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Federal investigation into Equifax hack said to wither, even with more data exposed

Consumer credit reporting agency Equifax stunned the world late last year, admitting to major hacks in the spring and summer of 2017, exposing credit data on millions of consumers across multiple countries including the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Now, Reuters alleges that one major investigation into the hack is spinning its wheels.

Sources say the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal agency that oversees consumer protection in the financial arena, has allowed its investigation to wither. The CFPB, then led by Richard Cordray, began its investigation in September 2017. Cordray resigned in November, however. Mick Mulvaney, appointed as Cordray’s replacement by President Donald Trump, may not be pursuing the investigation with vigor.

Specifically, Mulvaney hasn’t ordered subpoenas or sought testimony from company executives. Sources also claim the CFPB decided not to pursue a plan to test Equifax’s data protection. Finally, the agency is said to be uncooperative with regulators from the Federal Reserve, among others.

This is particularly concerning, given a new report from CNN Money that suggests that the severity of the breach — in terms of data compromised — may be even worse than initially believed. Customer information like tax IDs and driver’s license details may have also been accessed in the hack, as per documents Equifax handed over to the Senate banking Committee. Initially, Equifax noted that some driver’s license numbers were exposed, but new evidence suggests that both license state and issue date may also be at risk.

On Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren penned a letter to CEO Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. regarding the spotty information Equifax has provided to Congress thus far. “As your company continues to issue incomplete, confusing and contradictory statements and hide information from Congress and the public, it is clear that five months after the breach was publicly announced, Equifax has yet to answer this simple question in full: what was the precise extent of the breach?” Warren wrote.

Equifax has responded that the information is not be considered “exhaustive,” but is simply a list of “common personal information” often desired by hackers.

As it stands, The CFPB isn’t the only organization investigating the Equifax hack. The Federal Trade Commission has its own investigation and has issued subpoenas. Every state attorney has its own open investigation, and hundreds of class-action lawsuits have been filed.

Even so, a pullback in the CFPB investigation would be significant. Its stated purpose most directly intersects with Equifax’s services, and the agency is known to slap credit agencies with significant fines. It levied $17.6 million in fines against TransUnion and Equifax in January 2017 over deceptive pricing of credit reports. While the FTC has also hit companies with major fines, it doesn’t have an extensive history of pursuing credit agencies for fines of that magnitude.

That could change. A bill called the Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act was introduced in January, and part of it would grant the FTC more oversight over credit agencies. It’s estimated that the bill, if made law, would let the FTC hit Equifax with a $1.5 billion fine. Congress has yet to vote on the bill.

The CFPB hasn’t commented on the story by Reuters. Transunion, however, told Reuters in a statement that, “We believe that it is clear that the CFPB was not given legal authority to supervise any financial institutions with respect to cybersecurity.” Equifax also has not provided a statement on the matter.

This development is just the latest twist in the saga of the Equifax and, if correct, suggests the federal government’s response will be meager, even with the additional evidence of compromised data. Still, as noted, there are hundreds of lawsuits pending, from states and class-action suits. It will no doubt be years before the legal fallout settles.

Update: The Equifax breach may have exposed even more information than initially believed. 

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Startups are (still) making weird name choices

If the latest seed-funded startups have their way, this is what your future will look like.

You’ll find your mortgage through a company named Morty, refill your contact lenses with Waldo and get your cannabis news from Herb. (Which is not to be confused with Bud, the startup that handles your banking.)

Later, you can use Cake Technologies to pay the bar tab, cover fertility treatments with Carrot Fertility and get your workers’ compensation through Pie Insurance.

Afterward, rent your neighbor’s stuff with Fat Lama, manage your cloud services with LunchBadger and network your way to a better career with Purple Squirrel.

Notice any patterns here? Yes, first names, foods and animals have been quite popular lately with founders choosing startup names.

Those are a few of the top naming trends Crunchbase News identified in our latest perusal of seed-stage startups. The project involved parsing through names of more than 1,000 startups that raised seed rounds of $200,000 and up in the past nine months.

This data crunch was an update (see our methodology section below) to a prior overview of the often bizarre naming trends that startups follow. At that time, we found top trends included putting AI into your name, using popular first names and employing creative misspellings of common words.

Most of these things are still popular in startup naming, but some more than others. Adding AI at the end of a name, for instance, is still common, but seems to be waning some. Creative misspellings are still getting done, but less frequently.

Meanwhile, other naming styles are getting more fashionable. Below, we take a look at what’s hot now and what might be in vogue next.

First names and nerdy names

The first-name trend seems to be intensifying, diversifying and creeping into more sectors. Last year, we started noticing a proliferation of chatbot startups using first names. More recently, the first-name trend has pervaded insurance, cannabis, fintech and a whole lot of other spaces.

First names that startups are using are getting nerdier and less common. Morty, for example, is commonly short for Mortimer, which peaked in popularity in the 1880s. It was most recently ranked No. 12,982 on the list of most common baby names. Then there’s Fritz, a learning software developer with a name that also hit its peak in the late 1800s. Last year it ranked No. 4,732.

Another mini-trend that we’d like to see expand is the use of startup names based on textures.

This is a stark contrast with the chatbot crowd. They tended to go with popular monikers, like Ava, Aiden and Riley, that rank high on the latest baby name lists. Some of the more offbeat names, however, do tie into their sectors. Herb has been used as slang for marijuana. Morty, for instance, shares a first syllable with mortgage.

It’s also noteworthy that many startups go with single-word names. This is a shift from the old school practice of combining a first name with another word, as in well-known brands like Trader Joe’s and Sam’s Club.

Food names

Startups also like naming themselves after foods lately. Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, and it has worked well before. Apple named itself after a fruit and later became the world’s most valuable technology company.

It should be noted that the food names we refer to here are for companies that, like Apple, have nothing to do with the food industry. Carrot Fertility, which raised $3.6 million in seed funding last fall, for example, offers insurance policies for employers to help cover costs of workers’ fertility treatments. MoBagel is a data science startup. Parsley Health provides primary care. The list goes on.

One of the nice things about naming yourself after a food is that these are general purpose nouns that don’t seem to raise a lot of copyright issues. Vegetables and baked goods aren’t going to sue you for misappropriating their names.

Animal names

Animal names are also good from a trademark perspective. Plus, with an animal name you can also create a cute logo featuring the creature.

Those may be some of the reasons why animal names are also in vogue lately with startups developing both consumer-facing and backend technologies. The formula is also pretty straightforward: pick an animal and then add another descriptive word.

There are plenty of textures out there that don’t have a funded startup associated with them, including spongy, slimy, gelatinous, puffy, gloppy, stringy, pasty, hairy and fluffy.

Of course, for most of the animal-monikered startups, mascots have nothing to do with the underlying businesses. MortgageHippo obviously doesn’t expect hippopotamuses to use its mortgage tool, and Purple Squirrel doesn’t cater to furry-tailed job seekers.

That said, we do worry about the animal kingdom theme getting a bit overused. For instance, MortgageHippo and Hippo Insurance were both funded in the past couple of years.

Other mini-trends we saw and liked

Another interesting trend is that many startups hopping on the fashionable name bandwagon are in the insurance sector. We’ve seen a huge spike in insurance startup funding over the past couple of years, with many upstarts looking to re-architect the industry to appeal to millennial consumers. They have names like Oscar, Lemonade and The Zebra.

Featured Image: Li-Anne Dias

Fujitsu adds palm reading to Windows 10 Pro, but it doesn’t tell your fortune

Forget using your face or finger. Fujitsu said it teamed up with Microsoft to bring palm vein authentication to Windows 10 Pro. Right now, it’s meant for the workplace, designed as an alternative to built-in infrared cameras and fingerprint scanners. It’s based on the company’s PalmSecure technology that is already used in companies and corporations across the globe. Now it is officially supported by Windows Hello. 

With facial recognition, Windows Hello will scan your face using an infrared camera for password-free access to Windows 10. Meanwhile, fingerprint scanners require you to swipe a specific finger over a sensor. In both cases, your face and finger provide unique patterns used by Windows 10 to confirm your identity. 

With Fujitsu’s technology, you simply place a hand over a sensor. The veins in your hand create a unique roadmap, just like your fingerprint, but there is no swiping involved. This may prove to be a faster method of accessing Windows 10 given that fingerprint scanners require a precise swipe of your finger. Any deviation demands you to re-swipe your finger. 

But having a unique pattern of veins is only part of the equation. They are buried under the skin as well, making replication nearly impossible. 

“Being under the skin, it is very complex, meaning it’s very unique,” Akira Yonenaga, manager of Fujitsu’s Software Development Division, said. “It’s covered under the skin. It’s not easy to get other people’s vein information, so it’s a very strong forgery countermeasure.” 

The palm-reading sensor can’t read your future but instead radiates the surface of your skin with infrared rays. The deoxidized hemoglobin traveling through your veins captures these rays, reducing the veins’ reflection rate. The result is a unique, black pattern that is saved by Windows Hello, and used as a comparison when you scan a hand to access Windows 10 Pro. 

Fujitsu originally didn’t set out to specifically support hand-based veins. The company investigated different vein-based methods with other undisclosed body parts but concluded that the palm produced the best pattern. The catch is that the deoxidized hemoglobin must be actively flowing through the veins, thus zombies and severed hands won’t grant you access to someone’s PC. 

Right now, Windows 10 Pro devices supporting Fujitsu’s palm-ready technology is only offered for the workplace. These solutions include the Lifebook U7x7, the Lifebook T937, the Lifebook P727, and a few others. Fujitsu did not indicate any plans to license its technology out to other PC manufacturers for mainstream Windows-based devices. 

According to Microsoft, 60 percent of all security attacks are the result of compromised user credentials. That led to the development of Windows Hello and support for biometrics, enabling Windows 10 device owners to access their PC using their face or finger. While these methods eliminate the need for entering login credentials, hackers could theoretically get by using photos and fingerprints. 

But as Fujitsu points out, veins reside under the skin, and the technology requires a constant flow of blood. This may be the best credential-free Windows Hello solution to date, and hopefully a feature we will soon see in mainstream Windows 10 PCs. 

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Internet Association pressures Senate to reverse FCC’s net neutrality repeal

The Internet Association (IA), an American political lobbying group that includes such internet giants as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and eBay, has continued to pile the pressure on the United States Senate to reverse the FCC’s controversial vote on net neutrality repeal, back in December 2017. In an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the IA argues that a free and open internet is to the benefit of all users, and that the net neutrality rules need to stay in place to combat the ruthless monopoly held by broadband providers in many areas.

“Americans rely on and deserve the lasting certainty of an open internet enshrined in the U.S. Code. Strong net neutrality rules are necessitated by, among other factors, the lack of competition in the broadband service market,” said Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the IA. “More than half of all Americans have no choice in their provider, and 87 percent of rural Americans have no choice. The CRA [Congressional Review Act] is an important step in solidifying open internet protections.”

The strong opposition to the FCC’s ruling has been overt and plentiful, with challenges coming not only from pressure groups, but from legal challenges by state attorneys general, and direct challenges from individual states that are seeking to set their own rules regarding net neutrality. The legal challenges against the vote recently took new ground as the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed to look into the claims that millions of American citizens had been fraudulently impersonated during the FCC’s public opinion gathering.

It seems that the FCC may also face severe threats from within the Senate as well, as The Hill reports that a bill to overturn the FCC’s decision has garnered the support of the entire Democratic party and a single Republican senator. This means that only one more Republican senator is needed to push the bill through.

While the IA supports these attempts, it also wishes for net neutrality to become codified into law, establishing permanent protections that would be resistant to any shift in opinion at the FCC, saying that “the time has come for a bipartisan effort to establish permanent net neutrality rules for consumers, startups, established internet businesses, and internet service providers.”

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Uber extends an olive branch to Waymo as it settles trade secret lawsuit

One of the greatest tech lawsuits of the 21st century has come to a close. Ridesharing giant Uber recently reached a settlement deal with Waymo, Google’s sister company in charge of developing autonomous technology for cars. Waymo sued Uber a year ago to prove its rival stole intellectual property through one of its employees, Anthony Levandowski.

CNBC reports Uber agreed to pay Waymo a 0.34-percent equity stake. Investors value Uber at about $72 billion, meaning Waymo will receive approximately $245 million. The decision ends a year-old legal conflict that could have lasted for many more months.

Uber proposed the settlement to end the costly and time-consuming lawsuit and avoid a potentially embarrassing jury verdict. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi stressed it’s not an admission of wrongdoing, though he regrets how his predecessors (namely founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick) handled the lawsuit.

“We agree that Uber’s acquisition of Otto could and should have been handled differently,” he wrote, addressing Alphabet and referring to the company Levandowski founded. “We do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology.”

The lawsuit focused on 14,000 digital files Levandowski allegedly downloaded before leaving his position at Google in January 2016. He founded Otto the following May and sold the company to Uber in August. Waymo’s lawyers argued it was a clever cover-up to poach Levandowski; Uber planned on buying Otto — along with Waymo’s allegedly stolen files — before the firm even existed.

“While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it,” Khosrowshahi concluded.

With the lawsuit behind it, Uber will continue to work on developing and deploying its self-driving technology. Its reputation has taken a hit but it remains one of the leaders in the field. The ride-sharing firm operates pilot programs in Pennsylvania and in Arizona, and its fleet of over 200 self-driving prototypes has racked up more than two million miles on public roads. Last year, Uber pledged to purchase “tens of thousands” of Volvo SUVs between 2019 and 2021 and convert them into autonomous cars.

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