Monthly Archives February 2015

Google Introducing Ads to Play Store

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Google has recently announced its intentions to introduce “sponsored search results” to its Play Store within the next few weeks.

“With more than 100 billion searches every month on Google.com, we’ve seen how search ads shown next to organic search results on Google.com can significantly improve content discovery for users and advertisers, both large and small,” Google Play Product Management Director Michael Siliski wrote in an Android Developers Blog. “Search ads on Google Play will enable developers to drive more awareness of their apps and provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed.”

Google plans to start showing the ads to “a limited set of users,” and eventually introduce them to everybody. With over a billion people in more than 190 countries using the Google Play Store these ads will circulate the globe, providing valuable exposure for app developers.

“We believe search ads will be a useful addition to Google Play for users and developers alike, and we hope this will bring even more success to our developer community,” Siliski said.

Microsoft Dropping Facebook Messenger and Google Chat from Outlook.com

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In an email to Outlook.com customers, Microsoft has announced it will be dropping support for Facebook Messenger and Google Chat within the “next couple weeks.” Cutting off these options is likely an attempt to drive more Microsoft users to Skype when connecting with friends and family.

“We understand that this may disappoint some of our customers, but we hope that you’ll try Skype for Outlook.com chat, and voice and video calling, so you can take advantage of the more robust ways to keep in touch with friends and family,” the Outlook.com team wrote in the message. “We’re confident that Skype for Outlook.com provides the best experience for chatting and making voice or video calls, right from your inbox, when the conversation warrants richer communication than an email exchange.”

Microsoft said the update will not affect user connection to Facebook and Google accounts, meaning their “People” page will remain updated with their latest contact information.

Gemalto Denies Encryption Key Hack

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Gemalto – the largest SIM card manufacturer on the planet – has denied reports claiming the NSA had the ability to capture and store the encryption keys that protect SIM cards. The company has denied the breach and explained that 3G and 4G networks were unaffected.

Recent reports stated that any phone using a Gemalto SIM card was at risk of having its encryption keys stolen, claiming the NSA and GCHQ have been able to decrypt cell phone signals mid-air or remotely implant malware on hardware. Having access to these encryption keys would result in global privacy ramifications, as Gemalto produces 2 billion SIM cards every year for over 450 carries including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

While Gemalto does not deny that such an operation by the NSA and GCHQ most likely happened, the company has issued a press release explaining the attack would have “only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys.”

“It is extremely difficult to remotely attack a large number of SIM cards on an individual basis,” explains Gemalto. “This fact, combined with the complex architecture of our networks explains why the intelligence services instead, chose to target the data as it was transmitted between suppliers and mobile operators.”

Gemalto claims the attempt to intercept encryption keys while they were being exchanged between mobile operators and their suppliers started in 2010, by which point they had already “widely deployed a secure transfer system with its customers and only rare exceptions to this scheme could have led to theft.”

The SIM card manufacturer insists 3G and 4G networks are not susceptible to this kind of attack, explaining that even if the encryption keys had been stolen, they could only be used to intercept communications on second generation 2G mobile.

The End of Unlimited Internet in Canada

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Telus recently announced it is implementing user-based charges in B.C. and Alberta, meaning all Canadian Internet service providers are now using data caps. It seems the days of unlimited Internet are over, and customers can instead expect to see user-based pricing, where extra fees are applied for exceeding monthly data caps.

Telus has said it will charge its biggest users up to $75 per month for going over their limit. Before now, Telus had one of the best price-per-gigabyte deals on data, and data caps were not enforced.

Many users already have usage-based pricing, and are perfectly content with it. In fact, a 2013 survey from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre showed 78 percent of Canadian consumers were satisfied with their monthly data caps. However, the same survey showed 42 percent weren’t familiar with the concept of data caps and how it affected their monthly payments.

“I don’t think people know how much data is used when they download an episode of Modern Family or download a movie,” said Chris MacDonald, a business ethics professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. “People don’t have a sense of how data intensive something like Google Maps is.”

“Companies need to provide fairly explicit information about data usage and not bury it six levels deep on their website — just like a car company needs to be transparent about gas mileage,” MacDonald said.

Telus has told its customers not to worry, promising users will be notified when they have reached 75 percent, 95 percent, and when they have exceeded their monthly data allowance. It says most customers won’t notice a difference in their new billing system.

“No one will be surprised when they open their bill,” said Telus spokesman Shawn Hall. “We have a robust usage notification system, and will be sending email alerts to customers as they approach and pass their allowance, and at every 50 GB bucket.”

Class-Action Lawsuit Against Google Dismissed

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The antitrust lawsuit filed against Google regarding Android handsets has been dismissed in a California court.

Two complaints filed by U.S. consumers sought a class-action lawsuit against Google, alleging anti-competitive practices in the mobility market. The lawsuit accused the tech giant of forcing the use of Google-related apps on Android devices, and that its Mobile Application Distribution Agreement (MADA) allowing device manufacturers to use its free Android mobile operating system “stifles innovation and diminishes consumer choice”.

When handset makers such as Samsung or HTC wish to install Android on their devices, the companies must agree to a MADA, stipulating Google be made the default for all “search access points” for a set period of time. The plaintiffs claimed these agreements “quash competition for default search engines status before it can even begin.” If the anti-competitive agreements didn’t exist, they alleged their phones “would have cost less and had better search capabilities as a result of the competition that would have ensued.”

Google’s lawyers argued the customers were never prevented from switching their default apps, and could have easily used another search engine by simply changing their default settings.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled the plaintiffs failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove any alleged anti-competitive behavior would have resulted in higher handset prices.

Freeman also said,”The Court agrees with Defendant [Google] that there are no facts alleged that would render these threatened injuries [loss of consumer choice and innovation] more concrete than hypothetical, as there are no facts alleged to indicate that Defendant’s conduct has prevented consumers from freely choosing among search products or prevented competitors from innovating.”

The judge has dismissed the antitrust lawsuit, but is granting the plaintiffs three weeks to amend their complaint to seek injunctive relief rather than monetary damages.

Facebook to Develop Virtual Reality Apps

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Facebook is currently in the process of developing virtual reality versions of its apps. The use of VR technology will allow users to go beyond sharing pictures and videos on the social media site, enabling them to share their current environments with friends.

“We’re working on apps for VR,” Facebook’s Head of Product Development Chris Cox said Tuesday at Recode’s Code Media conference. “You’ll do it. Beyoncé will do it.”

While Cox remained vague about the specifics of when Facebook might roll out its virtual reality platform, he did say it will be a while, stating that “We’re a long way away from everyone having those headsets.”

The apps will be developed for Occulus VR, a virtual reality startup acquired by Facebook last year for $2 billion. At the time, Mark Zuckerburg commented on the possibilities of virtual reality and Facebook saying, “Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

AT&T Charges Customers Extra for Privacy

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Hot on the heels of AT&T’s announcement about bringing its one-gigabit-per-second Internet service to Kansas City, comes news the company will also be charging its customers $29 per month to keep their browsing history private.

The “premier” service will be available for $70 per month, but would allow AT&T to track a user’s search terms and browser history in order to facilitate better ad targeting. If users wish to keep their history private, the same high-speed service will be offered without tracking for $99.

While this additional fee for privacy may seem exorbitant to some, AT&T has defended its pricing to the Wall Street Journal, saying ad targeting helps the company make more money. Therefore, any user wanting to opt out must pay a fee.

This model is similar the discounted Kindles sold by Amazon that show advertising. However, AT&T will be able to gather a far more comprehensive picture of a user’s browsing activities than other companies, since it is an Internet provider. While this information could prove lucrative for advertisers and Internet Service Providers, the lack of privacy will undoubtedly worry some users.

Bell and Telus Ask CRTC to Dismiss Crave TV Complaint

crave tvCarriers Bell and Telus are asking the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to dismiss a “frivolous” complaint about Bell’s CraveTV from customer advocacy groups.

The groups who made the complaint – the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Consumers’ Association of Canada – object to CraveTV only making subscriptions available to users of Bell, Telus, Aliant and Eastlink. A similar complaint was filed regarding Shomi, a video streaming service offered as a joint venture between Rogers Communications and Shaw. These services differ from Netflix, Canada’s most popular subscription-based streaming platform, which allows anyone to purchase its service.

The advocacy groups claim CraveTV does not follow rules laid out by the CRTC concerning competition and consumer choice, and that the video services offered by three of Canada’s biggest telecommunications companies “unduly prefer” their own customers . Bell Media and Telus Corp. filed procedural requests stating the CRTC would be reaching beyond its jurisdiction to rule on digital media.

Telus commented on the complaint, saying the advocacy groups “fail to address how CraveTV is any different from the many conventional, specialty and pay services which also make their content available on-demand and on multiple platforms to authenticated subscribers of their linear services.”

The telecommunication companies in question are required to file official responses to these complaints by March 12. Bell has asked the CRTC for an extension should the issue not be dismissed.

BlackBerry Passport and Classic Finally Available at AT&T

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Months after its launch, the BlackBerry Passport – along with the Classic – will now be available at AT&T. So far, AT&T is the only U.S. carrier to offer the uniquely shaped Passport.

As of February 20, the Passport and BlackBerry Classic will be available for purchase in-store and online. The Passport will cost $200 with a two-year contract, or $650 without. The more traditionally styled BlackBerry Classic will be available for $50 on a two-year contract, or $420 without a contract.

Over the past few years, BlackBerry has been gradually shifting its focus towards business-class software and services. After the failure of last year’s BlackBerry 10 operating system, the company has been fighting to make a comeback. These two smartphones will prove critical in keeping BlackBerry in the mobile game.

BlackBerry’s Passport, which features a 4.5-inch square display and triple row of physical keys, has been redesigned for AT&T to have more rounded edges. The Classic has a more familiar design and shape, and will appeal to long-time BlackBerry fans. While the Passport is an AT&T exclusive, Verizon Wireless has said it will also carry the Classic but has yet to release details.

Samsung’s Smart TV Voice Recognition Concern

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Samsung’s Smart TVs now come with a voice recognition service, which allows users to control it through voice commands rather than via a traditional remote. While this sounds convenient, there has been quite an uproar this week as some users worry the company may be eavesdropping on their private conversations.

This concern began after media outlets began to run this concerning missive in the Smart TV’s privacy policy, reading: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

The resulting fear is that any embarrassing or incriminating information you might share in the privacy of your home could be passed onto the company processing the voice commands.

To clear users’ worries, Samsung issued the following statement:

Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. In all of our Smart TVs we employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers’ personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use. Voice recognition, which allows the user to control the TV using voice commands, is a Samsung Smart TV feature, which can be activated or deactivated by the user. The TV owner can also disconnect the TV from the Wi-Fi network.

In an attempt to put minds at ease and calm the backlash, Samsung has also now edited the wording of the offending section of the policy to stress that the user is required to trigger the listening feature.