When Google decided in May to stop accepting online ads for short-term, ultra-high-cost personal loans known as payday loans, some people wondered whether the company was acting more like a publisher exercising editorial control than a supposedly neutral search engine.
Now that Google’s policy has gone into effect, it’s worth asking: To what extent should the company be a gatekeeper, judging which online ads are okay and which are not? And if the world’s largest Internet search engine is going to be selective about accepting ads, where does it draw the line?
The same questions could be applied to Microsoft and Yahoo, which refuse to carry ads for certain types of sensitive content (but still advertise payday loans). Baidu, the world’s second-largest search engine, has been grappling with these issues since earlier this year, when its practice of promoting medical listings without vetting them sparked outrage over a tragedy: a young man with cancer died after receiving an ineffective treatment from a hospital he found through a Baidu ad. The outcry prompted an investigation by China’s Internet regulator, which ordered Baidu to review its ads and remove any that promote unlicensed medical providers.
University of Maryland law professor Frank Pasquale says Google has tried to have it both ways: sometimes it portrays itself as a simple utility and a mere conduit of its customers’ ads, but other times it presents itself as a content provider that can and should exercise control over the ads it shows.
“Whenever Google is accused of abetting or enabling copyright infringement or defamation, it says, ‘We’re just [connecting people] like the phone company does, and you wouldn’t sue the phone company over this,’” says Pasquale. “But when people say, ‘If you’re a common carrier [utility], you should take all ads,’ Google will say, ‘No, we’re like a newspaper and we should have carte blanche over what we publish.’”
There has been a notable escalation in phishing attacks in 2016, according to a new report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). It noted that there have been more phishing attacks during the the first quarter of this year, “than at any other time in history”.
There was a huge spike in phishing activity between October 2015 and March 2016, with incidents rising by a massive 250%, the study highlighted.
“We always see a surge in phishing during the holiday season, but the number of phishing sites kept going up from December into the spring of 2016,” commented Greg Aaron, a senior research fellow at APWG and vice-president of the iThreat Cyber Group.
Phishing is a tactic used by cybercriminals and fraudsters to secure sensitive information from people. Deceptive emails, texts and instant messaging alerts – to name but a few – are sent to potential victims encouraging them to hand over their data.
The fraudulent messaging often looks and sounds authentic. Interestingly, as the authors of the paper state, phishing attacks are increasingly more aggressive. For example, keyloggers have been a notable feature in attacks in 2016, used to “target specific information and organizations”.
The authors of the report also touched upon the growing threat posed by ransomware. As with phishing, the attacks have demonstrated a more aggressive streak.
“The threat space continues to expand despite the best efforts of industry, government and law enforcement,” observed Peter Cassidy, co-founder and secretary general of the APWG.
From telemarketing scams to identity theft, fake check scams and business fraud, senior citizens lose an estimated $3 billion annually — a 12 percent increase from 2008, Tim Summers, the state director of AARP Montana, said last week.
In an attempt to help prevent what Summers called "epidemic" fraud, dozens of people showed up at the downtown Holiday Inn in Missoula to watch the American Association of Retired Persons' presentation on outsmarting con artists.
The presentation, which largely focused on “keeping sharp,” included lectures from several experts, and dozens of brochures packed with information.
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox was one of those experts.
“I always like talking with Montana’s senior citizens,” Fox said to an audience largely made up of that demographic. “And you’re a very savvy group. But somehow, one in every four seniors in Montana have been successfully scammed.”
Fox said in today’s digital world, it’s easier than ever to be scammed, especially for those who aren’t necessarily accustomed to using technology. The key to preventing fraud, Fox said, is equipping seniors with the knowledge of how to identify it as it’s happening.
Fox talked specifically about the tricks con artists use while scamming, including their ability to change caller ID using voice-over-Internet-phones. With this kind of technology, Fox said, con artists can made it look like they’re calling from legitimate businesses, or even federal agencies such as the IRS and the FBI.
“Why do the phone companies let this happen?” a man asked from the audience.
Fox explained that voice-over-Internet-phones are extremely difficult to trace and in most cases, law enforcement — let alone phone companies — can’t even track down the scammers.
Fox also added that scams can happen anywhere, including over the phone, at your door and on the Internet. And the scammers are merciless.
One senior was told over the phone that he'd won thousands of dollars, in return for making small payments, Fox said. The man's wife had just died of cancer and he wanted a new start. Over the course of several months, the man lost $75,000.
Another woman with dementia was scammed out of thousands.
Some women were even scammed through an online dating site. The con artist used Tim Fox’s photo on the site, telling the women he was starting a business and needed money. Collectively, the women sent the man more than $150,000. Authorities were able to track the man down and prosecute him, a rare case.
According to a recent report from Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), firms providing financial services through “digital investment advice” require sound supervision and governance, plus effective ways of determining appropriateness of advices, conflicts of interest, client risk tolerance and portfolio rebalancing. Likewise, the report provides helpful tips for investors and emphasizes the importance of training and education for financial experts who utilize digital investment advice applications.
FINRA released the report to provide the public effective practices pertaining to digital investment advice services and to inform member companies of their duties under FINRA regulations. The report highlights the fact that global expenditures on online wealth-management services will continue to grow substantially.
"We believe that the report offers guidance and information for FINRA member companies and investors regarding vital aspects of the fast-growing field of digital investment advice," noted Richard Ketchum, FINRA’S Chairman and CEO. "As these services evolve, member firms must ascertain that the main objectives of investor protection – for instance, comprehending and answering customers' requirements and goals – also support the foundation of these new tools."
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