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Spotting dangerous imposter retail apps popping up in time for the holidays

(BUSINESS NEWS) ‘Tis the season for scamming. It looks like there are already apps popping up that trick even the tech savvy. Let’s discuss how to spot ’em.

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Risky business

Ah, the holidays! With hopes for a festive holiday season just around the corner, everyone wants to make it easier for you to shop for amazing gifts for those special people in your life. Including, it seems, scammers, who want to trick you into downloading fake apps from very real brands.

Over the past month, there has been a significant increase in the number of counterfeit apps in the Apple App Store that appear to be authentic, from stores ranging from luxury brands such as Christian Dior and Jimmy Choo all the way to discount stops such as Dollar Tree. These, however, do not go to the official apps of the retailer, but instead link to apps that range from the annoying to the malicious.

In some, the user is asked to provide Facebook login information or credit card data, exposing them to financial and personal security risks, as well as malware that could turn their iPhone into an information sieve, providing access to all of one’s virtual life to a bot.

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Who is to blame?

So, who’s behind the latest attempt to defraud you?

The New York Times names the chief culprits to be a company called Cloaker. Cloaker, based in China, provides the technology that undergirds thousands of apps found in the Apple App Store, but does not look into the veracity of what the clients are asking them to create.

Speaking to The New York Times, Jack Lin, the ostensible founder of Cloaker, commented that, “We hope that our clients are all official sellers. If they are using these brands, we need some kind of authorization, then we will provide services.” Although Mr. Lin’s words may sound soothing, take into consideration that Cloaker’s website purports many far-fetched claims, such as the branch office that they maintain they keep in the middle of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

What is Apple doing?

“[W]e take…security very seriously,” said an Apple spokesman, Tom Neumayr, speaking to The New York Times. “We’ve set up ways for customers and developers to flag fraudulent or suspicious apps, which we promptly investigate to ensure the App Store is safe and secure. We’ve removed these offending apps and will continue to be vigilant about looking for apps that might put our users at risk.”

Apple’s vigilance aside, the App Store is besieged daily by an influx of new fake apps. When an app is submitted for review by Apple, it’s important to note that the problem is one of scale.

With literally thousands of apps submitted to iTunes on a daily basis, Apple has made the choice to scan for software that may be compromised of malicious code, rather than looking at apps individually to see if they are connected to the brands that they purport to be.

Once the app has passed the initial phase of Apple’s scrutiny on its submission to the App Store, developers have been known to then alter the content inside the app, or simply overwhelm the App Store by changing their bona fides and resubmitting similar apps to those detected as fakes. Some of the developers have been known to utilize Apple’s systems against it, using the paid search ad feature to place their fake app higher in the results screen than the actual item itself.

Protect yourself

So, how do you protect yourself?

Spelling counts: You’d think that a company would take the time to spell its name brand correctly, and you’d be right. Many of these counterfeit apps have names that don’t reflect an accurate spelling or otherwise appear slightly wonky as compared to the official branding. There are other signs of problems beyond the names, too. The menus and support services may not be in standard English, or even in approximately professional English grammar and spelling, which one can reasonably expect of an authentic brand app.

They existed out of thin air: While everyone has to start somewhere, you should expect authentic apps to have reviews that have the air of authenticity to them. Many of these fakes have either no review history or one that is very similar to a cut- and-paste approach to a 5-star rating and the same comments on review after review. Also, many of these counterfeits do not have a history of prior versions or updates.

First isn’t always best: As we discussed, with many counterfeiters using the Apple paid search feature to boost themselves to the top of the ratings, being at the top isn’t a sure sign of authenticity.

Ultimately, although Apple means well and is quick to respond to complaints, it is up to you as the consumer and the brand itself to police the App Store and to report signs of fraudulent behavior. While the holidays ought to be the season for being jolly for everyone, make sure that it’s only those who didn’t make the naughty list who get to enjoy them.

#ScammyScam

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Tech News

Making Slack actionable makes you productive

(TECHNOLOGY) Slack is an amazing productivity tool, but of course can add more to your plate – this feature puts you back on track.

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You know when you’re using Slack and you’re having a conversation with your teammate about whether or not you should grab lunch or go to Soul Cycle, but before you can answer, your editor Slacks you about deadlines and your design partner messages you proofs and suddenly you snap back to reality and remember that you’ve been working on a blog post for an hour and your concentration is completely shattered? You know, the exact moment when your productivity is officially derailed?

Well, Slack now offers Actions to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Your day may get busy, but at least nothing will slip through the cracks, work-wise.

Integrated with project management tools like Asana, Zendesk, and Jira, Actions allows users to create and comment on tasks, tickets or issues within conversations. That means no clicking through tabs or apps until you can no longer remember why you started clicking in the first place. More importantly, Actions keeps track of the work you need to do and when you need to do it.

So, how do Actions work?

1. Need to create a deadline or set up an appointment? Anything you see in Slack that needs a follow-up can be turned into an action when you click the ••• icon and choose an “action.”

2. When you’ve completed an action, a message appears in your Slack channel and lets your team know you’ve flagged it for follow-up.

3. Whichever app you’ve integrated with will alert Slack at which point you and your team can determine the next steps.

Bottom-line, Actions help keep your workflow moving. While it may not stop the onslaught of Slack messages from breaking your concentration, at least you’ll know what you should to be concentrating on.

If you’re curious to know more about Actions, the company has ample info on their API pages for your perusal.

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Tech News

Freezetab streamlines how you save tabs in Chrome

(TECH NEWS) Freezetab is the newest chrome extension that allows you to organize saved tabs in a myriad of ways.

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Internet made easier

With the browser becoming more and more of a workspace than merely an application, the built in bookmarks tool may leave you a bit hungry for more.

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Chrome users who need better tools to organize and manage bookmarks may find the power they need in Freezetab.

Bookmark’s cooler, hotter younger brother

Freezetab seeks to answer the questions of “what if I could organize my bookmarks by website” or “I only want to save all but two of these tabs on zen office designs.” It seeks to give you more options beyond the “one or all” choices in chrome. Here is the lowdown:

  • The calendar feature remembers WHEN you saved a tab – so if you can’t remember the title you can just go back to the day.
  • Chrome either lets you save one or all tabs. Freezetab expands those options to include: all, current, everything but current, right of, left of, or pick and choose.
  • If you are sharing a collection of tabs with a workgroup or a partner, it exports as a nice textbox that is easy to share in integrated messaging, IM, or email. Or even social media!
  • Sorting is robust, and there is a solid search feature that searches as you type.
  • That quick save feature saves all the tabs and closes them – and you can adjust that quick save feature to meet your needs.
  • There is a handy little star feature to note important bookmarks (i.e. recipes and excel techniques).
  • Enhances your close tab capability to close everything to the left and specific tabs – this great if you work in chrome and have 75 tabs open that have one letter names.
  • It is easier to sort tabs after you save them – you can search for them and then sort into folders you create rather manually organizing them into folders.
  • As a bonus: for those who don’t want to have to sort bookmarks – unlike Chrome which requires you to pick a folder or risk turning your bookmarks to an unorganized mess, the extension automatically organizes it for you.

Freezetab findings

After spending a few moments with Freezetab, it does fit in nicely with a workflow. Solidly reviewed, the developer did solve an issue with “pinned” tabs in the 1.2 update. – so it doesn’t remove or add them. The features are nice and easy to use, and it doesn’t require more than five minutes of playing around.

One complaint – if you choose to the right or left of the current tab to close, it did close the active tab as well – which was a little funky. But once you get comfortable with the nuances, it’s easy to use.
The interface is function over form, but you won’t have any problem using or customizing this extension. Now Bookmark smart y’all!

#FreezeTab

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Tech News

We’ve all seen job listings for UX writers, but what exactly is UX writing?

(TECH NEWS) We seeing UX writer titles pop up and while UX writing is not technically new, there are new availabilities popping up.

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The work of a UX writer is something you come across everyday. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints UX writers work on are interface copy, emails and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find a UX writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must have. Excellent communication skills is a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post.

But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater UX design team. In larger companies some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User centered design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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