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FTC brings its first case against fake paid reviews on Amazon – TechCrunch

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The Federal Trade Commission announced on Tuesday evening that it has brought its first case against using fake reviews to sell products online. The Commission said it will settle with defendant Cure Encapsulations Inc., a New York City-based company, and owner Naftula Jacobwitz, who it accused of making false claims about a weight loss supplement and paying a third-party website to post fake reviews on Amazon.

Fake reviews are a constant nuisance for Amazon shoppers, despite algorithms designed to safeguard its review system, and the company has hit back with a series of lawsuits against websites that offer to post fake verified reviews.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Cure Encapsulations sold pills with garcinia cambogia, a tropical fruit also called brindleberry that is sometimes used as a “natural” weight loss aid. Called Quality Encapsulations Garcinia Cambogia, the pills were sold only on Amazon. Jacobwitz paid a website called www.amazonverifiedreviews.com to post favorable reviews in order to boost its rating.

An exhibit from the FTC’s complaint against Cure Encapsulations Inc.

On October 8, 2014, Jacobowitz sent an email to the site’s operator saying he’d pay a total of $1,000 for 30 reviews, three per day, with the goal of increasing its 4.2 rating to 4.3, which he claimed was necessary in order to have sales. He also wrote that he wanted the product to “stay a five star.” Www.amazonverifiedreviews.com then posted a series of fake five-star reviews praising the pills. The FTC said the reviews made false claims, including that the pills were a powerful appetite suppressant, caused weight loss of up to 20 pounds, and blocked the formation of new fat cells.

The proposed settlement includes a judgement of $12.8 million, to be suspended upon payment of $50,000 to the FTC and certain unpaid income tax obligations. The settlement also bans Cure Encapsulations and Jacobwitz from making weight-loss, fat-blocking, or disease-treatment claims for dietary supplements, food, or drugs, unless they have reliable scientific evidence from clinical trials in humans. They are also prohibited from making misrepresentations about endorsements, including fake reviews, and must tell Amazon which reviews were faked and email customers who have bought the pills to give them information about FTC’s allegations.

In press release, Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said “When a company buys fake reviews to inflate its Amazon ratings, it hurts both shoppers and companies that play by the rules.”

In a statement to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson said “We welcome the FTC’s work in this area. Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”

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Google Search on mobile is about to get a big visual redesign

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Google is about to roll out a redesigned Search on mobile, the company said in a blog post today, explaining the adjustments users can expect. Google describes the updated UI as a ‘major visual redesign,’ one that is intended to simplify things for users, bringing ‘information into focus,’ improving the readability of text, and more.

First things first, Google says the redesigned Search interface on mobile makes it easier for users to focus on the content, reducing some of the clutter from design elements. Beyond that, the redesign is also intended to make it easier for users to read content as they browse.

The text has been made bolder and larger, the result of which is easier scanning across search results for the content you want. Google has also added more of its own font into the mix, the one you see on Gmail and Android devices.

“Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” explained Google’s Aileen Cheng, who led the redesign. Beyond that, Google’s redesign uses color to highlight important things in search, emphasizing content first with colors used ‘more intentionally’ in places to guide the user’s eyes.

Shadow use has been minimized and results now span edge-to-edge, ultimately providing more ‘visual space,’ according to Aileen. Rounding it all out is the use of roundness in new places, something that better reflects the same roundness we see in the Google logo.

Google says the updated design will roll out on Search for mobile in coming days.

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Pinterest’s new AR feature lets you try on virtual eyeshadow

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Shopping online is the primary way people get most of the items they want or need, but there are some downsides: you can’t try on clothes to make sure they’ll fit right and it’s not easy to determine whether a particular makeup color will look good on you. Pinterest has introduced another feature that addresses the latter problem, one that lets you virtually try-on eye shadow before buying it.

The feature is called ‘AR Try on,’ and it is now available for eyeshadows from a few brands: NYX Cosmetics, Urban Decay, Lancome, and YSL. Eyeshadow products listed on Pinterest that are included in this feature will show a small ‘Try on’ button in the bottom right corner of the image, as well as a camera icon.

Tapping this will pull up your phone’s camera in the app, where you’ll be able to scroll through different eyeshadow color options and see them realistically overlaid on your eyelids. The feature is powered by Pinterest’s Lens feature and is available on both iOS and Android.

The platform includes options for filtering the results to specific brands, price ranges, and color, as well as seeing similar products and saving items to a board. The new feature joins Pinterest’s Try on feature for lipstick, which works in the same way and currently includes more than 4,000 lipstick shades.

Users who decide to purchase a product they try on will be directed to the retailer’s website for the transaction, Pinterest notes. This is the latest expansion of the company’s augmented reality features, the most notable being its Lens tool. With this, users can point their phone’s camera at an object, then browse through results featuring similar content.

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If Apple lets me trash this dongle I’ll be overjoyed

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I’m a Mac user, and a macOS fan, and I like Apple’s industrial design, but the chatter of a return of the SD card slot to upcoming MacBook Pro laptops has me muttering a silent prayer of thanks. It feels like we’ve been languishing in dongle hell for many years now, and while Apple wasn’t alone in betting on a tech future dominated by a single port, it’s certainly been the most stubborn about that.

For a connector type absent from its notebooks for about five years at this point, the fact that Apple took away the SD card slot still rankles so many users is impressive. When the fourth generation MacBook Pro was announced in 2016, it wasn’t only the memory card reader that Apple removed, however.

Gone, in fact, was every port beyond the 3.5mm headphone jack. In their place, users got either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which doubled as USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.

It was an aggressive move, that spoke of Apple’s commitment to the USB Type-C future, but it also arguably became overshadowed by other changes the MacBook Pro introduced. The Touch Bar – the company’s implementation of a touchscreen interface – proved more controversial still, as did the butterfly keyboard. One of those issues has been settled, with the new Magic Keyboard arriving in late 2019 on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if the rumors are to be believed it’ll likely be this year that the Touch Bar and USB-C get their comeuppance.

It seems fair to say that the USB-C transition hasn’t gone entirely as many expected it would. When Thunderbolt 3 adopted the same USB Type-C connector, it seemed reasonable to assume that peripherals would go the same way. Certainly, there are more USB Type-C compatible devices and accessories out there than, say, Thunderbolt 2 managed to get onboard.

At the same time, though, it’s also no exaggeration to say that the USB situation is beyond confusing. Different versions provide different speeds and capabilities despite all looking, outwardly, the same. You might not notice that if you’re simple plugging in a thumb-drive or a scanner, but if you’re trying to troubleshoot why your monitor isn’t working – or delivering the maximum resolution it’s meant to be capable of – then that’s a whole other story.

Some things, meanwhile, just haven’t made that transition, and look unlike to ever do so. We’re seeing more new cameras with USB-C connectors now, for example, but that hasn’t stopped content creators wanting to simply pull out an SD card and slot it into the side of their notebook. The USB-C to SD Card Reader Apple still sells for $39 has been a permanent occupant of my work kit since I switched to the 12-inch Retina MacBook all those years ago, and it’s kept me company since then.

Honestly, out of the things that Apple has (in many cases rightly) been lambasted for in Macs over the last few years, the removal of the SD card slot has had the most impact on my life. I don’t hate the Touch Bar, especially since I loaded it up with some of my most commonly-used Automator shortcuts, and I was one of the oddball people who actually enjoyed typing on the butterfly keyboard. Having to always double-check I have the SD card adapter – and canvassing the room to see if someone has one with them, on the few times I forgot it – has been a chore for so long, it’s basically become muscle-memory.

I doubt I’m alone in that and, while I may not be a programming power-user, or someone making complex 3D graphics, I don’t think my use-case when it comes to content creation fails to qualify as the “professional” that the Pro in MacBook Pro is meant to refer to. The big experiment of doing away with ports has had long enough to run, and the results sure seem to indicate that no, you can’t comfortably and seamlessly replace an SD card reader with a USB-C port.

I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of new liberation among Apple’s Mac team as it heads into 2021. Jony Ive – a brilliant designer but also an uncompromising one, and someone who cast a significant shadow over Apple’s hardware decisions – is gone, and the transition to Apple Silicon opens the door for many of the old-normals to be cast out in favor of new thinking. If that means getting back some familiar ports, I’m 100-percent for it.

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