Android ad fraud scheme drained users' batteries and data


Shih Wei Wang / EyeEm via Getty Images

BuzzFeed News has confirmed a massive ad fraud scheme, which was originally uncovered by at least two fraud detection firms, that drained users’ batteries and data. The scheme begins by hijacking the in-app advertisements of developers using Twitter’s MoPub ad platform. It then silently runs autoplaying video ads behind legit banner advertisements, with the users being none the wiser. And since the video ads are still marked as completed even though none of the viewers got to see them, the scheme also rips off hapless advertisers.

Protected Media, one of the anti-fraud firms that discovered the scheme, absolved Twitter of any wrongdoing — the social network itself was merely exploited by the fraud’s masterminds. Upon investigating the fraudulent ads, the firm named Israeli company Aniview and its subsidiary OutStream Media as part of the scheme. Outstream created the banners and codes the investigators found in the dodgy ads.

That discovery corroborates a previous investigation by DoubleVerify, another fraud detection firm, which spotted the same MO late last year. DoubleVerify learned that the illegal video ads used Aniview’s player, and it also found 60 million ad calls made for fraudulent video ads every month.

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Aniview, however, denied any involvement. Company chief Alon Carmel told BuzzFeed News that the perpetrator is an unknown bad actor who created an account on the platform and used the banner ad images designed by Outstream Media. “To be crystal clear, another customer on Aniview’s [self-serve] platform used this player and is responsible for this activity and we took actions immediately to stop this activity. We are fighting against bad activities, pushing and focus on clean and legit activities and should not be blamed or framed for bad use of our platform,” he said.

Even if Aniview isn’t really involved and has truly squashed all the bad activities originating from its platform, Android users will likely still come across more fraudulent video ads in the future. According to Protected Media, several ad tech companies like Aniview engaged in and even started similar illegal ad schemes in the past.

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'Hamsterdam' is the rhythmic rodent brawler we've been waiting for


Muse Games

Big fun sometimes comes in small packages. Hamsterdam from Muse Games is one such example.

You play as Pimm, an unassuming denizen of the quiet town of Hamsterdam, who must defend his home and rescue his grandfather from the villainous Vermin Gang and its leader, Marlo the Chinchilla. That task involves beating the stuffing out of an army of rats, foxes, and a menagerie of other rodents using your potent Hamster-Fu fighting style.

However, Hamsterdam requires a higher degree of finesse than most other beat-em-ups as your counters, combos and defense must be carefully timed based on the movements of your enemies. I played through a brief demo on both the Switch and iOS during GDC 2019 on Thursday and came away quite impressed with both the gameplay mechanics and visual style.

The controls are straightforward. You’re afforded a basic unlimited attack with which to pummel your opponents. However they rarely just stand there and take it, instead launching attacks and counters of their own. When the enemies close in for their strikes, you must quickly swipe towards them to ward them off. If the opponent is able to connect, you’re then launched into a rhythmic minigame — swiping in the direction indicated or accurately timing your button taps. Complete the minigame successfully to counter, fail and get whacked. The controls differ slightly depending on the platform. The mobile version uses a variety of screen taps and swipes, while the Switch version has you flicking the Joy Cons back and forth to perform the appropriate in-game actions.

Hamsterdam offers 30 standard stages spread across 3 larger worlds as well as two David-vs-Goliath style boss battles per world for a total of 36 levels in all. Complete each level well enough to earn 3 stars (think Angry Birds) for increasingly larger rewards of seeds, the in-game currency. Use those seeds to equip stat-boosting gear and learn new combos with which to crush Marlo’s gang and save your town.

Hamsterdam is slated for release later this year and should retail for around $2-3 for mobile versions (iOS and Android) and $10-15 for the Switch and PS Vita, though pricing has not yet been finalized.

Catch up on all the latest news from GDC 2019 here!

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Review: Apple’s new iPad mini continues to be mini

The iPad mini is super enjoyable to use and is the best size tablet for everything but traditional laptop work. It’s very good and I’m glad Apple updated it.

Using Apple Pencil is aces on the smaller mini, don’t worry about the real estate being an issue if you like to scribble notes or make sketches. It’s going to fall behind a larger iPad for a full time artist but as a portable scratch pad it’s actually far less unwieldy or cumbersome than an iPad Pro or Air will be.

The only caveat? After using the brilliant new Pencil, the old one feels greasy and slippery by comparison, and lacks that flat edge that helps so much when registering against your finger for shading or sketching out curves.

The actual act of drawing is nice and zippy, and features the same latency and responsiveness as the other Pencil-capable models.

The reasoning behind using the old pencil here is likely a result of a combination of design and cost-saving decisions. No flat edge would require a rethink of the magnetic Pencil charging array from the iPad Pro and it is also apparently prohibitively expensive in a way similar to the smart connector. Hence its lack of inclusion on either Air or mini models.

Touch ID feels old and slow when compared to iPad Pro models, but it’s not that bad in a mini where you’re almost always going to be touching and holding it rather than setting it down to begin typing. It still feels like you’re being forced to take an awkward, arbitrary additional action to start using the iPad though. It really puts into perspective how fluidly Face ID and the new gestures work together.

The design of the casing remains nearly identical, making for broad compatibility with old cases and keyboards if you use those with it. The camera has changed positions and the buttons have been moved slightly though, so I would say your mileage may vary if you’re brining old stuff to the table.

The performance of the new mini is absolutely top notch. While it falls behind when compared to the iPad Pro it is exactly the same (I am told, I do not have one to test yet) as the iPad Air. It’s the same on paper though, so I believe it in general and there is apparently no ‘detuning’ or under-clocking happening. This makes the mini a hugely powerful tiny tablet, clearly obliterating anything else in its size class.

The screen is super solid, with great color, nearly no air gap and only lacking tap-to-wake.

That performance comes at a decently chunky price, $399. If you want the best you pay for it.

Last year I took the 12.9” iPad Pro on a business trip to Brazil, with no backup machine of any sort. I wanted to see if I could run TechCrunch from it — from planning to events to editorial and various other multi-disciplinary projects. It worked so well that I never went back and have not opened my MacBook in earnest since. I’ll write that experience up at some point because I think there’s some interesting things to talk about there.

I include that context here because, though the iPad Pro is a whole ass computer and really capable, it is not exactly ‘fun’ to use in non standard ways. That’s where the iPad mini has always shined and continues to do so.

It really is pocketable in a loose jacket or coat. Because the mini is not heavy, it exercises little of the constant torsion and strain on your wrist that a larger iPad does, making it one-handed.

I could go on, but in the end, all that can be said about the iPad mini being “the small iPad” has already been said ad nauseam over the years, beginning with the first round of reviews back in 2012. This really is one of the most obvious choices Apple has in its current iPad lineup. If you want the cheap one, get the cheap one (excuse me, “most affordable” one). And if you want the small one, get the iPad mini.

The rest of the iPads in Apple’s lineup have much more complicated purchasing flow charts — the mini does indeed sell itself.

Back even before we knew for sure that a mini iPad was coming, I wrote about how Apple could define the then very young small tablet market. It did. No other small tablet model has ever made a huge dent on the market, unless you count the swarm of super super crappy Android tablets that people buy in blister packs expecting them to eventually implode as a single hive-mind model.

Here’s how I saw it in 2012:

“To put it bluntly, there is no small tablet market…Two years ago we were talking about the tablet market as a contiguous whole. There was talk about whether anyone would buy the iPad and that others had tried to make consumer tablets and failed. Now, the iPad is a massive success that has yet to be duplicated by any other manufacturer or platform.

But the tablet market isn’t a single ocean, it’s a set of interlocking bodies of water that we’re just beginning to see take shape. And the iPad mini isn’t about competing with the wriggling tadpoles already in the ‘small tablet’ pond, it’s about a big fish extending its dominion.”

Yeah, that’s about right, still.

One huge difference, of course, is that the iPad mini now has the benefit of an enormous amount of additional apps that have been built for iPad in the interim. Apps that provide real, genuine access to content and services on a tablet — something that was absolutely not guaranteed in 2012. How quickly we forget.

In addition to the consumer segment, the iPad mini is also extremely popular in industrial, commercial and medical applications. From charts and patient records to point-of-sale and job site reference, the mini is the perfect size for these kinds of customers. These uses were a major factor in Apple deciding to update the mini.

Though still just as pricey (in comparison) as it was when it was introduced, the iPad mini remains a standout device. It’s small, sleek, now incredibly fast and well provisioned with storage. The smallness is a real advantage in my opinion. It allows the mini to exist as it does without having to take part in the ‘iPad as a replacement for laptops’ debate. It is very clearly not that, while at the same time still feeling more multipurpose and useful than ever. I’m falling in real strong like all over again with the mini, and the addition of Pencil support is the sweetener on top.

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Razer hooks up with Tencent to focus on mobile gaming

Razer is summoning a big gun as it bids to develop its mobile gaming strategy. The Hong Kong-listed company — which sells laptops, smartphones and gaming peripherals — said today it is working with Tencent on a raft of initiatives related to smartphone-based games.

The collaboration will cover hardware, software and services. Some of the objectives include optimizing Tencent games — which include megahit PUBG and Fortnite — for Razer’s smartphones, mobile controllers and its Cortex Android launcher app. The duo also said they may “explore additional monetization opportunities for mobile gaming” which could see Tencent integrate Razer’s services, which include a rewards/loyalty program, in some areas.

The news comes on the same day as Razer’s latest earnings,  which saw annual revenue grow 38 percent to reach $712.4 million. Razer recorded a net loss of $97 million for the year, down from $164 million in 2017.

The big name partnership announcement comes at an opportune time for Razer, which has struggled to convince investors of its business. The company was among a wave of much-championed tech companies to go public in Hong Kong — Razer’s listing raised over $500 million in late 2017 — but its share price has struggled. Razer currently trades at HK$1.44, which is some way down from a HK$3.88 list price and HK$4.58 at the end of its trading day debut. Razer CEO Min Liang Tan has previously lamented a lack of tech savviness within Hong Kong’s public markets despite a flurry of IPOs, which have included names like local services giant Meituan.

Nabbing Tencent, which is one of (if not the) biggest games companies in the world, is a PR coup, but it remains to be seen just what impact the relationship will have at this stage. Subsequent tie-ins, and potentially an investor, would be notable developments and perhaps positive signals that the market is seeking.

Still, Razer CEO Min Liang Tan is bullish about the company’s prospects on mobile.

The company’s Razer smartphones were never designed to be ‘iPhone-killers’ that sold on volume, but there’s still uncertainty around the unit with recent reports suggesting the third-generation phone may have been canceled following some layoffs. (Tan declined to comment on that.)

Mobile is tough — just ask past giants like LG and HTC about that… — and Razer’s phone and gaming-focus was quickly copied by others, including a fairly brazen clone effort from Xiaomi, to make sales particularly challenging. But Liang maintains that, in doing so, Razer created a mobile gaming phone market that didn’t exist before, and ultimately that is more important than shifting its own smartphones.

“Nobody was talking about gaming smartphones [before the Razer phone], without us doing that, the genre would still be perceived as casual gaming,” Tan told TechCrunch in an interview. “Even from day one, it was about creating this new category… we don’t see others as competition.”

With that in mind, he said that this year is about focusing on the software side of Razer’s mobile gaming business.

Tan said Razer “will never” publish games as Tencent and others do, instead, he said that the focus on helping discovery, creating a more immersive experience and tying in other services, which include its Razer Gold loyalty points.

Outside of gaming, Razer is also making a push into payments through a service that operates in Southeast Asia. Fuelled by the acquisition of MOL one year ago, Razer has moved from allowing people to buy credit over-the-counter to launch an e-wallet in two countries, Malaysia and Singapore, as it goes after a slice Southeast Asia’s fintech boom which has attracted non-traditional players that include AirAsia, Grab and Go-Jek among others.

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Shampoo magnate uses glasses-free 3D to push budget phones


Rokit

Remember how shampoo magnate John Paul DeJoria threw himself into the mobile world five years ago? He’s now offering smartphones — and they might be appealing if you find most budget phones a little boring. Rokit’s newly launched Io 3D and Io Pro 3D (above) both offer glasses-free 3D without the expense that usually comes with the tech. You won’t need to go to the length of buying a RED Hydrogen One just to bedazzle your friends. There’s even an “expansive” catalog of content to watch through an app that that hosts movies and other stereoscopic material.

Be ready for phones that are modest beyond the tentpole 3D feature. The Io 3D centers on a 5.45-inch, 1,440 x 720 display, a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, a rear 8-megapixel camera and a front 2-megapixel cam. Move to the Io Pro 3D and you’ll get a 6-inch 2,160 x 1,080 display, an eight-core 2GHz MediaTek chip, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of expandable storage, a hybrid 13MP and 2MP rear camera system and a front 8MP shooter. Don’t expect excitement when you’re not gawking at 3D footage, then, although you do curiously get a year’s worth of health care services and insurance coverage (including death) for free.

The price is competitive, at least. You can order the Io 3D now for $200 (£140), and the Io Pro 3D for $300 ($250). There’s also a plain 2D phone, the 5-inch Io Light ($90) for those that only need the basics. They may be tougher sells when handsets like the Moto G7 are more powerful overall, but consider this: if you ever lose interest in the 3D, you’re out considerably less money than you might be otherwise.

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