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COVID-19 data on Medicare’s nursing home site is incomplete

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COVID-19 data on Medicare's nursing home site is incomplete

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the Trump administration required nursing homes to report their COVID-19 cases, it also promised to make the data available to residents, families and the public in a user-friendly way.

But some facilities that have had coronavirus cases and deaths turn up as having none on Medicare‘s COVID-19 nursing home website. Those data may be incomplete because the reporting requirements don’t reach back to the start of the pandemic. Numbers don’t necessarily portray the full picture.

“The biggest thing that needs to be taken away … is in its current form, it is really leaving consumers in the dark,” Sam Brooks, project manager for Consumer Voice, said of the website, maintained by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Consumer Voice is a national advocacy group for improved quality in long-term care.

Nursing homes are only required to provide CMS with data on coronavirus cases and deaths among residents and staff as of May 8, or more than two months after the first outbreak in a U.S. facility was reported. Nursing homes have the option of full disclosure, but not all have taken it, and there is no penalty for withholding older data that may reflect poorly.

The missing information from early in the pandemic leads to some puzzling results on the website.

For example, a nursing home that had one of the first major reported outbreaks in the country — Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington — shows no confirmed COVID-19 cases and no deaths on the CMS data page.

A spokesman for Life Care Centers of America, a major chain, said the company is providing the information the government requested.

“We are reporting what CMS is asking us to report to them,” said Tim Killian. “We are not evading them in any way.

“The Kirkland facility is now COVID-free and it has been for some time,” Killian added. The data showing no cases “is a snapshot of what is currently in the facility.”

The company said its cumulative count shows 100 residents tested positive, and 34 died. “You can ask us directly and we’ll give you the exact numbers,” said Killian.

But consumer advocate Brooks said that information should be on the government website.

As it stands, the site “doesn’t tell the whole picture,” he said. “You are not going to be able to look at a home and make an informed decision.”

CMS, which sets standards for nursing homes, said protecting residents is a top priority, and “transparency and information sharing has proven to be one of the keys to the battle against this pandemic.”

But the agency said it lacked the legal authority to require nursing homes to disclose COVID-19 information from before the effective date of its reporting rule in May.

On Capitol Hill, there is pressure for more information.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, recently introduced legislation that would require nursing homes to report coronavirus cases and deaths going back to Jan. 1, a push that has bipartisan support.

The estimated 1.4 million people living in some 15,500 nursing homes represent a tiny share of the U.S. population, but they have borne a disproportionate share of coronavirus deaths. Nursing homes are only now starting to emerge from a national lockdown that took effect in mid-March.

According to the latest CMS figures, more than 33,000 nursing home residents have died in the pandemic. A running tally by The Associated Press, which also includes other long-term care facilities and staff as well as residents, shows more than 57,000 deaths.

Depending on the total count, that translates from about one-fourth of the deaths to more than 40%, strikingly high proportions in either case.

Coronavirus data for nursing homes do not appear directly on Medicare’s NursingHomeCompare website, the main portal for consumers trying to research a facility on behalf of a family member or friend. Instead, a link takes users to a different COVID-19 site that features statistics and a national nursing home locator map.

Finding information on individual nursing homes via the data website can be confusing.

If users type in a ZIP code or the name of a nursing home, the website’s locator map will display some small red dots near a larger marker icon, which also has a big dot in the middle.

Instructions say click on one of the dots. But which one?

The data is under the small red dots, not the larger locator, which instinctively draws the user’s eye.

“I would click on the big dot,” said policy attorney Toby Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, which represents enrollees. “Why would I look for this thing that I can barely see?”

CMS said it has received no reports related to search problems although more than 100,000 individuals accessed the site in June.

The agency says it will continue to evaluate the usability of the website to ensure it meets consumer needs.


By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press.
AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed.

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Google, ADT partnering on home security products

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Google, ADT partnering on home security products

Google is pairing its Nest smart home technology with ADT and buying a stake in the home security company.

Google’s Nest hardware will be integrated at ADT, which does system installations and monitoring.

ADT plans to begin offering Google devices to its customers starting this year. Shares of the company, based in Boca Raton, Florida, spiked 85% before the opening bell Monday.

Google will invest $450 million in ADT in exchange for newly created Class B shares that come with no votes in company elections, appointments, or removal of directors. It’s stake amounts to about 6.6% of the company.

Both companies will commit an additional $150 million, subject to the achievement of certain milestones, to be used for co-marketing, product development, technology and employee training to advance the partnership.

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Microsoft confirms talks seeking to buy US arm of TikTok

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Microsoft confirms talks seeking to buy US arm of TikTok (1)

NEW YORK (AP) — Microsoft confirmed Sunday it is in talks with Chinese company ByteDance to acquire the U.S. arm of its popular video app TikTok and has discussed with President Donald Trump his concerns about security and censorship surrounding such an acquisition.

In a statement, Microsoft said Microsoft and ByteDance have provided notice of their intent to explore a deal resulting in Microsoft owning and operating the TikTok service in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company said it expects those talks to conclude by Sept. 15.

Trump said on Friday that he would soon ban TikTok in the United States. Trump and CEO Satya Nadella have spoken, the company said, and Microsoft was prepared to continue exploring the purchase of TikTok’s U.S. operations after their conversation.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” the Microsoft statement said.

The White House did not immediately comment on the Microsoft statement.

Previously, there were reports that Microsoft was in advanced talks to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, which has been a source of national security and censorship concerns for the Trump administration. Earlier Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again raised the administration’s warnings about social media platform.

“These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat — there are countless more … are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus,” Pompeo said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“Could be their facial recognition patterns. It could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they’re connected to. Those — those are the issues that President Trump has made clear we’re going to take care of,” Pompeo said.

In its statement, Microsoft said it may invite other American investors to participate on a minority basis in the purchase of TikTok. Financial terms were undisclosed.

TikTok’s U.S. user data is stored in the U.S., with strict controls on employee access, and its biggest investors come from the U.S., the company said earlier Sunday. “We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

A federal committee has been reviewing whether Trump could ban TikTok in the U.S. Its members agree that TikTok cannot remain in the U.S. in its current form because it “risks sending back information on 100 million Americans,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

“We all agree there has to be a change … everybody agrees it can’t exist as it does,” Mnuchin said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

As speculation grew over a ban or sale of the social media platform’s U.S. business, TikTok posted a video on Saturday saying, “We’re not planning on going anywhere.”

TikTok’s catchy videos and ease of use has made it popular, and it says it has tens of millions of users in the U.S. and hundreds of millions globally. Its parent company, Bytedance Ltd., launched TikTok in 2017. It bought Musical.ly, a video service popular with teens in the U.S. and Europe, and combined the two. It has a similar service, Douyin, for users in China.

But TikTok’s Chinese ownership has raised concern about the potential for sharing user data with Chinese officials as well as censorship of videos critical of the Chinese government. TikTok says it does not censor videos and it would not give the Chinese government access to U.S. user data.

“The President, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people,” Pompeo said. “That’s the mission set that he laid out for all of us when we get — we began to evaluate this now several months back. We’re closing in on a solution. And I think you will see the president’s announcement shortly.”

The debate over TikTok parallels a broader U.S. security crackdown on Chinese companies, including telecom providers Huawei and ZTE. The Trump administration has ordered that the U.S. stop buying equipment from those providers to be used in U.S. networks. Trump has also tried to steer allies away from Huawei over concerns that the Chinese government has access to its data, which Huawei denies.


By CATHY BUSSEWITZ AP Business Writer.
AP Business Writers Anne D’Innocenzio and Tali Arbel contributed to this report.

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Florida teen arrested as mastermind of Twitter hack

Inside Telecom Staff

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Florida teen arrested as mastermind of Twitter hack

MIAMI (AP) — A Florida teen was identified Friday as the mastermind of a scheme earlier this month that commandeered Twitter accounts of prominent politicians, celebrities and technology moguls and scammed people around the globe out of more than $100,000 in Bitcoin. Two other men were also charged in the case.

Graham Ivan Clark, 17, was arrested Friday in Tampa, where the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will prosecute him as an adult. He faces 30 felony charges, according to a news release.

Two men accused of benefiting from the hack — Mason Sheppard, 19, of Bognor Regis, U.K., and Nima Fazeli, 22, of Orlando — were charged separately in California federal court.

In one of the most high-profile security breaches in recent years, bogus tweets were sent out on July 15 from the accounts of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and a number of tech billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Celebrities Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, were also hacked.

The tweets offered to send $2,000 for every $1,000 sent to an anonymous Bitcoin address. The hack alarmed security experts because of the grave potential of such an intrusion for creating geopolitical mayhem with disinformation.

Court papers in the California cases say Fazeli and Sheppard brokered the sale of Twitter accounts stolen by a hacker who identified himself as “Kirk” and said he could “reset, swap and control any Twitter account at will” in exchange for cybercurrency payments, claiming to be a Twitter employee.

The documents do not specify Kirk’s real identity but say he is a teen being prosecuted in the Tampa area.

Twitter has said the hacker gained access to a company dashboard that manages accounts by using social engineering and spear-phishing smartphones to obtain credentials from “a small number” of Twitter employees “to gain access to our internal systems.” Spear-phishing uses email or other messaging to deceive people into sharing access credentials.

“There is a false belief within the criminal hacker community that attacks like the Twitter hack can be perpetrated anonymously and without consequence,” U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson for the Northern District of California said in a news release.

The evidence suggests, however, that those responsible did a poor job indeed of covering their tracks. The court documents released Friday show how federal agents tracked down the hackers through Bitcoin transactions and by obtaining records of their online chats.

Although the case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said his office is prosecuting Clark in state court because Florida law allows minors to be charged as adults in financial fraud cases when appropriate. He called Clark the leader of the hacking scam.

“This defendant lives here in Tampa, he committed the crime here, and he’ll be prosecuted here,” Warren said.

Security experts were not surprised that the alleged mastermind is a 17-year-old, given the relatively amateurish nature of both the operation and how participants discussed it with New York Times reporters afterward.

“This is a great case study showing how technology democratizes the ability to commit serious criminal acts,” said Jake Williams, founder of the cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec. “There wasn’t a ton of development that went into this attack.”

Williams said the hackers were “extremely sloppy” in how they moved the Bitcoin around. It did not appear they used any services that make cryptocurrency difficult to trace by “tumbling” transactions of multiple users, a technique akin to money laundering, he said.

He also said he was conflicted about whether Clark should be charged as an adult.

“He definitely deserves to pay (for jumping on the opportunity) but potentially serving decades in prison doesn’t seem like justice in this case,” Williams said.

The hack targeted 130 accounts with tweets being sent from 45 accounts, obtained access to the direct message inboxes of 36, and downloaded Twitter data from seven. Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders has said his inbox was among those accessed.

Court papers suggest Fazeli and Sheppard got involved in the scheme after Clark dangled the possibility of obtaining so-called OG Twitter handles, short account names that due to their brevity are highly prized and considered status symbols in a certain milieu. They said Sheppard purchased @anxious and Faceli wanted @foreign.

Internal Revenue Service investigators in Washington, D.C., identified two of the defendants by analyzing Bitcoin transactions on the blockchain — the universal ledger that records Bitcoin transactions — that they had sought to make anonymous, federal prosecutors said.

Marcus Hutchins, the 26-year-old British cybersecurity expert credited with helping stop the WannaCry computer virus in 2017, said the skillset involved in the actual hack was nothing special.

“I think people underestimate the level of experience needed to pull off these kinds of hacks. They may sound extremely sophisticated, but the techniques can be replicated by teens,” added Hutchins, who pleaded guilty last year to creating malware designed to steal banking information and just completed a year’s supervised release.

British cybersecurity analyst Graham Cluley said his guess was that the targeted Twitter employees got a message to call what they thought was an authorized help desk and were persuaded by the hacker to provide their credentials. It’s also possible the hackers got a call from the company’s legitimate help line by spoofing the number, he said.

Fazeli’s father said Friday he hasn’t been able to talk to his son since Thursday.

“I’m 100% sure my son is innocent,” Mohamad Fazeli said. “He’s a very good person, very honest, very smart and loyal.”

“We are as shocked as everybody else,” he said by phone. “I’m sure this is a mix up.”

Attempts to reach relatives of the other two weren’t immediately successful. Hillsborough County court records didn’t list an attorney for Clark, and federal court records didn’t list attorneys for Sheppard or Fazeli.


This story has been corrected to show that participants in the operation, not the hacker identified as ‘Kirk,’ discussed it with The New York Times.

By DAVID FISCHER and FRANK BAJAK Associated Press.
Bajak reported from Boston. Associated Press Writers Kelvin Chan in London, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

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