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EU investigates Facebook and Instagram over child safety

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The EU will examine if the platforms are addictive and how effectively they check the ages of users



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‘Largest Botnet Ever’ Tied to Billions in Stolen Covid-19 Relief Funds

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The United States Department of Justice on Wednesday announced charges against a 35-year-old Chinese national, Yunhe Wang, accused of operating a massive botnet allegedly linked to billions of dollars in fraud, child exploitation, and bomb threats, among other crimes.

Wang, identified by numerous pseudonyms—Tom Long and Jack Wan, among others—was arrested on May 24 and is accused of distributing malware through various pop-up VPN services, such as “ProxyGate” and “MaskVPN,” and by embedding viruses in internet files distributed via peer-to-peer networks known as torrents.

The malware is said to have compromised computers located in nearly every country in the world, turning them into proxies through which criminals were able to hide their identities while committing countless crimes. According to prosecutors in the US, this included the theft of billions of dollars slated for Covid-19 pandemic relief—funds allegedly stolen by foreign actors posing as unemployed US citizens.

According to an indictment, the infected computers allegedly provided Wang’s customers with a persistent backdoor, allowing them to disguise themselves as any one of the victims of Wang’s malware. This illicit proxy service, known as “911 S5,” launched as early as 2014, the US government says.

“The 911 S5 Botnet infected computers in nearly 200 countries and facilitated a whole host of computer-enabled crimes, including financial frauds, identity theft, and child exploitation,” says FBI director Christopher Wray, who described the illicit service as “likely the world’s largest botnet ever.”

The US Treasury Department has also sanctioned Wang and two other individuals allegedly tied to 911 S5.

Wang is said to have amassed access to nearly 614,000 IP addresses in the US and more than 18 million others worldwide—collectively forming the botnet. 911 S5’s customers were able to filter the IPs geographically to choose where they’d like to appear to be located, down to a specific US zip code, the DOJ claims.

The indictment states that of the 150 dedicated servers used to manage the botnet, as many as 76 were leased by US-based service providers, including the one hosting 911 S5’s client interface, which allowed criminals overseas to purchase goods using stolen credit cards, in many cases for the alleged purpose of circumventing US export laws.

More than half a million fraudulent claims lodged with pandemic relief programs in the United States are allegedly tied to 911 S5. According to the indictment, nearly $6 billion in losses have been linked to IP addresses captured by 911 S5. Many of the IP addresses have been reportedly tied to more insidious crimes, including bomb threats and the trafficking of child sexual abuse material, or CSAM.

“Proxy services like 911 S5 are pervasive threats that shield criminals behind the compromised IP addresses of residential computers worldwide,” says Damien Diggs, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, where the charges against Wang were brought by a grand jury earlier this month.

Adds Nicole Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division: “These criminals used the hijacked computers to conceal their identities and commit a host of crimes, from fraud to cyberstalking.”

At the time of writing, it is unclear whether these virtual impersonations resulted in any criminal investigations or charges against US-based victims whose IP addresses were hijacked as part of the 911 S5 botnet. WIRED is awaiting a response from the Department of Justice regarding this concern.

According to the Justice Department, law enforcement agencies in Singapore, Thailand, and Germany collaborated with US authorities to effect Wang’s arrest.

Wang faces charges of conspiracy, computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to money laundering, with a maximum penalty of 65 years in prison. The US is also seeking to seize a mountain of luxury cars and goods allegedly owned by Wang, including a 2022 Ferrari Spider valued at roughly half a million dollars as well as a Patek Philippe watch worth potentially several times that amount.



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Fitbit Ace LTE hands-on: a Nintendo-like smartwatch for kids

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When Fitbit invited me to a demo of the Ace LTE, its new tracker for kids, I didn’t expect much. The previous Ace trackers were pared-down Fitbit bands that didn’t do much and lacked GPS. Other smartwatches for kids tend to be boxy, glorified GPS trackers, designed to appeal more to parents than kids. But the Ace LTE? This is a kids smartwatch that feels like it might actually be fun to wear. I kind of wish there were something like it for adults.

The $229.95 Ace LTE has a squarish case that’s reminiscent of the Fitbit Versa. The main difference is that the materials are more appropriate for kids. (Think plastic and Corning Gorilla Glass instead of sapphire crystal and titanium.) There’s also an optional bumper for extra durability. However, if you flip it upside down, the sensor array looks nearly identical to the Pixel Watch 2. A neat perk is that if you have a Pixel Watch 2, this uses the same charger.

It gets about 16 hours of battery life, but fast charging means you get 60 percent in 30 minutes.

The Ace LTE’s whole schtick is exercise should be a form of play. In fact, it’s more like a game console strapped to your wrist than a traditional smartwatch. Instead of apps, the watch comes with a bunch of preloaded video games. The concept is instead of interval training, where you sprinkle bits of high-intensity suffering into a workout, the Ace LTE employs interval gaming. Once they’ve played a certain amount, kids are prompted to add to their step count to earn more playing time.

There’s also an Eejie, a Tamagotchi-like buddy who lives in the Ace LTE. This, too, is a bit like Animal Crossing in that you can buy an Eejie in-game items, rooms, clothes, and other accessories. But instead of microtransactions using real-life money, you have to buy those items using arcade tickets. Those, in turn, can only be won by making progress on daily goals or by playing games.

There’ll be six collectible bands to start, each costing $35.

The special connector acts as a “game cartridge,” holding exclusive items for Eejies, a Tamogatchi-like buddy.

Each Ace LTE band is also a collectible. Once popped on, a band unlocks new outfits for the Eejie, exclusive collectibles, and a themed noodle — the animated ring that represents your daily progress. Additional bands cost $35 and have their own themes. The idea is that kids can trade bands to get items, much in the way us ancient nerds traded POG slammers and Pokémon cards.

I got to try two games: Smokey Lake and Pollo 13. The former is a fishing game that reminded me of how you collect fish in Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley. It involves viewing your virtual environment, casting your arm out to catch a fish, and pulling it back to reel it in. Pollo 13 was a Mario Kart-esque game where you play as a chicken racing in a bathtub, collecting eggs to get powers. You race by tilting your arm, and the aim is to best your archnemesis, Kim. (I don’t know what Kim did, but she ate my dust.) After playing a bit of both, I was prompted to take around 500 steps so I could play more.

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Everything is controlled through the Fitbit Ace app, which works on iOS and Android.
Image: Fitbit

But the gaming is only one aspect of the Ace LTE. The other is to help kids stay connected to their parents. While previous Fitbit Ace devices didn’t have GPS tracking, this one comes with LTE built in. That enables calling, messaging, and location sharing. The bad news is getting those features requires a $9.99 monthly or $120 annual subscription to the Ace Pass data plan. The good news is you don’t have to go through a carrier, nor does a kid need their own phone.

Everything is controlled through the Fitbit Ace companion app, which works on both iOS and Android. The app is where parents can set trusted contacts, send and receive messages, view their child’s real-time location, and monitor how their child is doing with regard to their activity goals. There’s also a school time mode, which disables gaming during school hours. Later this year, Fitbit says that it will also add Tap to Pay.

It looks a lot like a Fitbit Versa on the wrist, but the internal hardware is closer to a Pixel Watch 2.

Kids smartwatches always raise an extra question of privacy. Fitbit told me at the demo that only parents can access location data, which is deleted after 24 hours. Activity data is deleted after 35 days and will not be used for Google ads. The Ace LTE also will not include third-party apps or ads. Of course, this is what Google, which owns Fitbit, says upfront. If you’re worried about the fine print, concerned parents should also look at the Fitbit Ace privacy policy.

We’ll have to test the Ace LTE to see how well it works — both as a means of encouraging kids to move more and as a tool for parents. That said, this is a significant update to the Ace lineup and one of the more fun approaches to a smartwatch for kids that we’ve seen in a while.

The Fitbit Ace LTE is available starting on June 5th for $229.95, with an Ace Pass priced at $9.99 monthly or $119.99 annually. Annual subscribers get an extra collectible band, and those who buy it by August 31st will get 50 percent off the subscription cost.



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OpenAI signs 100K PwC workers to ChatGPT’s enterprise tier as PwC becomes its first resale partner

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ChatGPT has changed how most people regard and interact with AI, and the tool has been used widely to do everything from create travel itineraries to assisting developers with coding. Now, its creator, OpenAI, on Wednesday announced that it has signed a major enterprise customer that it hopes will be a signal of how a similar effect could play out in the world of work. 

PwC, the management consulting giant, will become OpenAI’s biggest customer to date, covering 100,000 users. Alongside that, the consulting firm will become OpenAI’s first partner for selling the AI company’s enterprise offerings to other businesses.

OpenAi launched ChatGPT’s enterprise tier in August 2023 as part of a big swing to monetize its generative AI products on the back of the billions it has raised to date. The enterprise tier offers faster, unlimited interactions, and is much more flexible for building customized models for different use cases. It also comes with more analytics and other tools. 

But as with any enterprise software, OpenAI will still have to convince companies to make the shift from small and occasional use, or pilots, of its generative AI products and think of it as a major IT, business process and workforce investment.

“PWC is the first partner that we are leaning into in this way,” said Richard Hasslacher, OpenAI’s global head of alliances and partnerships, in an interview. “PwC becomes our largest customer, but they’re also our first partner who’s going to be reselling ChatGPT enterprise… It is penetration into industry verticals, but also providing an expansive set of services that customers desperately need to take advantage of in a brand new solution category.”

OpenAI last month disclosed that ChatGPT’s enterprise tier had around 600,000 users, which according to Hasslacher, includes 93% of all Fortune 500 companies. He declined to disclose what that works out to in terms of engagement time across that user base. 

PwC’s 100,000 employees in the U.S., U.K. and the Middle East would boost that number substantially. When, and if, the firm expands its usage of ChatGPT to the rest of its global operations, that could include 328,000 employees. 

For PwC, the deal underscores how it believes its own business will be evolving as well as the next big growth opportunity for winning new deals for its consulting business.

Bret Greenstein, partner and “generative AI leader” at PwC, waved off the idea that adopting ChatGPT, or any kind of generative AI assistant, will necessarily threaten jobs. Instead, it might let the company grow business on the employee base that it already has without needing to add more people. 

“This is very important for us,” said Greenstein. He added that the firm was an early adopter of ChatGPT, and so moving up to enterprise made sense as it ramped up its own engagement. 

PwC has been building tools around the product itself, “but as the technology stack gets better, we can buy versus build more things. We can then focus more on outcomes, transformation, workflow, use cases, and business process, and less on assembling APIs to build an experience for our employees,” he said. 

One of the big questions around generative AI has been whether it is just hype or if we’ll see sustained usage of these services. Greenstein declined to say how much genAI products are being used on a daily basis at PwC, but noted that the education tools the company has built to help train people have received 90% engagement. 

More importantly, generative AI could represent a major new avenue for consulting firms like PwC for picking up new business — that’s part of a bigger pitch it makes around “digital transformation,” which has been a major theme in IT for years.

“Our clients are going through the same journey, so we’re embarking on a reselling agreement,” he said.

ChatGPT’s self-service version costs $30 per user, while the consumer edition is $20 per user. The company does not disclose enterprise pricing publicly, and neither PwC nor OpenAI would discuss pricing for this article. This thread on Reddit seems to indicate $60 per seat, per month for 150 seats for a year. That runs to a very high number if you do the math for 100,000 users, so my guess is that these rates vary a lot.

OpenAI will still engage with enterprises, but it’s notable that the company is building out this channel strategy to supplement that. 

“Today, we have our own customer success team that will support our customers in the deployment of their genAI solutions,” said Hasslacher. “But we have limited capacity, and that’s really where the partner ecosystem comes into play.” Fow now PwC is its reselling partner, but “I think you will be seeing a lot more related to that ecosystem”, he added.



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