Boing Boing 

Accused identity thief nailed by food-porn Instagram photo


Troy Maye was wanted for a string of identity thefts, but the IRS couldn't positively identify him. But after he passed a thumb-drive of stolen data to an IRS informant, investigators were able to pull his name off the drive's metadata. They used that to find his Instagram profile, and found a food-porn photo he'd taken at the Morton's steakhouse where he'd dined with the informant. Busted.

"IRS Agent Louis Babino then headed to Google and located Maye’s Instagram page, which contained a profile photo of Maye. When shown the profile photo, the CW confirmed that Maye (seen at right) was the man with whom he dined at Morton’s."

Well, sure, Agent Babino, but how can you be really sure this was your guy?

"A further review of Maye’s Instagram page, Babino noted, revealed “a photo of a steak and macaroni and cheese meal containing the caption ‘Morton’s.’” The image--uploaded on January 7 at 11:24 PM--“appears to coincide” with the CW’s meeting at Morton’s, added Babino."

Yup, this guy food-porned his way into being arrested. The Instagram photo is reportedly being entered into evidence in the case, so one hopes the juicy steak and the creamy mac and cheese was really, really worth all the trouble Maye is now in. Once again, if you're a criminal, online narcicism is probably something you'd be best to avoid.

Criminal Nabbed By His Own Food Porn [Timothy Geigner/TechDirt], [Gabrielle Bluestone/Gawker]

Canadian anti-piracy bounty hunters ripped off photos for their website


Canipre, a Canadian company that helps the entertainment industry send legal threats to people alleged to have infringed copyright, has been caught using several infringing images on its website. Included in the art that Canipre appropriated for commercial gain without permission is a CC-licensed photo that they could have used legally simply by crediting the photographer. Canipre blames its web developer.

I ended up getting a flurry of phone calls and e-mails from a guy named Barry Logan.

Logan claimed that the company used a 3rd party vendor to develop their website and that the vendor had purchased the image from an image bank.

I pointed out to Logan that if that was true, he had basically paid his vendor to rip off other people's creative work. Logan told me that he would contact his web provider and have the image removed. He also told me that he would provide me with the name of the website developer and the name of the image bank where they obtained my photo.

I did notice that they took down my photo, but I have not heard back from Logan regarding the name of the developer and where they sourced my image. I plan to contact Logan later today if he doesn't get back to me. [sic]

The best part is that the company claims it is motivated by a higher calling than mere profit: "[We want to] change social attitudes toward downloading. Many people know it is illegal but they continue to do it... Our collective goal is not to sue everybody… but to change the sense of entitlement that people have, regarding Internet-based theft of property."

The Company Helping Movie Studios Sue You for Illegal Downloading Has Been Using Images Without Permission [Vice/Jamie Lee Curtis]

How JPMorgan Chase Affords Those Big Bonuses

Alan sez, "Apparently they do it by clogging the court system with dubious - and allegedly fradulent - claims against people for credit card debt. Let's see... massive numbers of lawsuits, hasty filings, breakneck pace, questionable and incomplete records. I wonder if JPMC is taking a page from the Cartel's playbook?"

Hedge fund managers suck at making money (for you)

The Financial Times analyzed the stock picks of the presenters at this week's Ira Sohn Investment conference in NYC and found that, on average, following a hedge fund manager was a much worse bet than buying passive index funds (though a couple hedgies did do pretty well last year, they were dragged down by the spectacularly wrong advice from the majority):

But a Financial Times analysis of last year's tips shows decidedly mixed results. An investor who followed every top idea from the 12 speakers last year would have made 19 per cent, less than the 22 per cent gain available from a passive index fund tracking the US stock market.

Many of the ideas have proved woefully miscued, including some from the most high-profile managers who will return to the stage on Wednesday: David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital and Bill Ackman of Pershing Square.

Tips From Wall Street Hedge Fund Gurus Fail to Reward Faithful

Apple won't fix your computer if you smoke near it


Consumerist's Laura Northrup rounds up several years' worth of stories from Apple customers who say they were denied warranty support on their computers because they'd smoked around them. As an annoying ex-smoker, I can sympathize with a tech who doesn't want to work on a machine that smells like an old ashtray, but that's what painter's masks are for -- I've also serviced machines that reeked of BO and other less savory odors. This just feels like a way to weasel out of doing warranty service and forcing customers to pay for new machines. If the company has a policy of not fixing machines if you smoke near them, it should say so when it sells you the warranty: WARNING: IF YOU LIGHT UP NEAR YOUR LAPTOP, WE WON'T EVER FIX IT, EVEN IF IT IS MATERIALLY DEFECTIVE.

Dena set up an appointment at the same Apple store. They told me that they would take pictures of the computer – both inside and out before determining whether to proceed and that if the only problem was the optical drive, they’d probably just replace it. Dena called me earlier this week to deliver the “bad news.” She said that the computer is beyond economical repair due to tar from cigarette smoke! She said the hard drive is about to fail, the optical drive has failed and it isn’t feasible to repair the computer under the warranty. This computer is less than 2 years old! Only one person in my household smokes – one 21 year old college student. She said that I can get it repaired elsewhere at my expense. I asked why my warranty didn’t cover the repair and was told it’s an OSHA violation.

Smoking Near Apple Computers Creates Biohazard, Voids Warranty

Crappy iPhone game asks kids to buy $500 worth of in-app crap on the first screen

Boing Boing alum John Brownlee writes about an atrociously ugly Super Mario Bros. clone that hits players up for $500 worth of in-app purchases on the first screen.

I bet you’re itching to play it. Sadly, though, you can’t. Apple’s already yanked it from the App Store. You probably didn’t want to play it anyway, though: it has to be the most shamelessly abusive examples of in-app purchases that mortal mind can comprehend.

The amazing thing here isn’t that Apple banned it, it’s that they didn’t catch any of this to begin with! Especially considering the fact that the developer, Mario Casas, seems to reupload this exact same game to Apple — with the exact same in-app purchase scheme — every couple of months with a new name and new graphics, scamming players until he’s caught. And thus the cycle starts anew.

This Crappy Game Is The Most Shameless Abuse Of In-App Purchases You’ll Ever See

Too-big-to-fail banks implicated in $500 trillion fraud: biggest price-rigging scandal in history

In Rolling Stone, the amazing Matt Taibbi documents a breaking price-rigging scandal involving the world's biggest banks. The $500 trillion conspiracy to game the interest-rate swaps victimizes every city, town, state and nation that uses bonds to raise money, diverting an unimaginable sum from tax coffers to the pockets of mega-rich bankers. If you've been staring around at the empty storefronts, closed libraries and schools, homeless and breadlines since 2008 and wondering "Where did all the money go?" then wonder no longer.

Though interest-rate swaps are not widely understood outside the finance world, the root concept actually isn't that hard. If you can imagine taking out a variable-rate mortgage and then paying a bank to make your loan payments fixed, you've got the basic idea of an interest-rate swap.

In practice, it might be a country like Greece or a regional government like Jefferson County, Alabama, that borrows money at a variable rate of interest, then later goes to a bank to "swap" that loan to a more predictable fixed rate. In its simplest form, the customer in a swap deal is usually paying a premium for the safety and security of fixed interest rates, while the firm selling the swap is usually betting that it knows more about future movements in interest rates than its customers.

Prices for interest-rate swaps are often based on ISDAfix, which, like Libor, is yet another of these privately calculated benchmarks. ISDAfix's U.S. dollar rates are published every day, at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., after a gang of the same usual-suspect megabanks (Bank of America, RBS, Deutsche, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, etc.) submits information about bids and offers for swaps.

And here's what we know so far: The CFTC has sent subpoenas to ICAP and to as many as 15 of those member banks, and plans to interview about a dozen ICAP employees from the company's office in Jersey City, New Jersey. Moreover, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, or ISDA, which works together with ICAP (for U.S. dollar transactions) and Thomson Reuters to compute the ISDAfix benchmark, has hired the consulting firm Oliver Wyman to review the process by which ISDAfix is calculated. Oliver Wyman is the same company that the British Bankers' Association hired to review the Libor submission process after that scandal broke last year. The upshot of all of this is that it looks very much like ISDAfix could be Libor all over again.

"It's obviously reminiscent of the Libor manipulation issue," Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University, told reporters. "People may have been naive that simply reporting these rates was enough to avoid manipulation."

And just like in Libor, the potential losers in an interest-rate-swap manipulation scandal would be the same sad-sack collection of cities, towns, companies and other nonbank entities that have no way of knowing if they're paying the real price for swaps or a price being manipulated by bank insiders for profit. Moreover, ISDAfix is not only used to calculate prices for interest-rate swaps, it's also used to set values for about $550 billion worth of bonds tied to commercial real estate, and also affects the payouts on some state-pension annuities.

So although it's not quite as widespread as Libor, ISDAfix is sufficiently power-jammed into the world financial infrastructure that any manipulation of the rate would be catastrophic – and a huge class of victims that could include everyone from state pensioners to big cities to wealthy investors in structured notes would have no idea they were being robbed.

Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever (Thanks, Elix!)

Book multi-city itineraries as one-ways and save

If you're booking a multi-city trip by air, you should really price it out as a series of one-way flights, rather than as a single ticket. As Mike Masnick discovered, the arcane airline ticketing rules require ticketing agencies to stick random, high-priced business-class tickets into multi-hop itineraries, which can double the cost of your trip. The ticketing websites -- Expedia, Travelocity, Hipmunk, Kayak, and Orbitz -- all either failed to show this information, produced suboptimal itineraries with unnecessary overnight layovers, or obscured the best flights in some other important way. Masnick got a spokesperson for Hipmunk to explain it all:

After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.

That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.

In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.

Flight Search Engines And The Multi-City Ripoff

How DC insiders launder insider market information for the rich

We already know that Congresscritters make huge bank through insider trading, exploiting a loophole that lets them place bets on the stock market based on rules they have yet to announce. But this game-rigging con isn't limited to elected officials: a whole class of unregulated beltway insiders make their living by wheedling "political intelligence" (that is, insider information about upcoming regulations and laws) out of politicians and their staff, and then selling it on to consultants who package it up into legal insider trading recommendations for the hyper-rich.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released Financial Market Value of Government Information Hinges on Materiality and Timing, a 34-page report on this practice, trying to figure out how pervasive the scam is. They didn't get any great answers:

"The political intelligence industry is flourishing, enriching itself and clients in the stock market, yet the report notes that it could not document who these people are or how much they profit," [Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for government watchdog Public Citizen] said. "Without full transparency of the activity of these political intelligence consultants and their clients, it is nearly impossible to know if they are trading on illegal insider information."

Government Report Examines 'Political Intelligence,' But Questions Remain [Legal Times/Andrew Ramonas]

(Thanks, Alan!)

Paying patent trolls off makes you complicit in the next round of extortion

Joel Spolsky's editorial on patent trolls is fabulous. As he points out, the developers who pay relatively small sums to make patent trolls just go away are part of the problem, and complicit in the next round of extortion. Paying mobsters keeps them viable, and able to attack new victims:

In the face of organized crime, civilized people don’t pay up. When you pay up, you’re funding the criminals, which makes you complicit in their next attacks. I know, you’re just trying to write a little app for the iPhone with in-app purchases, and you didn’t ask for this fight to be yours, but if you pay the trolls, giving them money and comfort to go after the next round of indie developers, you’re not just being “pragmatic,” you have actually gone over to the dark side. Sorry. Life is a bit hard sometimes, and sometimes you have to step up and fight fights that you never signed up for.

Civilized people don’t pay up. They band together, and fight, and eliminate the problem. The EFF is launching a major initiative to reform the patent system. At Stack Exchange, we’re trying to help with Ask Patents, which will hopefully block a few bad patents before they get issued.

The Application Developers Alliance (of which I am currently serving as the chairman of the board) is also getting involved with a series of Developer Patent Summits, a nationwide tour of 15 cities, which will kick off a long term program to band together to fight patent trolls. Come to the summit in your city—I’ll be at the San Francisco event on April 9th—and find out what you can do to help.

The Patent Protection Racket (via Copyfight)

Porno-copyright trolls Prenda Law get hauled in front of a very angry judge

Popehat's Ken White attended a hearing in United States District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II's California courtroom. Judge Wright is the judge most likely to put a halt to the astounding shenanigans of the notorious porno-copyright trolls Prenda Law, who have been accused of lying to the court; blackmailing thousands of people with legal threats ("pay up or we'll file a lawsuit that will forever associate your name with pornography with an embarrassing title"); and, incredibly, stealing the identity of a humble caretaker and naming him the CEO of a semi-fictional company that allegedly hired the firm to make all those legal threats.

Judge Wright ordered all the parties to show up in his court yesterday -- the Prenda lawyers, the caretaker, defendants' lawyers, and more -- but not everyone obeyed his order. The main party in the courtroom was Brett Gibbs, a junior-seeming lawyer who appears to have been made bagman for a big con that he was only dimly aware of. White's writeup is somewhat sympathetic ("a young attorney out of his depth who fell in with the wrong crowd and made bad choices") but remember: he was a knowing part of a racket that terrorized thousands and thousands of people with what amounted to legal blackmail, where the demand came to "Guilty or innocent, you need to pay up or have your life ruined."

White is an excellent writer, and his account of the hearing is riveting. Now we're all waiting to hear what the judge's order will be. My guess is that it will go very badly for Prenda Law.

Brett Gibbs is in trouble. I buy him as a dupe here. Indeed, he admitted that "maybe" he felt duped. Yet though he pointed to Hansmeier and Steele as the decision-makers in this travesty, and disclaimed any knowledge of wrongdoing, he and his attorneys seemed oddly reluctant to throw Steele and Hansmeier all the way under the bus. It's more like he handed them a bus schedule and gave them a gentle shove in that general direction. Gibbs continued to argue that it wasn't clear until Cooper's testimony today that the Cooper signatures weren't genuine, a position that drew guffaws in the courtroom and an incredulous expression from Judge Wright. He and his attorneys seemed to want to suspend judgment about whether Prenda committed any misconduct at all -- a tactical error at this point, I think, and harmful to their credibility. The judge interrupted their closing arguing by asking pointedly whether a lawyer -- even if he is supervised by people out of state -- has an obligation to investigate facts himself. Ultimately, Judge Wright did not sound inclined to accept Gibbs' innocent stance.

Wright did not say, explicitly, what he would do about Steele, Hansmeier, Duffy, or the rest of the Prenda Law team. But when Pietz began laboriously to explain the basis for jurisdiction over each of them, Wright cut him short, suggesting that he found the evidence clear. (So, for the record, did I, given the evidence of Steele's contacts with California, Steele's and Hansmeier's supervision of Gibbs in California, and Duffy's substitution into cases in California and membership in the California bar. Their lack-of-jurisdiction argument is borderline frivolous.) I suspect, based on his comments, that Judge Wright will not let the consequences of this situation rest entirely on Gibbs' shoulders. What could he do? He could probably sanction the Prenda Law parties under his inherent authority based on their supervision of Gibbs. But I suspect Judge Wright will go further than that, with criminal referrals and messages to various state bars. There could also be further orders to show cause, or even bench warrants. Judge Wright didn't seem inclined to give them warning. But every indication is that they are in real legal peril.

There's been a lot of anticipation of today's hearing. The hearing lived up to it. It was a disastrous day for Prenda Law.

Deep Dive Analysis: Brett Gibbs Gets His Day In Court -- But Prenda Law Is The Star

Closer look at the scammy, awful contracts from Random House's new ebook imprints

Yesterday, I blogged about the awful contracts on offer from Random House's new Hydra imprint, which runs like a scam vanity-press, paying no advances, seizing all rights and charging normal publisher's operating costs to the author. John Scalzi's gotten ahold of the (presumably identical) contract for Alibi, the mystery/crime-book version of Hydra, and it really is awful.

The fact that Alibi is shifting those costs to the author is hugely significant, for reasons noted in the previous entry (i.e., Alibi is shifting an extraordinary portion of the risk of publishing onto the author’s back). But it’s also worrying to the author for two other reasons:

One, it puts the author in the hole to the Alibi for an amount which the author has almost no control over — it’s Alibi choosing how much to spend on the services and expenses which constitute the Net Billings. All the author is empowered to do (at least as I read the contract) is pay for them. It should be noted that Random House probably owns warehouses and printing presses (or has long-terms arrangements which represent sunk costs), so in effect the publisher will be charging the author for services it provides, i.e., it’s taking money from the author and putting it into its own pocket — payment for services publishers are supposed to provide as their part of the publishing equation. The contractual language does note that some expenses are to be “mutually-agreed” upon, but this just brings up another problem:

Two, it transfers the cost of these services onto the most ignorant partner in the contract — which is to say, the author. Yes, authors, I know. You are smart. But — can you tell me what “plant costs” mean? What about “conversion fees?” Can you give me a sum that you know with certainty to be in the ballpark, in terms of what those costs and fees should be? Do you know how much it costs to print and bind a book? Are you sure? Is Alibi printing them individually or in one large print run? How will that affect unit cost? What’s a reasonable sum for warehousing? You better know because the contract won’t tell you — or at least the one I have in front of me sure as hell doesn’t.

And here’s another thing to consider: When it’s the publisher fronting the costs for printing, warehousing, plant fees or whatever, it will, out of its own self-interest, they will try to lower the cost as much as possible, because not doing so will cut into its profits. But authors, when you are fronting the fees, the printing, warehousing, plant fees and everything else becomes a potential profit center for the publisher.

A Contract From Alibi

Random House launches ebook imprint that's run like a predatory vanity press

Writer beware. According to an email from the Science Fiction Writers of America, Random House has launched an imprint called "Hydra" with all the hallmarks of a sleazy, scammy vanity-press: no advance on royalties, perpetual, all-rights assignments of copyrights, and all production expenses charged to the writer before any royalties are paid.

SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable. Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher. Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable. At this time, Random House's other imprints continue to be qualified markets.

This kind of rip-off is semi-standard with record deals, but it's unheard of in legit publishing, where the author typically receives an advance on royalties that is not refundable if it doesn't earn out; where authors traditionally assign a few, time-limited rights (English print/audio/ebook for a given territory, say); and where the production costs are wholly borne by the press in exchange for keeping the lion's share of any book revenue.

Hydra's deal is much, much worse than the one you'll get from a real DIY option like BookBaby or CreateSpace or Lulu, where you only pay for services you want, keep 100% of your profits, and assign no rights at all to the "publisher." It's got all the downsides of a DIY press, and all the downsides of a traditional press, and the upsides of neither.

Soccer match-rigging, straight out of a Gibson novel


Here's a brutal, must-read article from Brian Phillips detailing the bizarre, globalized game of soccer-match-rigging, which launders its influence, money and bets through countries all over the world, in what sounds like an intense, sport-themed LARP of a William Gibson Sprawl novel:

Right now, Dan Tan's programmers are busy reverse-engineering the safeguards of online betting houses. About $3 billion is wagered on sports every day, most of it on soccer, most of it in Asia. That's a lot of noise on the big exchanges. We can exploit the fluctuations, rig the bets in a way that won't trip the houses' alarms. And there are so many moments in a soccer game that could swing either way. All you have to do is see an Ilves tackle in the box where maybe the Viikingit forward took a dive. It happens all the time. It would happen anyway. So while you're running around the pitch in Finland, the syndicate will have computers placing high-volume max bets on whatever outcome the bosses decided on, using markets in Manila that take bets during games, timing the surges so the security bots don't spot anything suspicious. The exchanges don't care, not really. They get a cut of all the action anyway. The system is stacked so it's gamblers further down the chain who bear all the risks.

What's that — you're worried about getting caught? It won't happen. Think about the complexity of our operation. We are organized in Singapore, I flew from Budapest, the match is in Finland, we're wagering in the Philippines using masked computer clusters from Bangkok to Jakarta. Our communications are refracted across so many cell networks and satellites that they're almost impossible to unravel. The money will move electronically, incomprehensibly, through a hundred different nowheres. No legal system was set up to handle this kind of global intricacy. The number of intersecting jurisdictions alone is dizzying. Who's going to spot the crime? Small-town police in Finland? A regulator in Beijing? Each of them will only see one tiny part of it. How would they ever know to talk to each other? Dan Tan has friends in high places; extradition requests can find themselves bogged down in paperwork. Witnesses can disappear. I promise; you'll be safe. Who can prove you didn't see a penalty? We're fine.

Best part? Pro soccer is so corrupt that they don't give a damn, despite the fact that there is no game there, just a network of frauds that may exceed $1B:

Let me answer that question by referring you to the phrase that I hope will be your primary takeaway from this piece. Soccer. Is. Fucked. Europol announced the investigation Monday, leaving everyone with the impression that this was an ongoing operation designed to, you know, stop a criminal, maybe catch a bad guy or something. On Tuesday, multiple journalists reported that Europol is no longer pursuing the investigation. They've turned the information over to the dozens of prosecution services in the dozens of countries involved, which should keep things nice and streamlined. The man at the center of the whole story, the Singaporean mobster Tan Seet Eng, known as Dan Tan, has a warrant out for his arrest, but the Singaporeans won't extradite him and Interpol won't pressure them to do so.3 UEFA and FIFA talk about stamping out corruption, but, and I'll try to be precise here, FIFA rhetoric is to action what a remaindered paperback copy of Pippi in the South Seas is to the Horsehead Nebula. FIFA is eyeballs-deep in its own corruption problems, being run, as it is, by a cabal of 150-year-olds, most of them literally made out of dust, who have every incentive to worry about short-term profit over long-term change. They all have streets named after them, so how could they have a bad conscience? FIFA sees the game as a kind of Rube Goldberg device, or, better, as a crazed Jenga tower, and their job is to keep it standing as long as the money's coming in. Doesn't matter how wobbly it gets. Nobody look at the foundations.

Match-Fixing in Soccer [Brian Phillips/Grantland]

(via Schneier)

(Image: FIFA visita as obras da Arena Fonte Nova, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from agecombahia's photostream)

Looking for podcasters who've been shaken down by patent trolls

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is looking for podcasters who've received legal threats from Personal Audio, a patent troll that claims a bullshit patent on "disseminating a series of episodes represented by media files via the Internet."

American insurers charge reckless rich drivers less than safe poor drivers

The Consumer Federation of America did a mystery shopper review of several auto insurers and found that drivers with at-fault accidents paid lower premiums than drivers with spotless records -- provided that the careless driver was rich and well-educated and the careful driver was a single renter without an advanced degree.

Using two hypothetical characters the group compared premiums offered to two 30-year-old women. Both had driven for 10 years, lived on the same street in a middle-income Zip code and both wanted the minimum insurance required by whichever state the group was researching.

The imaginary woman who wasn’t married, rented a home, didn’t have coverage for 45 days but has never been in an accident or ticketed with a moving violation was compared to a married executive with a master’s degree who owns her home and has always had continuous insurance coverage. But she’d been in an accident (again, hypothetically) that was her fault and caused $800 in damage within the last three years.

The results were somewhat surprising, although there were differences across the five insurers. Farmers, GEICO and Progressive always gave a higher quote to the safer driver than the woman who’d caused an accident. Across all 12 cities in the study, State Farm offered the lowest or second lowest premiums.

“State insurance regulators should require auto insurers to explain why they believe factors such as education and income are better predictors of losses than are at-fault accidents,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s director of insurance and former Texas insurance

Consumer Group: The Rich May Pay Less For Car Insurance Even If They’re Not Safe Drivers [Consumerist/Mary Beth Quirk]

LARGEST AUTO INSURERS FREQUENTLY CHARGE HIGHER PREMIUMS TO SAFE DRIVERS THAN TO THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS (PDF) [Consumer Federation of America]

The crazy world of engagement ring financing

Gerri Detweiler of credit.com has an article about sleazy engagement ring financing.

[H]ere is what some of the major jewelry stores are currently advertising. With all of these plans, if you make one late payment or fail to pay the balance in full during the promotional period, interest will be charged from the date of purchase — not from the date the promotional period ends.

Jared: 0% interest if paid in full within 12 months; up to 24.99%.

Kay Jewelers: 0% interest if paid in full within 12 months; up to 24.99%.

Shane and Company: 0% interest if paid in full in 6 months; 27.99%

Zales: 0% interest if paid in full in 6 months; 23.73% to 28.99%

While interest-free financing may work out fine if you are able to pay off the balance, it is risky if you aren’t able to come up with the cash to pay it off.

One more potential trap: Applying for one of the accounts will create an inquiry on your credit reports. Plus, if you accept the financing, you’ll have a new account with a balance listed on your credit reports, and that could potentially have a negative effect on your credit scores.

The crazy world of engagement ring financing

(Image: Life in the old dog yet, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from aldenchadwick's photostream)

Lionsgate commits copyfraud, has classic "Buffy vs Edward" video censored



Update: It's back up. McIntosh's YouTube comments says, "Three weeks after a bogus DMCA takedown by Lionsgate, I received a one line email from the YouTube team saying that my remix has been reinstated."
Jonathan McIntosh's "Buffy vs Edward" video is a classic: a mashup that's been viewed millions of times on YouTube, discussed in the halls of the US Copyright Office, and cited in a Library of Congress/Copyright Office report as an example of legal, fair use mashup.

But when Lionsgate bought out Summit Entertainment, the company that made the Twilight franchise, they started to aggressively "monetize" the remixes of the series online. That meant that they claimed ownership of them using YouTube's ContentID system, which would automatically place ads alongside all the video clips from the series -- including "Buffy vs Edward."

McIntosh objected to this. His video was fair use -- the Copyright Office itself said so -- and had never had ads placed in it. Lionsgate had no claim over it. He appealed to YouTube. YouTube punted to Lionsgate, who insisted that they were legally in the right. McIntosh hired a lawyer to write an letter explaining the fair use analysis to YouTube, who agreed, and reinstated the video, and Lionsgate (seemingly) dropped the claim.

But Lionsgate came back with another claim: the "audiovisual" elements in the video were fair use, but the "visual" elements were not (yeah, I know). McIntosh went through the process again, with the same result -- and so Lionsgate filed a complaint with YouTube that resulted in it being taken offline altogether.

McIntosh's correspondence with Lionsgate has been very unsatisfying. The company claims that since he refused to let them make money off of his creativity, they had "no choice" but to have it censored from YouTube. The company's representatives refuse to address the fair use claims at all.

Meanwhile, to add insult to injury, McIntosh had to complete an insulting "copyright education" course in order to continue using YouTube (even though he is an expert on fair use and had done no wrong), and is permanently barred from uploading videos longer than 15 minutes to the service -- all because of the repeated, fraudulent assertions made by Lionsgate.

In the past, companies that sent similar fraudulent takedowns to YouTube have faced penalties (remember EFF and the dancing baby versus Prince and Universal Music?). It would be an expensive and difficult proposition for McIntosh to bring Lionsgate to court for repeating the fraud, but let's hope that these copyfraudsters don't get off scot-free.

In the meantime, here's a really cool version of the video with annotations courtesy of Mozilla's popcorn.js tool.

Buffy vs Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate

Phrases used by corporate fraudsters

The FBI and Ernst and Young have released a list of top-ten phrases that indicate corporate fraud, based on data-mining evidence from real corporate fraud investigations.

In total more than 3,000 terms are logged by the technology, which monitors for conversations within the "fraud triangle", where pressure, rationalisation, and opportunity meet, said the FBI and Ernst & Young...

1. Cover up
2. Write off
3. Illegal
4. Failed investment
5. Nobody will find out
6. Grey area
7. They owe it to me
8. Do not volunteer information
9. Not ethical
10. Off the books

Top email terms used by corporate fraudsters published by FBI (via /.)

Chinese tourists say crooked NZ tour-operator took them to a "buffet" that was really a church soup-kitchen

Chinese tourists say a crooked tour-operator who'd promised them the best sightseeing in New Zealand and a buffet dinner instead took them to a bunch of public parks and then dumped them in the line at a soup-kitchen:

"I thought it was a real bargain, but the main reason we decided to go with him was because we thought it would be handy to have a local guide who spoke Mandarin," he said.

"I was shocked to find out later from media reports that the Christmas lunch was a charity lunch for the poor and homeless, and that most of the places we had been taken to were free and were not meant for tourists."

A TVNZ Christmas Day news report said Chinese tourists on organised tours were among the 2800 people at the Viaduct Events Centre for the annual charity lunch.

Chinese visitor says tour operator told him charity event was Govt treat. (Thanks, Juha!)

Buddy Holly's demo for "Words of Love"

Piglisi sez, "Experimenting with double-tracking his voice and guitar, Buddy Holly recorded a demo for a song he'd composed (by himself, despite his producer/manager taking half the songwriting credit). A scratchy acetate survives."

Buddy Holly - Words Of Love ('Echo Chamber Demo')

See also:

* Buddy Holly's first-ever recording, from 1949
* Rave On Buddy Holly: tribute album streaming now
* Buddy Holly's secretly recorded contract negotiation with Decca
* What was in Buddy Holly's plane-crash overnight bag?

Ukrainian steampunk mask-maker gets plagiarized by Skymall stalwarts Design Toscano


Update: Design Toscano has apologized for this and agreed to pay a royalty to Bob Basset. They blame an unscrupulous supplier who presented the design as its own.


Design Toscano, a wealthy, fast-growing company, is selling a leather steampunk mask that clearly plagiarises the work of Ukrainian leatherworker Bob Basset, a favorite around these parts. As Rob Murdoch points out in his post, Toscano could easily spare the budget to work with Basset to produce masks or designs for them -- the ethical thing to do. Basset, a poor artists living in Ukraine, feels powerless to do anything about it. This ugly business calls all of Toscano's products into question: are all the designs in their catalog unacknowledged rip-offs from independent designers, or just this one?

So having known and loved Bob’s work for 10 years at this point, imagine my happiness for him when I came across a sculpture of one of his masks being sold on this site. I thought “Great for Bob! More of his work is out there and it’s a great paying gig for him!” (Toscano is a multi-million dollar company so they can afford to pay their artists well and they often give credit to the artist). Then I had the horrible thought that maybe this isn’t good and it’s a case of a big company ripping off the little guy, which has happened before and will happen again so long as companies can get away with it. So I popped over to Bob’s personal Facebook page and linked him the online catalogue page with his mask and asked if he knew about it. An hour later, he replied with “Yes, I know they simply stolen our design. But what I can do from Ukraine I don’t know.”

So there you have it. There is no mistaking that the sculpture is a copy of Bob Basset work: his style is so unique. Not only was he not given credit for it, but he was not compensated at all for their using his mask. Now I hate to have to bring this to light because I have loved Design Toscano for years. I have a lot of fantastic statues and art from them lining my walls. But something has to be said. And you have to wonder, why did this happen? Toscano makes good money on the art they sell. They didn’t need to copy this work without compensation. Why not have approached the artist who made the masks they obviously liked and wanted to sell and commission a sculpture from him? Artists live or die by their sales. They need to be paid by people who want to make use of their work, and they need to be credited for their art.

Toscano's catalog copy is an exercise in chutzpah: "Get ready for a little anti-establishment, alternate history with our forward-thinking Steampunk gas mask that boasts a gramophone for hearing and no end of techno-Victorian charm!" They even call it a "Design Toscano Exclusive." Well, yes, they are the exclusive purveyor of the cheap knock-off.

Jaborwhalky Productions • Steampunk art stolen by Design Toscano? When you... (Thanks, Rob!)

Amazon Replacement Order Scam: anatomy of a social engineering con in action

Social engineering scams involve a mix of technical skills and psychological manipulation. Chris Cardinal discovered someone running such a scam on Amazon using his account: the scammer contacted Amazon pretending to be Chris, supplying his billing address (this is often easy to guess by digging into things like public phone books, credit reports, or domain registration records). Then the scammer secured the order numbers of items Chris recently bought on Amazon. In a separate transaction, the scammer reported that the items were never delivered and requested replacement items to be sent to a remailer/freight forwarder in Portland.

The scam hinged on the fact that Gmail addresses are "dot-blind" (foo@gmail.com is the same as f.oo@gmail.com), but Amazon treats them as separate addresses. This let the scammer run support chats and other Amazon transactions that weren't immediately apparent to Chris.

Others have reported on this scam, but word hasn't gotten around at Amazon yet, and when Chris talked to Amazon reps to alert them to the con, they kept insisting that his computer or email had been hacked, not understanding that the con artist was attacking a vulnerability in Amazon's own systems.

A little bit of sniffing finds this thread where users at a social engineering forum are offering to buy order numbers. Why? Because as it turns out, once you have the order number, everything else is apparently simple.

If you’ve used Amazon.com at all, you’ll notice something very quickly: they require your password. For pretty much anything. Want to change an address? Password. Add a billing method? Password. Check your order history? Password. Amazon is essentially very secure as a web property. But as you can see from my chat transcript above, the CSR team falls like dominoes with just a few simple data points and a little bit of authoritative prying.

Two-for-one: Amazon.com’s Socially Engineered Replacement Order Scam (via Hacker News)

Steven Levy on the patent wars


Steven Levy's Wired magazine feature on the cancerous multiplication of patents has all the hallmarks of Levy's work: excellent, eminently readable, human-scale tech reporting that makes important issues comprehensible.

The rise of trolls came as a result of a court system that seemed to favor them every step of the way. The vagueness of the underlying patents, the ridiculous ease with which plaintiffs could file a suit, the high costs defendants faced, and the unthinkable consequences of losing—all created an environment in which trolls were routinely rewarded for filing frivolous suits. But by the late 2000s, courts and the legislature began slowly chipping away at these factors. In 2003 a company called MercExchange successfully sued eBay over the provenance of its Buy It Now button. When eBay appealed, MercExchange took the common step of asking for an injunction against the defendant, which would have barred eBay from using the disputed technology as long as the case remained open. This was intended to prevent firms from profiting unfairly from someone else’s invention. But all too often it further pressured companies to settle quickly so they could go back to business. Courts could be quick to grant such injunctions, but when the issue came before the Supreme Court in 2006, the justices determined that more care should be taken with that drastic step. This precedent made it harder for challengers to threaten a defendant’s entire business.

The Patent Problem

(Image: Brock Davis)

iPad left at airport checkpoint ends up at TSA inspector's house

ABC News ran a sting against dirty TSA inspectors by leaving behind iPads (with tracking spyware) at ten airport checkpoints known for theft and following them electronically. One iPad, left at an Orlando checkpoint, moved 30 miles to the home of Andy Ramirez, a TSA inspector at the airport. Initially, he denied stealing the iPad, then he blamed his wife. He has since been fired from the TSA.

I'm sure that he was the only crook working in the entire agency and now we're all safe. Thank goodness.

According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012, including 11 so far in this year.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

...Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt.

His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.

"I'm so embarrassed," he told ABC News. "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home," he said.

... No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.

In its statement, the TSA said it "holds its employees to the highest ethical standards."

Republicans have promised to fix this problem by firing the unionized federal workers and replacing them with private contractors. Because private contractors -- not directly accountable to the government, insulated by layers of contractor/subcontractor relationships -- would never, ever abuse their authority. Which is why mall security guards are the pinnacle of policing efficiency.

ABC News Tracks Missing iPad To Florida Home of TSA Officer (via Beth Pratt)

How Facebook design tricks people into trading away privacy


On TechCrunch, Avi Charkham provides an excellent side-by-side comparison of an older Facebook design and the latest one, showing how the service has moved to minimize the extent to which its users are notified of the privacy "choices" they make when they interact with the service. The Facebook rubric is that people don't value their privacy ("privacy is dead, get over it,") and we can tell that because they demonstrate it by using Facebook. But really, Facebook is designed to minimize your understanding of the privacy trades you're making and your ability to make those trades intelligently.

All privacy offers on FB are take-it-or-leave-it: you give up all your privacy to play Angry Birds, or you don't play Angry Birds. There's no "give up some of your privacy to play Angry Birds" offer, or "here's a game that's 95% as fun as Angry Birds but requires that you only yield up the most trivial facts of your life to play it" that we can test the market against.

Charkham's five examples from the visual interface design are very good evidence that FB isn't a harbinger of the death of privacy; rather, it's a tribute to the power of deceptive hard-sell tactics to get people to make privacy trade-offs they wouldn't make in a fair deal.

#3: The Tiny Hidden Info Symbol Trick

In the old Design Facebook presented a detailed explanation about the “basic” information you’re about to expose to the apps you’re adding. In the new design they decided to hide that info. If you pay careful attention you’ll see a tiny little “?” symbol and if you hover over it you’ll discover that this app is about to gain access to your name, profile pic, Facebook user ID, gender, networks, list of friends and any piece of info you’ve made public on Facebook. Quite a lot of info for a 20×10 pixel tiny hidden info symbol don’t you think?!

Of course, the interface is only a small part of the tactics used to manipulate privacy decisions on FB. More insidious and likely more effective is the use of the proprietary algorithms to apply intermittent social reward for disclosure, driving users to greater and greater disclosures -- something well documented in The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser's 2011 book on the subject.

5 Design Tricks Facebook Uses To Affect Your Privacy Decisions (via Hacker News)

Pastor claims holy black currant drink will cure cancer, HIV, diabetes

The Manchester Evening News's Richard Wheatstone has done a good investigative series on the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly Manchester, which hard-sells a "holy" cure-all (made from black currant drink and olive oil) that the church's leader, "Pastor Mbenga," claims will cure cancer, HIV and diabetes. In one article, the reporter presented himself to Mbenga, saying that he was worried about his uncle's cancer. The pastor advised him to pray and buy a lot of miracle cure, which the pastor would bless. The pastor's hard sell included stories of people with cancer and diabetes who "had been able to throw away their medication after making a full recovery." The pastor instructed the reporter to dilute the blessed sugary drink three to one with olive oil and administer it to his uncle, whereupon "God will take over with divine intervention and the cancer will disappear."

When subsequently cornered, the pastor insisted he harmed no one and framed his sales of the "cure" as an issue of religious freedom:

He said: "It is the word of God, it is in the scriptures that God can heal these illnesses and that is the message we are passing on to people.

"I wasn’t aware of that law, but we live in a free society and if this is what people believe then people should be free to believe in it and carry out their faith.

"We have seen divine intervention in the past where people have been healed of terrible diseases and believe that God has the supernatural power to bring about miracles.

"This is what we believe and we are just trying to help people, trying to help them live a better life by giving them the power through God to make changes in their lives. We are not hurting anyone."

Pastor: We are trying to help ... we aren’t hurting anyone (via ERV)

Boots keeps selling quack remedies intended for babies, even after they are banned from US import over fears of broken glass

Boots, which styles itself a "pharmacy-led Health & Beauty retailer" has caught a lot of flack for selling homeopathic "remedies" that contain no active ingredients. One report actually found a Boots pharmacist referring customers who asked a five-year-old child with a three-day bout of diarrhoea to homeopathic sugar pills (advice that could potentially kill the patient by leaving the underlying condition untreated).

Just in case you couldn't imagine Boots being more profit-led (rather than "pharmacy-led") marvel at the fact that the company refuses to withdraw products from Nelsons, a homeopathic manufacturer, even after the US regulator banned Nelsons products over fears that their sugar pills (which include "teething remedies" that are meant for babies) contained fragments of broken glass.

Boots's answer to a concerned customer? "Don't worry, the broken glass isn't in the stuff they sell to us."

How could Boots know that the lax production standards applied only to shipments to the US? The products are made in Wimbledon. Do Nelsons have ‘lax Fridays’ where they all bunk off to the pub while the US export runs are made?

This response lacks any credibility.

I wrote to Boots when I received this to ask how they can be confident that these problems do not affect the UK. I have received no response.

Of course, we know Boots have a rather cynical attitude to the homeopathic products they sell. When giving evidence to parliament, Paul Bennett, professional standards director and superintendent pharmacist at Boots, admitted they have no evidence these products work, but sold them because they could.

One then might understand they were unconcerned about the homeopathic pills not being manufactured correctly – it does not matter one jot if the sugar pill receives a drop of magic ju-ju juice – it’s just water. But why would Boots be unconcerned that their products lack the quality control procedures to prevent glass entering products? To remind you, Boots sell homeopathic babies teething powders – a completely useless product, but may make the baby forget its teething pain if it crunches down on shards of glass.

Boots Unconcerned About Nelsons Production Problems.

Curiosity landing is a bonanza for YouTube ContentID copyfraudsters


Remember the bogus takedown of NASA's YouTube footage of the Curiosity landing? It gets worse. Lon Seidman uploaded some clips from the Curiosity landing to his Google+ hangout, only to have them taken down by five takedown requests from various scumbags who play the YouTube content matching system to force people to accept ads on their personal videos, payment from which goes to said scumbags:

Wow now I'm really getting angry over this Content ID disaster from +YouTube regarding the Mars landing. On Sunday night I hosted a live broadcast with contributors from CTTechJunkie.com and NASASpaceflight.com to watch the landing live. We brought in footage provided by NASA, including their live feed of the landing. NASA footage is released into the public domain and can be freely used by anyone.

I just came home to my inbox filled with dispute claims from no less than FIVE news organizations claiming this footage as their own. BS. It's mine. And now Youtube says it might start running ads against content I created and handing that money over to these crooks who are essentially bigger players with the ability to claim rights to content they do not own.

The worst part is that Google clearly is not requiring these "rightsholders" prove they actually own the content. But it's somehow incumbent upon me to prove my innocence. This is outright theft of my content - plain and simple.

Wow now I'm really getting angry over this Content ID disaster from +YouTube regarding the Mars landing (Thanks, Xeni!)

Desperate banks fall for the 419 advance-fee fraud

The FDIC has issues a special alert warning that America's debt-haunted, cash-strapped banks are falling prey to conmen working the advance fee fraud, the same scam used in the familiar "Nigerian prince" or "419" scam. The banks fork over big bucks to supposed high-flying investors who are supposed to come through with large sums in return, but who vanish into the ether instead.

The FDIC has become aware of multiple instances in which individuals or purported investment advisors have approached financially weak institutions in apparent attempts to defraud the institutions by claiming to have access to funds for recapitalization. These parties also may claim that the investors, or individuals associated with the investors, include prominent public figures and that the investors have been approved by one or more of the federal banking agencies to invest substantial capital in the targeted institutions. Ultimately, these parties have required the targeted institutions to pay, in advance, retention and due diligence fees, as well as other costs. Once paid, the parties have failed to conduct substantive due diligence or to actively pursue the proposed investment.

Banks Desperate For Funds Victimized By Con Men (via CSM)