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Until yesterday, unless you had a family member or friend in prison, you most likely had never heard of JPay. That’s because all of its services are directed toward inmates and their families.
Since 2002, JPay has been quietly moving into prisons across the country, first by providing quicker (though pricier) ways for family members to send money to loved ones behind bars and, since 2004, by providing limited email systems in prisons. Those systems are often touted as an innovation that keeps incarcerated people connected with support networks on the outside. In keeping up with the technological times, JPay also offers prison-specific tablets on which users can access their e-messages, buy music, and play electronic games.
But this week, Idaho prison officials announced that these tablets became the means for 363 inmates, across five state prisons, to create nearly a quarter million dollars of credits. Collectively, the prisoners created roughly $ 225,000 in JPay credits, which they added to their respective accounts to pay for e-messages, music, and games. In a statement to the Associated Press, Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said that, of the 363 imprisoned hackers, 50 men credited their accounts in amounts exceeding $ 1,000 with the largest amount falling just under $ 10,000.
Idaho is just one of a number of states across the country offering tablets to incarcerated populations. Nearly half of all state prison systems offer some form of e-messaging, a basic form of prison email provided by a single company that controls both software and hardware. In Idaho, that company is JPay. One of the largest purveyors of prison messaging, JPay contracts as the sole provider of these services in 20 states across the country.
And Idaho is also one of a growing number of states where prisoners have the option to purchase a JPay tablet. Unlike the Kindle Fire or the IPad, these tablets are specific to JPay and an imprisoned population—one cannot access the Internet or other services through the tablet. But it allows users to to listen to music, read e-books, play video games, and avoid the lengthy lines at the JPay kiosks to read and write e-messages. All of these services come at a cost. In Idaho, sending a single e-message costs 47 cents, while downloading music costs as much as $ 3.50. As 363 people in Idaho found out, they can also use those tablets to get around these costs.
“The Idaho Department of Correction has nothing more to say about this matter at this time,” Ray wrote in response to WIRED. In a statement emailed to WIRED, JPay spokesperson Jade Trombetta wrote, “While the vast majority of individuals use our secure technology appropriately, we are continually working to improve our products to prevent any attempts at misuse.”
As the sole provider of e-messaging and digital services within Idaho’s prison system, it might stand to reason that the company’s monopoly increased its risk of hacking. “If you’re forced to buy from one entity, I could see the increasing motivation,” says Jake Williams, a security expert and founder of Rendition Infosec. “But I don’t think this [monopoly] increases vulnerabilty to hacking.”
Instead, says Williams, any system offering an app over a device operates at a risk.“Any time you have a mobile app—whether it’s a phone or a tablet—the user has a lot of control over any data stored in the device itself,” he explained. In contrast to a web application, where data is stored on a web server, the data on a mobile app is more likely to be stored locally, meaning it remains on the phone or tablet. “A malicious user can access that back-end data,” says Williams.
It’s a problem that Williams sees often. He points to a recent vulnerability assessment that Renditions conducted on a mobile shopping app. To limit the amount of data being transmitted over the network, the app stored the item price on the SQLite database, a back-end storage mechanism on the app itself. But by modifying the price on that back-end system, “we could change the purchase price and buy the item for whatever price we wanted,” Williams recalls. “This is not an uncommon flaw with mobile apps.”
For JPay or any other provider offering tablets, a person’s credit balance is most likely stored on the tablet rather than being transmitted on JPay’s infrastructure to a centralized server. This makes it accessible for someone savvy enough to hack into the SQLite database and change their account.
Though they can still send and receive e-messages, the 363 hackers have temporarily lost their ability to download music and games until they compensate JPay for its losses, Ray told the Associated Press. They’ve also been issued disciplinary tickets, which means losing even more privileges and being labeled at a higher security risk level, a classification that could mean being moved to a more restrictive prison, being excluded from certain prison programs, and even being denied parole.
What would make a person, let alone 363 people, take that chance? In Idaho, prison wages range from 10 to 90 cents an hour. That, says Peter Wagner, director of the Prison Policy Initiative, can be a powerful motivator to figure out ways to increase one’s spending power. “JPay is a company that charges 47 cents to send an email. That’s five hours of wages,” he noted.
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(Reuters) – Chinese online group discounter Pinduoduo is planning to raise up to $ 1.63 billion from a U.S. listing, its latest filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange showed, in what will be one of the biggest U.S. float by Chinese firms in four years.
Pinduoduo, owned by Walnut Street Group, plans to sell about 85.6 million American Depositary Shares in its initial public offering (IPO) at a price range of $ 16 to $ 19 each, according to its filing, which was uploaded to the exchange website on Monday.
The company, backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, will open the book to institutional investors on Tuesday and price its IPO next Wednesday, said two people close to the transaction.
Pinduoduo expects to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “PDD.”
The company is the latest in a series of Chinese tech groups flocking to list in New York or Hong Kong, seeking to replenish its coffers amid the fierce competition with domestic rivals, notably e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com, even as trade tensions between China and the United States rattle global markets.
China’s Meituan Dianping, an online food delivery-to-ticketing services platform which rivals Alibaba-backed food-delivery peer Ele.me, is also looking to launch its IPO of over $ 4 billion in Hong Kong in coming months.
Loss-making Pinduoduo, set up by former Google engineer Colin Huang in 2015, also counts Sequoia Capital China as a major investor.
In an initial filing, the company, which allows consumers to group together to increase the discounts offered by merchants, claimed 103 million active users of its mobile platform as of the end of March.
The Shanghai-based firm was valued at $ 15 billion in an April fundraising round and was looking to double that, Thomson Reuters publication IFR has reported.
Thanks to its low-priced products and larger user base in China’s smaller cities, the company’s gross merchandise volume exceeded 100 billion yuan last year, a milestone for Chinese e-commerce firms that took Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace five years and JD.com 10 years to reach. Pinduoduo’s revenues have grown sharply, reaching 1.38 billion yuan ($ 206.4 million) in the first quarter of 2018 from 37 million yuan a year ago. Net losses, however, remained broadly steady at 201 million yuan.
CICC, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and China Renaissance are advising Pinduoduo, according to the filing.
Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese state-backed media group CMC Inc said on Tuesday that it had raised around 10 billion yuan ($ 1.49 billion) in a fund-raising round from investors including rival tech giants Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd.
CMC, formerly CMC Holdings which stretches from sports to amusement parks, said the A-round fundraising was led by the two tech firms along with new investors such as property developer China Vanke Co Ltd.
CMC, founded by media magnate Li Ruigang in 2015, added the firm was valued at around 400 billion yuan after the round.
Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman
(Reuters) – Messaging service WhatsApp rolled out new group-chat features on Tuesday, including more controls for administrators as well as regular group members.
Users can now leave a group permanently to avoid being repeatedly added back after they have left, Facebook Inc-owned WhatsApp said in a blog post.
Administrators can no longer be removed from a group they created and users can now quickly locate messages that mention them in a group conversation.
Groups on WhatsApp have taken a central role in the messaging service that has more than 1 billion users, helping connect people with similar interests across the globe.
Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, Samsung Group [SAGR.UL], came for fresh criticism about its ownership structure on Thursday, with the country’s antitrust chief saying it was unsustainable.
Korea Fair Trade Commission chief Kim Sang-jo took aim at the group’s circular shareholdings between companies such as Samsung C&T, Samsung Life Insurance, and Samsung Electronics.
The structure has enabled the family of Samsung heir Jay Y. Lee to retain control of the companies in the conglomerate, especially crown jewel Samsung Electronics, with minimum investments, critics have said.
“The clear fact is, the current ownership and control structure of Samsung Group, which goes from Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee to Samsung C&T to Samsung Life Insurance to Samsung Electronics, is not sustainable,” Kim told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with business leaders.
Samsung Group’s complex ownership structure has come for criticism earlier too, most notably from U.S. activist hedge fund Elliott Management, which proposed as a solution in 2016 that Samsung Electronics split itself into two.
Samsung Electronics rejected that proposal but accepted part of the fund’s proposals by announcing plans to cancel its existing treasury shares worth over $ 35 billion by 2018.
Fair Trade Commission’s Kim said he urges Jay Y. Lee to make a decision concerning the ownership structure, adding that Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Yoon Boo-keun, who attended the meeting, had told him it will be considered.
A Samsung Electronics spokesman did not have an immediate comment.
Others have also questioned the group’s ownership structure recently.
The country’s top financial regulator said on Wednesday that Samsung Life Insurance must consider ways to lessen the risk of having too much of its assets concentrated in one place, including selling some or all of Samsung Life’s stake in Samsung Electronics.
“Lessening the risk of concentrated assets is key to securing financial stability, which is what we are interested in,” said Choi Jong-ku, Chairman of the Financial Services Commission.
“If there are any concerns about retaining management control (of Samsung Electronics) we are saying, look for ways to keep it while lessening the risk.”
Samsung Life Insurance is at the heart of a cross-shareholding structure in which it owns about 8 percent of Samsung Electronics, which has a market value of about $ 340 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Yuna Park; Additional reporting and writing by Joyce Lee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman
LONDON (Reuters) – British lawmakers on Monday published evidence that Brexit campaign group Leave.EU benefited from work by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy at the center of a recent storm over use of Facebook data.
Nigel Oakes, founder of SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, said the consultancy was lined up to do work with Leave.EU in the event that it was designated as the official campaign to leave the European Union, according to transcripts of interviews published by a parliamentary committee.
Oakes said that “there was no contract and no money” but that they did do work to demonstrate their capabilities. A transcript of another interview with Leave.EU official Andy Wigmore says the campaign group copied Cambridge Analytica’s methods.
“Leave.EU benefited from their work with Cambridge Analytica before the decision was made on which Leave campaign would receive the official designation for the referendum,” Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said in a statement.
Cambridge Analytica lies at the center of a storm for using data obtained from millions of Facebook users without their permission after it was hired by Donald Trump for his 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
The analytics firm is also under scrutiny over campaigning for the 2016 referendum when Britons voted to leave the European Union, a move seen by critics as a colossal historical mistake but by admirers as a vital reassertion of British sovereignty.
Oakes said Wigmore’s claim to have copied Cambridge Analytica’s techniques raised “more questions about how Leave.EU developed their database to do this, and whether consumer data from other companies they had a relationship was used to support their campaign.”
The interview transcripts were submitted by Emma Briant, an academic who interviewed figures from SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica and Leave.EU.
In the event, “Vote Leave” beat Leave.EU to become the officially designated campaign to leave the EU ahead of Britain’s referendum, though Leave.EU continued to campaign for Brexit.
Leave.EU founder Arron Banks has said that because it did not win the designation and due to concerns about the consultancy, it did no work with Cambridge Analytica, and received no benefit in kind.
Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix told the committee in February that the firm did not work with Leave.EU, but he has been recalled for a new hearing, which will take place on Wednesday.
The lawmakers were also critical of Wigmore and Oakes for speaking in admiring terms about Nazi propaganda techniques, and said there were also questions about Cambridge Analytica’s closeness with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
“The propaganda machine of the Nazis, for instance – you take away all the hideous horror and that kind of stuff – it was very clever, the way they managed to do what they did,” Wigmore said, according to one interview transcript.
Collins said that the “extreme messaging” around immigration during the campaign meant “these statements will raise concerns that data analytics was used to target voters who were concerned about this issue, and to frighten them with messaging designed to create ‘an artificial enemy’ for them to act against.”
Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by William Maclean
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings Ltd is leading a deal to invest 10 billion yuan ($ 1.59 billion) in Chinese menswear group Heilan Home Co Ltd, upping a retail rivalry with fellow internet giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, sources with knowledge of the matter said.
China’s second-largest e-commerce company JD.com Inc and online clothing platform Vipshop Holdings Ltd will also be among the group that plans to acquire less than 10 percent of the company for 5 billion yuan, one source said.
Another 5 billion yuan would help set up an industrial investment fund to focus on deals that fit with Heilan’s business, the person said, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Heilan had a market value of about $ 8.13 billion as of Monday, when it halted shares from trading, pending deal announcements.
Tencent, JD.com and Vipshop declined to comment. A Heilan spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
The proposed deal, which could be announced as early as Friday, extends a recent push by Tencent, China’s biggest social network and gaming company, into bricks-and-mortar retail to further compete with Alibaba.
Heilan which has clothing brands such as HLA and SANCANAL, has been a long-time partner of Alibaba’s online marketplace Tmall.
But last month Tencent, which has a market capitalization of $ 563 billion, said it would invest 4.2 billion yuan for a stake in Yonghui Superstores. It is also looking to take a stake in the China business of French supermarket retailer Carrefour.
The recent moves reflect a wider, long-running stand-off between Tencent and Alibaba, which have made competing investments in areas as diverse as bike-sharing apps, food delivery and gaming.
JD.com, in which Tencent is a top-10 investor, traditionally leads against Alibaba in online retail sales of electronics and home appliance products, but lags behind in the fashion business.
Tencent and JD.com last month jointly made an $ 863 million investment in Vipshop, in a bid to tap the country’s young female shoppers and gain access to consumer and transaction data to help them compete with Alibaba’s online payment platform Alipay.
Jiangsu-based Heilan was set up by Zhou Jianping, one of the richest people in China’s fashion industry, in 1997. It runs more than 5,000 stores, mostly in China, and recorded 12.5 billion yuan in operating income in the first three quarters last year, its website showed.
Reporting by Julie Zhu; Editing by Stephen Coates
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Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey has reportedly admitted to financially backing the pro-Trump political organization Nimble America.