back to article FTC: Duo bought rights to Android game – then turned it into ad-slinging junkware in an update

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled its case against a pair of developers accused of purchasing an Android game and turning it into an adware faucet. The FTC said Ali Moiz and Murtaza Hussain, proprietors of software company Vulcun, have agreed to requirements that include gaining explicit user permission before …

  1. thomas k

    "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

    How 'bout some jail time? That might have a little more effect.

    1. Richard Jones 1
      Joke

      Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

      Or how about one leg for the first conviction, a second leg for the next and so on through their various limbs. It might bring a new meaning to such sharp practice costing and an arm and a leg.

      Joke icon but only half said in jest.

      Oh and a fine of just a bit more than 100% of all revenue.

    2. DeathStation 9000

      Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

      Completely agree.

      I'm sure if I fiddled in a detrimental way an MOD or government computer I would be looking forward to doing some porridge, so why should it be different for *our* computers and corporations (or governments for that matter)? I'm looking at you Sony* and Leveno for example.

      * Yes I realise I'm being two-faced there by owning all the PlayStations. But I like video games, so what can you do when you want something a bit flashier than Manic Miner?

      1. Jonathan Richards 1

        Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

        Under UK law, government computers have no greater legal protection than any other (although if you exfiltrate Official Secrets, then there's that, too). Computer Misuse Act 1990 <- here you go!

        I just noticed that the Act contains no definition of a computer. Maybe sneaky peeking at somebody's slide rule might be an offence, who knows?

        Obligatory disclaimer: IANAL, nor do I play one in any medium whatsoever.

        1. BebopWeBop

          Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

          To be pedantic, in that case the computer was the slide rule jockey :-)

    3. raving angry loony

      Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

      At this point I'm starting to be a proponent of knee-capping (with a good shillelagh) followed by chopping off at least one hand. To start. Not that I feel it'll stop those these sociopaths with zero ethics or morals, since they never believe they'll get caught anyway, but it'll make me feel better.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

      To the above comments, why weren't they required to issue an "uninstaller" for the junkware? Or notify those users who installed it on how to uninstall the trash? I'm guessing that if it isn't uninstalled, it's still active then.

    5. TheVogon

      Re: "... complaints and fines from the FTC"

      Presumably Google designed Android so that serving adverts is a native feature anyway.

  2. gnufrontier

    I guess Ali and Murtaza thought they could do better with this than calling up people and saying they were from Microsoft and that there was something wrong with the person's computer.

  3. Unicornpiss
    Thumb Down

    Slap on the wrist

    How about fining them more and forcing them to go out of business? Scum like this should be prevented from adding frustration and misery to the world.

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: Slap on the wrist

      As posted above, I prefer jail time for fraud.

      1. MonkeyCee

        Re: Slap on the wrist

        Pop the cheque in the mail would you then? It's about 40 grand a year (UK) to jail someone, and another 25k or so to lock them up in the first place (courts, police etc).

        Slinging ads is annoying, but I'm not keen on spending more money on locking them up, as compared to people who are an actual danger to society, rather than an annoyance.

        Then again, I'm for making tax avoidance count as petty treason, so we can at least start doling out the lashes.

      2. OffBeatMammal

        Re: Slap on the wrist

        jail time costs the tax payers. fine them 110% of earnings for each infraction, soon changes behavior.

        of jail time but in a facility where the prisoners have to be revenue positive - sorting litter/recycle, working on the roads...

    2. elDog

      Re: Slap on the wrist

      Good luck with fines against non-Empire entities. Even in our Most Upright and Righteous USofA, companies regularly ignore such fines (FTC - WTF?) or change business names.

      I like the approach of personal retribution. Wrist slaps? For some (like Shitiski) actually feel good.

  4. Herby

    Now if the FTC went after real spammers...

    my mailbox would be shorter by over 200 messages a day.

    Cluestick to FTC: Go after widespread problems as well. Everyone would appreciate it!

  5. djack

    How about some actual useful laws that prevent developers and manufacturers from making mandatory detrimental changes to a product after purchase?

    (Yes, I'm still bitter that my PS3 had half of it's functionality removed and was then turned into a karaoke machine, with the option of playing some games)

    1. Just Enough

      This noble idea rather fails when you get down to defining what a "detrimental change" is. That can be a matter of opinion.

      What would be far better is Google making it far more difficult for an app to extend its permissions in an upgrade. If the developer wants to change an app to to do something completely new, it shouldn't be an upgrade, it should be an optional re-install. The user at that point should get ample warning that the app is venturing into new territories.

      You'll still get users who will blindly click yes. But at least some might ask why a game needs permissions to download and install other apps, access contact information and query location.

  6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "The company will also be forbidden from misleading customers about what its products do [...]

    Isn't that a given in nearly all countries anyway due to business laws, consumer laws, etc?

    (Yes, I know - there are a lot of companies out there who could do with a stern reminder.)

  7. slooth

    Now if only they had the balls to do the same with Microsoft and its hated Win10 upgrade menace

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

    Does remind me of a news topic a few days ago, a bloke bought a pharma company that sells the only approved drug in USA for some cancer like illness, then turned up the price from 1k5 to 50k.

    1. DavCrav

      Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

      "Does remind me of a news topic a few days ago, a bloke bought a pharma company that sells the only approved drug in USA for some cancer like illness, then turned up the price from 1k5 to 50k."

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but that case hinges on US health insurance companies having this strange idea to buy brand name rather than generic, when the patent runs out. His medicine was out of patent, so people just switched to generics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

        " His medicine was out of patent, so people just switched to generics"

        Nope, this drug was the only one the FDA approved.

        1. MonkeyCee

          Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

          Good news is that another pharma company has announced that they would like some free publicity, and since making small batch medicine like these are low cost (as compared to a marketing campaign), so they are doing 99 pill bottles (ie a full course of treatment) for $100.

      2. BebopWeBop

        Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but that case hinges on US health insurance companies having this strange idea to buy brand name rather than generic, when the patent runs out. His medicine was out of patent, so people just switched to generics.

        I regret to say you are incorrect. To paraphrase (but hopefully represent the case), this is a drug that was permitted under a different regulatory system that that which exists now. In order to introduce a generic, drugs companies would have to jump through expensive hoops, and possibly (although I'm not an expert in the area) take a very long time about it. As this bastard owns the drug of that name (forget about so called generics - noe are licensed), he can charge what he believes the market will bear.

        Personally I would be more interested in seeing whether his testicles would bear his weight if he was suspended by them over a deep pool of laser wielding sharks, but that is only a personal opinion I should add and I do not condone, or encourage anyone to do it, at least without a watertight alibi.

    2. MonkeyCee

      Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

      You're thinking of Martin Shkreli (probably, this behavior isn't unique alas). The drug is for treating malaria and toxoplasmosis.

      The cancer link is because people being treated for cancer have reduced immune system responses, so can die more easily from infections. It's also very common for AIDS patients to catch such infections.

      The drug is a specialized combination of a two other drugs, which is where it differs from the generic which is just pyrimethamine. My limited understanding is that it's the combination that is both the reason for it's efficacy, and the reason for it's difficult in manufacture*, and also why it's the "only" medication of it's type in the world.

      As to the morality of what Shkreli did, it's just more patent trolling. He can talk all the shit he likes about investing in new research, but that is not what he's doing. Buying rights to an existing and established product and hiking the prices because you can is a) perfectly sensible market capitalism, buying underpriced good that consumers have no other substitutes for and b) fucking stupid if you ever expect to have to defend the actions.

      Shkreli is also up to his neck in other shit now, since he's pulled off some other suitably morally ambiguous activities at his prior companies. Hope he gets jailed, catches AIDS, gets a toxic plasmosis infection and then can't afford his overpriced drugs.

      * prior to the price hike it cost roughly 20-50 times what the single drug option, which seems reasonable IMHO

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

      "Adds" = addition

      "Ads" = advertisements

    4. kb

      Re: Adds or Drugs (Meds) ?

      It was toxoplasmosis and he raised the price from 7.50 USD to over $700 USD, thus making a single 30 day supply (it usually takes 90 days IIRC) $21K, or $63K for enough to actually treat the illness.

      As for TFA, what is to keep them from just starting a new company and doing it all over again? Seems like an easy way to make a ton of cash, just buy a semi popular Android app, turn it into malware with an update, and rake in the cash.

  9. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

    Quote

    he FTC said Ali Moiz and Murtaza Hussain, proprietors of software company Vulcun, have agreed to requirements that include gaining explicit user permission before installing any changes to their apps. This comes after they were accused of covertly adding new software to customer devices via an innocent-looking version update.

    Now what is different from MS PUSHING updates to applications in Windows 10?

    Oh silly me, this pair didn't contribute god knows how many millions of $$$$$ to lots of 're-election' funds' as a way of buying influence in DC.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

      Go on then shithead, name a consumer OS that doesn't push updates if you don't deliberately turn them off?

      Just out of interest, do you actually know where the having a central update source for all your OS and application updates was first formalised? HINT: Well-known OS, begins with "L".

      The problem in this case is you have software provided by third parties which is not vetted or tested being given the keys to the device's update system. MS are one of the few that actually don't do that.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

        There is no need to call anyone 'Shithead'.

        Pushing Updates is not done by any Linux System I'd ever use.

        I just two of my servers today. I pulled the updates with a simple command

        yum update

        That is as far as I know pulling updates not pushing them.

        If however you still think that I am wrong then I must be living in a different universe from you. Long may that remain.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        WTF?

        Re: Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

        What's with the "shithead" thing? That is not nice or necessary.

        OS X doesn't push updates as far as I know and I have used Macs ever since that abortion of an operating system Win95.

        MS pushed gigabytes of Win10 files onto my mates computer because he didn't TURN OFF automatic updates.

        That's MS for you. Just saying...

      3. 404
        Childcatcher

        Re: Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

        'HINT: Well-known OS, begins with "L".'

        Actually there was a program called 'Oil Change' introduced at COMDEX in 1995/96, that would scan your computer and fetch drivers, updates, etc from your OS, to programs, to Soundblaster drivers. Revolutionary at the time. I sat on one of the booth bimbos for hours until I got a couple of copies.

    2. elDog

      Re: Ok FTC. Turn your guns on MS

      I think that the "MS PUSHING" is much more egregious.

      First, it affects a far larger portion of the population.

      Secondly, it is not really voluntary.

      If a sick person was all of a sudden asked to pay for a drug that cost 10x the prior, they could decide to look elsewhere or do without.

      If a computer user was infected with the MS Windows virus, they would be rendered SOL without paying for the update.

      OK, I am totally wrong. The MS Windows virus user could elect to use an Apple version, or take control of their life using Linux.

  10. Stratman

    "Vulcun will be required to clearly explain the behaviors and any changes to the permissions of any of the products, including browser extensions, mobile games, and websites."

    Just Vulcun?

  11. Mage Silver badge

    Win 10 upgrade nags on Win7 & Win8

    Surely a misuse?

  12. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Advertisers

    I'm more than happy to see these scummers getting what they deserve. But what about their paymasters; the other scum who want their ads pushed out like this and pay them to do it?

  13. Efros

    If you're not going to jail them

    then fine them the value of the company + %5 and bar them from distributing apps on any app store... ever. This isn't a mistake this was an out and out criminal scheme to screw people over, both advertisers and Joe Public through a variant of the old bait and switch scheme.

    1. Ian 55

      Re: If you're not going to jail them

      Quite a clever scheme though.

  14. HKmk23

    Simple

    Don't play (download) games.....

  15. TimeMaster T

    and for their next trick ...

    The next time someone wants to do something like that they will first push a simple update that adds the "by using this app you consent to us violating your privacy and us serving adds to you. Your continued use of this app indicates you accept the terms of this new EULA".

    Then they will wait a week and push the addware serving update.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Small fries

    These guys must be small fries. This update switcheroo bullshit is rampant in appstores. But you don't hear about regulators going after the big crap-app developers or Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon...

  17. Haku

    "would then proceed to install software and serve ads...without user knowledge or permission"

    I bet you can't guess why I turn off auto-update on all my Android devices.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How quaint, people still have adverts on their phone and computer?

    I can't remember the last time I saw ads, I think it was about the time of 56.6k modems where I had to chase a pointer for a free ipod, before that it was BBS all the way.

    Lets rejoice in the use of

    uBlock/NoScript/Disconnect/Blur/ADBlockPlus/HTTPS Everywhere/A well constructed hosts file

    For phones/tablets

    Cyanogenmod/Droidwall/App Ops(Now privacy settings in CM)/A well constructed hosts file

    To be fair these muppets need jail time.

  19. Stevie

    Bah!

    I assume that the first paragraph of the new game blurb will read something like "WARNING: The new owners of this game have been convicted of being lying, venal, scum-sucking git-faces who have betrayed the trust of each and every one of their customers. Would-be purchasers of this game should be aware that neither of the said owners were required to serve any prison time for their crime, and so can reasonably be expected to continue their criminal behaviour and to involve you in it at the sharp end."

    I can't see anyone being taken in under those circumstances.

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