As the Federal Trade Commission begins its legal battle against one of the smaller startups in the ad-tech ocean, some legal and privacy experts are wondering if the agency is taking a new approach to frying fish.
In a new lawsuit against the digital marketing data broker Kochava, the FTC alleges the Idaho-based companysold sensitive consumer geolocation data to companies collected from hundreds of millions of devices. According to the federal agency’s complaint, data collected around sensitive locations — places including reproductive health clinics, places of worship, homeless and domestic violence shelters and addiction recovery centers — could put people at risk of “stigma, discrimination, physical violence, emotional distress, and other harms.”
Since its filing on Monday in federal court in Idaho,the lawsuit has left ad-tech insiderswonderingwhy Kochava was singled out when it’s just one of many data brokers that track location data. Some speculate the regulatory agency wants to make an example out of Kochava without getting overly burdened by suing much larger companies in the ad-tech space. Experts see the lawsuit against a smaller player like Kochava as a warning sign to the broader data broker industry while others say the FTC’s case will be legally challenging and face a high bar. Regardless of the outcome, the legal battle also raises new questions about the future of location-based data — and the appetite advertisers have for it.
Although the FTC has investigated various aspects of the online ad industry — it issued a 2014 report calling on more transparency and accountability for data brokers — the agency has traditionally focused more on giants like internet and telecom companies. The most famous example of FTC enforcement related to data privacy was its landmark settlement with Facebook 2019 following an investigation into how the British firm Cambridge Analytica collected user data. (The FTC declined Digiday’s interview request about its Kochava lawsuit.)
“That’s the most significant part of this: We’re moving down the supply chain,” said Zach Edwards, an independent researcher. “It’s no longer just the Cambridge Analyticas. We’re going a foot deep instead of an inch deep.”
“One thing is size, but it’s also their role,” said Jessica Lee, chair of the law firm Loeb & Loeb’s privacy, security and data innovations practice when asked about why the FTC would target Kochava. “If you really want to try to effect change — particularly in this case where the issue is the data feeds that are made available — it might make more sense to come after a company that’s in the supply chain, and that’s really where Kochava is.”
A different kind of case and a rare countersuit
Former FTC officials told Digiday that the agency is taking a different approach from how it’s sought to regulate data privacy with giants such as internet and telecom companies. Instead of trying to prove Kochava has been deceptive — a key tenet in the 2019 case involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica — the allegations focus on “unfair” practices with user data. Some lawyers say gives the case more legal standing but others note the FTC needs to prove how Kochava’s practices could harm consumers.
Other times the FTC sued companies over privacy include 2021 settlements with the period-tracking app Flo and the ad platform OpenX. Despite the FTC’s recent track record of privacy-related settlements, Kochava has chosen to preemptively fight back. Earlier this month, it filed a countersuit against the FTC claiming the agency has wrongly threatened the company and mischaracterized its business.
In a written statement, Kochava Collective General Manager Brian Cox said the FTC’s lawsuit “shows the unfortunate reality that the FTC has a fundamental misunderstanding of Kochava’s data marketplace business and other data businesses.” He said Kochava recently rolled out new ways to block geolocation data from sensitive locations, adding that the agency’s desired settlement “had no clear terms or resolutions and redefined the problem into a moving target.”
Kochava—which buys precise geolocation data from various third-party vendors—uses the data in two main ways. Along with helping brands measure ad performance based on footfall traffic, it also sells data to other ad-tech companies that then provide targeted data based on location. The company says it vets data brokers it works with, but the FTC claims the data isn’t anonymized and could put consumers at risk of being identified by their devices and other personal information. Even if there are not yet new laws to regulate location-tracking, legal experts say a settlement could have potential repercussions and that similar violations in the future could open the door for further FTC enforcement.
“Real progress to improve data privacy for consumers will not be reached through flamboyant press releases and frivolous litigation,” according to Cox’s statement emailed to Digiday. “It’s disappointing that the agency continues to circumvent the lawmaking process and perpetuate misinformation surrounding data privacy.”
Ruben Schreurs, chief product officer at the media management firm Ebiquity, said the FTC is in some ways creating a “no-fly zone” around the use of sensitive data. Kochava isn’t the largest player, but he thinks a legal win would potentially give the agency “some meat” to showcase before it begins to revamp its data privacy rules in the coming months.
The lawsuit also sheds more light on the location-tracking industry and could help “blow open” a broader discussion about what companies should be allowed to track, according to Joseph Turow, a longtime privacy researcher and professor of media systems and industries at the University of Pennsylvania. However, he said it doesn’t fully address what the agency wants companies to change or how the government should regulate data beyond sensitive topics.
“It really is a question of whether this is an acceptable aspect of society,” Turow said. “And I think the FTC has to confront that.”
The uphill battle
Some former FTC officials who spoke with Digiday have doubts about whether the case could win in court. Megan Gray, a former FTC attorney focused on enforcing privacy who is now CEO of GrayMatters Law and Policy, said she thinks the agency will lose the case based on its merits.
“How this case is understood — which is the agency suing a data broker for selling geo-location data without a sensitive locations filter and without delineating permissible purposes for its customers — that’s new,” she said. “That is on the bleeding edge forefront for privacy perspectives, and a company can genuinely say ‘we didn’t know.’”
Although Gray thinks the FTC’s own case has weaknesses, she said it “rarely makes sense” to file suitagainst the FTC, especially since the financial penalties are often small and the terms aren’t “particularly onerous.”
Regardless of what happens with Kochava, others suggest companies that sell or share precise geolocation data could also potentially face similar actions. Meanwhile, concerns around abortion-related data since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have also made data privacy a heightened priority at the FTC and across various parts of the Biden administration.
Allison Lefrak — who spent nearly a decade as an attorney at the FTC focused on privacy and identity protection — noted a part of the FTC’s complaint that suggests Kochava should have created a blacklist for locations related to the types of data addressed in the lawsuit. Now senior vice president of public policy and ads privacy at Pixalate, Lefrak said recent actions suggest the agency is indicating an increased interest in going after the “commercial surveillance” industry.
“If I were an ad-tech data broker, I’d get on this blacklist recommendation,” Lefrak said.
One of the most irritating (and slightly painful) parts of joining a Microsoft Teams call could soon be fixed by a new update.
The video conferencing service is a popular choice for many companies, meaning calls with large numbers of participants joining at the same time, and from the same location (such as a meeting room) are a common occurrence.
However, often when multiple people join a meeting in the same room, a feedback loop is created, which causes echo, which in most cases quickly escalates to howling – with Microsoft likening the noise to when a musician holds the mic too close to a loudspeaker.
Fortunately, a new fix is coming for Microsoft Teams users. In its entry in the official Microsoft 365 roadmap (opens in new tab), the new “Ultrasound Howling Detection” describes how it aims to prevent this noise for users on Windows and Mac across the world.
Microsoft says that the update should mean if multiple users on laptops join from the same location, it will share with the user that another Teams Device is detected in their vicinity and is already joined with audio to the current meeting.
If a user has already joined with their audio on, Microsoft Teams will automatically mute the mic and speakers of any new the person who then joins the call, hopefully putting an end to the howling and screeching feedback.
Thankfully, the update is already listed as being in development, with an expected general availability date of March 2023, so users shouldn’t have to wait too long to enjoy.
The new updates are the result of using a machine learning model trained on 30,000 hours of speech samples, and include echo cancellation, better adjusting audio in poor acoustic environments, and allowing users to speak and hear at the same time without interruptions.
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Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK’s leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he’s not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods lands in theaters on March 17. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)
The final trailer for Shazam! Fury of the Gods has debuted online – and it looks even more charming, funnier, frenetic, and darker than its predecessor.
Shazam’s sequel flick arrives in theaters worldwide on March 17, so it’s about time we were given another look at the forthcoming DC Extended Universe movie (read our DC movies in order guide to find out where it’ll fit in that timeline). Luckily, Warner Bros. has duly obliged. Check it out below:
Okay, there’s some messy CGI and a slightly corny vibe about Shazam 2. But hey, the first problem can be ironed out before the superhero film takes flight, while the latter is part of what makes this movie series spellbinding (see what we did there?).
But we digress – you’re here because you want to find out what you missed from Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ new trailer. Below, we’ve pointed out six things you might have overlooked. So, what are you waiting for? Shout “Shazam!” and let’s dive in.
1. Who are the Daughters of Atlas?
For a film centered around Shazam, we don’t actually see the titular superhero appear in the official trailer for the first 20 seconds.
Instead, we get another glimpse at Fury of the Gods‘ villains, aka the Daughters of Atlas. The powerful trio comprises the power-hungry Hespera (Helen Millen), dragon-riding Kalypso (Lucy Liu), and Athena (Rachel Zegler), the latter of whom seems particularly torn about how the sisters are going about their business.
So, why are they gunning for Shazam and his superpowered foster siblings? Essentially, when Billy Batson was gifted his abilities by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard in the film film (available now on HBO Max), one of those powers was the Stamina of Atlas. The Daughters of Atlas aren’t too happy about their father’s ability being passed down to a child, so they want to take back what is theirs – and they’ll do it so by any means necessary.
2. Mythological monsters
Shazam’s first DCEU outing featured some horror-imbued creatures in the form of the Seven Deadly Sins. How, then, do you go about topping (or, at the very least) matching what came before? Throw in a bunch of myth-based monsters, of course.
Kalypso’s imposing dragon is the most notable inclusion. It feature prominently throughout the trailer, and we even get an amusing Game of Thrones reference from Shazam – “Hey, Khaleesi!” – in the movie. Hey, Warner Bros. loves to mention its suite of IPs in as many of its films as possible.
But Kalypso’s wyvern isn’t the only fairy-tale-based beast we see. Minotaurs, griffons, and demonic unicorns are just three of the other monsters who’ll turn up in Fury of the Gods. Basically, don’t expect this to be an easy fight for Shazam and company to save the world.
3. You can’t get the staff these days
Saving earth from a new titanic threat will be even harder when Shazam’s adoptive family are stripped of their powers, too. And it seems that the staff, which was wielded by Hounsou’s wizard in the first movie, is the key to giving and taking those abilities away.
In 2019’s Shazam!, the titular hero gave powers to his foster siblings to help him combat the Seven Deadly Sins and Doctor Sivana. They’ve still got those power in Fury of the Gods, too, but they won’t have them for long, based by what the trailer suggests.
The footage shows Freddy Freeman and Mary Bromfield being drained of their abilities by the Daughters of Atlas at various points. The trio are using the wizard’s staff to rob the teens of their powers, so it’s clearly of major importance to the movie’s main players.
Later, we see Shazam wielding it – not before he asks the wizard to take his powers back, mind you, when he becomes convinced he can’t defeat the Daughters of Atlas. Anyway, Shazam’s brandishing of the staff suggests he needs it to boost his own abilities if he’s going to defeat the movie’s antagonists and give his siblings their powers back. Expect the staff to play a vital role in Fury of the Gods‘ plot, then.
4. Prison break
In order to get the wizard’s staff, it seems the Daughters of Atlas go after Hounsou’s magic wielder to obtain it.
We see Hounsou’s character imprisoned at various points, including a shot of Hespera chastising him for giving the power of the gods to Billy, Freddy, and company. “You ripped it from our father’s core,” she tells him, which implies Hounsou’s wizard might not be as mighty and heroic as we were led to believe.
Anyway, Hounsou’s wizard interacts with Shazam later in the trailer, so he clearly escapes captivity. Whether he does so alone, or he enlists Shazam’s help – does that magic-infused dust, which he sends through his prison cell window, have something to do with it? – is unclear. Regardless, we’ll see Hounsou’s character break out at some stage.
5. Is that you, Doctor Strange?
Remember when we said Zegler’s Athena doesn’t seem as keen to destroy earth as her sisters? That’s because, at the 1: 14 mark, we see her use her powers with a uncertain look on her face. You wouldn’t look like that if you were convinced you were doing the right thing, would you?
Based on the fact she’s pushed away by Kalypso (using the staff no less), seconds later, it seems she’ll be swapping sides at some stage.
Interestingly, it seems the wizard’s staff can do more than give or take a person’s powers away. One perceived ability certainly has an air of the Doctor Strange/Marvel-based mystic arts about them. Just look at the Escher-style nature of how the scenery bends and folds in on itself when Athena is pushed back, and when Shazam evades numerous buildings at the 1: 44 mark. We’d be very surprised if DC and Warner Bros. didn’t take a leaf out of the MCU’s book with such an aesthetic.
6. Light the way
Shazam and his fellow superheroes get a costume upgrade in Fury of the Gods. The group’s threads are more streamlined and less plastic-looking this time around, which is pleasing to see.
Fans had been worried, though, that these suits wouldn’t feature one of the first movie’s most underrated (if somewhat tacky) aspects: the glowing lightning bolt on Shazam’s chest. Shazam’s costume in the 2019 movie was manufactured in a way that allowed the bolt to physically light up, avoiding the problem of having to add awkward lighting effects during the post-production phase.
Thankfully, Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘ official trailer confirms that Shazam’s lightning bolt will glow. However, given the sleeker look of the costumes this time around, it appears that the illumination effect has been added in post. Regardless of how it’s been implemented, we’re just glad it’s a feature that’s been retained.
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Jokes aside about Chrome’s incognito mode, the ability to open a private tab for sensitive browsing is incredibly useful. You can perform searches that you want to keep from affecting your recommendations or appearing in your search history—which applies as much to tax information and medical questions as anything more scintillating.
And now on all phones and tablets, you can protect your incognito tabs from prying eyes by locking them down. A quick tweak to Chrome settings on iOS and Android makes biometric or PIN authentication required to view your private tabs whenever you leave the app and then return. It’s an extra layer of protection for when you forget to close a tab when you’re done—easy to do if you’re constantly hopping between apps. No need to worry about banking info sitting unguarded, for example.
Trying to feature out for yourself is easy. If it’s rolled out to your Android device (or if you’re only now trying it on your iPhone or iPad), just tap on the three dot menu in Chrome, then Privacy and Security. Toggle on Lock Incognito Tabs When You Close Chrome. Now when you switch away from Chrome and then come back, you’ll have to pass an authentication check before you can see and interact with those private tabs again.
For folks who use incognito tabs more on mobile than dedicated apps, this feature is a very welcome addition—and one I hope to see come to desktop computers next. I leave my incognito windows open on PC for long stretches way more often than on a phone or tablet. I haven’t yet met a browser window stuffed with tabs that I didn’t like to keep around. And sometimes I’m reading up on something I don’t want roommates to know about; other times, I have private correspondence I’m working on that I really don’t want to be seen.
I can always lock my PC, but I occasionally forget to slam my fingers on Win + L before dashing off to deal with an overflowing pot or vomiting cat. The best alternative is setting up Dynamic Lock in Windows, but that only works if you move far enough away from your computer to trigger the auto-lock. It unfortunately doesn’t prevent someone also in your kitchen from wandering by your screen and teasing you about your recent discovery of r/illegallysmolcats. Ask me how I know.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.