool $37,000 just for being loyal to the state.

Read more about the origins of the Alaska Permanent Fund in TIME’s archives: Alaska Bonanza

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