Monthly Archives January 2014

BlackBerry Rolls Out OS Update

BlackBerry LogoCan BlackBerry redeem itself? There has been much speculation over that issue, but one thing is clear – it’s trying. The struggling Canadian company is hyping its newest operating system update for select BlackBerry models.

The BB10 update was rolled out earlier this week with hundreds of enhancements and new features, including some not available for iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The BlackBerry update includes a boost to battery efficient, and a management tool to identify apps that drain battery life. Users can save web pages for offline use, but the new addition that’s getting the most buzz is the FM radio.

Any user with a BlackBerry Z30, BlackBerry Q10 or BlackBerry Q5 will be able to tune into local FM radio stations without a data connection. The iPhone doesn’t have this ability, and it was discontinued from Samsung phones.

Canadian Government Holding First Hackathon

CODE LogoThe Canadian government is preparing to host its first nationwide hackathon, hoping to develop new apps to help disseminate public information.

The 48-hour Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE), will kick off at 5 p.m. Feb. 28. The CODE VIP Hub in Toronto will be open for those who can attend in person, and all others can participate virtually.

“From air-and water-quality monitoring, to border waiting times, to information on permanent residency applications, crime statistics and vehicle recalls, Open Data has the potential to drive social, political, and economic change,” said Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board of Canada, in a letter.

“This data is a treasure trove of information that offers endless possibilities for researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs.

“CODE is part of our government’s broader commitment to be at the forefront of the global Open Data movement. I truly believe that Open Data is one of the most valuable natural resources of the 21st century, and to fully capitalize on this resource, governments need to be 100 per cent committed to getting their data into the hands of entrepreneurs, as well as other data enthusiasts in schools and society.”

The top prize is $25,000, sponsored by OpenText. Second and third-place winners will receive $5,000 and $1,000, respectively. A total of 15 teams will pitch their apps to investors and industry experts. If you can’t code, no need to fret – if you have a stellar idea, the CODE website will match you with a team of developers.

Fifteen teams will be chosen for their app submissions, which they will have to pitch to investors and industry experts. The grand prize is $25,000 donated by OpenText, with a $5,000 second prize and $1,000 for third place.

Big $5.23M Fine for Cramming and Slamming

Federal Communications CommissionU.S. Telecom Long Distance Inc. (USTLD) may face a hefty fine for allegedly slamming and cramming customers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the proposed $5.23 million fine earlier this week.

Along with charging customers’ long distance carriers without authorization and billing for unauthorized charges, the FCC says USTLD practiced deceptive marketing and did not display telephone charges plainly and clearly, which is against federal law.

“Numerous consumers complained that USTLD’s telemarketers had tricked them into believing that the telemarketers were calling on behalf of consumers’ existing long distance providers,” states an FCC press release. “The consumers were then shocked to learn that USTLD had switched their preferred long distance carrier and billed them for charges they had not authorized.

“In many cases, USTLD apparently took advantage of consumers by masking the true purpose of the call and then profiting from their obvious confusion about the questions they were asked.”

The FCC says many of the victims were elderly, hearing impaired or infirm. On some of the calls, USTLD telemarketers are accused of impersonating the FCC.

Last month the FCC proposed $9 million in fines against Consumer Telcom Inc.

Google’s 10,000 Spam Email Screw-Up

SpamSpam email is annoying at the best of times, but Fresno banker David Peck has experienced the frustration at the highest level. Last week, Peck checked his Hotmail account to discover thousands of spam email flooding his inbox. It didn’t take long to discover the problem – Gmail.

It started small, with just 50 emails appearing but ballooned to just under 10,000 within days, leaving Peck unable to sort through to find important emails. What was the cause? Some sort of Gmail glitch. TechCrunch discovered that when the search query ‘Gmail’ was Googled, and users clicked through a link on the first organic search result, it opened a pre-filled email with Peck’s address.

Google has fixed the glitch but in the meantime, Hotmail has set up a filter so any emails from addresses not in his contact list will go straight to his junk mail.

“I don’t know if these people were caught off guard or what they were doing and why they still continue, because they had to actually send these emails for me to get it,” Peck said, in an interview. “I was getting emails that had no subject in the subject line, no information in the body of this email, it just came through as a blank email.”

Google says the spam email incident had nothing to do with the well-publicized outage it experienced last Friday.

Should the U.S. Update Card Technology?

credit card swipe feesFirst it was Target, then Neiman Marcus. Word broke on Sunday that nationwide craft store chain Michaels suspects it too has been a victim of a data attack, leaving its customers’ credit and debit card information vulnerable.

Though the security breach has not yet been confirmed, reports of fraudulent activity on customers’ cards have come to light, leading Michaels to issue a warning.

“We are concerned there may have been a data security attack on Michaels that may have affected our customers’ payment card information and we are taking aggressive action to determine the nature and scope of the issue,” said Michaels CEO Chuck Rubin, in a statement to media.

At the same time, the recent attacks have many wondering why the United States has been so slow to adopt Chip and PIN technology, which critics say greatly reduce the risk of fraud. Each debit and credit card comes with a small microchip embedded. Instead of a clerk swiping the magnetic strip on the back of the card, the customer inserts it into the point-of-sale terminal and enters their PIN number, which is verified by the microchip. These so-called “smart cards” are used around the world – including in Canada and Europe – and have been for some time.

So how effective are they in reducing illegal activity? France claims to have reduced card fraud by 80 percent since Chip and PIN was launched in 1990s. In the United Kingdom, where Chip and PIN was introduced in 2003, an APACS study reports there was an immediate 67 percent reduction, worth £146.7 million, in face-to-face fraud on retail transactions. In some areas, there was a 98 percent reduction in fraudulent activity, and many retailers reported a 50 percent reduction in write-offs, resulting in direct savings of £100,000 each.

Considering even North Korea and Iran have adopted the technology, why is it so slow to arrive in the United States? The primary speed bump is cost. For starters, chip cards – also known as EMV cards – cost about five times more than traditional cards. Retailers would also have to upgrade their terminals, which could cost an upward of $5 billion.

The cost is prohibitive, but the U.S. losses are staggering. According to the Nilson Report, fraud in 2012 was the lowest for PIN-based networks. The U.S. represented 47.3 of global card fraud losses – which totaled $11.27 billion – but only accounted for 23.5 percent of volume.

“The absence of EMV cards and terminals in the U.S. contributes to fraud losses,” states a Nilson Report press release. “The U.S. is the only region where counterfeit card fraud continues to grow consistently.”

However, American retailers may soon become motivated to start the transition. Currently merchants cover the cost of one-third of fraudulent spending, but by 2015 the liability will increase for chip cards swiped in old machines – retailers will now be forced to cover 100 percent of the losses.

The card associations will also be offering perks for merchants who make the switch. Those who process a minimum of 75 percent of their volume on EMV terminals will enjoy reduced Payment Card Industry (PCI) reporting requirements and audit relief.

But don’t be too quick to assume Chip and PIN is a cure-all. In fact, the jury is out on whether the technology could have prevented the Target breach, which was caused by malware running on payment processing servers. And the advanced terminals aren’t immune to hacking – a 2010 report by Cambridge University researchers uncovered major flaws in the technology that allow rip-off artists to skim information.

The sad truth is no matter how advanced the technology, scammers will find new ways to exploit it. The best thing consumers can do is check their statements regularly and credit score at least once per year. Companies, however, have a much bigger responsibility to ensure they are protecting valuable customer data.

Macintosh Turns 30

The Macintosh is approaching middle age, celebrating its 30th birthday today. On Jan. 24, 1984 the Apple Macintosh – later dubbed the Macintosh 128K – was released to much fanfare, buoyed by a Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott.

The first Mac sold for a cool $2,495 and featured a nine-inch monochrome display. It came with a keyboard and mouse, and was outfitted with a handle so it could be carried easily. It proved affordable for the middle-class market, selling 70,000 units by May 3 of that year.

Over the years Apple maintained a strong and loyal fan base and was used heavily in the printing and publishing industries. Despite this, there were rough waters and for a time, speculation that Microsoft Windows would bury the company. After a few lean years, the Mac experienced a comeback with the launch of the colorful iMac G3 in the late 1990s. It’s been uphill from there, with Apple re-establishing itself as the powerhouse of the premium personal computer world.

Happy birthday Mac!

Canadians Slammed By Accidental Roaming Fees

Verizon CanadaOut-of-country roaming fees are expensive, and many people avoid using wireless services beyond their borders. But for some Canadians in Victoria, British Columbia, the roaming charges are popping up while they’re still at home.

Why is this happening? The fact the city is located in close proximity to the Canada-U.S. border is mostly to blame. Residents who live or travel within certain areas of Victoria routinely get dinged with the roaming charges – sometimes a few cents, sometimes a whole lot more.

Service providers in the area say they are well aware of the issue, and are taking steps to improve their systems to prevent the accidental roaming, including software upgrades and changing the tilt of antennas on cell towers.

“There’s been a few times when a call or text will be marked as being out of country,” Victoria resident Dave Shishkoff told the Victoria Times Colonist. “I called Rogers and they did reverse it. But it’s annoying that I’m in the capital of B.C. and cell service is so bad that I’m getting charged for U.S. roaming while I’m still obviously in the city.”

Though those who have fought for a refund have received it, providers are still placing the onus on the customer to report accidental roaming … if they can understand their bill, of course.

Seniors Going High Tech

seniorAlthough it may seem like your parents or grandparents are seriously lagging when it comes to tech, a new study shows they’re not as behind the times as one may think. But don’t get too excited – seniors still have a ways to go before they’re caught up on modern trends.

A survey done by Media Technology Monitor (MTM) found 61 percent of seniors own a cellphone, but only one in eight have a smartphone. Seventeen percent use their phone to text, while seven percent surf the Internet on their device and five percent email.

Online television, such as Netflix, is less likely to entice seniors than younger generations. Eleven percent of seniors have watched a TV clip online – 21 percent of videos watched by seniors are on YouTube – but only five percent have finished an entire episode.

Use of devices such as tablets and MP3 players is still scarce among the older generations, but not completely nonexistent. Twelve percent of seniors have a tablet, and eight percent of those have an iPad. However, this is not too much of an age related gap, because only 33 percent of people under age 68 have a tablet. About 14 percent of seniors have an MP3 player, while even less choose to stream music online.

These statistics show a slow but definite truth. Seniors will eventually adapt to tech trends as time marches on.

Is Nintendo on its Last Legs?

nintendoNintendo was once the rage of the video game world, but it has slowly been losing its status. While consoles will never completely die, the Super Mario-maker has begun to realize the unconventional direction it has taken may be damaging in the long run.

Recently, the Japanese company reported it will likely experience a $240 million loss, instead of a $100 million profit, by its March year-end. The Wii U is primarily to blame, with only 2.8 million units being scooped up, a far cry from the nine million the company’s projected. Needless to say, Nintendo is facing what might be its darkest hour.

Despite this, there are many fanatics out there who are loyal to the beloved video game company. If Nintendo was to come out with games that were more accessible to devices such as tablets, then the company could potentially see a huge turn around. Same thing if it dove into the development of a serious console that could compete against the likes of Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. But one thing is clear – change is necessary otherwise Nintendo cannot hope to compete.

Sprint Prepares for Wi-Fi Calling

Sprint logoWhat happens when you’re in a building with low cell-reception, but a strong Wi-Fi connection? Or when you cannot bear to use those last precious few voice minutes left in your plan? That’s when Wi-Fi calling comes in handy.

Virgin and T-Mobile have offered Wi-Fi calling in one form or another for some time, but it seems Sprint is now ready to jump on board. Insiders say plans are in the works to launch Wi-Fi calling for select Samsung devices and all new devices running Android 4.2 or higher.

A training manual obtained by Android Central indicates Wi-Fi calling and texting will come first to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini and Galaxy Mega, though a launch date has not yet been confirmed. There would be no additional cost for the offering and Wi-Fi texting is also be included in the plan. Users would have to enable the feature by visiting sprint.com/manage.

There are restrictions to the service, of course. Wi-Fi calls would only be available within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Android users would have to turn on their Location Services, and calls started using minutes cannot be switched to Wi-Fi, or vice versa.