Connect with us

Biz & IT

Aptoide, a Play Store rival, cries antitrust foul over Google hiding its app

Published

on

As US regulators gear up to launch another antitrust probe of Google’s business, an alternative Android app store is dialling up its long time complaint of anti-competitive behavior against the search and smartphone OS giant.

Portugal-based Aptoide is launching a campaign website to press its case and call for Google to “Play Fair” — accusing Mountain View of squeezing consumer choice by “preventing users from freely choosing their preferred app store”.

Aptoide filed its first EU antitrust complaint against Google all the way back in 2014, joining a bunch of other complainants crying foul over how Google was operating Android.

And while the European Commission did eventually step in, slapping Google with a $5BN penalty for antitrust abuses last summer after a multi-year investigation, rivals continue to complain the Android maker still isn’t playing fair.

In the case of Aptoide, the alternative Android app store says Google has damaged its ability to compete by unjustifiably flagging its app as insecure.

“Since Summer 2018, Google Play Protect flags Aptoide as a harmful app, hiding it in users’ Android devices and requesting them to uninstall it. This results in a potential decrease of unique Aptoide users of 20%. Google Play Protect is Google’s built-in malware protection for Android, but we believe the way it works damages users’ rights,” it writes on the site, where it highlights what it claims are Google’s anti-competitive behaviors, and asks users to report experiences of the app being flagged.

Aptoide says Google has engaged in multiple behaviors that make it harder for it to gain or keep users — thereby undermining its ability to compete with Google’s own Play Store.

“In 2018, we had 222 million yearly active users. Last month (May’19), we had 56 million unique MAU,” co-founder and CEO Paulo Trezentos tells TechCrunch. “We estimate that the Google Play removal and flagging had cause the loss of 15% to 20% of our user base since June’18.”

(The estimate of how many users Aptoide has lost was performed using Google SafetyNet API which he says allows it to query the classification of an app.)

“Fortunately we have been able to compensate that with new users and new partnerships but it is a barrier to a faster growth,” he adds.

“The googleplayfair.com site hopes to bring visibility to this situation and help other start ups that may be under the same circumstances.”

Among the anti-competitive behaviors Aptoide accuses Google of engaging in are flagging and suspending its app from users’ phones — without their permission and “without a valid reason”.

“It hides Aptoide. User cannot see Aptoide icon and cannot launch. Even if they go to ‘settings’ and say they trust Aptoide, Aptoide installations are blocked,” he says. “If it looks violent, it’s because it’s a really aggressive move and impactful.”

Here’s the notification Aptoide users are shown when trying to override Google’s suspension of Aptoide at the package manager level:

Even if an Aptoide user overrides the warning — by clicking ‘keep app (unsafe)’ — Trezentos says the app still won’t work because Google blocks Aptoide from installing apps.

“The user has to go to Play Protect settings (discover it it’s not easy) and turn off Play protect for all apps.”

He argues there is no justification for Aptoide’s alternative app store being treated in this way.

“Aptoide is considered safe both by security researchers [citing a paper by Japanese security researchers] and by Virus Total (a company owned by Google),” says Trezentos, adding: “Google is removing Aptoide from users phone only due to anticompetitive practices. Doesn’t want anyone else as distribution channel in Android.”

On the website Aptoide has launched to raise awareness and inform users and other startups about how Google treats its app, it makes the claim that its store is “proven… 100% secure” — writing:

We would like to be treated in a fair way: Play Protect should not flag Aptoide as a harmful app and should not ask users to uninstall it since it’s proven that it’s 100% secure. Restricting options for users goes against the nature of the Android open source project [ref10]. Moreover, Google’s ongoing abusive behaviour due to it’s dominant position results in the lack of freedom of choice for users and developers.We would like to keep allowing users and developers to discover and distribute apps in the store of their choice. A healthy competitive market and a variety of options are what we all need to keep providing the best products.

Trezentos stands by the “100% secure” claim when we query it.

“We think that we have a safer approach. We call it  ‘security by design’: We don’t consider all apps secure in the same way. Each app has a badge depending on the reputation of the developer: Trusted, Unknown, Warning, Critical,” he says.

“We are almost 100% sure that apps with a trusted badge are safe. But new apps from new developers, [carry] more risk in spite of all the technology we have developed to detect it. They keep the badge ‘unknown‘ until the community vote it as trusted. This can take some weeks, it can take some months.”

“Of course, if our anti-malware systems detect problems, we classify it as ‘critical’ and the users don’t see it at all,” he adds.

Almost 100% secure then. But if Google’s counter claim to justify choking off access to Aptoide is that the app “can download potentially harmful apps” the same can very well be said of its Play Store. And Google certainly isn’t encouraging Android users to pause that.

On the competition front, Aptoide presents a clear challenge to Google’s Android revenues because it offers developers a more attractive revenue split — taking just 19%, rather than the 30% cut Google takes off of Play Store wares. (Aptoide couches the latter as “Google’s abusive conditions”.)

So if Android users can be persuaded to switch from Play to Aptoide, developers stand to gain — and arguably users too, as app costs would be lower.

While, on the flip side, Google faces its 30% cut being circumvented. Or else it could be forced to reduce how much it takes from developers to give them a greater incentive to stock its shelves with great apps.

As with any app store business, Aptoide’s store of course requires scale to function. And it’s exactly that scale which Google’s behavior has negatively impacted since it began flagging the app as insecure a year ago, in June 2018, squeezing the rival’s user-base by up to a fifth, as Aptoide tells it.

Trezentos says Google’s flagging of its app store affects all markets and “continues to this day” — despite a legal ruling in its favor last fall, when a court in Portugal ordered Google to stop removing Aptoide without users’ permission.

“Google is ignoring the injunction result and is disregarding the national court. No company, independently of the size, should be above court decisions. But it seems that is the case with Google,” he says.

“Our legal team believe that the decision applies to 82 countries but we are pursuing first the total compliance with the decision in Portugal. From there, we will seek the extension to other jurisdictions.”

“We tried to contact Google several times, via Google Play Protect feedback form and directly through LinkedIn, and we’ve not had any feedback from Google. No reasons were presented. No explanation, although we are talking about hiding Aptoide in millions of users’ phones,” he adds.

“Our point in court it’s simple: Google is using the control at operating system level to block competitors at the services level (app store, in this case). As Google has a dominant position, that’s not legal. Court [in Portugal] confirmed and order Google to stop. Google didn’t obey.”

Aptoide has not filed an antitrust complaint against Google in the US — focusing its legal efforts on that front on local submissions to the European Commission.

But Trezentos says it’s “willing to cooperate with US authorities and provide factual data that shows that Google has acted with anti-competitive behaviour” (although he says no one has come knocking to request such collaboration yet.)

In Europe, the Commission’s 2018 antitrust decision was focused on Android licensing terms — which led to Google tweaking the terms it offers Android OEMs selling in Europe last fall.

Despite some changes rivals continue to complain that its changes do not go far enough to create a level playing field for competition.

There has also not been any relief for Aptoide from the record breaking antitrust enforcement. On the contrary Google appears to have dug in against this competitive threat.

“The remedies are positive but the scope is very limited to OEM partnerships,” says Trezentos of the EC’s 2018 Android antitrust decision. “We proposed additionally that Google would be obliged to give the same access privileges over the operating system to credible competitors.”

We’ve reached out to the Commission for comment on Aptoide’s complaint.

While it’s at least technically possible for an OEM to offer an Android device in Europe which includes key Google services (like search and maps) but preloads an alternative app store, rather than Google Play, it would be a brave device maker indeed to go against the consumer grain and not give smartphone buyers the mainstream store they expect.

So, as yet, there’s little high level regulatory relief to help Aptoide. And it may take a higher court than a Portuguese national court to force Google to listen.

But with US authorities fast dialling up their scrutiny of Mountain View, Aptoide may find a new audience for its complaint.

“The increased awareness to Google practices is reaching the regulators,” Trezentos agrees, adding: “Those practices harm competition and in the end are bad for developers and mobile users.”

We reached out to Google with questions about its treatment of Aptoide’s rival app store — but at the time of writing the company had not responded with any comment. 

There have also been some recent rumors that Aptoide is in talks to supply its alternative app store for Huawei devices — in light of the US/China trade uncertainties, and the executive order barring US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant, which have led to reports that Google intends to withdraw key Android services like Play from the company.

But Trezentos pours cold water on these rumors, suggesting there has been no change of cadence in its discussions with Huawei.

“We work with three of top six mobile OEMs in the world. Huawei is not one of them yet,” he tells us. “Our Shengzhen office had been in conversations for some months and they are testing our APIs. This process has not been accelerated or delayed by the recent news.”

Source link

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Biz & IT

Kaseya gets master decryptor to help customers still suffering from REvil attack

Published

on

Kaseya—the remote management software seller at the center of a ransomware operation that struck as many as 1,500 downstream networks—said it has obtained a decryptor that should successfully restore data encrypted during the Fourth of July weekend attack.

Affiliates of REvil, one of the Internet’s most cutthroat ransomware groups, exploited a critical zero-day vulnerability in Miami, Florida-based Kaseya’s VSA remote management product. The vulnerability—which Kaseya was days away from patching—allowed the ransomware operators to compromise the networks of about 60 customers. From there, the extortionists infected as many as 1,500 networks that relied on the 60 customers for services.

Finally, a universal decryptor

“We obtained the decryptor yesterday from a trusted third party and have been using it successfully on affected customers,” Dana Liedholm, senior VP of corporate marketing, wrote in an email on Thursday morning. “We are providing tech support to use the decryptor. We have a team reaching out to our customers and I don’t have more detail right now.”

In a private message, threat analyst Brett Callow of security firm Emsisoft said: “We are working with Kaseya to support their customer engagement efforts. We have confirmed the key is effective at unlocking victims and will continue to provide support to Kaseya and its customers.”

REvil had demanded as much as $70 million for a universal decryptor that would restore the data of all organizations compromised in the mass attack. Liedholm declined to say if Kaseya paid any sum in exchange for the decryption tool. Kaseya has since patched the zero-day used in the attack.

That means that, for the time being, it’s not publicly known if Kaseya paid the ransom or received it for free from either REvil, a law enforcement agency, or a private security company.

In the days following the attack, REvil’s site on the dark web, along with other infrastructure the group uses to provide technical support and process payments, suddenly went offline. The unexplained exit left victims and researchers worried that the data would remain locked up forever, since the only people with the ability to decrypt it had vanished.

Where did it come from?

REvil is one of several ransomware groups believed to operate out of Russia or another Eastern European country that was formerly part of Soviet Union. The group’s disappearance came a few days after President Joe Biden warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that, if Russia didn’t rein in those ransomware groups, the US might take unilateral action against them.

Observers have speculated since then that either Putin pressured the group to go quiet or the group, rattled by all the attention it received from the attack, decided to do so on its own.

Some of the companies victimized by the attack include Swedish grocery store chain COOP, Virginia Tech, two Maryland towns, New Zealand schools, and international textile company Miroglio Group.

REvil is also behind a crippling attack on JBS, the world’s biggest producer of meat. The breach caused JBS to temporarily close some plants.

Continue Reading

Biz & IT

AT&T nightmare: Woman had to wait 3+ months for broadband at new home

Published

on

Enlarge / Lovie Newman tells News 4 San Antonio about having to wait nearly four months for AT&T Internet service.

AT&T reportedly forced a San Antonio woman to wait nearly four months to get Internet service at her new home, and she didn’t get close to solving the problem until she asked a local news station for help.

“Lovie Newman planned for a smooth transition into her new home, including scheduling a transfer for her AT&T high-speed Internet service in advance,” according to a report Tuesday by News 4 San Antonio.

The house Newman moved into was apparently newly built and not yet connected to AT&T’s network, but it sounds like the months-long wait was due primarily to mistakes by AT&T technicians and customer-service problems. In what Newman called “a complete nightmare,” AT&T continually rebuffed her attempts to get Internet service.

Newman scheduled an installation appointment for April 1, but when the day came, AT&T called to say, “we need to reschedule,” she told the news station. Initially, Newman “was told there was a service outage in her new far East Side neighborhood,” News 4 journalist Darian Trotter reported. “Technicians were working on it, but she says they had no idea when service in the area would be restored.”

“I wasn’t hearing back, and I kept getting rescheduled and pushed around to different departments,” Newman said.

“You never came to my house”

Newman was able to schedule another installation appointment in May after the outage was fixed, but installers never came to her house. “For three and a half months, she says she made countless efforts to get connected, including the one time she got an appointment and eagerly waited for technicians to arrive,” News 4 said.

Newman was at home waiting for installers to arrive when she got a message from AT&T saying, “we missed you,” she told News 4. “I’m like, ‘you never came to my house. How did you miss me?'” AT&T installers had mistakenly gone to a different address in Alamo Heights, the report said.

“Out of desperation, she considered switching service providers,” but “an online search of at least three companies revealed service in her neighborhood wasn’t available.” The TV station’s video report shows that those three providers were Charter Spectrum, Grande Communications, and Google Fiber.

“I put in my address and it said, ‘not available,'” Newman said. Newman was afraid of losing her job because of the lack of AT&T Internet service, but News 4 said that “Newman’s employer was able to make special accommodations to keep her working.”

Even though AT&T has dragged its feet for months, its website says that service should be readily available to Newman. We entered Newman’s address into AT&T’s online availability checker, and it reports that fiber-to-the-home service is available where she lives:

AT&T gets moving after hearing from reporter

After months of waiting for AT&T to provide a broadband connection, Newman contacted Trotter at News 4 over two weeks ago. The station reached out to AT&T, and while the company initially did not reply to the media organization, the prospect of news coverage got AT&T’s attention.

The news video showed an email sent to Newman on July 8 from an employee in an AT&T executive office. “The AT&T Office of the President (OOP) received a communication from a local news media reporter,” the email said. “However, since you are our customer, I wanted to reach out to you directly.”

The week after that July 8 email, News 4 “received a statement from a spokeswoman saying, ‘our team has already begun looking into this and is in contact with Ms. Newman,'” Trotter said in the news report. Newman was still waiting for service to be installed this week when the News 4 report aired. “I want my Internet to be installed, up and running by this weekend,” she told the station.

Due to News 4 prodding AT&T into action, it seems that Newman is finally close to getting connected—nearly four months after AT&T abruptly canceled her first installation appointment. “After we got involved, Newman says techs have recently installed wiring, and an Internet box has been set up outside her home,” Trotter said at the end of his report. “Everything is ready, she just needs to schedule the installation.”

We contacted Newman and AT&T today about whether service has been or will soon be installed and will update this article if we get new information.

Newman’s AT&T nightmare unfortunately not unique

Newman’s ordeal is similar to one we wrote about in April. In that case, Comcast had an error in its coverage map and falsely told the customers that Internet service would be available at their new home. The couple, Edward Koll and Jo Narkon, then paid Comcast $5,000 for a network extension, but the project kept getting delayed. Comcast finally provided Internet service after Koll contacted Ars and we reached out to Comcast’s public relations department.

Koll and Narkon ended up waiting six months for cable Internet and had to use unreliable and data-capped cell service that entire time. We’ve written other stories over the years about Comcast falsely telling customers that they could get service. After our article about Koll and Narkon published a few months ago, we heard from a few more people in Comcast territory who were incorrectly told that Internet service would be available at their homes.

We also wrote about a frustrated AT&T-using family in Mississippi in November 2020. AT&T had falsely promised Kathie McNamee and her family U-verse Internet service of about 5Mbps, which is slow by today’s standards but still much faster than what they ended up getting. Ultimately, AT&T only provided the family speeds of up to 768kbps over its legacy DSL network and has not upgraded its network there or in many other areas where glacially slow AT&T speeds are the norm.

This kind of AT&T home-Internet problem is nothing new. Back in 2015, we wrote about a family in Georgia that couldn’t get AT&T Internet at a home they bought even though their neighbors and the home’s previous owners had service. AT&T said it didn’t have enough capacity to hook up additional customers.

Continue Reading

Biz & IT

Saudi Aramco confirms data leak after $50 million cyber ransom demand

Published

on

Enlarge / The Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant, operated by Saudi Aramco, in Hawiyah, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, June 28, 2021.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, confirmed on Wednesday that some of its company files had been leaked via a contractor, after a cyber extortionist claimed to have seized troves of its data last month and demanded a $50 million ransom from the company.

Aramco said in a statement that it had “recently become aware of the indirect release of a limited amount of company data which was held by third-party contractors.” The oil company did not name the supplier or explain how the data were compromised.

“We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations, and the company continues to maintain a robust cyber security posture,” Aramco added.

The statement came after a hacker claimed on the dark web that they had stolen 1 terabyte of Aramco’s data, according to a post from June 23 seen by the Financial Times. The hacker said it had obtained information on the location of oil refineries, as well as payroll files and confidential client and employee data.

In another post, the perpetrator offered to delete the data if Aramco paid up $50 million in a niche cryptocurrency Monero, which is particularly difficult for authorities to trace. The post also offered prospective buyers the chance to purchase the data for about $5 million.

The oil giant has the capacity to pump more than one in every 10 barrels of crude in the global market and any threats to its security or facilities are closely watched by oil traders and policymakers.

The security vulnerabilities of energy companies and pipelines in particular have fallen under the spotlight recently after the hack of the Colonial Pipeline in the US earlier this year resulted in fuel shortages across the east coast of the country.

It was unclear who was behind the Aramco incident. Cyber researchers noted that the attack did not appear to be part of a ransomware campaign, where hackers use malware to seize a users’ data or computer systems and only release it once a ransom has been paid. Nor did the hacker claim to be part of a known ransomware gang.

Instead, the hacker appeared to have seized a copy of the data without using malware, and set up dark web profiles to telegraph its activities.

Saudi Aramco’s facilities have been targeted in the past by both physical and cyber attacks.

In 2019 the Abqaiq processing facility in the eastern part of the country, which prepares the majority of the kingdom’s crude for export, was hit by a series of missile and drone strikes that the US blamed on Iran. Global oil prices soared until Saudi Arabia was able to reassure markets it could still export enough oil to keep customers well supplied.

In 2012 an alleged cyber attack on Saudi Aramco was also blamed on Iran. Cyber security experts have said this was probably a retaliation for the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program, which has been widely attributed to the US and Israel.

The 2012 attack erased data on about three-quarters of Aramco’s computers, according to reports at the time, including files, spreadsheets and emails. They were replaced with an image of a burning US flag.

Saudi Aramco refineries, including the newly opened Jazan facility, which was listed in screenshots of the allegedly leaked data, have also been subject to physical attacks both from drones and missile strikes, which have been claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Jazan refinery is in Saudi Arabia’s southwest on the Red Sea, not far from the Yemen border.

The extortion attempt was first reported by the Associated Press.

© 2021 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved Not to be redistributed, copied, or modified in any way.

Continue Reading

Trending