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Google Maps' spam problem presents genuine security issues


Bryan Seely, a Microsoft Engineer demonstrated an attack against Google Maps through which he was able to set up fake Secret Service offices in the company's geo-database, complete with fake phone numbers that rang a switch under his control and then were forwarded to real Secret Service offices, allowing him to intercept and record phone-calls made to the Secret Service (including one call from a police officer reporting counterfeit money). Seely was able to attack Google Maps by adding two ATMs to the database through its Google Places crowdsourcing tool, verifying them through a phone verification service (since discontinued by Google), then changing them into Secret Service offices. According to Seely, the disabling of the phone-verification service would not prevent him from conducting this attack again.

As Dune Lawrence points out, this is a higher-stakes version of a common spam-attack on Google Maps practiced by locksmith, carpet cleaning, and home repair services. Spammers flood Google Maps with listing for fake "local" companies offering these services, and rake in high commissions when you call to get service, dispatching actual local tradespeople who often charge more than you were quoted (I fell victim to this once, when I had a key break off in the lock of my old office-door in London and called what appeared to be a "local" locksmith, only to reach a call-center who dispatched a locksmith who took two hours to arrive and charged a huge premium over what I later learned by local locksmiths would have charged).

A detailed post by Dan Austin describes this problem, points out that Google is more than four years late in delivering promised fixes to the problem, and offers solutions of his own. He suggests that the high Google Adwords revenue from spammy locksmiths and other services is responsible for the slow response to the problem.

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Dungeon Keeper remake snarls classic gameplay in "scam" payment model

Twenty years ago, Peter Molyneux's Dungeon Keeper became an instant classic, wedding a clever premise—you're the baddie fending off the heroes—to innovative strategy gameplay. The remake just came out for iOS. Not only is it bad, but it is free-to-play bad: the original's brilliant gameplay is all but frozen, with even the most basic mechanisms of play hooked into expensive further payments.

Like recent games such as Minecraft, progess in DK's requires the player to clear space one block at a time. With the new iOS version, however, you soon have to pony up real money for each individual cube to clear--or it takes up to 24 hours for the action to take effect. When it comes to digging out your realm, Dungeon Keeper iOS grinds to a halt unless you're willing to pay-per-tap.

"As I write this review, I am waiting for one of my imps to finish mining a block that I commanded it to start digging last night," writes Jim Sterling in a review at The Escapist. "Something so simple, something that took a handful of seconds in the original Dungeon Keeper, is taking me 24 hours in the twisted mobile reimagining."

Sterling awarded the game 1/10; a brutal score to match its brutal payment model. Destructoid, issuing a comparatively generous but hardly enticing 4/10, says that publisher Electronic Arts is selling a "sack of spolied potatoes ... using a respectable IP as its skin."

German gaming site Superlevel's review is more concise—and works in any language. NerdCubed rants in NSFW style at the costs that can rack up for careless players. Thomas Baekdel compares the two versions.

The problem is that all the future generations of gamers are going to experience this as the default. They are going to grow up in a world, in which people actually think this is what gaming is like. That social engineering and scamming people is an acceptable way of doing business. It's not! It's a scam... done by sick people who have nothing left in their lives other than selfish greed. They should be thrown in jail for deceptive business tactics, and not featured in the app store as an Editors' Choice.

As sleazy as so many free-to-play games are, I always wanted to point out that it's an entirely new market, serving players who would not otherwise play video games. The iOS Dungeon Keeper, for example, acts more like a Dungeon Keeper-themed casino slot machine than a video game. Icky, sure, but not much threat to the original or to games like it.

What seems to be happening now, though, is that sleazeware is displacing the "real" games industry in earnest; in this case, we have a fully-implemented (and improved!) clone of the original being used to suck buyers into a cold-as-ice ripoff. The catalyst seems to be the move of free-to-play from the web to app stores, where both types of game are pushed onto the same shelf, and the only thing players see are the up-front cost.

You can buy the original Dungeon Keeper, compatible with modern PCs and Macs, from Good Old Games, for just $6. All subsequent clicks are free of charge.

UPDATE: Singletona082 reviews Dungeon Keeper Mobile over at BBS and details the problems in depth:

Unfortunately we're staring right at the ugly heart of what is going to kill Dungeon Keeper and has turned off a vocal portion of its potential playerbase. Microtransactions.

I'm not going to lie, sugarcoat, or apologize here even though I like the game when it stops making me wait since I'm broke and haven't fed the piggybank to get to do things Right Now and actually play. This is not a game I can honestly recommend and it's completely down to how it pushes micro-transactions in your face. If it were a case of a terrible game trying to be a money siv I'd sit back and laugh.

'Boobies Rock' cancer-scamming scumbag jailed for two weeks after launching new scholarship scam


Here's some of the branding used by Boobies Rock. Seems legit.


Adam Cole Shyrock, noted douchebag.

In Colorado, a scamming sonofabitch charged with collecting about $2 million through sales of breast-cancer-awareness merchandise, none of which helped breast cancer charities, has been sentenced to 14 days in jail. We wrote about this dirtbag back in 2012, when the Illinois state attorney general began investigating his cancer-scam activities.

The Denver Post today reports that Adam Cole Shyrock was jailed for running a new scam in violation of a court order. He wrote a $36,000 check on a frozen Wells Fargo bank account to a T-shirt manufacturer to make t-shirts for "I Heart This Bar," a new scheme purporting to raise money for college scholarships. Man, some people never learn. Snip:

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Australian man travels to Thailand to track down his scammers

Keith Jones was scammed out of US$110,000 by a fraudulent investment firm. Not surprisingly, law enforcement initially had little interest in the case, so Mr. Jones decided to track down the criminals on his own, leading him from his home in Australia to Thailand. He made this high-quality and fascinating documentary of his sleuthing.

HSBC bank, which gave the scammers an account to rip off Mr. Jones, also refused to help him. (That's not surprising either, once you read Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone article, "Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail How HSBC hooked up with drug traffickers and terrorists. And got away with it.")

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Attack of the copyright trolls

Online, torrents of failed movies linger mysteriously, waiting to net downloaders in shakedown settlements which seem to have little to do with preventing piracy. John Biggs covers the details of a copyright trolls' legal and wildly profitable scam. [TechCrunch] Previously. Rob

"Fake" tax-scam movie won film award

When British authorities began to suspect that a movie production was in fact a massive tax scam, the producers were forced to cover their tracks by actually making the movie. It even won an award from the 2012 Las Vegas Film Festival; an award only rescinded after tax inspectors nevertheless swooped in. The movie's name? Landscape of Lies. Enjoy the trailer! [Daily Mail]

Some kinds of DNA ancestry tests are basically astrology

If you want to learn about your family tree, you're probably better off doing the work of compiling history than getting a $500 DNA test. Maggie

Strange, scammy director made the same movie over and over for 40 years

A filmmaker named Melton Barker travelled America from the 1930s to the 1970s, making and remaking a short movie called "The Kidnapper's Foil," which featured a large cast of kids. He'd roll into small towns, announce that he was going into production, and advertise for proud parents who wanted their kids to break into the movies. He'd raise local money to (re)make the film with an all townie cast, have it produced, and leave it behind. There are lots of versions still extant, but there are probably hundreds more that may never be recovered. They're a fascinating insight into the lives of Americans across the country and the years.

She estimates that Barker made hundreds of versions of “The Kidnappers Foil,” but fewer than 20 have been unearthed and digitized. In advance of his arrival to a new town — like Reidsville, N.C., or Allentown, Pa. — Barker, who Ms. Frick said probably died on the road in 1977, would broker a deal with a local theater to screen the film upon completion, handing over the reels once they’d been developed, either by himself (working in his hotel room) or by a lab in Dallas. (During part of his career Barker, like the filmmakers of his era, was working with cellulose nitrate, a wildly flammable film stock that is difficult and dangerous to store.) All the currently accessible prints are available to view on meltonbarker.org, a Web site Ms. Frick and her colleagues built to raise more interest in Barker’s work. That collection, Ms. Frick reasoned, might lead to the recovery of more prints.

Dan Streible, a film historian and an associate professor of cinema studies at New York University, is the director of a recurring symposium for so-called “orphan films” like “The Kidnappers Foil.” Mr. Streible said such films, which he defines loosely as “amateur films and home movies, medical films, outtakes, uncompleted films, fragments — things which were not commercial features,” are also “the ones that need the most preservation and advocacy.” He added, “There wasn’t an obvious commercial value to them, and there isn’t always an obvious owner in the legal sense, and they’re films that are left behind in archives for any number of haphazard reasons.”

These lost artifacts can become essential cultural documents, and what they occasionally lack in narrative coherence or flash they make up for in historical worth. Unlike Hollywood films set in fake small towns and populated by professional actors, “The Kidnappers Foil” captures, however incidentally, an authentic American culture and locale. “By going to all those small towns, throughout the South and all over, Barker was preserving regional dialects that cannot be heard in a single Hollywood film,” Mr. Streible said. “No one else was recording people in Childress, Tex., in 1936, and here they are, a large group of them all talking in their natural voices.”

The Legacy of a Camera-Toting Huckster [NYT/Amanda Petrusich]

(via Making Light)

(Image: Texas Archive of the Moving Image)

"Potential Prostitutes" site lets users label women as prostitutes, charges "removal" fees

Potential Prostitutes is only the latest sleazy site to wed personal photos to public humiliation. Its offer to publicize anonymous claims of sex crimes, however, is a novelty: any woman may be be anonymously tagged as a prostitute.

The site accepts anonymous submissions through an online form and promises to post uploads in a browsable "offender" database seeded with mugshots of convicted prostitutes. Entries may be removed by those listed—so long as they pay a hefty removal fee.

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Illinois state AG investigates alleged breast cancer charity scam "Boobies Rock"

With a name like "Boobies Rock!" you know it's a totally legit breast cancer fundraiser.

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times first exposed allegations that "Boobies Rock!," a for-profit business that purports to fund-raise for “breast-cancer awareness” in Chicago and around the US, wasn't actually funneling funds to charities it claimed to benefit.

Now, the paper reports that the Illinois attorney general’s office has begun investigating the company.

At left, the president of Boobies Rock!, Adam Shyrock. I don't know what could possibly not be forthright about a breast cancer "awareness" effort run by a guy who looks this douchey, especially when the project, which is about an awful terrible disgusting disease that kills people, is called "Boobies Rock!" (the exclamation point, it should be noted, is part of the name).

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Gentleman is possessed by gay demons

Come out in the name of Jesus, indeed! Televangelist and tele-exorcist Bob Larson (web, Wikipedia, Amazon) spiritually cleanses a man who is possessed by "a filthy stinking sex demon" of homosexuality and pornography. FYI, UFOs have an agenda, and it is to impregnate us with gay demon alien seed. io9 has written about Larson before.

(thanks, Joe Sabia, via Reddit)

Water-powered car scammers through history

If you missed Jason Torchinsky's Jalopnik story about water-powered car hucksters of past and present, here's your chance to read it.
The idea itself— to build a car that runs on ordinary water— is total crap, scientifically. It violates at least one law of physics, and pisses off a few others. But the idea behind the idea— a car that runs on something so plentiful and cheap it’s almost valueless— will never go away. It’s just too tantalizing to give up.

It's time for psychiatrists to stop being so friendly with pharmaceutical companies

Psychiatry is "committing professional suicide" because psychiatrists are far too willing to accept gifts, food, trips, and free samples from the pharmaceutical companies that push psychiatric drugs, says psychiatrist David Healy. Worse, he says, those same drug companies have been caught hiding dangerous results from the FDA and doctors, covering up that malfeasance, and attempting to silence critics (including Healy himself). At Time's Healthland blog, Maia Szalavitz shows that Healy makes a persuasive case against the pharmaceutical giants and in favor of patients, doctors, and the federal government doing more to hold these companies accountable. Maggie

Weird medical history, ripped from the archives of Doonesbury

My introduction to Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury happened around the age of 8, when I discovered my father's anthology collections. (I was extraordinarily up on early 1970s pop culture for a late 1980s grade schooler.) Reading the new strip and the daily archives is still part of my morning routine. But, given that I was born in 1981, I don't always get all the references. Sometimes, that leads me to discover weird bits pop history.

For instance, the strip above ran on July 19, 1977. My first response this morning, "What the hell is Laetrile?" I mean, it's Duke, so I assumed it was a drug. But I wasn't expecting it to turn out to be a quack cancer treatment, the promotion of which led to a strange bedfellows situation where alt-med proponents joined forces with the John Birch Society to fight the federal government for the right to sell desperate cancer patients a potentially dangerous treatment that had never been tested for effectiveness or safety.

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FDA To America: Please, Don't Be Idiots

The FDA has released a list of fraudulent H1N1 flu protection products. Highlights include: Sketchy, black-market flu vaccine (link included for maximum LULZ); all manner of home defense kits, ranging in price from the classic $19.95 to $570; and silver nanoparticle shampoo. Washing your hands: Still free. For now.

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