PTJ 89 News: Heads or Tails

Merely having its own tablet and TV set-top box is clearly not enough to keep up with Google and Apple: Amazon is said to be working on its own line of smartphones now as well. According to the Boy Genius Report site and a few other sources, the flagship Amazon touchscreen phone will run a modified version of Android and sport a glasses-free 3D interface that can quickly whisk you to Amazon’s various online store departments. (And of course, the Web, where you can check out the True Detective/Family Circus mashup, Time is a Flat Circus.)

So much for the all-in-one approach: Facebook is ripping out the messaging functionality from its smartphone apps and forcing users who want to exchange messages within the service to download its separate Messenger app. Facebook claims the division of services makes messaging better and faster, but privacy advocates suggest a visit into the app’s settings to turn off location stamps and other potential annoyances like those Chat Head things.

dronesHas there been a bit of upstreaming with the drones? According to The Wall Street Journal, Google has now slipped in and purchased Titan Aerospace, the drone maker of Facebook was flirting with earlier this year. However, The Social Network is paying $20 million for Ascenta, a company based in the United Kingdom that also makes unmanned solar-powered vehicles.

In mobile news, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone went on sale last week and seems to have sold a few units, even though Samsung has not released official sales figures yet.  T-Mobile continues to stomp the data-plan paradigm and says it’s going to stop charging penalty fees for customers who go over their monthly limits. The company’s CEO also threw down the virtual gauntlet with an online petition and challenged its national-carrier rivals AT&T, Sprint and Verizon to lay off the overcharges as well.

Windows Phone 8.1 is getting some good reviews, including one from the Ars Technica site that calls it “a magnificent smartphone platform.” The new mobile OS can apparently accept passes designed for Apple’s Passbook app and the new Cortana assistant got special raves.

The Netflix company blog reports that Comcast customers here in the States are seeing streaming speeds up to 65 percent faster here in March than in January. (Guess that special deal paid off.)

Hopefully, everyone has their servers patched and their passwords changed after the Heartbleed bug hit the headlines last week. The National Journal notes that while the bug was publicized on April 7th, the Google engineer and the Finnish security team at Codenomicon actually uncovered the flaw earlier in March. Google fixed its own servers and told a few other companies about the gaping security hole, but didn’t tell the US government.

Last week’s revelation of the Heartbleed bug sent a lot of people scrambling to change their passwords and shore up security — and for good reason. A new report from the Pew Research Center says 18 percent of adults using the Internet now say they’ve had important personal information stolen and 21 percent say they’ve had an mail or account with a social networking site compromised. (Remember when an occasional AOL email spoofing used to be the worst thing that ever happened?)

Talk about facetime: The FBI plans to have its state-of-the-art face recognition database up and running by this summer with more than 52 million photos on file — including those of people who have never committed a crime and have no reason to be in a law-enforcement database. Through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation requested documents regarding the FBI’s biometric database, Next Generation Identification, and published its findings. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is also keeping tabs on the NGI.

And finally, if privacy and security are on your mind, check out Tails. It’s the operating system Edward Snowden used in his work with the NSA. The Tails system is a Linux distribution that can run on almost any computer from a USB stick, SD card or DVD, where it leaves no trace on the host computer. Tails can offer anonymity to its users —unless of course, there’s a camera and face-recognition software nearby.

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