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Google gives Android developers new tools to make money from users who won’t pay

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Google today is introducing a new way for Android developers to generate revenue from their mobile applications. And no, it’s not subscription-related. Instead, the company is launching a new monetization option for apps called “Rewarded Products.” This will allow non-paying app users to contribute to an app’s revenue stream by sacrificing their time, but not their money. The first product will be rewarded video, where users can opt to watch a video ad in exchange for in-game currency, virtual goods or other benefits.

The feature may make developers happy, but it remains to be seen how users react. Reception will depend on how the videos are introduced in the app.

Even in Google’s example of the rewarded product in action — meant to showcase a best-design practice, one would think — the video interrupts gameplay between levels with a full-screen takeover. This is not a scenario users would respond well to unless this was presented as the only way to play a popular, previously paid-only game for free, perhaps.Rewarded video has worked for some apps where users have come to expect a free product. That could include free-to-play games or other services where subscribing is an option, not a requirement.

For example, Pandora’s music streaming service was free and ad-supported for years, as it was radio-only. After it introduced tiers offering on-demand streaming to compete with Spotify, it rolled out a rewarded video product — so to speak — of its own. Today, Pandora listeners can choose to watch a video ad to access on-demand music for a session as an alternative to paying a monthly subscription.

Android app developers, of course, are already using advertisements to supplement, or as a means of, monetization, but this launch creates an official Google Play “product.” This makes implementation easier on developers and gives Google a way to compete with third parties offering something similar.

Rewarded products can be added to any app using the Google Play Billing Library or AIDL interface with only a few additional API calls, the company says. It won’t require an SDK.

The launch comes at a time when Apple has been seeing success with subscriptions, which it has fully embraced, pushed and sometimes even let run amok. Subscriptions are now one of the biggest factors, outside of games, in app store revenue growth.

But Android users, historically, have been more averse to paying for apps than those on iOS. Apple’s store has even seen nearly double that of Google Play in terms of revenue — despite having far fewer downloads. That means Android developers will not be able to tap into the subscription craze at the same scale as their iOS counterparts. And it means cross-platform developers may further prioritize building for iOS, as a result.

Rewarded products offer those developers an alternative path to monetization on a platform where that’s often been more difficult, outside of running ads.

Google says the rewarded video product is launching into open beta, and is available in the Play Console for developers.

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AT&T failed to fix Ohio man’s broken Internet service for a month

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Ohio resident John Sopko had to go a month without his AT&T fixed wireless Internet service because the company repeatedly failed to diagnose and fix the problem, the Akron Beacon Journal reported today. AT&T finally figured out this week that the antenna on Sopko’s roof was broken and had to be replaced, but not until after a parade of support calls and technician visits.

Sopko said he isn’t a big Internet user but that his girlfriend and her 17-year-old son are. The son has “been at his grandmother’s since four days after [the outage] started because he needs it for school,” Sopko said. Sopko’s house is either in or near an area where AT&T received US government funding to deploy service.

Sopko’s service stopped working on October 30. Rebooting the modem did nothing, so he called AT&T’s service phone number and “followed directions to reboot the system.” That again did nothing, so AT&T sent a technician to his home in Akron, but the tech just repeated the steps that Sopko had already taken, according to the report:

“He went and turned everything off and plugged it back in,” Sopko said. Same result—no connection.

AT&T sent out a second technician, on Nov. 8. “He did the same thing,” Sopko said. “He said it was an engineering problem and was going to send an email.”

More frustration, no explanation from AT&T

Sopko didn’t hear back from AT&T, so he called the company again a couple of days after the second technician visit, the Beacon Journal article said. “They said they were ‘troubleshooting’ and said it would be back up in a couple of hours,” he told the newspaper.

The service did not come back online within a couple of hours, and Sopko said he had to “chase them down” again because AT&T didn’t call him back. He was eventually able to schedule a technician appointment for November 23. But on that day, “he received another text, confirming an appointment for Nov. 26. A text on Nov. 26 confirmed an appointment for 2 pm to 4 pm. Sopko said he may not have responded in time to that text, so a new appointment was set for Dec. 3,” the newspaper reported.

The Beacon Journal report continued:

Sopko called the service line again on Nov. 26, talking to a customer representative. “I don’t want to be mean to you,” he told the representative. “But this has been going on for 28 days now. Why?”

The representative couldn’t give a solid answer, which frustrated Sopko even more. “I’m buying a product that I can’t use,” he said. “Tell me lightning hit a tower; tell me something.”

AT&T’s government funding

Finally, Sopko was contacted on Tuesday of this week by an AT&T rep, and the company sent what Sopko called a “more advanced technician” to his house on Wednesday. The technician tested the antenna, found it wasn’t working, and replaced it.

“That ‘antenna’ was a fixed wireless unit the company had installed about a year and a half before. The units are primarily used in rural areas where cable lines aren’t in place,” the Beacon Journal noted.

Ohio is one of 18 states where AT&T received $428 million from the Federal Communications Commission per year for seven years starting in 2015 to deploy 10Mbps Internet using fixed wireless technology to 1.1 million homes and small businesses. It’s not clear whether Sopko’s home is counted in that deployment, but his address on East Voris Street is very close to other Akron properties where the FCC map shows subsidized deployment by AT&T.

AT&T still trying to “determine what happened”

Sopko “received a bill on Tuesday for a month’s service he didn’t get” but later received bill credits “and a gift card for his troubles,” the Beacon Journal reported. AT&T told the newspaper that “our technicians restored Mr. Sopko’s Internet service and he is satisfied.”

We asked AT&T for an explanation of why it took a month to diagnose and fix the problem. The company didn’t explain but said it is looking into the matter.

“Clearly, this is not an acceptable customer experience and did not meet our expectations for how we serve our customers,” AT&T told Ars today. “We have apologized to Mr. Sopko and credited his account. We are reviewing this case to determine what happened and to prevent it from happening again.”

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iPhones of US diplomats hacked using “0-click” exploits from embattled NSO

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The iPhones of nine US State Department officials were infected by powerful and stealthy malware developed by NSO Group, the Israeli exploit seller that has come under increasing scrutiny for selling its wares to journalists, lawyers, activists, and US allies.

The US officials, either stationed in Uganda or focusing on issues related to that country, received warnings like this one from Apple informing them their iPhones were being targeted by hackers. Citing unnamed people with knowledge of the attacks, Reuters said the hackers used software from NSO.

No clicking required

As previously reported, NSO software known as Pegasus uses exploits sent through messaging apps that infect iPhones and Android devices without requiring targets to click links or take any other action. From there, the devices run hard-to-detect malware that can download photos, contacts, text messages, and other data. The malware also allows the operator to listen to audio and view video in real time.

NSO has long come under fire for selling its wares to governments hostile to journalists and dissidents. Facebook sued NSO in 2019 after Pegasus was discovered to have used the company’s WhatsApp to infect the iPhones of 36 journalists. Last month, Apple sued NSO after learning Pegasus infected 37 iPhones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, and business executives. Critics said the targets didn’t meet the criteria NSO says is required for its powerful spyware to be used. Also last month the Biden administration’s Commerce Department blocked the export, re-export and in-country transfer of NSO technology.

An NSO spokesperson said in a statement that after learning of the allegations by Reuters, it immediately terminated the responsible customer’s access to its system while it looks into the matter. NSO officials wrote:

On top of the independent investigation, NSO will cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have. To clarify, the installation of our software by the customer occurs via phone numbers. As stated before, NSO’s technologies are blocked from working on US (+1) numbers. Once the software is sold to the licensed customer, NSO has no way to know who the targets of the customers are, as such, we were not and could not have been aware of this case.

Reuters said that while the iPhones targeted in this case were all registered to overseas numbers, the target’s affiliation with the US government was obvious because they all used Apple IDs that were associated with email addresses ending in state.gov. The news outlet said the actions taken against the State Department officials “represent the widest known hacks of US officials through NSO technology.”

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Ransomware attack on Planned Parenthood steals data of 400,000 patients

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Ransomware hackers broke into a Planned Parenthood network and accessed medical records or other sensitive data for more than 400,000 patients of the reproductive health care group.

The disclosure came in a sample letter posted to the California attorney general’s website and a release published by the organization. Both said that the intrusion and data theft was limited to patients of Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles chapter. Organization personnel first noticed the hack on October 17 and conducted an investigation.

“The investigation determined that an unauthorized person gained access to our network between
October 9, 2021 and October 17, 2021, and exfiltrated some files from our systems during that time,” the letter stated. It went on to say: “On November 4, 2021, we identified files that contained your name and one or more of the following: address, insurance information, date of birth, and clinical information, such as diagnosis, procedure, and/or prescription information.”

The release said that the intruder “installed malware/ransomware and exfiltrated some files from its systems during that time.” The organization said it has no evidence the stolen data has been used for fraudulent purposes. Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles spokesman John Erickson didn’t respond to a question asking if the organization could rule out that possibility.

Ransomware has become a scourge that hits both Fortune 500 firms and small nonprofits alike. The criminals behind the attacks routinely extort money, with the threat to not only lock up victims’ computer networks, but also to leak sensitive data online if the ransom goes unpaid. There are no reports of any of the Planned Parenthood data being published.

In May, hackers hit Colonial Pipeline with a ransomware attack that caused disruptions in gasoline distribution in the southeastern United States. A few weeks later, JBS SA, the world’s biggest meat producer, suffered a ransomware attack that shut down operations at five of the biggest JBS beef plants in the US. A Canadian JBS beef plant that processes almost a third of the country’s federally inspected cattle was also shut down.

Nonprofit organizations, meanwhile, have also been menaced by ransomware, with hospitals, homeless shelters, and community groups all in the crosshairs. Earlier this year, data belonging to a Planned Parenthood chapter in the District of Columbia was also held for ransom.

Word of the latest Planned Parenthood attack comes as the availability of abortions in many states has come under threat in state legislatures. The US Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that effectively bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

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