Nuisance call firm Keurboom hit with record fine

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Keurboom Communications made automated calls

A cold-calling firm has been fined a record £400,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for making almost 100 million nuisance calls.

Keurboom Communications called people, sometimes at night, to see if they were eligible for road-accident or PPI compensation, the ICO said.

It breached privacy laws by calling people without their consent.

The company has since gone into liquidation but the ICO said it was committed to recovering the fine.

It said it had received more than 1,000 complaints about automated calls from the Bedfordshire-registered company.

Hidden identity

The ICO said Keurboom Communications called some people repeatedly and during unsocial hours.

It also hid its identity so that people would find it harder to complain.

“The unprecedented scale of its campaign and Keurboom’s failure to co-operate with our investigation has resulted in the largest fine issued by the Information Commissioner for nuisance calls,” said Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO.

Keurboom director Greg Rudd told the Mirror newspaper that he found cold-calling “annoying” but said it was “part of life”.

“I don’t enjoy receiving them but that doesn’t make them illegal,” he said.

However the ICO said making automatic marketing calls without people’s consent was illegal.

“Keurboom showed scant regard for the rules,” said Mr Eckersley.

Media captionICO deputy information commissioner explains on Today how to stop receiving cold calls

In October, the government announced plans to let the ICO fine company directors as well as their businesses.

“Making directors responsible will stop them avoiding fines by putting their company into liquidation,” the ICO said.

The watchdog said 2016-17 had been its busiest year for nuisance call investigations, with 23 companies fined a total of £1.9m.

Four ways to block nuisance calls:

Register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) – it’s for people who do not want to receive sales calls and it’s free. It is illegal for a company to call you once your name is on this. Of course, companies operating outside the law are not likely to take much notice – but it will cut down the number of calls.

Complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The number is 0303 123 1113.

Block calls. Some phones offer this feature or you could use a call blocking device that you plug into your phone. These can not only block certain numbers, but also any that are call “withheld” or “international” – untraceable numbers often used by cold callers. The problem with this is that calls from people you know who are abroad or those who have blocked their own number may also be stopped. And a number of calls from large organisations that go through switchboards, which could include important calls, will also be blocked.

Keep an eye out when ordering goods to make sure you tick the box that says you do not wish to receive information about products from organisations. And be careful, as some of these boxes say tick if you DO wish to hear from other companies. So ticking it without reading it could be the wrong call.

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Man to pay $300,000 in damages for hacking employer

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Yovan Garcia changed payroll records to inflate the number of hours he had worked.

A former private security officer in California must pay nearly $319,000 (£248,000) in damages for attacking his employer’s computer systems.

Yovan Garcia accessed payroll records at Security Specialists, which provides private security patrols, to inflate the number of hours he had worked.

He later hacked the firm’s servers to steal data and defaced its website.

District Judge Michael Fitzgerald said Garcia had used the stolen data to help set up a rival business.

Security Specialists first noticed issues with Mr Garcia’s pay records in July 2014, about two years after he joined.

In one example, they showed he had worked 12 hours per day over a two-week period and was owed 40 hours of overtime pay, when in fact he only worked eight hours per day.

According to the Central District Court of California, Mr Garcia had obtained login credentials – without ever having been given them – and accessed the records without authorisation.

Judge Fitzgerald said: “As a result, defendant Garcia was paid thousands of dollars more in overtime wages than he was really owed.

Defaced website

This led to his sacking, but soon afterwards he hacked Security Specialists’ servers with “at least one other individual”.

Mr Garcia took emails and other confidential data to “lure away” Security Specialists’ clients to his new business, the judge said.

He also deleted or corrupted back-up files creating “debilitating” damage, according to the company.

A few days later, Security Specialists’ website was also vandalised, with the website’s header being changed to read “Are you ready”.

An “unflattering picture” of a senior member of staff was also published on the site, Judge Fitzgerald said.

He ordered Mr Garcia to pay $318,661.70 to cover costs to Security Specialists such as lost income and lost data.

Mr Garcia could also be liable to pay the firm’s legal costs at a later date, he said.

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Thailand warns Facebook to block content critical of the monarchy

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Authorities in Thailand have warned Facebook to take down content critical of the monarchy, or face legal action.

The social media giant has been given until next Tuesday to remove more than 130 items from pages viewable in Thailand.

Facebook says it does consider requests from governments to block material, and will comply if it breaks local laws.

Any comment critical of the monarchy can result in prosecution under Thailand’s strict lese-majeste law.

Those convicted face long prison sentences.

Thailand’s military government that seized power in Thailand in 2014 has made great efforts to suppress any criticism of the monarchy.

Thousands of websites have been blocked, and people caught sharing, or even liking Facebook posts deemed unflattering to the monarchy have been prosecuted.

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The monarchy is accorded enormous respect in Thailand

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission told the BBC that Facebook had already co-operated in blocking some pages, but that more than 130 judged to be illegal remained visible in Thailand.

Last year, the country’s deputy prime minister said Google agreed to co-operate with the removal of online content insulting Thailand’s monarchy.

The US internet company said it was following its existing policies on content removal.

“When we are notified of content that is illegal through official processes, we will restrict it in the country where it’s illegal after a thorough review,” Google said at the time.

Up to 15 years in prison

Thailand’s lese-majeste laws are intended to protect the most senior members of Thailand’s royal family from insult or threat.

Article 112 of the country’s criminal code says anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” will be punished with up to 15 years in prison.

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Even a thumbs-up can prove troublesome in Thailand

Lese-majeste complaints can be filed by anyone against anyone, and they must always be formally investigated by the police.

Trials are usually conducted in secret, and with almost no chance of being acquitted defendants usually plead guilty in the hope of reducing the sentence.

More than 100 people have been charged with lese-majeste since the coup; seven were detained by the military last month, including a lawyer who is being charged on 10 counts of violating the law, carrying a punishment of up to 150 years in prison.

Some of the recent arrests have related to posts on social media sites.

A man faces 15 years in jail for posting images on Facebook in 2015 of then-King Bhumibol’s favourite dog in a way that mocked the king, according to the prosecutor.

And a cleaning lady is being charged for posting the words “I see” in an exchange on Facebook between her and a political activist that police say had defamatory comments.

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Facebook must delete hate postings, Austria court rules

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Facebook has been under pressure to act more against online trolling

A court in Austria has ordered that Facebook must remove postings seen as hate speech, in a ruling that is set to have international implications.

The case was brought by the country’s Green Party after its leader was targeted by a false account.

The court said postings not just in Austria but worldwide must be deleted. Facebook has not yet commented.

The ruling is seen as a victory for campaigners who want to make social media platforms combat online trolling.

The appeals court in Vienna ruled that postings against Greens’ leader Eva Glawischnig as any verbatim repostings should be removed.

It added that merely blocking the messages in Austria without removing them for users abroad was not sufficient.

The court said it was easy for Facebook to automate this process.

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Eva Glawischnig was targeted by fake Facebook accounts

A Green lawmaker, Dieter Brosz, said Facebook could no longer claim it was just a platform and needed to take responsibility for tackling hate postings.

Internet giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google have all come under fire in many countries for failing to remove hate speech from their platforms promptly.

Last month, German ministers approved plans to fine social media firms up to 50m euros ($53.3m; £42.7m) if they fail to remove hate speech and fake news quickly.

The companies have recently announced measures to address the issue:

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Guardian Soulmates users hit with spam after data exposure

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Guardian Soulmates took action after users said they had received spam containing information from their profiles

Users of Guardian Soulmates have been targeted with sexually explicit spam emails after their contact information was accidentally exposed on the dating site.

Information from users’ profiles was included in the spam messages.

The Guardian newspaper’s publisher, which runs the service, said “human error” was at fault.

Guardian News Media blamed a third-party technology provider for the problem, which has now been fixed.

The BBC was contacted by one user who said they had started receiving sexually explicit spam emails sent to an account they only used with the dating service.

Their Guardian Soulmates username appeared in the messages.

The person, who requested that they remain anonymous, said they first contacted Soulmates six months ago because they were concerned about what other data may have been taken.


“I basically had been receiving spam […] directly referencing information that could only have come from the Soulmates database,” said another affected user, who also wished to remain anonymous.

“It’s all information that I was happy to put online at one point anyway, but when it’s used outside of context like that it does feel a lot more creepy.”

The user told the BBC that they alerted Guardian Soulmates in November last year and received an email confirming what had happened in late April.

While the user – who works in IT – said they understood that incidents like this can occur, they were also surprised to be affected as they had not used the site for several years and were no longer paying a membership fee.

“I’m still pretty miffed that I’ll probably forever receive spam from this,” they added.

A spokeswoman for the site – which costs users up to £32 ($41.50) per month – added that while only email addresses and user IDs had been exposed directly, such information could be used “to find members’ publicly available online profiles”.

Details on public profiles, such as a photo, relationship preferences and physical description, could then potentially be accessed.

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Email addresses and user IDs were exposed, Guardian News Media says

“We can confirm we have received 27 enquiries from our members which show evidence of their email addresses used for their Soulmates account having been exposed,” the spokeswoman said, adding that there was no evidence that the data exposure had been caused by an outside party.

“Our ongoing investigations point to a human error by one of our third-party technology providers, which led to an exposure of an extract of data,” she said.

Guardian News Media had apologised to affected users and would “continue to review” its processes and third-party suppliers, she told the BBC.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said it is “aware of a potential incident involving Guardian Soulmates and will be looking into the details”.

“The law requires all organisations handling personal data to take appropriate measures to keep that information secure,” a spokeswoman said.

“As the regulator, it’s our job to act on behalf of the UK public to see whether that’s happened.”

‘Sensitive’ data

Data made available by the exposure could have been used in a variety of ways by scammers, said Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey.

He pointed out that Guardian Soulmates was the latest in a long line of incidents where users’ personal data has been made public either accidentally or following cyber-attacks.

“It’s almost depressing really that it keeps happening – particularly on something like a dating site, which I think most people would consider to be a bit more sensitive,” he said.

“When we start using an online service of any nature, we put our trust in people to protect our information.”

Users who are concerned that data from their account might have been accessed should contact

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Google Street View used to discover ‘lost’ cycle ways

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Some of the cycle ways retain a faint hint of their original red colour

A vast network of forgotten cycle ways across the UK has been rediscovered with the help of Google Street View.

Historian and cycling enthusiast Carlton Reid found the routes, which were created between 1934 and 1940, after scanning for evidence of them online.

They were originally put in place by the Ministry of Transport, but many fell out of use after World War Two.

Mr Reid is now part of a campaign to reinstate some of the routes.

“We might see them every single day and not realise what they are – they’re very much hidden in plain sight,” he said.

By carefully looking at images on Google Street View, Mr Reid was able to discern residual evidence of the cycle ways – sometimes appearing like second pavements or merely depressions by the side of the road.

Route map

A map showing the locations of the routes across the UK has also been posted online as part of the campaign.

“Urban planners often say, ‘Oh, there’s no place for cycling, we can’t put these things in.’

“This project says we have got the space, sometimes [the cycle ways] are already there,” said Mr Reid.

The routes had been a vivid red when first created, he told the BBC, but the colour had faded over time in many cases.

“There are some in Manchester and Nottingham that are still pink now in patches,” he said.

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Mr Reid says he has researched the cycle ways for more than a year

Mr Reid said the paths were often very wide, allowing cyclists lots of room to use them.

However, they apparently fell out of use after World War Two, when the UK experienced a huge boom in car ownership.

Having spent more than a year researching the routes online, Mr Reid believes he has found 280 miles of the “lost” network.

  • Cycling the length of Britain, virtually
  • Should cycling be allowed on pavements?

A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the project has been started by Mr Reid and his collaborator, John Dales, an urban planner.

The campaign reached its initial funding goal of £7,000 ($9,000) within three days of launching and has now accrued more than £10,000 in pledges.

Should the project gather enough support, Mr Dales intends to make formal recommendations to the relevant authorities that some of the cycle ways be reinstated.

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Google Street View

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Sometimes cars mistake the cycle ways for roads, because they are so wide

“We will also be working hard on getting the Department for Transport to also provide some national cash,” said Mr Reid.

“After all, it can be shown that the Ministry of Transport, its predecessor organisation, was 75 years ahead of its time.”

The project has received praise from cycling groups.

“It would be wonderful to see this legacy updated, restored and protected, not only because these cycle ways would be useful in their own right, but also because they would serve as an inspiration for developing a comprehensive cycle network, using the space we already have,” said Mark Treasure, who chairs the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

Reinstating the routes would make cycling safer and improve traffic flow, suggested Charles Hobbs, owner of “Charlie the Bikemonger”, a bicycle shop in Dorset.

“It’s great to see these rights of way being rediscovered,” he told the BBC.

“These are lost assets of cycling, something cyclists have a right to use.”

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Uber faces criminal probe in US over ‘greyball’ code

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Uber has been criticised many times over the way it runs its business

Ride-sharing firm Uber is facing a criminal investigation by the US government.

The scrutiny has started because the firm is accused of using “secret” software that let it operate in regions where it was banned or restricted.

The software, called “greyball”, helped it identify officials seeking to stop the service running.

A spokesman for Uber declined to comment on the investigation, reported the Reuters news agency.

It is claimed greyball was used in several areas, including Portland, Oregon, where the ride service was still seeking official approval to operate.

Bookings blocked

In those areas, transport regulation officials posed as passengers in a bid to prove that the company was operating illegally. Greyball worked out who the officials were and blocked them from booking rides with the company’s drivers.

In a letter sent last week to transport regulators in Portland, Uber said it used the greyball software “exceedingly sparingly” in the city and had not used it since April 2015 when it was granted permission to operate.

Uber’s use of the software was revealed by the New York Times earlier this year. Uber defended its use in a blog saying the software helped it work out if a ride request was legitimate. It helped Uber limit fraud and protect drivers from harm, it added.

It is not clear what sanctions Uber will face if the investigation finds that it did act illegally.

The criminal inquiry comes at a difficult time for Uber which has faced criticism on many fronts. It is currently fighting a lawsuit from Google-backed self-driving car firm Waymo.

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Facebook shuts Oculus VR movie studio

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The short VR film about Henry the Hedgehog’s search for friends won the studio an Emmy

Facebook is shutting down a studio in California created to make films and other video content for its Oculus virtual reality headset.

The Oculus Story Studio will no longer create its own material but will now help others make VR-ready content.

The studio won several awards for its short VR-ready films, one of which, called Henry, about a hedgehog’s birthday party, won an Emmy.

The company has set up a $50m (£39m) fund to pay for non-game content.

It said the closure of the studio did not mean it was abandoning movies and films made for VR.

“We’re still absolutely committed to growing the VR film and creative content ecosystem,” said Jason Rubin, the company’s vice president of content, in a blog.

Mr Rubin said the firm had decided that it would have a bigger impact if it dedicated itself to helping the growing number of film makers and developers creating VR art, rather than spend money on its own creative work.

In total, he said, Oculus would be spending $250m (£193m) to help game makers, developers and movie makers produce VR-ready content.

The Oculus division of Facebook would also continue to develop software and hardware to help creators working with VR, he said.

Staff working for the Story Studio will be able to apply for other jobs in Facebook or look for work elsewhere, said Mr Rubin.

The studio has been closed soon after Oculus founder Palmer Luckey left the company.

Facebook did not say why he left but the departure came shortly after Oculus lost a $500m (£387m) court case against media firm Zenimax which said it stole trade secrets.

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Most US homes have mobiles but no landline

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The White House is one place landlines are likely to to be found for many years

Less than half of US households now have a landline, according to a study from the US government.

Of the households surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50.8% of homes had at least one mobile phone but no landline.

A further 3.3% of homes surveyed had neither a mobile phone nor a landline.

The CDC found that mobile-only households had become the majority during its twice-yearly survey into the health and habits of Americans.

Representative sample

Participants in the National Health Interview Survey are asked to provide a residential phone number in case the CDC needs to contact them again.

In 2003, it started to ask participating households whether they had “at least one phone inside [the] home that is currently working and is not a cell phone”.

Its preliminary data for the second half of 2016 suggests that only 45.9% of households had a landline.

The CDC does not explore the reasons why participants do not have a fixed phone line, if that is the case.

Instead, it uses the data to help ensure it is interviewing a representative sample of the US population.

Shared houses

The CDC says that the number of households without a landline has risen by 2.5% since the same period in 2015.

It suggests that more than 123 million adults (50.5%) and more than 44 million children (60.7%) live in households with at least one mobile phone but no landline.

More than 70% of adults aged 25-34 were found to live in mobile-only homes, while almost 84% of households made up of unrelated adults had no fixed phone line.

Renters, adults deemed to be living in poverty or near-poverty, and Hispanic adults were also found to be more likely to live in mobile-only households.

Cutting the cord

In the UK, the proportion of mobile-only households is much lower.

Figures from the telecoms and communications watchdog, Ofcom, show that at the start of 2017, just 18% of UK households were mobile-only.

The reason, it says, is that despite a steady decline in the quantity of calls made and received via a landline, most homes still need one in order to get fixed line broadband.

Many in the US can get their broadband and TV via a cable provider instead, which removes the need for a traditional phone line.

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Donkey Kong and Pokemon join gaming hall of fame

Donkey Kong arcade console, Pokemon's Pikachu in front of a giant Game Boy, Street Fighter II arcade console, and life size Halo figurineImage copyright
The Strong Museum

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This year’s inductees span more than 30 years of gaming

Donkey Kong and Pokemon Red and Green have been inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

Halo: Combat Evolved and Street Fighter II were also honoured with places in the permanent exhibition at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

They join titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog, The Sims, Doom, Pong and World of Warcraft.

Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Microsoft’s Solitaire were nominated but failed to make the final list.

The hall of fame was established in 2015, covering games played in an arcade, on a console, computer, handheld device or mobile phone.

‘No Mario’

The games are chosen for their popularity, longevity and their influence on gaming, popular culture and society.

Anyone can nominate a game, but the final selection is made on the advice of a panel of journalists, academics and gaming experts.

This year’s winners were chosen from a list of 12 finalists which also included Final Fantasy VII and Wii Sports.

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Pokemon characters like Pikachu have become popular in mainstream culture

Following its release in 1981, an estimated 132,000 Donkey Kong arcade game cabinets were sold around the world – introducing us to an Italian plumber called Mario.

“Without Donkey Kong there would be no Super Mario Bros,” said Jon-Paul Dyson, director of The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG).

The original Pokemon game, released for the Nintendo Game Boy in 1996, was nominated in 2016 but failed to make that year’s final selection.

Since then, however, the franchise has received a boost in popularity and gained a new generation of fans with the launch of Pokemon Go.

“Two decades after its inception and with the introduction of Pokemon Go, ‘Poke-mania’ shows little sign of fading,” explained The Strong’s associate curator, Shannon Symonds.

Capcom’s Street Fighter II allowed players to battle human opponents, “instantly attracting spectators and generating fierce tournament play”, said Jeremy Saucier, assistant director of ICHIEG.

He added that the “communal style of game play reinvigorated the arcade industry in the 1990s”.

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Microsoft Windows Solitaire was nominated but failed to make the final selection

When Microsoft launched the Xbox in 2001, more than half of the consoles sold came with Halo: Combat Evolved.

The first-person multi-player game sold more than six million copies and has been followed up with sequels and spin-offs including novels and comics.

Ms Symonds said the game was key in showing that consoles could be “just as effective, if not better, than a PC” for high-precision games, as well as “one of the strongest multiplayer experiences of its time”.

With the addition of this year’s four winners, the World Video Games Hall of Fame now has 16 permanent exhibits.

Its first entrants were Doom, Pong, Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, Tetris and World of Warcraft.

In 2016, another six games – Space Invaders, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, The Oregon Trail, Grand Theft Auto III and The Sims – were honoured.

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