Monthly Archives January 2018

US Senator wants Apple to answer for slowdown scandal

Cheap battery replacements might not be enough to appease consumers angered by Apple’s recent slowdown scandal, where the iPhone maker admitted to quietly slowing the performance of older phones in an effort to prolong battery life. One individual who is particularly fired up is Senator John Thune of South Dakota. Thune sent a letter to Apple this week, asking the company more questions about the scandal, and requesting a response by January 23rd.

Senator Thune is the chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which explains his interest in the matter. He said in his letter, addressed to CEO Tim Cook, that “Apple has failed to act with enough transparency,” reported The Verge. Thune also asks Apple whether “the company will issue updates in the future that slow device performance, and whether it tracked consumer complaints about performance issues.”

As has been widely reported, Apple has been compensating for the news of the slowdowns by offering a discount on battery replacements from $79 to $29. Senator Thune also wants to know how Apple arrived at that discount number, and whether is has considered free replacements or offering rebates to customers who have already paid the undiscounted fee.

Senator Thune is by no means the only government official to be concerned by Apple’s actions over this scandal. According to The Verge, officials in France are looking into a criminal probe of the company.

“Project eelo” operating system might be what you need to feel secure

Do you remember Gael Duval? He is the innovator that created Mandrake Linux back in 1998. According to an article in Tech News World, Duval has come out with a new mobile operating system called “Project eelo.” The software was designed to ensure a level of data privacy that your typical Android and iOS devices lack. Duval funded the project over Kickstarter.

Duval’s innovation promises a system that “will allow mobile phone users to regain control over their personal information at a price they can afford.”  Duval has also said that Apple is expensive, boring, and “going crazy with its products,” while Google has “become too big,” and has a penchant for spying and data tracking.

“They want to know as much as possible to sell advertising,” Duval wrote in his Kickstarter campaign. “People are free to do what they want. They can choose to be voluntary slaves. But I do not want this situation for me anymore.”

The language is strong, but a lot of people share Duval’s concerns. The campaign reached more than two hundred percent of its goal after only fifteen days, and more than two thousand people have registered at since December 20th, when Duval posted eelo updates.

According to Tech News World, Project eelo was developed from LineageOS, “which is an open source system that runs mainstream Android applications. Open source modules are layered on top of that, which help create a consistent mobile and Web system.”

Project eelo calls for developers to sell smartphones preloaded with the OS, while the software itself runs as a non-profit. Duval considers it a community project, and will welcome contributors. They plan to have downloadable ROMs for a range of devices sometime this year.

Tech News World says “developers will release privacy-enabled smartphone ROMs, as well as smartphones for ordinary users, with associated Web services. They have been testing custom builds of LineageOS/eelo on the LeEcho Le2 — a 5.5-inch smartphone with a 1080 x 1920 pixel screen, 3G RAM, 32 GB storage, a finger sensor on the back and a 4K camera.”


Stanford researchers promise your phone makes you feel good

Whether or not your phone obsession is an addiction is beside the point; according to a group of Stanford researchers, we need to reframe our negative connotation of phone culture. According to CNET, the Stanford researchers conducted two experiments to see if our need to be inseparable from our phones is actually a good thing. David M. Markowitz, one of the researchers, says the results were very hopeful.

In the first experiment, 125 people were divided into three rooms. The first room was left with their phones and allowed to use them as they pleased. The second group could have their phones on their person, but not use them or touch them. The final group were left gadget-free.

The research report stated, “Participants self-reported more concentration difficulty and more mind wandering with no device present compared to using the phone, while resisting the phone led to greater perceived concentration abilities than sitting without the device.”

The idea, says CNET, is “the mere presence of your phone is a more pleasant and productive experience than the complete absence of that beloved device.”

The researches says that this is because your smartphone represents your connection to a potentially social activity, and that this is positive because humans are inherently social beings. Look at this how you will, though. Although concentration difficulty can be frustrating, mind wandering is crucial for artistic pursuit and creativity.

Markowitz agrees that freedom to mind wander is important, but adds that “people often report worse psychological experiences when they are alone and have periods of free thinking compared to having anything else to do — for example, reading a book, even giving themselves negative stimulation such as electric shocks.”

In the second experiment, participants underwent surgery while either being allowed to use their phone or left without a device. Neither group, clearly, was undergoing a surgery that required general anesthesia. The researchers found that “those left bereft required six times the dosage of painkilling opioids than those with the phones.”

The people using their phones were given one of two activities; some were directed to play Angry Birds, while the rest were told to text. The report states that, “those who used phones to text needed fewer opioids than those who played with the birds.” Perhaps this goes back to the social connection.

Obviously phones can lead to unhealthy habits on behalf of the users. But if they can also improve psychological health or attitude in some situations, then it might be worth looking at them with a degree of positivity.

Some Android apps are listening to you without your clear consent

A recent scandal has broken in the news, reporting that certain smartphone games downloaded via the Google Play Store are listening to you through your microphone. Perhaps even more strangely, the apps aren’t listening to what you are saying; they are listening to your TV, computer, or whichever device you use to consume media. The apps even listen through the microphone while not in use.

The apps use microphone access to collect data on “what shows you watch, which ads you hear, and even what movies you see,” according to The Verge.  This is a particularly shady practice, especially considering the Federal Trade Commission has warned companies against undisclosed data collection. In 2016, it even forced certain developers to notify users.

A report in The New York Times identified more than 250 games on the Google Play Store that include a “specific type of software for monitoring users’ TV habits.” It was developed by a company called Alphonso. When apps use Alphonso’s software – or when they admit to it – it’s often without clarity. They hide their disclosure in the application description, always beneath the option to “read more.” And, as you might guess, it is very easy to miss that warning.

Some apps are a bit more forward. For example, according to The Verge, a game called Endless 9*9 puzzle by Imobile Game Studios asks for location and microphone access once installed, with no explanation as to why this information is needed. It’s only when you go into the game settings that the app discloses tracking “TV viewership details” in order to “show you TV related content and ads.” Because it does not say this when asking for access, users don’t truly consent to the practice.

So how should users be notified? The FTC has some suggested guidelines. As The Verge explains, “the commission has said that only including disclosures in, say, a YouTube video description isn’t acceptable, since not every viewer may see it. Since people can download these games without viewing the disclosure, the same issues could come up here.” Basically, the notification needs to be viewed by everyone downloading the app in a clear and unmistakable fashion.

Although more apps using the Alphonso software run through the Google Play Store, some do exist for iOS as well. If you’d like to double check to see which 250 games run Alphonso, the list is available here.

The U.S has officially fully opted into FirstNet

The telecommunications world has started off with a bang in 2018 with the full acceptance of AT&T’s FirstNet public safety network in the United States. Fifty states and three U.S territories have now opted in to the 25-year deployment plan.

According to GCN, “Last March FirstNet chose AT&T to build its nationwide public-safety wireless broadband network, which will be funded with $6.5 billion of government money and a planned $43 million expenditure by AT&T.  The telecom giant gets access to highly desirable spectrum reserved for the system, which it can use on its commercial service when not in demand by priority users.”

You can see why FirstNet is desirable on both sides, despite initial hesitation from many states across the country. AT&T set December 28, 2017 as the deadline for states and territories to opt in. On that day, AT&T announced that all 50 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia had chosen FirstNet. However, some of the country’s big players – California, Florida, and New York – waited until the final day to announce their decision. For the territories that have yet to decide – American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands – they have been given until March to make a choice, according to FirstNet.

“We are grateful to have every state say ‘yes’ to the FirstNet solution,” said Michael Poth, FirstNet CEO.  “The scale of participation by the states and territories is significant for many reasons.”

Internet inequality is still a problem

The internet can be a true force for education, democracy and free speech, but unfortunately, many people all across the world are left unconnected.

A recent report by UNICEF called ‘Children in a Digital World’ explains that “digital access is becoming the new dividing line, as millions of the children who could most benefit from digital technology are missing out.” The full report can be found here.

According to UNICEF, 346 million minors – a third of the world’s youth population – do not have internet access. This is a huge problem. As CBC explains, “digital technologies offer opportunities to learn, giving children not only access to information on issues that affect their communities, but the capacity to help solve them. Additionally, the internet provides economic opportunities by creating new kinds of work, and by providing new training opportunities and job-matching services.”

“This digital divide directly exacerbates the education divide already created by unequal access to quality education, or education at all, based on an individual’s geographic location, gender, and economic status,” Children’s media researcher and co-director of the Children’s Media Lab at Ryerson University, Colleen Russo Johnson, told CBC.

Internet access can mean the difference between success and stagnation. Especially when you consider which demographics are living without connection. As you can expect, it is largely children in low-income countries that go without. UNICEF explains that digital divides “mirror broader social economic divides,” like those between rich and poor.

These divides can be gender related. For example, in India alone, less than one third of internet users are female. And globally, twelve percent more men than women are connected. Saadia Muzaffar, tech entrepreneur and founder of TechGirls Canada, explains that “Girls, especially racialized girls, and children with disabilities are pushed to the bottom of the pyramid of access.”

Even in North America, there is a serious issue with internet inequality. Muzaffar suggests that “Even in a developed nation like Canada, our remote and on-reserve Indigenous communities, refugees and new immigrant families are severely underserved when it comes to equitable access to the internet.”