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4 posts from September 2015


UCLA Grad Facing Mobile Fraud Charges


If you’ve ever received an unsolicited text message on your mobile device, listen up. Turns out, innocent-looking text messages—anything from horoscopes to celebrity gossip—can actually be costing you money. 

Recently, a UCLA graduate named Erdolo Eromo was taken into custody on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering, all shrouded in an elaborate “cramming scheme” costing thousands of unsuspecting mobile users tens of millions of dollars.  

Born in Ethiopia, Eromo studied sociology and played football at UCLA before becoming one the youngest executives to rule the mobile marketing industry. What’s more, the company he came to lead (Payvia) is a progressive leader in consolidating and simplifying online and mobile payments. The proverbial crime scene was set.  

Eromo’s main accomplice, Darcy Webb, is Payvia’s co-founder and lead developer of the company’s carrier-based billing payment strategy. The two face similar charges and are expected to appear in federal courts in New York and Los Angeles. The charges were brought on by the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara in New York

In May, six other men were brought to trial in connection with the scheme. One in particular, Lin Maio, was brought up on civil charges and had nearly $10 million seized in assets. 


Understanding Cramming Schemes 

According to the FBI, “cramming schemes” have been a problem on landlines for several years, but with the proliferation of cell phones, the threat has now become a mobile issue.  

Cramming schemes use what’s called local exchange carrier (LEC) billing to unlawfully charge mobile users through their local telephone company accounts rather than through the providers of the product or service. These charges can be for anything from premium messaging services and ringtones to apps or long-distance calling. 

The charges appear on a person’s cell phone bill, usually in amounts so small they go unnoticed. Multiply this by a few hundred thousand people and you’ve got yourself a “cramming scheme.” 

Eromo and Webb were charging almost $10 a month for trivial text messages being sent without the user’s consent. Most of the users ignored the messages and had no idea they were being charged.  

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has some useful tips to help keep you from falling victim to a “cramming shame”. First, they recommend you carefully look over your monthly statement for any unusual activity or extra charges. These may appear as one-time charges or occur monthly. Be weary of generic-sounding fees or services. Words like subscription, member fee, or activation should be viewed with suspicion. 

Unsolicited text messages are a sign you should be reviewing your bill for fraudulent charges. A text from someone you don’t know, or for a service you did not ask for, is a red flag. When it doubt, always call your service provider.



Bing Gets into Fantasy Football Projections, as Mobile Ad Spending Continues to Rise


For some Americans, September is the beginning of a new year—a time to forget the past and make the most of the future. More specifically, the 2015 NFL season is about to kick off.


Are You Ready for Some Football?  

According to The Fantasy Sports Trade Association, there were 41.5 million fantasy sports players in 2014. This market represents more than fanaticism; marketers view them as an opportunity, especially on mobile. 

Bing Predicts, for example, has taken strides to improve its prediction algorithms and provide fantasy football players with immediate statistical data using a bounty of helpful metrics. The improvements include individual player projections that analyze several data points such as social signals, recent games, match-ups, and roster changes as well as adjustments to the coaching staff. 

Additional features include updates on free agents as well as “Power Rankings,” which is a list of predictions for division winners and likely playoff teams.  

Does this sound too good to be true? This Microsoft service is not without its own motivations. Despite significant gains on Google in the most recent quarterly earnings report, Microsoft hopes the new player algorithms will provide enough incentive for fantasy players to keep using Bing well after the NFL season.


Familiar Territory  

This is not the first time an algorithm or prediction-based software has made the rounds in fantasy football leagues. Yahoo, in fact, uses a company called Pro Football Focus to make its predictions. Additionally, Bing Predicts branched out in recent years to other sporting events like the World Cup and Wimbledon, as well as big events like the Academy Awards and US elections. 

Bing’s marketing initiative follows a familiar path. As mobile behavior increases, so too will the marketing spent in this arena. According to eMarketer, search ads, like the ones you’ll see on Bing, are predicted to reach nearly $14 billion this year. Harnessing the fantasy market isn’t just about helping users win fantasy games: it’s about winning consumer dollars.  

But will it help you in your fantasy football quest? Maybe. According to Walter Sun, Principle Applied Science Manager at Bing, during the knockout round of the 2014 World Cup, Bing went 15 for 15 in its predictions. Last NFL season, Bing’s game predictions were just shy of 70 percent accuracy. 

Whether or not users score the perfect fantasy season is irrelevant to Bing’s marketing plans—they are predicted to have a favorable season. 



SMS and IM Can Now be Controlled from One App... Here's How


A major new update took place over at Google HQ a couple of weeks ago, one that promises to streamline the interaction between the company’s various messaging platforms. The move is essentially Google’s response to Facebook’s Messenger app, which has had a dedicated page for some time. 

Until August 18th, anyone using the messaging service Hangouts had to go into their Google+ or Gmail accounts every time they wanted to chat. A new, standalone URL allows users to access voice and video chats, IM and SMS from one dedicated page.

Helping the new URL mark its territory is a long-overdue makeover for the Hangouts app. Google’s trademark simplicity has been reinstated, with fewer buttons and a sleeker look. And it looks good. But does it work? Are people responding well to the new interface, or is it another mis-step in the vein of Google+, for which the firm’s high hopes of social media domination failed to materialize?

The answers to those questions depend on who you ask. From this writer’s perspective, its certainly refreshing to be able to jump between SMS and chat, especially when you have contacts who are only available via one or the other. If you’ve started to tune out your Gmail inbox but you still use Hangouts, it’s also good for alerting you to important messages you may have missed. It’s not so good if none of your contacts used Hangouts in the first place - they are unlikely to start doing so just because the things they do use have been bundled in. 

For those who can make use of the switch, here’s a quick guide on how to connect your various messaging tools:


  • Download Hangouts version 4.0
  • Go to ‘settings’ on the left side of the menu
  • Make Hangouts the default texting app by setting SMS to ‘disabled’ and selecting Hangouts from the list of apps
  • Now enable ‘merged conversations’ to merge SMS and Hangouts conversations into one thread


Enabling Google Voice is a simple matter of choosing your Google account instead of SMS under ‘account settings.’ 

How well this will play to the majority of users remains to be seen. Some people love updates and make it their duty to stay abreast of every single change to every single platform. But the majority of people won’t change their digital habits if they’re relatively happy with the status quo. We’ll be watching the development of Hangouts with great interest to see what happens next…


Apple Catches Up with Samsung on Global Sales


Market research authority Gartner, reports Apple had a good second quarter this year, making strides to catch up to Samsung in the global smart phone race. Apple sold 48 million units, an increase of 36%, while Samsung slipped back 5.6% in the same quarter.  

Despite the media’s optimism towards Gartner’s findings, Samsung maintains a strong grip on the global market. Samsung’s loss of less than 6% last quarter has certainly not gone without notice, however, the dip is less disturbing when compared to the number of units sold, which is more than 20 million over Apple—an impressive 72 million units worldwide. 

Not to be insensitive, but the hype isn’t that interesting. Maybe it makes people feel better knowing that Apple hasn’t given up in the smart phone fight, but truth be told, the numbers tell a different story. 


What the Research Says

Apple’s global market share floats around 12%. Meanwhile, Samsung is sitting comfortably at 21.9% even after the dip in units sold during the second quarter. 

Apple’s biggest threat to other smart phone brands is the price that defines the high-end segment of its mobile phone market. That’s Apple’s niche: slick, expensive, smart devices. They have yet to address a vastly growing segment of consumers that prefer bargain to luxury. 

Instead of considering alternatives to high-priced products, Apple went head-to-head with Samsung by increasing the screen size on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus—once the distinct advantage to Samsung’s latest Galaxy product line. The increase in Apple’s second quarter sales is likely related to this change, which would have directly squeezed out Samsung.  

Chinese companies like Huawei and Xiaomi are also doing a fair share of squeezing, offering budget alternatives to both Samsung and Apple smart phones in the Chinese market—the biggest country for smart phone sales. 

Gartner also reported that smart phone sales were the lowest they’ve been since 2013. While growth is steady in counties supporting new infrastructure, in places like China where that infrastructure has been established and fewer first time buyers are accessible, the natural trend is to slow. This will likely be the case in any budding market that gets saturated: there’s always going to be a limit to new users.  

So, kudos to Apple for selling more smart phones, but it’s going to have to do a lot more to surpass Samsung, if it’s ever going to win the smart phone race.