Monthly Archives December 2017

Nova Scotians beware of this latest phone scam

A new phone scam has been reported coming out of Nova Scotia, after Halifax restaurant owner Elias Fathallah says he nearly fell victim to the ploy. According to CBC, the scam has targeted over a dozen other people in the province, who have received phone calls from an impersonator pretending to be from Nova Scotia Power, saying they had unpaid electricity bills and were going to be cut off.

On December 15th alone, Nova Scotia Power says it received fifteen reports from customers who had been targeted by this scam.

Fathallah says he was serving customers on December 15th when around 11:30 a.m. his phone rang. “Someone called Eugene told me he worked with the power company, and he was coming in 45 minutes to disconnect my power,” he said. Fathallah also says the man gave him a 1-800 number and extension, with which he could call and keep his power running.

“When I called the machine, it said ‘Welcome to Power Nova Scotia,'” Fathallah said. A person named Robert William answered and said he was the manager. “William” told Fathallah that his online payments had not gone through since September, meaning Fathallah owed Nova Scotia Power thousands of dollars.

Fathallah agreed to give the man his credit card information so he could pay the allegedly unpaid bills, but before he could, “the man interrupted, saying instead that Fathallah had to go to a spot on Oxford Street in Halifax and pay $1,020.09 in cash,” reports the CBC. This is when Fathallah caught on.

No legitimate power company would ever ask to collect payments in a parking lot, so Fathallah called the number on his bill statements. “I told her, ‘What’s going on? Why do I have a red flag on my account? I paid my bills on time.’ And she said, ‘What are you talking about? Your bills are paid … we are not coming to disconnect your power,” Fathallah recounted.

It’s a good thing that Fathallah made the choice to call Nova Scotia Power, but he says it could have gone the other way, and that the scammer seemed very authentic. “He was playing me well. He was so calm, so professional,” he said.

Nova Scotia Power has said luckily no one has fallen victim to the scheme yet, despite the scammers’ numerous attempts.

What tech will meet its end in 2018?

Every year’s end, PC Mag releases an article predicting what popular tech won’t make it through the New Year. PC Mag’s 2017 list had some successes and failures. It accurately predicted the demise of the Windows Phone, Internet Explorer, and Google Cardboard, but missed the mark on some items such as Android Wear, The Galaxy Note Brand, and even Twitter.

Here are the 2018 predictions:

 

 

  1. The Essential Phone: This 2017 smartphone based on simplicity and functionality has already been handed a $200 price cut due to poor sales. PC Mag’s lead analyst, Sascha Segan, says “The company has good ideas, but execution is hard, and it looks like Essential hasn’t been executing.”
  2. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs): News of cryptocurrency has been circulating hotly in 2017, but as PC Mag points out, some of these token sales have been “volatile,” and even turn out to be scams. One ICO, Texos, even faces a class-action lawsuit. PC Mag says that ICOs will either face regulation or disappear.
  3. Apple iPods: As many can agree, this is not a tech we want to lose. The last living iPod brand is the iPod Touch, as Apple discontinued the nano and the shuffle. And with Spotify and Apple Music doing better than ever, it doesn’t look like the MP3 player has a huge future.
  4. “Anything Competing with Amazon”: This one is obvious. Amazon is a goliath. Its competition can be anything from other online retailers, to Barnes and Noble, to Blue Apron.
  5. Snapchat Spectacles: According to PC Mag, Spectacles’ “rollout reportedly led to hundreds of thousands of unsold units and more than $40 million in losses.” This one seems a likely casualty.
  6. The Sony A Mount Camera: A lot of photography enthusiasts are worried about the death of the digital camera, and their inevitable replacement by the smartphone. According to PC Mag, these rumours are exaggerated, but this camera might not make the cut.
  7. Pentax Cameras: Similar reasoning as above, but instead facing competition from Nike and Canon, the whole brand might be in danger.
  8. Prisma: Prisma is a neat photo enhancing app. And like a lot of apps, PC Mag predicts its demise is not for lack of originality. “Look for Facebook to either buy Prisma, or pull a Snapchat and copy everything that makes it unique.” It’s hard to compete with giants.
  9. Manual Vacuums: If you hate vacuuming, this might be nice. PC Mag says “the time of the robot vacuums has come.” Smart vacuums – like the Roomba – are making a splash on the market, and 2018 might be the year they take over completely.
  10. Skype for Business & Wunderlist: This prediction is solid, seeing as Microsoft has already admitted defeat on these two enterprise features in favour of its Microsoft Teams and Microsoft To-Do platforms.
  11. MoviePass: A fun subscription based service that gets you into the movies without having to buy a ticket, it faces both low subscriber numbers and the threat of legal action from the theatres themselves. It’s an interesting idea, but it may not be fit to last.

Blog: Should companies monitor their employees online?

In recent years, companies have begun adopting data loss prevention (DLP) strategies at an increasing rate. These solutions use tech to help companies “detect anomalous patterns or behavior through keystroke logging, network traffic monitoring, natural language processing, and other methods, all while enforcing relevant workplace policies,” according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. While the argument is pretty clear cut on the business side of things, certain DLP tools operate on the shady side of federal and state privacy laws. If your company is considering employing DLP, there is some important information to consider beforehand.

HBR says you should look at three main questions before you use DLP software. “First, whom are you monitoring? Second, what are you monitoring? Third, where are you monitoring?”

Depending on who you are monitoring, you may need to provide prior notice and consent. You also have to make sure that the way you’re monitoring complies with state laws. “States such as Connecticut and Delaware expressly prohibit employers from electronically monitoring employees without giving prior notice,” Harvard Business Review explains.

Other laws, like the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) prohibits the monitoring of electronic communications in general, with two exceptions. The “business purpose exemption” allows for employers to monitor employee electronic communications if they have a “legitimate business purpose.” Obviously this has a broad interpretation. The other exemption is if employers have received consent from their employees to be monitored.

Pay attention to whether or not your DLP software would potentially monitor third party communications, such as relatives or friends that would email your employees’ work domain address. This can infringe on certain states’ wiretapping statutes. HBR explains that “States like California and Illinois require all parties to a communication to consent to interception of communications in transit. That means that before companies can scan an email sent from a friend or relative to the employee, employers must figure out how to give notice of the monitoring to those third parties and how to get the third party’s consent.”

Without doing this, companies in these states can face class action lawsuits or government enforcement actions. One way companies amend this is by posting a notice on their website or by including a statement at the bottom of all employee emails that electronic communications from the company domain are property and subject to monitoring. By continuing communication after this notice, consent is implied.

The second question Harvard Business Review posed is what are you monitoring? The article explains it is “necessary to determine if your company intends to monitor data in-transit and/or data at-rest.” The ECPA as well as many individual states prohibit “electronic interception of data in transit without consent.” Violating this can actually result in criminal and civil penalties. But collecting or monitoring data at-rest can infringe upon the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which prohibits “unauthorized access and disclosure of electronic communications in storage in an electronic communications service provider’s facility.”

It is also crucial for a company to consider what types of communications are being monitored. Twenty five states have made it illegal for employers to request or require an employee to verify a personal online account, such as a blog, a Facebook or Twitter profile, or a Gmail account. DLP tech sometimes has the ability to inadvertently acquire log-on information to these personal account, causing the company to accidentally violate these state laws. It is better to know your state laws and your software’s capabilities than risk legal action.

The third question in HBR is where are you monitoring? They point out that this question is “especially important if companies plan to install DLP software on personal devices that are used for work.” If you do this, your company might be implicating state computer crime and spyware laws, especially if you’re monitoring in California, New York, or Massachusetts. Breaking these laws can result both in a fine or even imprisonment.

If you’re thinking of taking your DLP global, you’ll have to consider international laws. As HBR explains, “the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and applicable member-states’ privacy laws offer significantly more enhanced protections to employees than granted under U.S. law.”

FCC ousts net neutrality in controversial vote

On Thursday, December 14th the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules, meaning less oversight and regulations for broadband and wireless carriers and ISPs.

As explained by CNET, the 2015 laws “ensured all traffic on the internet is treated equally, and prevented broadband and wireless providers from blocking or slowing online content.”  These regulations were removed, as was the legal foundation which gives the FCC oversight over ISPs.

Responses to the vote are passionately mixed. One commissioner, Brendan Carr, called the vote “a great day for consumer, for innovation, and for freedom.” While another, Mignon Clyburn, said she was outraged to watch the FCC “pull its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”

But no matter how you feel, net neutrality is not a new issue. This vote is just the latest manifestation of an eighteen-year debate over internet regulation, or lack thereof. Many believe that an open internet means consumer protection, protection of free speech, and no fast or slow lanes that bring divisiveness.

According to CNET, “[This] view is supported by consumer advocates, internet companies like Facebook and Google, and nonprofits, including the New York Public Library and First Amendment advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union. On the other side of the debate are cable operators and phone companies, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, who say that treating broadband like the old telephone network hurts investment and stifles innovation.”

 

App Store introduces pre-ordering

Don’t want to be the last of your friends to download that app you’re all looking forward to? Maybe you were the hold-out on Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and now you’re embarrassed to be so far behind? Fear not, because according to The Verge, Apple will let you pre-order. Now, apps you buy before the release date will automatically download when ready, just like albums from iTunes.

A simple but useful feature – this is the kind of update that makes you wonder why it wasn’t available in the first place, as opposed to nearly ten years after the App Store launched. In comparison, the Google Play Store has offered a similar feature for years.

According to The Verge, developers will “now be able to put their app in the App Store up to 90 days in advance of its release, rather than only being able to publish their app when it’s ready to launch. Once it’s up, customers will be able to choose to pre-order it and have the app delivered when it’s ready.”

It is up to the developer how they charge for a pre-order. The pre-order can be either free or paid, and if they charge and then choose to change the price later, the customer will still be charged whichever is lower. Either way, it won’t show up on your credit card bill until the app downloads.

The pre-order feature will be available for App Store on iOS, macOS, and tvOS.

New CRTC wireless regulations are in effect

Now that December is upon us, the landmark wireless code changes that the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) announced back in June have come into effect. The changes are supposed to prevent unpleasant surprises on your cellphone bill; perhaps most prominently, the rules eliminate the pesky fee that most carriers charge for unlocking your phone.

According to CBC, the updated rules mean “new phones that come with a wireless package should come to you unlocked, and you can take your phone easily to a competitor’s network if you want to change carriers.” This is good news if you want to switch to a different plan before your contract is done, or if you are traveling to another country and want to use a local carrier instead of paying roaming fees.

Another landmark regulation involves who can consent to data overages. According to CBC, “on shared family plans, only the wireless account holder, not just any device holder, can consent to extra data or roaming charges.” This will prevent a child or teen unwittingly agreeing to extra data for streaming, social media, etc.

This is perhaps one of the most important changes. The CRTC found in 2016 that one-third of complaints about wireless bills involved data charges, and another 23 percent of people who complained said their cellphone contract was misleading. Consequently, the rules also state that as of December 1st your cellphone contract should be clear and understandable. Additionally, the CRTC is introducing a trial period for cellphone contracts. CBC explains that “customers now have 15 days to try a package and, if they’re not happy with the service, they can cancel if they haven’t exceeded 50 per cent of their monthly usage limit and if the phone is returned in near-new condition.”

Instagram will now archive your stories

Have you ever wanted to look back on your past Instagram stories? Be it for nostalgia purposes or engagement analytics – the feature would be nice to have. According to The Verge, this will be possible with Instagram’s new service, which starting now will “add your expired stories to the archive feature.”

Until now, Instagram archives have only been used to store photos and videos you no longer want to display publicly. Now it will include all your past stories for both Android and iOS users. If you don’t want to have your stories archived, you can opt out of this feature.

This is another example of Instagram borrowing from its wildly popular competitor, Snapchat. Snap added its own archive feature, Memories, to its popular social media service last year. However, it’s not a total copy –  according to The Verge, Instagram Stories will let you do one key thing Snapchat doesn’t: “Post old stories to your profile in a feature the company is calling Highlights.” You will be able to choose from your archived stories, group them as you like, give them a themed name, and share them to your profile, where they will appear above your other posts.

Stories have revolutionized Instagram, gradually becoming one of the most popular features the service has to offer. This is evident from their position at the top of your newsfeed, and now with archives, at the top of your profile as well. The Verge reports that Instagram made the move to archive stories after a significant number of daily users were downloading their stories, and others filed complaints that they intended to but forgot.

Google won’t tolerate apps that gather your data without consent

Google seems to be cracking down on developers that collect personal user data without consent. It is also tightening the rules on which ads can appear in Android applications. According to an article by TechSpot, Google’s “Safe Browsing team has expanded its Unwanted Software Policy to address further ‘unwanted and harmful behaviors on Android.’”

This includes apps that handle data – such as phone numbers, email addresses, etc. – being required to prompt users for permission to collect that information. Likewise, apps’ privacy policies must be displayed within the application itself. TechSpot explains that the amended rules now state that “if an app collects and transmits personal data that is unrelated to its functions, then it must highlight this fact before transmission and seek consent from the user first.”

Best of all? If developers don’t comply within 60 days of these new rules being posted, Google will notify users via Google Play Protect that these apps could potentially breach their expectations of privacy. This continues Google’s trend of fighting against ads that it considers to be “deceptive, disruptive, inappropriate, or interfere with applications or device functionality.” These apps continue to be regularly removed from the Google Play Store, and have been for quite some time.

Verizon and AT&T plan to share hundreds of new cell towers

In a recently announced joint venture with Tillman Infrastructure, America’s biggest carriers – Verizon and AT&T – are planning to build and share hundreds of new cellular towers. According to Fierce Wireless, the companies have said that the new structures will “add to the overall communications infrastructure in the United States.” This will also allow them to reduce operating costs by relocating equipment from third party towers they are currently using.

“We continue to focus on technology innovation and investing in the latest software platforms to provide the best possible customer experience on our network,” Verizon Chief Network Officer Nicola Palmer said in a press release. “At the same time, it is imperative to reduce operating costs. We are reviewing all of our long-term contracts as they come up for renewal and we are excited to develop new vendor partners to diversify our infrastructure lineup.”

In recent times, AT&T has been very vocal about seeking alternatives to the traditional tower models. In fact, its president of technology operations, Bill Hogg, said earlier in 2017 that the current model is “unsustainable.” It makes sense that in an effort to cut spending, Verizon and AT&T have committed to sharing and co-anchoring the new towers.

Fierce Wireless says that construction plans on the first towers are set to begin “early next year” and will promptly come online as they are completed.

Samsung unveils new co-CEOs

Samsung has dealt with a wave of scandals in the past year, including the embarrassing Note 7 recall and corruption allegations involving its de facto CEO. According to CNET, Samsung has made a move to recover by promoting three presidents – Kim Ki-nam, Kim Hyun-suk and Koh Dong-jin – to the roles of co-CEOs. These three figureheads will lead the company’s device solutions, consumer electronics and IT, and mobile division respectively.

“The next generation of leaders are well suited to accelerate the pace of innovation and address the demands of the connected world,” Kwon Oh-hyun, Samsung’s retiring vice chairman, said in a statement. “They have proven track records with extensive experience and outstanding expertise in their fields.”

New co-CEO Koh Dong-jin already has made a name for himself in the Samsung sphere. He has been running day-to-day operations for the mobile division for two years, and oversaw the release of both the successful Galaxy S7 and the disastrous Note 7.

As CNET reports, the other two new CEOs are equally as qualified. “Kim Hyun-suk, the new head of the consumer electronics business, has overseen Samsung’s display business since December 2011,” explains an article on the announcement. “He started at the company in 1992 and has led the development of Samsung’s flagship TV lineups for the past decade, including its LED TV, Smart TV, UHD TV, Curved TV and QLED TV series.”

As for Kim Ki-nam, head of device solutions, the new co-CEO has been a part of Samsung since 1981, and “has played a key role in developing new memory technologies for DRAM and NAND flash products,” according to CNET.

Despite its recent public perception and representation in the media, Samsung isn’t hurting. Hours before making the announcement of their management change on October 30, the company announced its biggest operating profit ever, due to a strong demand for its memory chips – among other device components. However, it still faces tough competition from Apple and Huawei in the mobile device market.