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Apple begins rejecting apps that use advertising SDKs for fingerprinting users • The Register

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Apple has begun warning iOS developers that it will reject apps containing advertising SDKs that use data from the device to create unique identifiers, or fingerprints, in preparation for the upcoming release of iOS 14.5.

Fingerprinting code of this sort is used by marketers for ad-related tracking, a practice Apple aims to curtail in its next iOS update.

iOS 14.5 is expected to implement Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which has been delayed for months due to the objections of large advertisers like Facebook. ATT brings with it an App Store rule change that requires developers to implement an app-tracking authorization request to ask users to opt-in to being tracked and having their data collected. Facebook and Google have both warned that giving people this privacy choice will mean less ad revenue for publishers, not to mention their share of it.

Apple’s developer guidelines were expanded in late January explicitly to disallow fingerprinting in apps that “reference SDKs (including but not limited to Ad Networks, Attribution services and Analytics).” The fingerprinting ban and other pending privacy rule changes were discussed back at the company’s June 2020 developer conference. Enforcement of those rules has now expanded to cover device-derived fingerprinting.

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On Friday, Paul Müller, CEO of mobile analytics biz Adjust, said Apple had started enforcing its ATT restrictions. “Our SDK was one that was flagged because it had code that Apple indicated as being in violation of their guidelines,” he said in a blog post. “This code was in the SDK to collect information for our fraud prevention suite.”

Müller said a compliant version of the Adjust SDK, v4.28, has been released and advised customers to ensure they’ve revised their apps to incorporate the updated code. He further suggests that Apple’s ban of the Adjust SDK arose from iOS app reviewers who identified object references or symbols (e.g. NSFileManager) that Adjust added to its SDK to combat spoofing but weren’t exposed for customer usage.

“Apple saw these symbols and flagged them because they were similar to symbols being used in other SDKs that together could be used to create a persistent ID, even if a user didn’t consent,” he explained, insisting that while other ad tech firms may have been misusing the symbols, Adjust never used them for crafting an identifier.

In any event, the objectionable object references have been removed from the Adjust SDK, he said.

Other companies flirt more openly with defiance, though they stop short of rebellion, which would accomplish little given Apple’s near-absolute control over its iOS ecosystem.

According to the Financial Times, Snap has explored options for bypassing Apple’s privacy rules for its Snapchat messaging app. Snap, it’s claimed, sought to use data from third-party companies to identify people who responded to ad campaigns in the hope its developers could cross-reference data like IP addresses with its own information to track app users via a fingerprinting technique called “probabilistic matching.”

However, when asked about this by the Financial Times, Snap insisted it supports Apple’s guidelines and believes advertising should respect consumer privacy. We reached out to Snap for comment but we’ve not heard back.

The Chinese Advertising Association, meanwhile, has developed an identifier called the China Anonymization ID, or CAID, that it hopes will provide the tracking capability lost through iOS 14.5’s privacy protections. Apple reportedly has warned developers in China not to flout its rules.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple’s smartphone rival Google is also taking steps to improve privacy in its Android ecosystem. The ad biz recently issued a Google Play policy update that restricts availability of an API in Android 11 (API level 30) called QUERY_ALL_PACKAGES. The API returns a list of apps installed on the queried device, which Google now considers to be a high-risk permission.

“Play regards the device inventory of installed apps queried from a user’s device as personal and sensitive information, and use of the permission is only permitted when your app’s core user facing functionality or purpose, requires broad visibility into installed apps on the user’s device,” Google’s support document explains.

To use this permission, apps must provide either device search, antivirus, file management, or browsing functions and must sufficiently justify and disclose the use of the API. ®

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Bitcoin price back above $40,000 after Elon Musk comments | Bitcoin

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The price of bitcoin hit a three-week high on Monday, climbing back above $40,000 after Elon Musk said that Tesla would resume allowing transactions made in the digital currency once crypto mining becomes greener.

The electric car company’s latest change of direction on its acceptance of bitcoin once again highlighted the continuing ability of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive to influence the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing bitcoin transactions,” Musk said in a tweet on Sunday.

The price of one bitcoin climbed to a high of $41,033 (£29,063) on Monday before slipping back to $40,580, still up more than 12% from its price before Musk’s tweet.

Musk, one of the most high-profile proponents of cryptocurrencies, also said that Tesla sold about 10% of its holdings to confirm bitcoin could be liquidated easily without moving the market.

He announced in May that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin for car purchases, citing long-brewing environmental concerns for a swift reversal in the company’s position on the cryptocurrency. In February, Tesla revealed it had bought $1.5bn of bitcoin and would accept it as a form of payment for cars. But the cryptocurrency’s production is at odds with the company’s mission toward a “zero-emission future”.

Bitcoin fell more than 10% after Musk’s tweet in May. He said that he believed cryptocurrency had a promising future but it could not be at great cost to the environment.

The energy used to produce bitcoin alone is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Argentina, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a tool from researchers at Cambridge University that measures the currency’s energy use.

Bitcoin mining – the process in which a bitcoin is awarded to a computer that solves a complex series of algorithms – is deeply energy-intensive. Because there is a finite number of bitcoins that can be mined – 21m – computers have to solve harder and harder algorithms in order to get bitcoin. The special equipment and intense processing power use a lot of electricity – as much as some entire countries.

The concerns over energy use aside, cryptocurrencies have split opinion among investors and financial regulators for other reasons, including the rollercoaster ride sparked by their frequent swings in price.

Despite bitcoin’s recent rise, it is still trading about a third lower than the record high of $63,000, which it reached in April. A year ago, bitcoin’s value was under $9,500.

Earlier in June, the Central American country of El Salvador became the first in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, as part of its technology-loving president’s proposals to use the cryptocurrency to promote “financial inclusion”, investment and economic development.

However, others remain unconvinced, and cryptocurrencies remain controversial. Global regulators are sceptical, on account of their volatility and vulnerability to theft or hacking.

The Bank of England has previously warned that the rise of digital currencies could set off a flood of withdrawals from high-street banks, risking financial stability and the wider economy, and cautioned that investors risk losing their money.

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According to various measures, bitcoin is undervalued at current prices, said Alexandra Clark, a sales trader at the digital asset broker GlobalBlock, although she added: “Many analysts are still on the fence when it comes to determining whether the digital asset is ready to continue its uptrend.”

Tesla’s decision to sell 10% of its bitcoin holding “has brought about fresh accusations of pumping and dumping by Musk and reiterated the need for an investigation by the SEC [US Securities and Exchange Commission],” Clark said.

The US securities watchdog warned Tesla last year that Musk had twice violated a settlement requiring his tweets and material public communications to be preapproved by company lawyers, the Wall Street Journal reported at the start of June.

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Price-capped broadband on hold for New York State after judge rules telcos would ‘suffer unrecoverable losses’ • The Register

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A new law due to come into force tomorrow that would force broadband providers in New York State to provide net access to low-income households for $15 a month has been put on hold.

A preliminary injunction [PDF] was granted by United States District Judge Denis R Hurley on Friday after a string of trade bodies – including the New York State Telecommunications Association and The Broadband Association – launched the action on behalf of their members.

The ruling notes that telcos and ISPs forced to impose the price caps would “suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time” and that the “bulk of these losses will stem from lost income.”

“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not: the Champlain Telephone Company, for example, estimates that nearly half [approximately 48 per cent] of [its] existing broadband customers will qualify for discounted rates,’ with each such customer ‘caus[ing] a monetary loss’,” it states.

The legal action also highlighted that not only would telcos lose revenue by offering cut-price access, they would also incur additional costs associated with increased spending on advertising.

In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put his name to legislation that would force operators in the state to offer $15 a month high-speed internet to low-income families across the state.

The legislation also made it a legal requirement for operators to inform the authorities about their broadband products and prices, and how many had taken up the offers.

In all, it was estimated this change would impact seven million New Yorkers and some 2.7 million households.

At the time, Governor Cuomo said the need for remote access to work, education, and healthcare – which had been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic – had underlined the “need to make sure every household has access to affordable internet.”

“This program – the first of its kind in the nation – will ensure that no New Yorker will have to forego having reliable home internet service and no child’s education will have to suffer due to their economic situation,” he said.

US telcos in the crosshairs of the enforced price cap were quick to challenge the legislation, pointing out, among other things, a temporary $50-a-month discount being offered to households as part of a federal benefit.

In a 19-page lawsuit filed on 30 April, the industry lined up to say that they’re already doing their bit to help close the digital divide including offering cut-price tariffs to people on low incomes.

They also claim that New York is acting beyond its jurisdiction.

“In short, New York has overstepped its regulatory authority,” lawyers acting on behalf of the telcos said in their lawsuit.

Governor Cuomo hit back almost immediately and in a statement on the same day as the 30 April lawsuit said: “I knew giant telecom companies would be upset by our efforts to level the playing field, and right on cue, they’re pushing back. This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society.”

Fast-forward to this week and the decision to grant a temporary injunction halting the introduction of the $15-a-month broadband cap has left many wondering what happens next.

In a statement, US Telecom said: “The broadband industry is committed to working with state and federal policymakers on sustainable solutions that will serve the needs of all low-income Americans. While well-intended, the state’s law ignored the $50 monthly broadband discount Congress enacted, as well as the many commitments, programs and offerings that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers.” ®

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Sweden’s Vässla raises $11m for its e-bike rental service

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The company is building a subscription service for its micromobility vehicle, which is a cross between a moped and a traditional e-bike.

Vässla, a Swedish micromobility start-up, has raised $11m in fresh funds to expand during the increasing demand for e-bikes.

The Stockholm-based company initially launched with e-mopeds and is now launching an e-bike with a club-like subscription model.

Vässla Club will target individuals, delivery drivers and businesses like hotels and holiday resorts with a subscription model to access its e-bikes with fleet management features built in for businesses.

The round of funding was led by Swedish investment firm Skabholmen Invest with eEquity contributing to the round.

The company is running trials in the Scandinavian market with further trials pencilled in for Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg and Madrid. It is also planning a UK launch once legislation around e-scooter and other electric micromobility vehicles has been introduced beyond the current trial stages across the country.

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Vässla designed its bikes in-house and describes it as a midway point between a moped and an electric scooter. It has a maximum speed of 25km/hr and battery range of 40km.

The company was founded by chief executive Rickard Bröms over his frustration with commuting and a mission to reduce dependency on privately owned cars.

“The problem with electric pedal bikes is that your morning commute becomes a workout session – you arrive at work or at your important meeting sweaty and tired. It’s really no better than using packed trains or buses,” Bröms said.

The new iteration of its bike is lighter but capable of multiple trips a day, he added.

“The investment, which will help us launch Vässla Club, and expand into other territories, comes at a very exciting time and we are very much looking forward to seeing how the attitudes of the general public towards micromobility will change over the next few years.”

Wilhelm Pettersson, CEO of lead investor Skabholmen Invest, said that it invested in the company as it believes the “future of urban planning will exclude personal cars”.

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