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How to Protect Yourself From Scam Apps

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Written by Lysa Myers, Security Researcher at ESET

There’s nothing new about advertisers and app developers using deceptive practices, but the Touch ID scam that Lukáš Štefanko wrote about recently is a significant twist in this ongoing story. Of course, iOS users are not alone in facing these dilemmas; as Lukáš wrote earlier this year, Android users are experiencing their own flood of predatory app tactics too.

What can we do to protect ourselves against these fraudulent practices?

Be aware of the limitations of app store review processes
The policies and review procedures of major app stores do keep out a large number of fraudulent apps. While there are always more things they might and probably should be doing to continue to improve this problem, it is an ongoing learning process for all of us.

Due to the incredibly large total number of apps and updates that each major app store sees every day, much of the work involved in the review of new submissions is automated. This means that each app likely has functionality that will not necessarily be seen by a human or be tested specifically. Even very well-known and more-or-less legitimate app vendors have been caught doing things to try to evade having certain functionality reviewed. This means it’s still crucial to do our own due diligence.

Read reviews
While most scam apps do in fact include numerous positive reviews, these often show signs of phoniness. The wording may be very vague, downright nonsensical, or exhibit repetitive patterns (including different reviews repeating the same phrases or having similar usernames, for example). It’s a good idea to re-order the ranking options on reviews to see a more balanced picture: depending on the particular app store, you can sort the reviews to see those that have been deemed “most helpful” or that are ranked “most critical” first.

Be patient
The best time to figure out whether an app is a scam is before you download it. While it may be hard to calm the fear of missing out, it’s best to wait a few days or weeks before downloading brand new apps, to let other people be the “guinea pigs”. This way you can read what other people have to say about the app’s functionality before making a decision.

Use apps by developers you know and trust
If at all possible, it’s a good idea to stick with reputable app developers. If you’re new to a platform, that may be easier said than done. In that case, it’s a good idea to do a little more research first, to get a better sense of whether a particular developer already has other well-reviewed and popular apps that are currently available for download.

Be aware of valid functionality
While it can be hard to keep up with the complete picture of what each new device can do, it’s a good idea to be at least somewhat aware of the functionality of your device. For example: fingerprint data are not accessible to apps, only a “yes” or “no” verdict about whether your fingerprint matches the one previous stored on your device. This is to say that apps cannot use a scan of your finger to give advice on calorie data, nutrition information, how much water you should drink, or to present ancestry analysis. (It’s worth noting that you couldn’t really get valid information on any of those things from a scan of your finger even if the app could access those data.)

If your phone has existing functionality like a QR reader or a flashlight app, it might not be a good idea to install an app that does that exact same thing, especially as many of these apps have a history of being problematic. If you’re looking to specifically try a different app than one your phone already has – like a mail reader or an internet browser – be sure to read some third party reviews first, to see which options are well-reviewed and popular.

Dig deeper
There are a variety of things you can look at to find information that might indicate a predatory app. Do the developers have other apps available already, and are they reviewed well? Do they have a website that appears professional, including contact information? What results are returned if you do an internet search for the name of the app or developer plus the word “scam”? Can you find more information on third-party sources regarding subscription rates or in-app purchase prices? (Apple may offer information about the latter within the app description.) Does the app purport to give you a free or discount version of more expensive for-fee app? (These scams often cost more than just money!)

Request a refund and report bad actors
If you’ve gotten as far as having already downloaded an app that turned out to be a scam, ask the app store or the bank attached to your payment card to refund the charge. If the purchase was in the form of a subscription, this may be more complicated, but it will soon become worth your time and effort to have gone through the entire process. You can also report fraudulent apps to the app stores themselves, as well as contributing reviews that describe your experience.

It’s time to push back against “dark patterns”
Many of us already vote with our wallets when it comes to sub-optimal software behavior, by choosing not to purchase or support companies that fail to consider privacy or security, or that behave in ways that we consider too predatory or problematic. But there is another area that more people should be aware of, that describes a more understated category of sketchy behavior.

“Dark patterns” describe the scenario where a user interface is designed to intentionally trick or emotionally manipulate you into clicking where otherwise you might not. In the case of the Fitness Balance app, it takes advantage of the fact that the Home button on some iPhones or iPads can serve two purposes: your finger is already resting on a (fingerprint) sensor in a way that can also be used to select an option on the screen. Newer versions of the iPhone require you to make two distinct actions for these things; you must take your finger off the sensor for a moment after a fingerprint scan, before it can be used to select an option.

Some dark patterns are much less obvious, because they take advantage of expectations that we may not be consciously aware that we have, or because they cause us to be more inattentive. Here are a few examples of scenarios in user interfaces that predatory app makers may try to manipulate:

  • we expect an “Accept” option to be the bigger or more obvious one
  • we may rush decisions if we’re overwhelmed or frustrated
  • we may be less cautious of what’s on our screen if we’re trying to brush away detritus
  • in many cultures, we expect red to mean “stop” and green to mean “go”
  • we expect a “close” button to appear in certain predictable locations
  • buttons may be labeled in ways that makes their meaning unclear

In cases where emotional manipulation is in play, there may be a confirmation dialog that tries to guilt-trip or scare you into changing a selection. This is where things can get a little nebulous: when is it a legitimate warning, rather than unnecessary fearmongering? This can be something of a value judgment, which is subject to our own interpretation. Whatever you decide, you can let software vendors know that you value a clear and predictable user experience that does not rely on fear, uncertainty and doubt.

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YouTube Announces New Ways for Creators to Make Money

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YouTube has introduced the next chapter in rewarding creativity on the platform. At its inaugural Made on YouTube event, YouTube shared that it’s expanding the platform’s monetization system, the YouTube Partner Program (YPP), to allow more creators to join the program, introducing new ways for creators to earn revenue through Shorts, and re-imagining the music industry and creator dynamic by opening up ads monetization for those who feature music in their videos.

Today’s announcement reflects the diversity of the platform’s growing creator community and allows its over 2M monetizing creators to make money on YouTube across any creative format. Today’s key announcement includes:

Expanding access to YPP: Starting in early 2023, Shorts-focused creators can apply to YPP by meeting a threshold of 1K subscribers and 10M Shorts views over 90 days. These new partners will enjoy all the benefits YPP offers, including ads monetization across Shorts and long-form YouTube videos. This is another option to the existing criteria where long-form creators can still apply to YPP when they reach 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours. Creators can choose the one option that best fits their channel while YouTube maintains the same level of brand safety for advertisers. To support creators who are early in their YouTube journey, YouTube will also introduce a new level of YPP with lower requirements that will offer earlier access to Fan Funding features like Super Thanks, Super Chat, Super Stickers, and Channel Memberships.

Introducing a first-of-its-kind revenue sharing model for Shorts: With 30B+ daily views and 1.5B+ monthly logged-in users, Shorts are exploding around the world. To reward this new creative class, beginning in early 2023, we’ll be moving away from a fixed fund and doubling down on a unique revenue-sharing model for Shorts for both current and future YPP creators. Because ads run between videos in the Shorts Feed, every month, revenue from these ads will be added together and used to reward Shorts creators and help cover costs of music licensing. From the overall amount allocated to creators, they will keep 45% of the revenue, distributed based on their share of total Shorts views. The revenue share remains the same, no matter if they use music or not.

Launching Creator Music: The complexities of music licensing has meant that most long-form videos that feature music don’t result in creators being paid. To build a bridge between the music industry and creators, YouTube is introducing Creator Music, a new destination that gives creators easy access to an ever-growing catalog of music for use in their videos, while providing artists and music rights holders with a new revenue stream for their music on YouTube. Creators can now buy affordable, high-quality music licenses that offer them full monetizing potential—they will keep the same revenue share they’d usually make on videos without any music. And for creators who don’t want to buy a license up front, they’ll be able to use songs and share revenue with the track’s artist and associated rights holders. Creator Music is currently in beta in the U.S. will expand to more countries in 2023.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, said, “The YouTube Partner Program was revolutionary when we launched it back in 2007, and it’s still revolutionary today. Over the last three years, YouTube has paid creators, artists, and media companies more than $50 billion dollars. That $50 billion dollars has changed the lives of creators around the world and enabled new voices and stories to be told. But we’re not done yet. When we introduced the YouTube Partner Program, we made a big bet: we succeed only when our creators succeed. And today, we’re doubling down. We’re introducing the next chapter in how we reward creativity on our platform by expanding access to our YouTube Partner program.”

Neal Mohan, YouTube’s Chief Product Officer, said, “YouTube’s first-of-its-kind, industry-leading Partner Program changed the game for long-form video. And now we’re changing the game again, this time by opening it up to Short-form creators and introducing revenue sharing to Shorts. This is the first time revenue sharing is being offered for short-form video on any platform at scale, adding to the 10 ways creators can already earn revenue on YouTube. It’ll be available to all of those in YPP — including the new, mobile-first creators, who will be joining the program for the first time.”

Pedro Pina, YouTube’s VP of Europe, Middle East & Africa, said, “This is a pivotal moment for both YouTube & the creative ecosystem. In times of uncertainty, we’re bringing even more revenue opportunities to more creators and artists across more formats than ever – all of this is helping turbocharge an already healthy video ecosystem in MENA.”

Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s Global Head of Music, said, “Creator Music is the future. We’re building the bridge between artists and creators on YouTube to elevate the soundtrack of the creator economy; it’s a win-win-win for artists, songwriters, creators and fans. With Creator Music, artists have a new way to get their music out into the world; fans can now discover music they love on their favorite creator’s channels, and both creators and artists will have new revenue opportunities.”

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Snap Unveils New Dual Camera Feature

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Snap Inc. has announced the availability of its newest and highly-anticipated feature – Dual Camera on the Snapchat platform. Starting today, the new Dual Camera mode will enable Snapchatters to create content using their front and back-facing cameras simultaneously. To be made available globally on iOS and later on Android, Dual Camera will expand the choices Snapchatters have to express themselves.

Dual Camera was announced earlier this year as a part of Director Mode, Snapchat’s new creator camera. To bring even more visibility and spontaneity to the tool, Dual Camera features prominently on Snapchat, with a new icon to activate the feature in the camera toolbar when users open the app. With one simple tap, Snapchatters can start creating Snaps and Stories, or more polished Spotlight videos, with double the perspective. Dual Camera will still be available in Director Mode alongside Green Screen, Camera Speed, and Jump Cut, slated to launch in the coming months.

Whether it is capturing exciting moments like rocking out at a music festival, everyday moments like real-time reactions to your favorite reality TV show with your best friends or trying your partner’s latest attempt at cooking, Dual Camera is a tool for everyone. It will have four layouts: vertical, horizontal, picture in picture, and cutout. Snapchatters will also be able to add their favorite Snapchat creative tools, including music, stickers and lenses. At launch, Dual Camera will support Lenses in post-capture, with capture mode capabilities to follow in the coming months.

Snapchat was founded on the idea that the camera supports real friendship through visual communication, self-expression and storytelling. Today, its camera is one of the most used cameras in the world. To support its community, Snap has a reward program for Spotlight creators in which it makes available millions of dollars to eligible Snapchatters who create the top Spotlight Snaps.

Here’s how you can use the Dual Camera feature:

·         Step 1: Open Snapchat

·         Step 2: Locate a new icon in the camera toolbar

·         Step 3: Tap on it to activate the feature and start creating Snaps and Stories.

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Huawei Encourages Developers to Build Socially Impactful Applications

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Blind Assistant, a mobile app developed by a team of Tunisian engineers, help the visually impaired and blind community to recognise objects, texts, and colours around them using the integrated voice-over features in the app. The tech giant introduced a ‘Best Social Impact’ category as part of the Huawei Global App Innovation Contest (Apps UP), in order to facilitate the development of experiences such as Blind Assistant that positively impact communities.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.2 billion people worldwide have near or far vision impairment. The differently-abled can have lower rates of workforce participation and productivity. The app’s goal is to make visually impaired individuals more independent by assisting them in identifying objects, faces, colours, and texts with the tap of a button. A visually impaired person can use Blind Assistant to easily orient themselves, eliminating the need for a visual embossed print.

“We were inspired to work on the ‘Blind Assistant’ project once we learned about Apps UP in 2021. We worked on integrating with the HMS Ecosystem and were able to launch the app on time for the competition,” said the developers of Blind Assistant Kassis Bassem and Wajih Sakka. “Since its inception, Blind Assistant played an important role in assisting the visually impaired community by enhancing their communication abilities daily.”

“Technology can play a significant role in positively influencing the community, and we are thrilled to see how mobile apps are benefiting consumers. Huawei’s Apps UP competition acts as a catalyst for the development of creative mobile apps, and Blind Assistant – the winner of the Best Social Impact App in 2021, is a testament to that fact. The app effectively demonstrates how mobile apps can promote inclusivity in the community and serve the underserved”, said, Lu Geng, Vice President of the Middle East and Africa, Huawei Global Partnerships & Eco-Development, Huawei Consumer Business Group.

Blind Assistant, is available to download via AppGallery, the default application marketplace for Huawei smart devices. Apps UP 2022 has a cash prize pool of $230,000 for Middle Eastern and African developers, with individual prize amounts ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. Categories include the best HMS Innovation Award, Best App, Best Game, Best Social Impact App, All-Scenario Coverage Award, Tech Women’s Award, Student Innovation Award, and the newly introduced Best Arabic App. The Tech Women’s Award is open to teams with at least one female developer who is a pivotal team member or leader.

Developers can enter multiple categories and submit more than one app to boost their winning chances. To register and learn more about the Huawei Global App Innovation Contest (Apps UP), please email appsup.mea@huawei.com or visit the official Apps UP 2022 MEA page.

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