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Google facing $5bn lawsuit for tracking in ‘private’ mode – The Irish Times

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Google surreptitiously amasses billions of bits of information – every day – about internet users even if they opt out of sharing their information, three consumers alleged in a proposed class action lawsuit.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” according to the complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in San Jose, California.

Even as it scoops up information, the search-engine giant assures users – falsely – that they’re in control of what they share with the company, according to the suit, which includes claims for invasion of privacy and violations of federal wiretapping law.

The case was filed by Boies Schiller Flexner, a high-profile litigation firm that previously defended Uber when the ride-hailing company was accused three years ago by Alphabet’s self-driving unit of stealing trade secrets.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the suit, the company collects information, including IP addresses and browsing histories, whenever users visit web pages or use an app tied to common Google services, such as Google Analytics and Google Ad Manager. This makes “Google ‘one stop shopping’ for any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals’ privacy, security, or freedom,” the consumers allege.

A consumer suit accusing Google of illegally tracking and storing geolocation data with its mobile apps and operating system was thrown out by a California federal judge in December. Arizona’s attorney general filed a similar complaint last month. Google disputed the claim and said it’s looking forward to setting the record straight. – Bloomberg

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Sony invests $250 million in Fortnite maker Epic Games – VentureBeat

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Sony has invested $250 million for a minority stake in Fortnite maker Epic Games, the companies announced today. With the new money, Epic Games has raised $1.83 billion to date.

The companies said the deal cements an already close relationship and reinforces their shared goal to advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment, and socially connected online services. This close relationship was underscored in May when Epic first showed the upcoming Unreal Engine 5 graphics running on a PlayStation 5. As the company itself has disclosed, Epic Games raised $1.58 billion to date in three previous funding rounds. In 2012, the company received a $330 million investment from Tencent for a 40% ownership stake.

Under the deal, the investment enables Sony and Epic to broaden their collaboration, with Sony’s portfolio of entertainment assets and technology and Epic’s social entertainment platform and digital ecosystem (think Fortnite’s increasing use as a social space or the Epic Games Store), to create unique experiences for consumers and creators. The closing of the investment is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

Epic confirmed it will still be able to publish to other platforms. As noted, Sony is acquiring only a minority part of Epic Games, and it is not acquiring a controlling stake in the company. (Update: Sony is acquiring a 1.4% stake of Epic, which means the deal values Epic Games at $17.86 billion).

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The deal is important for Sony because it needs allies in the upcoming console war. Later this year, Sony plans to launch the PlayStation 5 game console in competition with Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. But Epic has said that its Unreal Engine 5 and Fortnite will work with all game platforms, as Epic has generally been neutral when it comes to making cross-platform technology. If Sony gets any advantage from investing in Epic, it isn’t clear from this deal.

In a statement, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said that Epic’s technology keeps it at the forefront of game development and that is exemplified in the features of Fortnite. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, meanwhile, said in a statement that both Sony and Epic have created businesses at the intersection of creativity and technology and they share a vision of real-time 3D social experiences that will lead to a convergence of gaming, film, and music. He also said the parties plan to build a “more open and accessible digital ecosystem for all consumers and content creators.”

The music reference seems like a call out to the recent virtual Travis Scott concert in Fortnite, which drew more than 27 million people. The mention of a more open and accessible digital ecosystem is also a surprise, as Sweeney has long been a proponent of open systems, while Sony has been an example of a company that protects its proprietary technology. Sony has, however, enabled Fortnite to function as a crossplay game that also lets friends play each other across other platforms.

A separate deal

The deal is different from the one that Bloomberg reported in June, which we independently confirmed, that Epic Games was seeking to raise $750 million at a pre-money valuation of $16.3 billion, with a post-money valuation (the value of the company after the deal is done) of $17 billion. Epic declined to comment on that deal.

Epic Games is both the developer and publisher of Fortnite, which has more than 350 million registered users. And it is also the creator of the Unreal Engine, a fundamental toolset for building many games (and increasingly, making movies and TV).

Bloomberg said in June that new investors participating in the separate round are T. Rowe Price Group and Baillie Gifford. Existing investors KKR & Co. will also participate, Bloomberg reported, citing unnamed sources. Epic did not comment on that detail either.

Above: This Lara Croft-like character is not a glimpse at the next Epic Games title.

Image Credit: Epic Games

Epic’s financials, based on sources

As we reported earlier in June, Epic Games’ fundraising gave us a window into the company’s current financial picture, as the privately held Epic does not disclose its revenues or profits. Epic has declined to comment on the below numbers.

Sources told GamesBeat that in 2019, Epic Games reported $4.2 billion in revenue and $730 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA, a key measure of profitability). Revenue for 2020 is forecast to be $5 billion, with EBITDA of $1 billion.

In April alone, thanks to the pandemic, Fortnite revenue was $400 million, sources told me. In April, players spent 3.2 billion hours in the battle royale shooter, sources said.

In 2018, Epic Games did better than it did in 2019. Revenue in 2018 was $5.6 billion, with EBITDA of $2.9 billion, sources said. Epic used a lot of that money to invest in its Epic Games Store, expanding its staff for Fortnite and Unreal Engine, and some acquisitions.

The Unreal Engine 5 can handle global illumination.

Above: The Unreal Engine 5 can handle global illumination.

Image Credit: Epic Games

In 2017, the company received a strategic investment from Disney as part of the 2017 Disney Accelerator program. And in October 2018, Epic raised $1.25 billion at a $14.5 billion post-money valuation. Investors in that round included KKR, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Ventures, Smash Ventures, and Iconiq.

As part of the Unreal Engine 5 announcement in May, Sweeney said in an interview with GamesBeat that Epic had a close relationship with Sony. “We’ve been working super-closely with Sony for quite a long time on the storage architecture and other elements. It’s been our primary focus. But Unreal Engine 5 will be on all next-generation platforms, and so will Fortnite,” Sweeney said at the time.

He added, “Sony has done an awesome job of architecting a great system here. It’s not just a great GPU, and they didn’t just take the latest PC hardware and upgrade to it, following the path of least resistance. The storage architecture in PlayStation 5 is far ahead of anything that you can buy in any PC for any amount of money right now. It’s great to see that sort of innovation. It’s going to help drive future PCs. They’ll see this thing ship and realize, ‘Wow, with two SSDs, we’ll have to catch up.’”

Epic Games didn’t say what it would use the money for. But it’s a good bet the company will continue to make acquisitions, invest in its Epic Games Store, expand Fortnite, and drive toward the creation of the Metaverse. The latter is the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. Sweeney has said this is one of his goals.

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Sony reveals the PS5 game box design – The Verge

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Sony revealed what the physical boxes for PlayStation 5 games will look like in a blog post on Thursday, using the upcoming Spider-Man: Miles Morales as an example. While they look a lot like, well, game boxes, there are still a few interesting design details to note.

Sony will once again sell games in blue cases, similar to PS4 games, but the PS5 cases are a slightly darker blue that seems to match the blue accents on the PS5 console and controller. And the PS5 header at the top of the game label is white and black (instead of the blue of the PS4 header), also matching the design of the PS5 hardware family.

The PS5 game box doesn’t appear to have any language indicating that you’ll need the PS5 with a disc drive to play games that come in physical boxes — but if you opt to get the digital-only PS5 when the consoles are released, you probably won’t be shopping for physical games anyway.

If you want to make more comparisons between the PS5 and PS5 game boxes, here’s the game box for Spider-Man on PS4:

Sony plans to launch the PS5 and Spider-Man: Miles Morales this holiday season.

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Google Play apps with 500,000 downloads subscribe users to costly services – Ars Technica

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Hackers and Google Play have been caught up in a tense dance over the past decade. The hackers sneak malware into the Google-owned Android app repository. Google throws it out and develops defenses to prevent it from happening again. Then the hackers find a new opening and do it all over again. This two-step has played out again, this time with a malware family known as the Joker, which has been infiltrating Play since at least 2017.

The Joker is malicious code that lurks inside seemingly legitimate apps. It often waits hours or days after the app is installed to run in an attempt to evade Google’s automated malware detection. On Thursday, researchers with security firm Check Point said the Joker has struck again, this time lurking in 11 seemingly legitimate apps downloaded from Play about 500,000 times. Once activated, the malware allowed the apps to surreptitiously subscribe users to pricey premium services.

The new variant found a new trick to go undetected—it hid its malicious payload inside what’s known as the manifest, a file Google requires every app to include in its root directory. Google’s intent is for the XML file to provide more transparency by making permissions, icons, and other information about the app easy to find.

The Joker developers found a way to use the manifest to their advantage. Their apps included benign code for legitimate things such as texting or displaying images in the expected parts of the installation file. They then hid the malicious code inside the metadata of the manifest.

The developers added two more layers of stealth. First, the malicious code was stored in base 64-encoded strings that aren’t human readable. Second, during the period Google was evaluating the apps, the malicious payload would remain dormant. Only after the app was approved would the Joker code get loaded and executed. Google removed the apps after Check Point reported them.

In January, Google published a detailed description of Bread—the alternate name for the Joker—that enumerated its many ways of bypassing defenses. The post said that Play Protect—Google’s automated scanning service—had detected and removed 1,700 unique apps from the Play Store before ever being downloaded. Checkpoint’s discovery of a new batch of apps downloaded a half million times underscores the limits of Play Protect.

“Our latest findings indicate that Google Play Store protections are not enough,” Aviran Hazum, Check Point’s manager of mobile research, wrote in an email. “We were able to detect numerous cases of Joker uploads on a weekly basis to Google Play, all of which were downloaded by unsuspecting users. The Joker malware is tricky to detect, despite Google’s investment in adding Play Store protections. Although Google removed the malicious apps from the Play Store, we can fully expect Joker to adapt again.”

To prevent detection, earlier Joker variants often obtained the malicious payload—in the form of a dynamically loaded dex file—from a command and control server after the app was already installed. As Google’s defenses have improved, that method became less effective. The developers’ solution was to store the dex file—in the form of base 64 strings—inside the manifest. To be activated, the payload needed only confirmation from the control server that the campaign was active. Check Point also found another Joker variant that hid the base 64 strings inside an internal class of the main app.

The 11 apps Check Point found are:

  • com.imagecompress.android
  • com.contact.withme.texts
  • com.hmvoice.friendsms
  • com.relax.relaxation.androidsms
  • com.cheery.message.sendsms (two different instances)
  • com.peason.lovinglovemessage
  • com.file.recovefiles
  • com.LPlocker.lockapps
  • com.remindme.alram
  • com.training.memorygame

Anyone who has had one of these apps installed should check their billing statements for unrecognized charges.

By now, most readers know Android app security advice cold. Most importantly, users should install apps sparingly and only when they provide a true benefit or are really necessary. When possible, users should favor apps from known developers, or at least those with websites or other history that indicates they’re not a fly-by-night operation. People should periodically check what apps are installed and remove any that are no longer in use.

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