Toy Vendor VTech Hit With FTC Fine for Child Privacy Breach

Today’s topics include the FTC fine internet of things toy vendor VTech received for a 2015 privacy breach; Microsoft blocking downloads of its Meltdown and Spectre patches to certain devices; Microsoft’s latest moves with Cortana to keep pace with Alexa and Google Assistant; and Huawei bringing its Mate 10 Pro flagship smartphone to the United States.

On Jan. 8, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that VTech Electronics will pay a settlement of $650,000 for violating children's privacy laws and the FTC Act during a December 2015 data breach that exposed information on 5 million children.

FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said, "We must remain mindful about how kids data is collected & used by toys & ... toymakers must comply [with COPPA]." COPPA is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act from 1998, which gives websites and online services directed at children certain responsibilities in regard to the collection of personal information and privacy.

VTech’s Kid Connect app, used with some of its electronic toys, was breached by attackers in November 2015. VTech admits the root cause of the breach was lack of database security, as the attacker leveraged a SQL Injection vulnerability in order to steal the data.

Microsoft is blocking downloads of recently issued security updates on devices running antivirus software that is incompatible with the emergency patches for the critical Meltdown and Spectre CPU issues.

Antivirus software that makes "unsupported calls into Windows kernel memory" can cause blue screen errors, also known as the “blue screen of death,” on affected systems, preventing them from booting to the desktop.

A Microsoft advisory said, "To help prevent errors that are caused by incompatible antivirus applications, Microsoft is only offering the Windows security updates that were released on Jan. 3, 2018, to devices that are running antivirus software that is from partners who have confirmed that their software is compatible with the January 2018 Windows operating system security update."

While Alexa and Google Assistant are making waves at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Microsoft is advising the industry not to count out Cortana in the digital assistant race.

Just before CES 2018 opened its doors, Microsoft and Johnson Controls announced a smart thermostat with Cortana built-in, enabling home owners to regulate indoor temperature, monitor air quality and more using voice commands.

At CES, Qualcomm unveiled its Smart Speaker Platform that is intended to give OEMs a head start on building Cortana-integrated smart speakers. Biometric technology company Synaptics is also offering a Cortana-compatible platform to OEMs and ODMs, based on its far-field voice digital signal processing technology AudioSmart.

Finally, two Chinese companies are also integrating Cortana in their products: Allwinner is working on voice-enabled IoT solutions, and Tonly is designing Skype-optimized Cortana devices.

At CES on Jan. 9, Huawei announced it will sell its flagship $799 unlocked Mate 10 Pro smartphone in the United States. Preorders will begin Feb. 4, with in-store sales beginning Feb. 18.

The handset, which is built to operate on GSM networks in the United States, will now be offered for sale in the U.S. through major electronics retailers including Best Buy, Amazon, Microsoft, Newegg and B&H. Also coming to the U.S. market is the designer version of the Mate 10 Pro: the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10, priced at $1,225.

The handsets include expanded and enhanced artificial intelligence capabilities and dual Leica cameras. They contain Huawei's Kirin 970 chipsets that are designed integrate artificial intelligence with the phones.