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17 Celebrities Just Got Warning Letters About Shilling NFTs

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When a celebrity or influencer buys into an NFT collection and then posts about it on their social media, they may be influencing the value of the entire NFT collection. Even if they paid for the NFT with their own money, they’re essentially pumping the value of their own investment. If a celeb buys an NFT early on for cheap and tweets about it (or when Paris Hilton appeared on The Tonight Show talking about her Bored Ape), this can raise the value of the NFT, so they can then make a profit when they sell later on.

To make matters more complicated, although sometimes celebrities pay for their own NFTs, other times they are gifted free ones by the collection owners. When Jimmy Fallon changed his Twitter avatar to an image of a cartoon owl, it was after he was gifted a free Moonbird NFT by the collection’s owners as part of their plans to give free NFTs to friends or explicitly for marketing purposes. Fallon’s promotion of the Moonbird collection raised its value – but he never disclosed that was a freebie. Fallon received a letter from Truth in Advertising this week.

The letters sent today are soft reminders. But in the past, Truth in Advertising has made this a first step in a series of escalations that eventually lead to FTC involvement. In 2016, the group sent a bunch of celebrities, including the Kardashians, this kind of gentle letter, but by 2017 the FTC was sending its own letters.

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Google shuts down Duplex on the Web, its attempt to bring AI smarts to retail sites and more • TechCrunch

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Google is shutting down Duplex on the Web, its AI-powered set of services that navigated sites to simplify the process of ordering food, purchasing movie tickets and more. According to a note on a Google support page, Google on the Web and any automation features enabled by it will no longer be supported as of this month.

Google introduced Duplex on the Web, an outgrowth of its call-automating Duplex technology, during its 2019 Google I/O developer conference. To start, it was focused on a couple of narrow use cases, including opening a movie theater chain’s website to fill out all of the necessary information on a user’s behalf — pausing to prompt for choices like seats. But Duplex on the Web later expanded to passwords, helping users automatically change passwords exposed in a data breach, as well as assisted checkout for ecommerce retailers, flight check-in for airline sites and automatic discount finding.

The promise of Duplex on the Web was that you’d be able to issue Google Assistant a command like “Book me a car from Hertz” and have Duplex pull up the relevant web page and automatically fill in details like your name, car preferences, trip dates, payment information (using information from Gmail and Chrome autofill), and more. But the rollout was slow at the beginning, with only a limited number of sites and partners supported for specific use cases. And Android was the only platform from which Duplex on the Web could be used, with the service coming to Chrome for Android as “Assistant in Chrome” in late 2019.

Duplex on the Web

Duplex on the Web being used to book a car.

Was the technical lift too much in the end for Google to justify maintaining Duplex on the Web? Maybe. As the official Duplex on the Web support page outlines, Duplex used a special user agent that crawled sites as often as several hours a day to “train” periodically against them, fine-tuning AI models to understand how the sites were laid out and functioned from users’ perspectives. It was surely resource-intensive, and could be tripped up if site owners chose to block the crawler from indexing their content.

Some brands were surely uncomfortable with the idea of Google essentially inserting itself between them and their customers, as well. But perhaps what broke the camel’s back was cuts on the Assistant side of Google’s business. According to a recent report in The Information, Google is planning to invest less in developing Google Assistant for devices not made by Google, spurred by the idea that other areas of the enterprise, like hardware, will prove to be more profitable over the long term.

Time will tell whether that’s the case. But what’s for sure is, Duplex on the Web has joined the infamous hall of much-ballyhooed-then-abandoned Google products.

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League of Legends veteran, 26, says gaming is his life until he retires

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At the annual League of Legends World Championship, an unlikely winner emerged this year. The underdog, DRX, beat out three-time Worlds winners T1 at the November finals in San Francisco. Multiple fans speaking to The Washington Post had expressed doubt about DRX’s ability to win coming from one of the league’s most competitive regions, South Korea, but said they’d been rooting for the team regardless because it made for an interesting story.

The Post sat down with two of the team’s winners: Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, a 26-year-old League veteran who had seen his share of victories slip away from him, and Kim “Zeka” Geon-woo, a 20-year-old, fresh-faced midlaner quickly developing a reputation for crushing his competition, even when confronting the legendary T1 champion Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Both players spoke to The Post through a translator.

“People used to ignore us, saying that we’re not really good. It’s like we’ve always been playing against the odds,” said Zeka. “But as we kept winning, we really liked the winning feeling.”

The midlaner talked about how the team maintained its morale despite often losing the first game in a series of best of five. Zeka suggested that losing the first game wasn’t necessarily a bad thing — the opposing team could be misled into thinking they had seen DRX’s tricks, giving their team an advantage going forward.

I watched ‘League of Legends’ esports live. I wasn’t sold.

“Actually from the qualifiers back in Korea, we always lose the first game, but we are able to come back and overcome the match,” Zeka said. “It’s not like a normal thing to do. But we were able to do it again.”

He also talked about what it was like to play against Faker, a League of Legends esports star he had grown up watching. He and Faker didn’t have much time to chat after the games ended.

“It was not about who we won against, but how we did. That’s what we as a team talked about,” Zeka said.

Deft had a viral moment earlier this year when he cried tears of joy after winning the October quarterfinals in New York against Edward Gaming, the Chinese team that won Worlds in 2021. He explained that he became overwhelmed by emotions.

“Qualifying for Worlds itself was a very difficult task for us,” Deft said, adding that those memories came rushing back to him after their unlikely victory in the finals. “Just like a movie or a drama, it was really like a miracle.”

Zeka said he wasn’t really into praying or being religious, but that he did believe in destiny. “There’s a destiny in winning Worlds,” he said.

In the past, Deft said he felt frustrated when younger esports players or players he felt had inconsistent performances ended up winning Worlds. For example, Faker, who is the same age as Deft, has won Worlds three times, while Deft repeatedly lost in quarterfinals in previous years. But Deft said that if he felt frustrated about how his 2022 teammates were younger than him and had more easily achieved success, it would be unkind of him to feel this way since they were all on the same team.

Some things are still uncertain for the players.

After DRX won Worlds, the five-member team took home about $489,500 in prize winnings, plus a portion of sales from certain Worlds-themed in-game cosmetics. With the earnings, Zeka said he was considering investing in real estate.

“If we get a lot of revenue from the skins, maybe I can buy a building,” he said.

When pressed on what kind of building, Zeka added that he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, but that it seemed like a wise investment. Deft said he would save for retirement, something that players in their late twenties and thirties begin to consider.

How ‘League of Legends’ made its first proudly gay, Black champion

After Worlds, the team members rushed to Las Vegas for a day before visiting the Grand Canyon. Soon after, they returned to their homes in South Korea. Now, in the offseason, Deft and Zeka have signed onto other South Korean teams after their contracts with DRX expired. Zeka signed onto Hanwha Life.

Deft was able to defer his mandatory military service and sign onto another South Korean team, DWG KIA, for at least another year. But at 26 years old, he will have to serve in the Korean military sometime within the next few years, according to the country’s law mandating all able-bodied men serve at least 18 months in the armed forces by age 28, which has conscripted music stars and esports pros alike.

Deft reflected on his country’s rules, saying “everything has pros and cons.”

“Obviously, Korean professional gamers cannot play as much as other professional players can in other regions,” Deft said. “That could be a disadvantage, but I think because of that, most Korean players have to really play hard in the short amount of time they have. And that’s the silver lining.”

When asked if North America is the strongest League of Legends esports region — a running joke in the pro League circuit, as the region has underperformed every year — Deft nodded and said he agreed, especially if people in North America were listening to his response.

After Deft returns from military conscription, he said he might challenge whoever has set the record for the oldest professional esports player in Korea at that point and come back to play more. He said he believes older players tend to retire because their reaction times may start to lag behind younger players, but also because as they age, they may begin to lose the passion and ability to dedicate their entire lives to gaming.

“When you get older, you have a lot of other interests coming out,” Deft said. “When you’re young, you’re very passionate about the game. You only think about playing the game.”

When asked if his other hobbies and interests were emerging after years of pro play, Deft said: “For the last 10 years, gaming has been my number one priority. Until the day I retire, gaming will be my number one priority.”

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FBI, CISA say Cuba ransomware gang extorted $60M from victims this year • TechCrunch

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The Cuba ransomware gang extorted more than $60 million in ransom payments from victims between December 2021 and August 2022, a joint advisory from CISA and the FBI has warned.

The latest advisory is a follow-up to a flash alert released by the FBI in December 2021, which revealed that the gang had earned close to $44 million in ransom payments after attacks on more than 49 entities in five critical infrastructure sectors in the United States. Since, the Cuba ransomware gang has brought in an additional $60 million from attacks against 100 organizations globally, almost half of the $145 million it demanded in ransom payments from these victims.

“Since the release of the December 2021 FBI Flash, the number of U.S. entities compromised by Cuba ransomware has doubled, with ransoms demanded and paid on the increase,” the two federal agencies said on Thursday.

Cuba ransomware actors, which have been active since 2019, continue to target U.S. entities in critical infrastructure, including financial services, government facilities, healthcare and public health, critical manufacturing, and information technology.

In August this year, the gang was linked to a ransomware attack targeting the nation state of Montenegro that targeted government systems and other critical infrastructure and utilities, including electricity, water systems, and transportation. At the time of the attack, the Cuba ransomware gang claimed it had obtained “financial documents, correspondence with bank employees, account movements, balance sheets, tax documents, compensation [and] source code” from Montenegro’s parliament.

Cuba was also linked to a breach of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in April this year, which saw the attackers compromise California vehicle registration records that contain names, addresses, license plate numbers, and vehicle identification numbers.

FBI and CISA added that the ransomware gang has modified its tactics, techniques, and procedures since the start of the year and has been linked to the RomCom malware, a custom remote access trojan for command and control, and the Industrial Spy ransomware.

The advisory notes that the group — which cybersecurity company Profero previously linked to Russian-speaking hackers — typically extorts victims by threatening to leak stolen data. While this data was typically leaked on Cuba’s dark web leak site, it began selling stolen data on Industrial Spy’s online market in May this year.

CISA and the FBI are urging at-risk organizations to prioritize patching known exploited vulnerabilities, to train employees to spot and report phishing attacks and to enable and enforce phishing-resistant multi-factor authentication.

The release of CISA and the FBI’s advisory comes as the Cuba ransomware gang continues to list new victims on its website. The most recent additions include Generator Power, a U.K.-based generator hire company, and German media monitoring firm Landau Media.

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