This Week in Tech 671: A Bad Day for the Internet

Social media is still destroying the world. Top trends at E3. The end of Net Neutrality and the AT&T/ Time Warner Merger are a 1-2 punch against consumers. Automation is taking jobs in China and at Amazon. White house hacked. GDPR is killing email marketing. Theranos founder up on charges.

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AT&T sues former employees for allegedly unlocking “hundreds of thousands” contract-bound phones

AT&T is suing three of its former employees that it accuses of helping to unlock hundreds of thousands of cell phones so the devices could work with any other wireless carrier. Marc Sapatin, Nguyen Lam, and Kyra Evans all worked at an AT&T call center in Washington in 2013, where it’s claimed they “perpetuated the Unlock Scheme by creating, distributing, and placing on AT&T’s computer systems a ‘malware’ program designed to fraudulently, and without authorization, transmit unlock requests that unlocked hundreds of thousands of phones from exclusive use on AT&T’s network,” according to the complaint filed in Seattle’s US district court.

AT&T claim that the accused trio collaborated with Anaheim-based company Swift Unlocks in the scheme. The SwiftUnlocks website offers a service that unlocks a variety of phones for a fee. It’s alleged that the company owner and operator, Prashant Vira, paid Evans at least $20,000 “for her placement and/or execution of the malware programs on AT&T’s protected computer systems for the purpose of securing the fraudulent unlock.” AT&T further alleged that Swift Unlocks paid Sapatin – who also attempted to involve other AT&T employees in the fraud – at least $10,500. No payments to Lam were alleged.

The malware allowed commands to be issued from a remote, unauthorized server and used “valid customer service personnel identification numbers” to process automated unlock requests without proper authorization, AT&T wrote. The company added that it believed 50 “John Doe Defendants” helped develop the software.

AT&T is seeking financial damages and injunctions preventing the defendants from continuing the alleged activity. The company gave the following statement to ars technica: “We’re seeking damages and injunctive relief from several people who engaged in a scheme a couple of years ago to illegally unlock wireless telephones used on our network. It’s important to note that this did not involve any improper access of customer information, or any adverse effect on our customers.”

Source: AT&T sues former employees for allegedly unlocking “hundreds of thousands” contract-bound phones – TechSpot

AT&T, but not Verizon and Comcast, sue FCC over net neutrality

Out of the many lawsuits filed this week against the Federal Communications Commission, just one came from a major Internet service provider: AT&T.

AT&T made no secret of its opposition to the FCC’s net neutrality order, but it was reported last month that trade groups rather than individual ISPs would lead the legal fight against the FCC. That has mostly been the case so far, with AT&T but not other big ISPs like Comcast or Verizon filing suit. Lawsuits have been filed by four consortiums representing cable, wireless, and telecommunications companies. One small provider in Texas called Alamo Broadband sued the FCC as well.

Comcast, when asked if it plans to file a lawsuit, told Ars that it is “referring all questions to NCTA,” the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which sued on behalf of cable providers. We’ve asked Verizon the same question but haven’t heard back yet. Verizon did sue the FCC over a previous version of its net neutrality rules passed in 2010. Verizon won that case, inadvertently opening broadband providers up to even stricter rules.

AT&T’s lawsuit filed yesterday in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit objects to the FCC’s decision to reclassify fixed and mobile broadband as common carrier services in order to impose net neutrality rules that forbid blocking and discriminating against traffic. The petition is brief and follows the same script as those filed by trade groups, accusing the FCC of violating the Constitution and Communications Act with an “arbitrary” and “capricious” decision.

Parties suing the FCC will make more detailed arguments later; the initial petitions just get the process started.

We could see more lawsuits this week and next. The rules were published Monday this week. Parties have 60 days after publication to sue but filing within the first 10 days makes it easier to get the judicial circuit of one’s choice. “[I]f multiple petitions for review are filed in different circuits in the first ten days, it will be decided by lottery where the appeal goes,” Public Knowledge Senior VP Harold Feld explains.

via AT&T, but not Verizon and Comcast, sue FCC over net neutrality | Ars Technica.

Tons of AT&T and Verizon customers may no longer have “broadband” tomorrow

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a change to the definition of “broadband” and in so doing could leave about a fifth of the country without access to service that meets the new minimum standard.

At today’s broadband definition of 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps up, only 6.3 percent of US households have no access to wired broadband. That doesn’t mean the other 93.7 percent are using broadband, but they could buy it from at least one wired Internet provider in their city or town:

Under the proposed definition of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up (which is opposed by Internet providers), 19.4 percent of US households would be in areas without any wired broadband providers. 55.3 percent would have just one provider of “broadband,” with the rest being able to choose from two or more. Rural areas are far less likely to have fast Internet service than urban ones.

Further Reading

Only 25Mbps and up will qualify as broadband under new FCC definition

Broadband not being deployed “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” Wheeler says.

Further Reading

Most of the US has no broadband competition at 25Mbps, FCC chair says

But will the FCC block Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger? Wheeler doesn’t say.

In FCC parlance, broadband is “advanced telecommunications capability” that “enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology.” The FCC determines a minimum speed.

Among the major wired Internet providers, a change in definition would disproportionately affect DSL service. Cable generally has no problem delivering 25Mbps; Comcast’s standard lineup does include an entry-level tier that goes up only to 6Mbps downstream, but its higher-priced tiers are advertised at 150Mbps down and 20Mbps up. Fiber networks also meet the proposed broadband definition with ease, with some offering a gigabit in both directions. (As always, speeds are “up to” the advertised numbers and don’t always hit them.)

It’s a different story for DSL, which is delivered over copper telephone lines. Bitrates decline over distance, so customers receive fewer bits per second if they’re far away from distribution points, but even under ideal circumstances DSL generally won’t provide 25Mbps service.

This means a big portion of AT&T and Verizon subscribers will no longer have “broadband” if the FCC changes the definition. The nation’s two largest traditional telephone companies have each deployed a lot of fiber, but still have plenty of DSL customers.

Read more: Tons of AT&T and Verizon customers may no longer have “broadband” tomorrow | Ars Technica.

AT&T kills the ‘permacookie,’ stops tracking customers’ Internet usage (for now)

In recent weeks, Verizon and AT&T have been caught up in a privacy firestorm over their use of so-called “permacookies,” a method of tracking what their users do while browsing the Web with the intent of sharing that data with advertisers. Verizon’s permacookie program lives on, but AT&T has ceased the practice, ProPublica reported on Friday.

At least for now.

AT&T tells ProPublica that its use of permacookies was “part of a test,” which has since wrapped up, but the company says that it “may still launch a program to sell data collected by its tracking number.” For its part, AT&T says that it will allow customers to opt out of the program if—or when—it decides to use permacookies for advertising purposes.

The story behind the story: Permacookies aren’t cookies in the traditional sense: Instead, they’re unique identifiers appended to website addresses you type in on your device that let carriers see what kinds of sites you visit.

Permacookies exist for the same reason traditional tracking cookies exist—so advertisers can see what sorts of things you might be interested and serve up related ads in the hopes that you’ll click on them. But unlike regular tracking cookies, which you can easily delete from your browser or block entirely, there’s no way of removing or blocking permacookies since they’re handled entirely by the carrier.

Permacookies here to stay?

Despite the outcry from consumers and activists, it’s hard to shake the feeling that permacookies aren’t going away now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag. Both Verizon and AT&T have said they allow (or will allow) customers to opt out of the advertiser data sharing program, as ProPublica notes (though Verizon won’t let you opt out of the identifier program), but you’re still very much at the mercy of the carriers.

If you’re on Verizon and are concerned about the privacy implications, our Ian Paul has a couple suggestions: First, use Wi-Fi instead of the cellular network whenever possible so you bypass Verizon’s network entirely. If that’s not practical, though, consider using a VPN to help keep your Web browsing private.

via AT&T kills the ‘permacookie,’ stops tracking customers’ Internet usage (for now) | PCWorld.

Nvidia looks to ease plummeting Tegra sales with LTE 4i devices in early 2014

In a recent financial report, Nvidia says its fourth generation Tegra 4 sales have dropped dramatically in Q3 2013. Tegra revenues have plummeted 54% relative to last year’s numbers, according to the company. Nvidia’s CFO Colette Kress relates the drop in Tegra sales numbers directly to lower volume shipments of the Tegra 4.

The company is losing ground to Qualcomm, who has a commanding hold on the high-end Android space. Even though Tegra 4 will be onboard Microsoft’s Surface 2 and with a large portion of Tegra chips servicing the automotive industry, the lack of sales from the Android market is really taking its tole on the company\’s Tegra business.

However, there does appear to be some good news here. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has announced that the company’s LTE hybrid Tegra 4i chip will appear in devices revealed early next year and would ship in the second quarter of 2014 at the latest. The less powerful 4i is aimed at the mainstream mobile market and will likely help the company\’s mid market sales numbers.

While AT&T has now already certified the upcoming 4i, Nvidia will turn its focus to the Tegra 4 until the new LTE edition makes it debut. After HP made use of the chip with its 21-inch Slate, according to reports Huang mentioned that he sees it appearing more regularly in full size and desktop devices, as well as continuing its push into the automotive sector and other tablets.

via Nvidia looks to ease plummeting Tegra sales with LTE 4i devices in early 2014 – TechSpot.

Is 3G/4G slower indoors? Not as much as you might think

In this year’s wireless speed tests, TechHive and its testing partner OpenSignal focused on getting real-world results. That’s why we used ordinary, readily available smartphones and tested in the physical spaces where real people use such devices, both inside and outside buildings.

Drive test metrics are great to have, and they help mobile carriers improve service and target problem areas on their networks. However, with over 34 percent of households in the United States claiming a mobile phone as their only phone, we know that most smartphone users are either at home or at work, presumably somewhere inside a building.

The results

In our tests, outdoor service was usually better than indoor service, but not by much. Both 4G and 3G service suffered an average speed loss of less than 0.7 megabits per second (700 kilobits per second), but that small difference turned into a big one for services where download speeds were less than 1 mbps to begin with.

Overall, 3G service showed marginal speed decreases when we used it indoors. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon 3G speeds degraded by 5 to 9 percent in indoor usage. AT&T was an anomaly: Its 3G service produced download speeds that were 5.28 percent faster indoors than outdoors.

Full Story: Is 3G/4G slower indoors? Not as much as you might think | TechHive.