Stylish extension banned by major browsers

Have you used or heard of ‘Stylish?’ According to Ars Technica, its an extension with over two million downloads worldwide, which “allowed users to customize the look and feel of websites in a variety of ways” such as “remov[ing] clutter [on] Facebook or Twitter news feeds, chang[ing] normal pictures to black-and-white manga images,” and so on. As the numbers would suggest, Stylish was very popular – but now it has been removed from Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera platforms.

These browsers removed Stylish as an extension because it was “caught tracking every website its users visited—and sending the data to a remote server” says Ars Technica. This was discovered by software engineer Robert Heaton, who explained that “the extension started sending users’ complete browsing activity back to its servers by default, along with a unique identifier that in many cases could be used to correlate email addresses or other Internet attributes belonging to those users.”

Heaton was able to make this discovery using a security-testing software called Burp Suite. He tested his own experience using Stylish, and found that Stylish was tracking data including  “every URL he visited” and “the actual Google search results from his browser window.”

Stylish has allegedly been collecting this information from Chrome since January of 2017, and from Firefox users since March of 2017.

This story shows the risk we take when utilizing these helpful, free extensions. However, safe alternatives to risk add-ons do exist. For example, Heaton recommends Stylus as a safer alternative to Stylish.

Source: arstechnica.com – “Stylish” extension with 2M downloads banned for tracking ever site visit
Published: July 6, 2018

Students from select countries can get discounts on OnePlus devices

Students know better than anyone how valuable discounts can be. Post-secondary students are accustomed to discounts on some of the internet’s most popular services, such as Amazon Prime and Spotify Premium. If you’re looking for a new phone, students from certain countries are eligible to receive a discount from OnePlus products as well.

If you’re a post-secondary student living in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Czech, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., or the United States, you’re eligible to receive a discount of “five percent off any OnePlus device, including all variations of the OnePlus 6,” says Android Authority.  This deal is valid on one device, once a year, but also includes ten percent off any OnePlus accessories, with no limit.

The discount comes from a magical site called Student Beans, which “acts as a hub for all the types of discounts people now enrolled in some sort of education institute can get.” If you live in one of the above countries, all you have to do to qualify is provide an “edu” email address.

If you want to take advantage of this deal, search for OnePlus at StudentBeans.com. Then, Android Authority says to “Navigate to the OnePlus discount page, and click the big ‘Get Discount’ button. That will generate a code for you to enter during checkout at OnePlus.com.” The code is valid for two months once generated.

Source: androidauthority.com – Student discount codes can get you 5% off a OnePlus 6 Red or 10% off Bullets Wireless
Published: July 11, 2018

New Sprint unlimited plan axes high resolution video streaming

As reported by Engadget, Sprint is extending the amount of variety in its unlimited plans, to appeal to users who might be a bit more selective.

Right now, Sprint’s most lucrative plan is Unlimited Plus, which “comes with unlimited data, talk and text, as well as a Hulu and Tidal Premium subscription.” This is great for someone who uses their smartphone for everything.  It streams videos up to 1080p and music up to 1.5Mbps. It only throttles hotspot connection speed back to 3G after 15GB of use. This costs about $42 USD per month per line.

Not everyone needs all these features though – unlimited data is great, but do you need Tidal and HD streaming? If not, Engadget says: “Sprint’s new and cheaper Unlimited Basic offering might be the better choice. For $32 per month per line, you still get Hulu, but its hotspot speeds will get throttled after only 500MB. Also, you can only stream videos up to 480p and music up to 500kbps. Both Plus and Basic plans are available to existing customers.”

On the new plan offering, Sprint Chief Commercial Dow Draper stated, “Customers told us that they wanted more from their wireless — more choice, more features and more value.”

Source: engadget.com – Sprint adds an Unlimited plan without high-resolution video
Published: July 12, 2018

Congress unrelenting on internet privacy questions

Who doesn’t remember Mark Zuckerberg testifying before U.S Congress and Senate, answering the government’s need-to-know questions about privacy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal? Well, Mark Zuckerberg might be out of the spotlight for now, but Congress isn’t done asking questions.

On Monday, July 9th, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce revealed letters it had sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Larry Page. The subject of these letters, according to CNET, was an inquiry into “how the companies protect users’ privacy.”

A lot of the questions in the letters were surrounding mobile privacy. Apple makes iPhones, and Alphabet subsidiary Google makes Android software, so both these companies have some of the largest stakes in the world regarding mobile privacy. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce wants to know about devices tracking users’ whereabouts, and specifically the “possibility of offline data collection through location services, cellular towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth connection.”

“Considering that many consumers likely believe that a phone that lacks a SIM card, or one for which they have affirmatively disabled location services, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth — such as through turning on ‘Airplane Mode’ — is not actively tracking them, this alleged behavior is troubling,” the letters to both Apple and Alphabet assert. You can read those letters here.

Apple and Alphabet have been asked to reply to Congress by July 23rd.

Source: Congress presses Apple, Alphabet on privacy issues
Published:
July 9, 2018

Rogers breaks up with Spotify and the NHL

If you’ve signed with Rogers Communications in the past, you might have benefited from six free months of Spotify premium and a subscription to NHL Live. This sales incentive has been helping to promote Rogers’ Share Everything Plan since 2015. But, if you are looking to gain these perks in 2018, you’re running out of time.

Starting July 30th, Rogers is dumping its Spotify perk and its NHL Live offer. So, if you’re looking to get in on them, you have until July 29th.

If you’re in one of the early months of your Spotify plan, which doesn’t expire before July 30th, don’t fret – your plan won’t expire any earlier than it originally would have. This only effects future Rogers customers. As for the NHL side of things, the most recent hockey season ended on June 7th, so the subscription simply won’t renew for next season.

Rogers subsidiary Fido also recently cut ties with Spotify. It will be interesting to see if Spotify finds a new Canadian partner, or if consumers looking for this particular perk are out of luck.

Source: mobilesyrup.com – Rogers is unbundling Spotify and NHL Live from its mobile plans
Published: July 5, 2018

Canadians use half the data Americans do, study says

Victoria, BC-based mobile data company Tutela recently did a study that found the average Canadian uses 56 percent less mobile data per month than their American counterparts. According to Mobile Syrup, “The study collected data from over 48 million mobile data users across 10 countries during May 2018, including over 100,000 users in Canada.”

Of the ten countries studied, Canada and Brazil tied for last place in terms of average amount of monthly data. The average Canadian and Brazilian uses 2.7GB per month, where the average U.S user consumes 6.1GB of cellular data per month. The highest usage that Tutela found was actually India, with a monthly average of 6.8GB.

Tutela’s study also examined monthly WiFi usage in its ten selected countries. It turns out Canadians and Americans are about the same on this metric; Canadians use a monthly average of 8.4GB of WiFI on their mobile devices, and Americans use about 8.3 GB.

So it looks like both Canadians and Americans want to be connected – but the difference lies in data. Why don’t Canadians use the same amount of data as their neighbours? Vice President of Tutela, Tom Luke, believes the issue is pricing.

Luke cited a report from Rewheel, which Mobile Syrup says “assessed how many LTE gigabytes could be purchased at different pricing levels in countries across the world. The report indicated that while €30 (roughly $50 CAD) purchases a monthly plan with approximately 100GB in the U.K. — or 10GB in the U.S. — it only provides Canadians with approximately 2GB.”

In a press statement regarding the study, Luke said, “It is possible that price could be a key factor in Canada’s low cellular data consumption, particularly when you consider that they use the same amount of data on Wi-Fi as their American counterparts.”

Looking into this trend, Tutela broke down data consumption – as a percentage of overall internet usage – between the Big Three Canadian telecoms and Freedom Mobile. The study found that “Rogers customers consume the most data on average — 26.5 percent cellular (73.5 percent on Wi-Fi). Bell customers use the least, with 18.5 percent.”

Source: mobilesyrup.com – Canadians use less than half the cellular data Americans do: Tutela report
Published: July 5, 2018

Just how much does your phone spy on you?

Researchers from Northeastern University have recently embarked on a quest to “[look into] the zombie conspiracy which no one ever seems to be able to kill over whether our phones are secretly listening to us to know which ads to present to us.”

You might be familiar with this conspiracy – in fact, you might believe in it. Take, for example, a personal anecdote. You’re at a bar and order a pitcher of Belgian Moon beer to share with friends. The next morning, Belgian Moon is all over your Facebook and Instagram ads. Maybe you’ve experienced something like this. In fact, Facebook and other social media sites are so connected to this conspiracy that Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about it during his Congressional testimony, and tried his best to dismiss it.

What these researchers found is that while it doesn’t seem like audio is being recorded from your phone – that doesn’t mean spying isn’t happening.

The study took 17,260 Android apps and looked at the media files being sent from them. According to Business Insider, “The researchers found no instance in which these apps turned on the phone’s microphone unprompted and sent audio. But they did find that some apps were sending screen recordings and screenshots to third parties.”

In other words, your phone is spying on you… just not via unprompted microphone access. Or, more accurately, the results Northeastern researchers found did not include microphone eavesdropping, which is not to say it absolutely doesn’t happen.

The study’s results have not been officially presented yet – this will happen next month at the Privacy Enhancing Technology Symposium Conference in Barcelona, according to BGR – but the researchers did provide us with some examples. Take junk food delivery app GoPuff; the study explains that this site monitors “user interactions with the app and send[s] them to a mobile analytics company called Appsee.”

The Northeastern researchers have stated in their study that: “Our study reveals several alarming privacy risks in the Android app ecosystem, including apps that over-provision their media permissions and apps that share image and video data with other parties in unexpected ways, without user knowledge or consent. We also identify a previously unreported privacy risk that arises from third party libraries that record and upload screenshots and videos of the screen without informing the user. This can occur without needing any permissions from the user.”

Source: bgr.com – Yes, your phone is spying on you and these researchers proved it
Published: July 4, 2018

Finnish telecom Elisa is the first to commercially use a 5G network

We finally have a winner in the race to the first commercial 5G network. It’s not Verizon or AT&T, nor a powerhouse provider from China or South Korea. It’s Elisa! Who’s Elisa you ask? Elisa is a Finnish carrier that has recently partnered with Huawei to make the goal of many operators a reality.

Elisa is actually a pretty big player in reaching these land marks. According to Fierce Wireless, “This isn’t the first time Elisa has staked a big first in wireless. The first GSM telephone call in the world was made using Elisa’s network.”

Elisa says it just became the first to use a 5G network when Anne Berner, minister of Transport and Communications, made a video call from Tampere, Finland, to Kadri Simson, minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, who was in Tallinn, Estonia. This video call was made using what Elisa’s head of mobile technology, Eetu Prieur, described as “wireless 5G routers.” These routers bring coverage to the city centers of Tampere and Tallin.

Fierce Wireless says that Elisa is “using 100 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum. The Ministry of Communications is preparing to allocate the first 5G licenses to the 3,400–3,800 MHz frequency band this fall.”

Elisa’s aim “is to make Finland the leading nation as a developer of 5G mobile services.”

Source: Finland’s Elise claims world’s first commercial use of 5G
Published:
June 28, 2018

Should you care about the BlackBerry Key2?

BlackBerry might not be making its own handsets anymore, but its parent TCL has released yet another BlackBerry – Android crossover, called the BlackBerry Key2. Or, as New Atlas calls it, an “otherwise unremarkable handset running Android 8.1”  Key2’s only claim to fame is that it has the classic BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard. If you’re interested in a physical keyboard on your smartphone, here is what New Atlas thought about the device.

New Atlas states “Any appraisal of the Key2 really has to focus on that physical keyboard down at the bottom.”

If the device’s best feature is the keyboard, is that really enough? Physical keyboards have long since become antiquated – replaced by touchscreen options that allow bigger phone screens and thinner devices. Many smartphone users have not used a physical keyboard on their smartphone in nearly a decade.

New Atlas claimed that using a physical keyboard in 2018 was “rather awkward” and that “Pecking away at individual letters is smooth enough, but as soon as we needed a number, or a special character, there was a good five seconds of trying to find it and then working out the key combination to bring it up on screen.”

The publication also points out that while it only used the phone for a week before writing its review, users with more time might find the keyboard experience to become “much more intuitive.” However, it admits that “it seems unlikely that iPhone and Android users would want to take the time to adapt. It’s perhaps only the most hardcore BlackBerry loyalists who are going to want to put the Key2 on their shopping lists.”

BlackBerry isn’t just  targeting this phone at hardcore loyalists though. It is also marketing the phone for “those who need to get through a lot of texting rather than a lot of media watching.” Like the BlackBerry days of old, this is intended to be a business savvy phone, rather than a personal, multi-purpose phone. On a screen that is only 4.5 inches, you might not be interested in downloading Netflix.

The phone has other features too, of course, to fit into the smartphone category. Of the Key2’s dual lens 12 MP + 12 MP camera, New Atlas says that “it’s capable of getting some fine shots in good lighting, and even coped well with all but the lowest-lit scenes, most of the time. It’s not going to match an iPhone or Pixel in terms of results, but it won’t let you down.”

It also totes business security features, such as BlackBerry’s DTEK software and a locker – a password-protected vault for stuffing away extra-sensitive files and web bookmarks.

New Atlas says that “battery life impresses too, perhaps due to those mid-range components and smaller screen. We regularly had over 50 percent left at the end of the day.”

The BlackBerry Key2 will be available to pre-order on June 29th in the United States for $649 unlocked.

Source: newatlas.com – BlackBerry Key2 review: If you want a phone with a keyboard, get this one
Published: June 27, 2018

Facebook bringing Canadian children their own Messenger app

According to The Vancouver Sun, Facebook is bringing the adolescent version of its popular Messenger app to children in Canada. The app has proved controversial in the United States since it launched last year, with health experts worrying continued exposure to “digital devices and social media is harmful to young people.”

Messenger Kids is an app which allows kids too young for a Facebook account – which means under thirteen years old – to video call and message with selected contacts. Parents can control the contacts their children access, and messages cannot be hidden or deleted.

As The Vancouver Sun explains, “The app allows them to call or message adults on their Facebook Messenger, so those 13 years or older and with a Facebook account don’t have to download the separate app.”

There has been push in the United States to remove this platform, for the safety of children. The question is how much exposure to social media a thirteen year old or under really requires, and what long-term consequences it can lead to.

Do you think Messenger Kids will receive the same pushback in Canada? Would you let your children use the platform?

Source: vancouversun.com – Facebook launches Messenger Kids app in Canada
Published: June 22, 2018