TIME Google

Google Bans Porn Ads From Search Results

Updated July 2, 4:39 p.m.

Following an earlier announcement of the change, Google has begun banning pornographic ads from its search engine. As of Monday, the company now blocks explicit content from AdWords, the Google ad units that appear above users’ search results and across the Web, according to CNBC. Google now no longer accepts ads that promote “graphic sexual acts with intent to arouse.”

Google first announced the change to its advertising policy back in March. The new policy affects all countries. The company also bans ads promoting underage and non-consensual sexual content, as well prostitution and escort services. However, Google does allow ads for strip clubs and what it terms “adult and sexual dating sites.” The changes will not affect the organic results users see when conducting Google searches.

The search giant has made several moves recently to limit the amount of explicit content on its services. Earlier this year, the company issued new developer guidelines for the Google Play store that banned apps featuring erotic content.

[CNBC]

TIME National Security

Privacy Board Gives Approval to NSA Snooping

James Cole
Deputy Attorney General James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 5, 2014, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on reforming the practice of bulk collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency and other government agencies. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

But highlights concerns about Americans getting caught in the surveillance net

The privacy oversight panel tasked with reviewing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance activities says snooping on foreigners is legal and effective, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board ruled unanimously that Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the NSA uses to snoop on data centers located inside the U.S.—like Google, for instance—to collect the communications of foreigners “reasonably believed” to be outside the country, “has been subject to judicial oversight and extensive internal supervision.”

The panel found “no evidence of intentional abuse.” Instead, it was deemed “clearly authorized” by Congress, “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment and “an extremely valuable and effective intelligence tool.” The board added that the program “has led the government to identify previously unknown individuals who are involved in international terrorism, and it has played a key role in discovering and disrupting specific terrorist plots aimed at the United States and other countries.”

The program has been at the center of controversy over NSA documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden. The scope of this surveillance can potentially sweep up the communications of Americans, who can also be specifically targeted for surveillance if their communications yield information “about” a foreign target.

Tuesday’s report contrasts sharply with the panel’s earlier report that harshly scolded the agency and comes soon after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) slammed the intelligence community for what he called a “huge gap in oversight” of the “backdoor searches.” Wyden had been sent a letter from the Director of National Intelligence that detailed the communications collected by the program in 2013 and revealed the FBI uses the NSA data to conduct surveillance on Americans, though the agency reports it does not keep a record of how many.

TIME technology

Now You Can Be The Person Who Brews Apple’s Coffee

Getty Images

Proof that every position at Apple starts with the letter "i"

If you’re looking to work at Apple but you don’t have a degree in computer science, then there may still be hope. You could apply to be an “iCup Technician.”

The job summary of the listing on Apple’s website, posted June 28, 2014, says, “The Apple iCup Services is specially designed to provide a fresh brew coffee to all Apple employees within their department.”

Applicants may not have to code for the position, but they should have “some computer skills.” The ideal person for this 40-hour-a-week job in Santa Clara Valley, California, would also have “prior experience working with coffee machines” and be someone who “continually grows in knowledge.”

Can’t wait to see how many applicants start their cover letters with “iBrew.”

 

 

 

 

TIME Mobile

‘Cramming’ Suit Could Mean Big Trouble for T-Mobile

T-Mobile's John Legere
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., holds an Apple Inc. iPhone as he speaks during an event in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Allegations that T-Mobile made millions off scam text messages could tarnish its consumer-friendly 'Un-Carrier' image.

T-Mobile has spent the last year and a half telling us again and again that it’s not like the other wireless carriers. Stuck in fourth place in the market after a failed merger with AT&T, the company transformed into the “Un-Carrier” as a way to differentiate itself from rivals Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The campaign is part disruptive business model, part slick marketing. T-Mobile has ended two-year contracts, eliminated automatic overage fees and prevented its customers from racking up huge data charges while traveling abroad. And T-Mobile CEO John Legere, once a buttoned-up executive at AT&T, now hurls vulgarities at his competitors and crashes their corporate parties, essentially trolling them the way we all wish we could when our phone bill comes in each month. It’s an effective one-two punch that instantly conveys that T-Mobile is a company run by real people that want to help the little guy.

The “Un-Carrier” image is now in peril, thanks to a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission claiming that T-Mobile profited from bogus charges for unwanted premium text message services on customers’ bills. The annoying spam texts for things like flirting tips and horoscopes cost $9.99 per month and were charged to customers via third-party companies in a process known as “cramming.” T-Mobile kept as much as 40 percent of the money from these fees, generating hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the FTC. The Commission also claims T-Mobile buried these charges deep in users’ bills and refused to refund some customers’ money when they complained. T-Mobile could be on the hook for millions of dollars to repay customers for the charges, according to the FTC.

T-Mobile, however, says the allegations are without merit. In a statement, CEO John Legere said the company stopped billing for premium texting services last year and has already launched a program to refund customers for fraudulent charges. “T-Mobile is fighting harder than any of the carriers to change the way the wireless industry operates and we are disappointed that the FTC has chosen to file this action against the most pro-consumer company in the industry rather than the real bad actors,” he said.

Whatever punishment the courts might levy, the real cost to T-Mobile is in how this legal battle could affect its image. The company claims to be on a righteous campaign to save customers from petty charges from their cellphone carriers. Burying unwanted fees for daily horoscopes in customers’ bills is the antithesis of the “Un-Carrier” ethos.

“It does hurt T-Mobile’s brand because obviously it’s built around consumer-friendliness,” Chetan Sharma, a mobile industry analyst, says of the FTC complaint. “I was a bit surprised that T-Mobile didn’t just try to settle it.”

In Legere’s statement, the T-Mobile chief pointed out that deceptive charges from shady third parties have plagued the entire wireless industry for a long time. Last fall, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint all signed an agreement with 45 states to stop billing customers for premium text messages. Verizon did not sign the specific agreement but committed to the same principle. Meanwhile, the FTC is also pursuing non-carriers involved in cramming schemes, like companies that feed wireless carriers false phone numbers for billing, several of which it has already sued.

An FTC spokesman declined to comment on the cramming practices of other wireless carriers or whether the agency would file legal action against them as well.

It’s likely that T-Mobile’s actions regarding cramming were not out of the ordinary for the wireless industry—and the problem itself, a relic of the days when people bought digital goods through SMS rather than through online app stores, has mostly been eradicated. But this is supposed to be a company that’s about flouting the rules, not playing by them. A T-Mobile without the arrogant CEO and the customer-first mentality is just a fourth-place carrier with a wireless network that can’t stack up to AT&T’s or Verizon’s in many areas. Now that the company has been singled out by the FTC, it will be critical for T-Mobile that it proves it has customers’ best interest at heart.

“They should probably put out the data on [cramming] as to how big of an issue it is so people can understand the scale,” Sharma says. “The FTC’s lawsuit makes us believe that it’s a much bigger problem than it might be. Without the numbers, it’s very hard to say which way it is.”

TIME China

China Is Using Drones to Fight Pollution

China Enlists Drones in War on Pollution
Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China. Getty Images

China has a novel approach to addressing its air pollution issues: drones.

In the country’s first aerial pollution-monitoring efforts, China deployed 11 unmanned vehicles in June designed to detect illegal nighttime emissions from 254 factories using infrared lights and thermal imaging, according to a Saturday statement from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Covering over 2000 square km. in 20 hours, the small- and medium-sized drones monitored cities in Hebei and Shanxi, provinces heavily polluted by city smog and coal mining emissions. The drones also surveyed cities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, another northern area suffering from mining-related pollution and dust storms.

In all, the drone data resulted in 64 companies being suspected of violating of environmental laws, said the Ministry’s statement. The major infractions included air pollutants exceeding safe atmospheric concentrations, unregulated smoke emissions and improper functions of desulfurization plants and waste water facilities. The next step will involve conducting on-the-ground investigations of sites, the results of which will be released to the public.

China has previously tested using drones to fight the country’s heavy atmospheric pollution — in March, China tested large drones equipped with parachutes that sprayed chemicals to disperse smog, though the country has yet to use these widely. China has also tested stealth drones and funneled billions into military spending to modernize its arsenal of aerial vehicles.

The country’s air traffic control regulators are “in strong support” of the pollution-monitoring drones, which meet its aviation regulations, according to the statement.

China has long been considered one of the world’s most polluted countries. In accordance with the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Program, which debuted in 2013, China has made plans to cut millions of tons of outdated steel, cement and coal operations by the end of the year, according to Reuters.

Chinese environmental experts have estimated that the country’s air pollution will drop to a safe level by 2030.

TIME Social Networking

Sheryl Sandberg Apologizes for Facebook News Feed Experiment

Sheryl Sandberg Facebook Apology
Facebook chief operating officer (COO), Sheryl Sandberg addresses an interactive session organized by the women's wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi on July 2, 2014. Chandan Khanna—AFP/Getty Images

But it was a non-apology, really

After Facebook revealed that it secretly toyed with some users’ emotions for a science experiment, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has offered something of an apology.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sandberg said during a meeting with potential advertisers in India, according to the Wall Street Journal. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

Note that Sandberg did not say sorry for the study itself, which involved seeing if users became unhappier when they saw a greater proportion of negative posts, or happier when they saw more positive posts. (They did, in both cases.)

Sandberg didn’t say how Facebook would better do a better job of “communicating” in the future, or what that would look like. (Maybe the solution is not to communicate.) Basically what we have here is a variant on the classic corporate non-apology: Sorry if we upset you.

Note that the study–regardless of the communication around it–was designed to upset people, or at least see if it was possible to do so. And as Sandberg notes, Facebook does this type of research all the time. What the study brings to light is the idea that Facebook has immense power to model peoples’ emotions through algorithms. It’s a frightening notion, and one that not easily dismissed with a halfhearted apology.

Sandberg’s apology comes a few days after a Facebook researcher involved in the study also offered an apology.

[WSJ]

TIME Wireless

T-Mobile and the FTC: What Is Text Message ‘Cramming?’

T-Mobile Cramming
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., speaks during an event in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Bloomberg/ Getty Images

The FTC says T-Mobile made millions off "cramming," but what is that, anyway?

Government watchdogs on Tuesday charged T-Mobile with making hundreds of millions of dollars by turning a blind eye to a text message scam scheme known as “cramming.” Here’s what you should know about it:

What is cramming?

Cramming happens when scammers attach hard-to-spot charges to text message services like horoscopes or trivia games. Those charges either come without your permission or at a higher rate than you expected. The fees are attached to your monthly phone bill, and your carrier often takes a cut, as it would for other forms of third-party billing-by-text. The crammers hope their charges stay hidden in plain sight on your often-confusing monthly phone bill.

Here’s what a cramming charge would look like on a T-Mobile bill, according to the FTC:

tmobile-samplebill
Federal Trade Commission

Is cramming legal?

Some states have passed anti-cramming laws, but monitoring for and responding to cramming schemes is largely the job of the FTC, the nation’s federal consumer watchdog, and the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees wireless carriers and other telecoms.

The FTC has been successful in clamping down on cramming before: a group of companies which the Commission said were running a massive cramming scheme recently settled those charges to the tune of $10 million. The FCC, meanwhile, says it’s penalized companies nine times for cramming — and will look at the FTC’s T-Mobile charges as well. And Verizon agreed last year to settle a class-action cramming lawsuit, agreeing to refund every single cramming charge to any customer who asked for his or her money back in a big win for consumers.

Should I be worried about cramming?

At this point, not really. Not long after that Verizon settlement — and under pressure from state attorneys general — the four major American carriers — Big Red plus AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, agreed to drop most forms of third-party text billing. That effectively eliminated text message cramming as a worthwhile scam, so it’s not happening so much anymore. The carriers still let you make some payments via text, like to the Red Cross during emergencies and, more recently, to political campaigns.

But if you think you’ve been crammed, you can complain to your carrier and to the FTC to get the ball rolling on a refund — an option available to you even before the carriers’ pact. You can also contact the FTC about pretty much anything else confusing about your phone bill.

But wait, I thought the FTC said T-Mobile was allowing cramming?

You’re right! But the FTC’s accusing T-Mobile of allowing cramming back before the carriers made their pact against the practice. The Commission’s saying that so many T-Mobile customers were requesting refunds for certain third-party charges, it should have been clear to T-Mobile that something fishy was going on — but according to the FTC, T-Mobile didn’t act on those red flags. Instead, the FTC says, T-Mobile made millions by taking 30-40% of the obviously fraudulent charges.

What’s all this mean for T-Mobile?

T-Mobile is in hot water here. Under the leadership of feisty and controversial CEO John Legere, T-Mobile’s branded itself as the “un-carrier,” a hip wireless carrier that’s more consumer-friendly than rivals Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Getting hit with a charge like this could put a serious dent in that image, as my colleague Victor Luckerson writes: What’s consumer-friendly about reaping millions off text message scams? Legere himself has already responded to the FTC’s charges, calling them “factually and legally unfounded” and “misdirected.” Legere also says T-Mobile’s been working to refund cramming fees.

The cramming charges could also throw a monkey wrench into Sprint’s plans to merge with T-Mobile in a massive $32 billion deal that has yet to pass regulators’ smell tests — it’s likely the charges will need to be addressed before that deal can be given the green light.

TIME Video Games

There’s a New Civilization Revolution Game on the Block

2K

The sequel to 2K's populist reimagining of its turn-based strategy Civilization franchise is out now for iOS, with an Android version to follow later this year.

Somehow this slid under my radar: Civilization Revolution 2 exists, a sequel to 2008’s Civilization Revolution, and it’s available as I’m typing this for $15 on the iOS App Store (with an Android version to follow later this year).

It’s hard to know what to make of it, since it had so little pre-release press. Who devised this stealth-sequel anyway? Firaxis?

Not this time. Firaxis designed the original, which shipped for consoles first, followed by mobile phones and Nintendo’s DS later. 2K China handled the iOS port of that original game, and it seems they’re in the driver’s seat for the sequel. That may be neither here nor there, but if you want to scan their development history for yourself, see here. They’re mostly known for doing ports of games someone else created.

2K’s standalone Civilization Revolution site makes no mention of the game (in fact, the page hasn’t been updated in years). There’s an official sub-site for it off the trunk Civilization site, indicating what it’s compatible with (iPhone 4S+, iPad 2+, iPad Mini 1+ and iPod Touch 5) and offering this description (my emphasis):

The sequel to one of the most successful strategy games on mobile is here! Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution 2 challenges players to build a glorious empire that will stand the test of time. This is the first game in the Civilization catalog to be developed and available exclusively for mobile devices. Civilization Revolution 2 offers mobile strategy fans a brand new 3D presentation and more tactical depth than ever before! Find out if you have what it takes to rule the world!

And then there’s the feature checklist: a few new units (Aircraft Carriers, Jet Fighters, SpecOps Infantry), some new tech (Lasers, Medicine, Information Tech), new buildings and wonders (Nuclear Power Plant, The Red Cross, Silicon Valley), 3D graphics (the original mobile versions were 2D) and some history-minded scenario challenges.

The good news is that it’s $15, not a buck or free plus in-game purchases. Once you’ve bought it, it’s simply free-to-play. The bad news is that the game ships without multiplayer — just as Civilization Revolution did, true, but the latter wound up getting it down the road for $2.99. If history repeats, that means Civilization Revolution 2 is really free-to-play-solo, with a pay-for multiplayer update to come.

TIME Bitcoin

Venture Capitalist Who Wants to Split California Into 6 States Just Bought $19 Million Worth of Bitcoin

Bitcoin
This picture taken on June 20, 2014, shows an entrance of La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris. Stephane De Sakutin—AFP/Getty Images

The massive pool of crypto-currency could help establish bitcoin trading platforms in emerging markets.

Tim Draper, a venture capitalist best known for his proposal to split California into six states, just bought millions of dollars worth of bitcoin that in a former life might have been used as drug money.

As Re/code reports, the U.S. Marshals Service was auctioning roughly 30,000 bitcoin that it had seized from the online drug marketplace Silk Road. Draper won the auction for the entire bitcoin pool, which is worth about $19 million now.

But he’s not using his newfound cryptocurrency purely for personal enrichment. Instead, he’s partnering with Vaurum, a firm that wants to create a bitcoin exchange for financial institutions. The goal with this new bitcoin pool, according to Vaurum CEO Avish Bhama, is to create some liquidity in emerging markets, which otherwise might struggle with their own weakening currencies.

“Of course, no one is totally secure in holding their own country’s currency,” Draper said in a statement on Bhama’s blog. “We want to enable people to hold and trade bitcoin to secure themselves against weakening currencies.”

Between that and the plan to split up California, give Draper some credit for trying shake things up, at least.

[re/code]

TIME Video Games

Android TV Could Actually Succeed as a Game Console

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's new platform for TVs and set-top boxes puts games in the spotlight, but don't write it off as another Ouya.

On some level, it’s easy to laugh off the gaming element of Android TV, Google’s new living room platform that will arrive later this year.

The notion that a small, cheap set-top box could threaten large, expensive game consoles seemed popular a year ago, when “microconsoles” like Ouya and GameStick were hitting the market. But these devices haven’t taken off, and while the traditional game console market appears to be contracting, it’s still a big business, with sales in the millions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Still, after seeing more of Android TV at last week’s Google I/O conference, I think Google’s gaming efforts have a chance to succeed. Along with whatever Apple is reportedly working on, Android TV could be the disruptive force in living room gaming that pundits–myself included–have been predicting for years.

Ouya’s main problem was that it occupied an awkward middle ground between high-end game consoles and cheaper all-purpose entertainment boxes. It was marketed as a gaming product, but its catalog wasn’t meaty enough to attract core gamers. Meanwhile, as a media streamer, Ouya didn’t have a lot of essential apps, further limiting its appeal to people who were considering an Apple TV or Roku.

But Ouya’s approach did have some flashes of brilliance. It has some great small-scale games that you can pick up quickly and play in short bursts, and the experience of rifling through Ouya’s digital store and sampling a dozen free-to-try indie titles is something you can’t get from the big consoles. While Ouya’s gaming experience is hard to justify on its own, it could work as a supplement to a low-cost streaming media device or a smart TV.

That’s the approach Android TV is taking, and while it’s not the first set-top box with gaming–both Amazon Fire TV and Roku offer some games as well–it puts a greater emphasis on games than any other device I’ve seen. Instead of being relegated to a sub-menu, games appear on the same main screen as Android TV’s apps and recommendations. When you scroll down to the apps list, the games list pops into view, getting an equal amount of space, so it’s impossible to ignore.

Google has even built in some hooks for people who play games on Android phones and tablets. Because everything’s coming from the Google Play Store, you’ll likely be able to buy a game once and play it across all devices. Google is also supporting achievements, friends lists and cloud saves through its Google Play Games service, so you can switch between a phone, tablet and TV without losing any progress. The only console maker that could offer something similar is Microsoft, and it has bungled every opportunity to do so.

Will Android TV appeal to core gamers? I’m skeptical, but the involvement of gaming hardware maker Razer suggests that Google at least wants to try. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s K1 processor is the first chip to support Android TV, appearing in the reference device that Google is giving to app developers. If Nvidia brings GameStream and Grid to Android TV, it could allow for high-end gaming on cheaper set-top boxes and smart TVs.

Regardless, I suspect that the bigger prize is the demographic of users who enjoy games, but won’t take the plunge on a pricier console–the people who say “I like games, but if I bought a PlayStation 4 I’d never leave the house.” I’m 31 years old, and I can’t tell you how many people my age have said that to me when I tell them about my gaming habits. If Google and Apple can lure those people in with streaming video and music, and then show them a world of games that are easy to pick up and put down, the microconsole might not be such a joke.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser