Tag Archives: Federal Trade Commission

PTJ 239: Leak Week

June is Internet Safety Month, but it hasn’t been very safe for the personal information of 198 million people, which got exposed by sloppy data handling. The notoriously private Apple got trolled as well when a top-secret meeting about stopping data leaks got, er, leaked. After wading through the tech headlines of the week,  El Kaiser and J.D. discuss the merits of RAID, as well as how to turn your smartphone into a handy magnifier for those annoying moments when you actually have to read the fine print. Episode 239 of Pop Tech Jam awaits you.

Links to Stories in This Week’s News Segment

Tech Term

RAID levels explained (PCMag.com)
Digital storage basics, Part 2: External drive vs. NAS server (CNET)
• 
How to configure a cheap, secure RAID backup system (Macworld)

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint

PTJ 209: Fights and Flights

It’s been a loooong campaign and Election Day is just a few weeks away. If you want to beat the crowds, J.D. has a (Hopefully) Helpful Hint on how to see if your state allows early voting — and what you need to bring to the polls. Meanwhile El Kaiser has a few new headphones to inspect. In the week’s tech news Google checks facts and flights, Samsung is still scrambling to douse the Galaxy Note 7 fires, Facebook Messenger has some suggestions for your online discourse and there is a squadron of Taunting Drones buzzing drivers south of the border. Want to find out more? Just press Play.

Headphone Review Models

Status Audio CB-1 Closed Black Studio Monitors
• thinksound On2 Monitor Series

Links to This Week’s News Stories

PTJ 203 News: Irish Wakeup Call

Nothing like a $14.6 billion bill for back taxes to get your attention, eh? That’s the hefty sum Apple is facing after a European Commission ruling this week found the company’s tax deal with Ireland was illegal under European Union rules. Apple and Ireland are both vowing to appeal the ruling, and in a letter released publicly on its website, Apple stated the ruling would have an impact on investment and job creation in Europe.  The EU is also investigating Amazon and McDonald’s for similar practices.

Apple may have other legal woes brewing on this side of the pond as well. A nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed against the company by plaintiffs who claim that their iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones suffer from defecting screens that make them unresponsive. The defect was dubbed Touch Disease by the repair site iFixit, who has looked at the issue and found hundreds of ailing iPhones with flickering gray bars on glitchy screens.

ifixit

Apple has set the date for its annual Fall Media Monopoly Event. As some predicted, it’ll be early this year — September 7th and at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. New iPhones and an arrival date for iOS 10 are expected to be announced for sure, and updates on macOS Sierra, watchOS, and tvOS could be in the mix, as well as hardware news about Apple Watch, the MacBook Pro laptops, the iPad Pro and other gear. But will there be One More Thing?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California tossed out a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014 that accused AT&T of bandwidth-throttling customers who still had unlimited data plans after those customers went beyond customary allowances.

Twitter and Facebook may get more if the hate speech headlines, but Microsoft is stepping up its efforts to smack down the extremists and Troll Legions roaming on own online properties. In a post on one of the company blogs, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer Jacqueline Beauchere, writes, “Today we’re announcing a new dedicated web form for reporting hate speech on our hosted consumer services, and a separate web form for requests to reconsider and reinstate content.”

hatespeech

Facebook’s Trending Topics section has had its ups and downs this year with charges of political bias in story selection and promotion and last week, Facebook reportedly decided to get rid of the humans who were writing story descriptions for trending list and just have the algorithms start listing popular topics based on what users were sharing. However, a lot of Facebook users were sharing a false story about broadcaster Megyn Kelly getting fired from Fox News for being a liberal — so the fake story made it onto the trending list. Whoopsie!

On to the Department of Democracy Nightmares, the Federal Bureau of Investigation says it has evidence that hackers breached two state election databases this summer. While actual vote-counting systems were not involved YET, foreign-based hackers targeted voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. Paper ballots for all this year, please.

While test drones are buzzing around the countryside of merry old England, here in the States, the Federal Aviation Administration just started giving the drone pilot’s-license test this week. More than 3300 people signed up to take the test on the first day. The Wired site has a study guide for wannabe drone jockeys.

In other drone news, Jennifer Youngman, a 65-year-old woman in rural Virginia, took down a drone in one blast from her 20-gauge shotgun earlier this summer. She lives near the actor Robert Duvall. She also chatted with the CBC about the incident.

bangbanglady

In product news, Sonos and Amazon are hooking up with a new strategic partnership. What this means is that people who own both voice-activated Echo speakers and Sonos sound systems will be able to tell the Echo speaker to play music through the Sonos system.

FitBit announced two new exercise trackers this week, the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fitbit Flex 2. You can even swin with the Flex 2, they say.

russiaAnd finally, the Centauri Dreams blog devoted to deep space exploration noted a radio telescope in Russia (shown here), had picked up “strong signal in the direction of HD164595” last year. HD 164595 is a star with at least planet in the system within the constellation Hercules, all about 95 light years from Earth. The site merely said the signal was interesting and deserved further scrutiny. Astronomers at the SETI Institute have already written a brief paper on the matter.  Seasoned experts around the web were skeptical, with one noting the signal was on the part of the radio spectrum used by the military and another posting, “It’s not our first time at this rodeo, so we know how it works,” on a SETI message board. Sure, the signal may be nothing — but it kind of makes one want to haul out the Contact DVD for some Hollywood science and reinstall the SETI@home software on your current computer, you know?

Opening shot from Contact (1997) from Single Shot Film Festival on Vimeo.

Call Me Maybe Never

Between the 2016 political elections, tax season and the usual robocall/telemarketer harassment, being anywhere near a telephone these days can be a major pain. True, you can screen unfamiliar numbers and let them go through to voicemail or the answering machine, but there are other ways to deal with them. Signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry is one step, but a lot of sleazy robomarketers ignore it. You can also block numbers from unwanted callers, but those unwanted callers keep coming up with new numbers. What to do, what to do…

Let’s start with illegal robocalls, those automated spam calls that blast you with an annoying pre-recorded message. Most of the major phone companies aren’t much help, but the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission and  have been battling illegal robocalls for years. The FCC has a complaint form on its site for harassed consumers and the FTC has an information page and an informative graphic to explain its efforts against the practice.

The FTC has even held contests over the years to ask the public to contribute their own ideas and solutions consumers could use to help fight back. Last year’s winner of the Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back challenge was a mobile app called Robokiller.

Another winner from a previous year: A free service called Nomorobo, which works by using a feature known as “simultaneous ring.” When simultaneous ring is enabled, your phone will ring on more than one number at the same time.  When the Nomorobo number is set as a simultaneous-ring number, it grabas the call first. If it’s legitimate, the call goes through to your number. But if Nomorobo detects the telltale signs of a robocall, it hangs up for you.

The FTC’s robocall challenge also generated a collection of tips and tricks a few years ago that reportedly cut down on automated calls for some people. Some suggestions include investing in call-blocker hardware or services, or even putting the three-note “disconnect” tone at the beginning of your greeting to trick some systems to automatically hanging up.

Need more suggestions? Consumer Reports has done “Rage Against Robocalls” investigation into robocalls and reviewed several call-blocking options.

So what about telemarketers, those humans whose mission is to talk you into giving them money for something. As with the members of almost any civilization, some members are professional and well-behaved, and some are vile scum. A former telemarketer told the Lifehacker site that if you do happen to pick up an unwanted call, say “Please put me on your do not call list” and the well-behaved telemarketers will honor your request.

As for the autodialers and vile scum, you could always try a product like the TeleZapper, (which has been around for years and you can still find on Amazon), that simulates the disconnect tones when it senses the handoff from automatic dialer to telemarketer and dumps the call. Just look for a “call blocker” in your shopping searches.

But there’s also a newer approach emerging, one that takes a piece out of the person trying to waste your time by wasting their time by making them talk to a bot. These bots use a set of pre-recorded vocal responses to react to what the telemarketer is pitching and keeps them in an endless loop of pointless conversation — so telemarketers have less time to bother other people.

The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is one such service and it was created by a guy who had enough when a telemarketer got aggressive with his son. So he created a voicebot to keep the telemarketers chasing their tails. Then he wrote up instructions on his blog so other people could use it. Basically, when the telemarketer asks for you, say, “Just a minute” and then loop in the bot’s phone number on an Add Call or three-way call. The Jolly Roger Phone Company has a lively YouTube page full of real encounters with telemarketers. The site has US, UK and Australian numbers to use for the bot.

A similar Canadian bot called Lenny, which uses recordings that sound like a rambling old Australian man, has even busted political fundraisers. Lenny also has his own YouTube channel.

So here’s to all the creative types who fight telephone abuse! And since this is March already, don’t let your guard down against the annual surge of scammers pretending to be from the IRS either by phone or phish. And if you get a live fake IRS call — just give ’em a free cruise on the Jolly Roger.

PTJ 172 News: Wake-Up Call

Talk about your Rey of light! The seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise opened last Thursday night and went on to make $247.9 million dollars in its first weekend and broke several other records along the way, Many people stayed off the Internet and social media to avoid spoilers until they saw the film, and Google Trends set up a whole page of Star Wars: The Force Awakens-related lists based on the terms people were using in Google Search. The countdown for Rogue One (December 16th, 2016) and Episode VIII (May 26th, 2017) has begun!

Meanwhile, in a galaxy much closer to home, the folks at SpaceX must be breathing a sign of relief after the company was able to launch — and land — a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida this week. The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, delivered 11 low-earth satellites into orbit for the ORBCOMM company and then returned safely and in one piece about 10 minutes later. After previous mishaps and an explosion earlier this year, SpaceX redesigned the Falcon 9 rocket and the company plans to reuse the booster for another mission. (Let’s hope they clean the crew cabin between flights, unlike some domestic airlines around here.)

spacex

Like tarting up images and then sharing them online? Adobe, maker of Photoshop, has a new free iOS app called Adobe Post. It’s described in detail on an Adobe blog, and yes, the company says an Android version is in the works. As Macworld points out, though, you have to share the app with a friend to get rid of an watermark Post puts on your pictures. Also in picture news, Facebook is adding support for the Live Photos created by Apple’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models. While the new feature is slowly rolling out, only users with the iOS version of Facebook’s app will be able to see the mini moving pictures. Oh, well.

It sounds like Microsoft and Google are talking over each other, at least when it comes to the Cortana assistant app on Android devices. In a recent update to the app for the American version, Microsoft has disabled the voice-activated “Hey Cortana” feature apparently due to microphone conflicts with the “OK, Google” voice command. Microsoft also announced this week it was going to crack down on aggressive adware that makes PC users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. As of March 31st next year, Microsoft plans to yank or block adware that defies its policies.

The Nielsen folks have released their list of the top apps of 2015 as measured by the number of users.  Odds are, you’re probably using one or two of the winning apps.

visitorJuniper Networks, which makes firewall for business enterprise customers, had to issue the advisory last week that so company remotely related to online protection wants to release: the Security Bulletin outlining multiple issues with one of its products.  A short FAQ on the incident. patches and workarounds were also posted. Wired reports that researchers now think the National Security Agency was at least partially responsible, and cryptography expert Matthew Green even has a blog post describing how hackers used an existing back door to make one of their own. Also in government snooping news, Apple is pushing back at a bill in the United Kingdom that seeks to expand Parliament’s investigatory powers and could give the government the power to make Apple decrypt its iMessage service.

The Federal Trade Commission has chased down the Oracle Corporation and charged that the company bamboozled customers about the safety of security updates to its Java software.  Thanks to a legal order, Oracle must provide an uninstall tool so users can pry the old Java crapware off their systems and make sure future updates actually provide the promised security.

hellkittyAnother week, another database leak. And another one that involves information about kids — Hello Kitty, of all things. Several sites have reported on the incident, but the one called The Office of Inadequate Security over at www.databreaches.net and the Salted Hash site lay it down: “Database Leak Exposes the 3.3 Million Hello Kitty Fans.”  The issue was discovered by security researcher Chris Vickery, who has been having a banner year of fail-hunting, and appears to be more of a server misconfiguration thing rather than hacker tracks. Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, posted a statement on its site saying credit-card info was not at risk and yes, they fixed the problem.

While passwords can be a pain, especially when they’re hacked, Google is experimenting with a new way of logging in via smartphone notification. Yahoo, which has had its own security problems, updated its Yahoo Mail mobile app last fall that also did away with passwords in favor of a push notification to a mobile device. Just don’t lose your phone.

Layoffs are a fact of life in the tech industry and Toshiba is taking a hit now. The company, which claims to have released the world’s first mass-market laptop back in 1985 and affordable models in the 1990s, has been steadily losing ground to rival companies in Asia. The company, which also had a major accounting scandal this summer, said Monday it plans to cut about five percent of its workforce .

rosieThe Consumer Electronics Show is still about three weeks away, but the advance press releases are already starting to trickle out. Cleaning fans take note, LG plans to reveal what it calls “the world’s first augmented reality vacuum cleaner” at CES next month. The company’s HOM-BOT Turbo+ uses three camera sensors to record its surroundings to keep track of where it has already cleaned — and  to transmit a real-time feed to its owner’s smartphone. The human just needs to tap an area of the room displayed on the screen to have the HOM-BOT go over there and clean it. Because the vacuum has motion sensors along with its cameras, it can also be used to keep an eye on the place, but the HOM-BOT doesn’t quite sound like its up to a Terminator level of protection . . . yet.

bot

PTJ 159: Put Your Credit On Ice…Online

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but where there is good, there is also bad — namely the major spike in identity theft and credit-card fraud. Within the past couple years, hacks of huge customer-info databases like Target, Anthem, Sony, eBay, Home Depot, the IRS, Ashley Madison, JPMorgan, CVS Photo and U.S. government computer systems have put the personal information of millions of people into the hands of evildoers.

Getting a fraud alert call from your credit-card company — or seeing and stopping unauthorized charges on your monthly bill — is annoying enough to deal with, but things get kicked up several notches in the PITA department if your whole identity is stolen. If someone gets your Social Security number, address and other personal information, you can find your credit wrecked by that person signing up for new credit cards in your name and running up unpaid bills.iStock_000041691558LargeOne thing you can do to protect yourself, however, is to put a Security Freeze on your credit file with the big three agencies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The freeze locks up access to your credit report — which people issuing new credit cards want to see before they approve a new account. If it’s you wanting that new account, you just have to provide a pre-approved PIN to unlock your reports for creditors, but an identity thief won’t have access to that. So most likely someone else’s application for a new credit card in your name will be turned down, thus saving your credit integrity.

You can put the freeze on your credit file in about 20 minutes by going online to the sites of Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and filling out a webform. You do have to type in your Social Security Number for this, so make sure you are on a secure Internet connection. You also need to remember the PIN you pick to unfreeze your accounts. If you are nervous about doing this online, you can also call each agency:

Depending on the state you live in, there may be a small fee to freeze or unfreeze your credit files. Activating a security freeze does not affect your credit score, stop fraud on existing credit cards or prevent you from getting a free annual credit report. It also does not stop your mailbox from filling up with “prescreened” credit-card offers and pamphlets, but you can call or go online to opt out of those at 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or at www.optoutprescreen.com.

Intrigued, but want to know more about the credit deep freeze? The Federal Trade Commission has more information on its site, as well as details on Extended Fraud Alerts. Adding a freeze may take a few minutes out of your day, but it can help protect your identity and credit score. And as they say, the best defense is a good offense.
Go team!

PTJ 156 News: Insecurity Checkpoint

Well, that Ashley Madison thing sure blew up last week, didn’t it? At last count, there are five lawsuits seeking more than a half-billion dollars filed against the site and its parent company. In further fallout, a $500,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the hackers. But in an ironic twist noted by security blogger Brian Krebs, other files posted in the data dump indicate that top dogs from Avid Life Media itself may have hacked a competing website themselves to hijack customer information. Oh, and the Columbia Journalism Review has some thoughts on the journalistic ethics of the whole sordid mess.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled that the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to sue companies that fail to enforce data security policies and lose personal customer data to hackers. The ruling stems from the original case filed by the FTC back in 2012 against hotel conglomerate Wyndham Worldwide Corporation for three data breaches in two years and $10 million dollars in fraudulent charges, all due to epic security failures.

Microsoft may not be dominating smartphone sales, but the company is finding new uses for the devices. A Microsoft Research Project called MobileFusion lets people use their phones to scan objects and create high-quality 3D images that can be later used for things like augmented reality video games or 3-D printing. The research team on the project will formally present MobileFusion in early October at the International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality but you can check out the demo video now:

Microsoft also just  released a public beta of its Cortana assistant for Android for anyone interested enough to jump in. And in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Windows 95 this past Monday, the company gave away free downloads of the classic Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” in the Windows Store for anyone who was paying attention or feeling nostalgic about old advertising campaigns.

Comcast has big plans for the next couple of years. The company told the Fierce Cable site that it plans to upgrade its entire cable network with DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which can support maximum data speeds of 10 gigabits per second. No word on pricing for the home crowd yet

In the Department of Just Not Having It, Mozilla  CEO Chris Beard has threatened to fire — if the person was found to be a Mozilla employee — an anonymous Reddit user posting remarks about feminists and “social justice warriors.”   In other company news, Mozilla announced a shift for the Firefox browser last week and has plans to move away from the add-in software created by third-party developers to the more secure extensions model used by Google Chrome.

Twitter has informed Open State Foundation, the Netherlands-based political watchdog group, that it was suspending access to the company’s API for both the Diplotwoops and Politwoops apps. The apps displayed deleted tweets of lawmakers and diplomats for journalists and other to see. While the US version of Polititwoops got the kibosh on May, other companies had been able to use it.

Mapmaker

Google has re-opened its community-editing Map Maker tool to 45 more countries after shutting down the utility in May after a bout of user-generated vandalism was uncovered. Two weeks ago, Map Maker, reappeared for six countries. Google has changed the way Map Maker works, and now includes Regional Leads, or people who will moderate edits to maps in their area. Polygon editing is no longer available and Google warns that is you mess around and violate Map Maker’s terms of use, you will not be able to use the software anymore. The Android Police and other sites are reporting that Google is experimenting with adding food photography  to its maps for people browsing restaurant possibilities.

In drone news, Sony is working with the Japanese robotics company ZMP and experimenting with an unmanned aerial vehicle that look like tiny airplane, but that can take off and land vertically. The two companies have formed a new company called Aerosense for  commercial drone adventures, and have another model that looks more like the traditional buckshot-magnet quadcopter.

MMAnd finally, the International Space Station just received a cargo module from Japan with 4.5 tons of supplies — and a batch of Suntory Whiskey products. Now, before you have visions of the astronauts playing quarters in zero gravity or taking some really loopy spacewalks, the booze is there for scientific reasons. The  whiskey samples will be studied to see if aging in microgravity has any effect on the mellowing of the liquor’s flavor.  All in the name of science, folks.

PTJ 155 News: Grin and Bear It

marshAfter months of speculation, Android M has an official snack nickname in Google’s pantheon of tasty versions! Android 6.0, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system, will be called Marshmallow and the software development kit is now available for those who want to build apps for it. Ever so busy, Google also just built a standalone website for its Hangouts videochat service, too.

As a story in last weekend’s New York Times tells it, Amazon is the modern equivalent of a massive Dickensian workhouse where everyone is overworked and crying.  As one can imagine, however, Twitter got hopping and Amazon spokespeople were quick to defend the company, fanning out across print, television and Internet to rebut The Times. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even wrote a company-wide memo that was widely leaked, and the NYT Public Editor weighed in as well.

Amazon was not the only company with a PR team in overdrive lately. The social media team at the dating app Tinder took offense to a Vanity Fair article lamenting the rise of hookup apps in general and went on a long Twitter rant against the magazine and the author of the article. During the tweetstorm, the Tinder Twitter complained the writer did not contact the company for comment and accused Vanity Fair of one-side journalism. Others noted the article wasn’t specifically about Tinder, but dating apps in general, and said the company behaved like a hurt teenage girl lashing out and seemed surprised that journalists do things differently than PR people. Salon wondered if the whole thing was “a sincerely epic case of butthurt or just a clever attention-getting ruse.”

In other online hookup news, the National Security Agency and AT&T apparently had quite a partnership in sharing customer data. As revealed in the latest document dump from Edward Snowden and reported by The New York Times and ProPublica, AT&T gave the NSA access to billions of emails crossing its domestic networks, as well as a massive amount of cellphone calling records.

As for government agencies, there are new reports out that the hack on the Internal Revenue Service was larger than originally thought. New evidence points to the hack starting several months earlier than first noted as well. So, instead of 100,000 people having their personal details swiped, it’s more than 300,000.

Sprint is the latest carrier to ditch two-year cellphone contracts, following T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. As part of its service overhaul, Sprint introduced its iPhone Forever plan, which gets you the current model for $22 a month on your bill.

robokillerThe Federal Trade Commission has announced the winner of last spring’s “Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back” challenge to developers. The $25,000 prize goes to an app called RoboKiller. If you want to know how it works, check out this PDF and the Kickstarter page.

The same sort of malvertising campaign that infested Yahoo’s ad network seems to have spread to other sites around the Web. The Malwarebytes security team reports they’ve now seen poison adverts on aol.com, weather.com, Weather Underground, The Drudge Report and other well-traveled domains.

Comcast is said to have new video platform called Watchable waiting in the wings. According to the Business Insider site, the telecom giant has formed partnerships with digital publishers like Vox, Buzzfeed, The Onion, Mic, Vice, Refinery29 and other sites to package content for streaming on the service. (BuzzFeed, for its part, announced this week that it was getting a 200 million dollar investment from Comcast family member NBC Universal to put toward its video efforts.) The new Comcast service, if it exists, could also compete with Verizon’s upcoming Go90 mobile video service.

Facebook is revamping its blog-like Notes feature to make it more appealing to users who have forgotten than Notes exists. Some have observed that the wide-margined new Notes templates make them look like articles on Medium. (Does anyone remember actually using Facebook Notes outside of those viral “15 Things” lists?)

Boston Dynamics recently released a video (below) that showed off Atlas, its humanoid robot with a stomp through the woods in such a manner that The Washington Post likened it to “a drunk Iron Man.” For those who have forgotten, Boston Dynamics is owned by Google, which is testing Atlas as an experimental bipedal rescue machine. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like, well, a Cylon.

The 9to5Mac site is beefing up the details on its New Apple TV rumor coverage and is now predicting the new set-top streamer will have a new streamlined hardware design, new user interface, iOS 9, App Store access, that dedicated remote control we heard about earlier this year and Siri support.

Apple’s Siri assistant can do more than just set calendar appointments and look up baseball scores. The program was credited with saving the life of a teenage boy in Tennessee when he was pinned under his truck after the tire jack collapsed. While he was shifting around trying to get out from under the 5,000-pound Dodge Dakota, he heard the familiar Siri bleep coming from his back pocket and was able to get the app to call 911 for help with a life-saving butt-dial.

And finally, it’s not just shotgun owners and other privacy minded people who are annoyed by unmanned drones buzzing around overhead. Bears in the woods do not like drones either. Researchers at the University of Minnesota put health-tracking monitors on six black bears and recorded the ursine reaction to 17 drone flights. The heart rates of all the bears increased when the drones were within 21 years overhead — which indicates stress. The 15-page paper titled “Bears Show a Physiological but Limited Behavioral Response to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” was published online in the journal Current Biology and concludes that more research is needed to see if the bears would get used to the drones over time. The study, in one convenient image:

bearchart

Wildlife researchers do use drones in their work to observe animals from a distance, and Canada even has what the BBC calls a “goose-bothering drone” designed to scare off pesky Canadian geese in Ottawa by blasting recordings of predatory birds. And why yes, that drone is called the GooseBuster. Who ya gonna call?

PTJ 143 News: Red-Letter Days

Who says the epistolary arts are dead in this age of text and email? As user-privacy rights and national-security concerns continue to clash, stern words are still the weapons of choice.  This week, a coalition of 140 technology companies, security experts and other industry players sent a letter to President Obama asking him to “reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products.” The letter comes in response to recent remarks by Administration officials that suggested American companies not use (or create) products secured by encryption —unless a backdoor key was provided to the government. No word on a White House reply yet, not even from the President’s new official Twitter account. (Perhaps Mr. Obama was busy joshing with Mr. Clinton.)

The White House was not the only place that got a note of concern this week. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, received a group letter of opposition signed by 67 digital rights groups who don’t like the idea of the company’s Internet.org project because it stifles the concept of net neutrality, freedom of expression and all that stuff.

fb

Also in letter writing news, the Federal Trade Commission has asked the bankruptcy court handling the RadioShack case to protect the personal information of former RadioShack customers. As more companies eventually go bust and their data assets are up for grabs, the FTC will likely be writing a lot more letters.

Worried that the telcos will backslide on those new Net Neutrality rules from the Federal Communications Commission? Internet activists have launched an Internet Health Test site  that checks the quality of your broadband connection and looks for any sign of speed degradation, perhaps by an ISP throttling. Your results are then shared as compiled data in the public domain. Meanwhile, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who once threatened to pause developments of fiber networks if the FCC’s new rules were passed, said AT&T would keep investing in its infrastructure because he is now confident the new rules will be overturned.

IHT

Federal investigators are looking into the claims of one Chris Roberts, a security researcher who said he was able to hack into the computer systems on an United Airlines flight. He said he could gain enough control to do things like drop the oxygen masks, mess with the cockpit’s alert system or even cause the plane to move sideways. Um, yeah, Federal officials, please look into this.

According to an investigative piece out this week from Advertising Age, Google has a crack squad of Antifraud Specialists fighting the ad-bot hucksters. And speaking of  exploits, there’s a new one out that shows a proof-of-concept address-spoofing attack using a bug in Apple’s Safari web browser.

In other Apple News, the fancy new 15-inch MacBook Pro with the ForceTouch trackpad is available now, as is a cheaper version of the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. Prices start at about $2,000 for either. If the Internet can be believed,  Apple is getting ready to roll out some fresh code for both the Apple Watch and the Apple TV; the new version of that set-top box is expected  next month at the World Wide Developers Conference. Oh, and The Wall Street Journal has a story this week that explains why Apple hasn’t jumped into the full-on television market yet.

The Internet has come to the rescue again! After it was canceled by Fox, Mindy Kaling’s sitcom, The Mindy Project, was picked up by TV-streaming service Hulu for a fourth season of 26 new episodes.

mindy

Google and the University of Washington have teamed up for an inventive project that uses 86 million pictures from photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa to create amazing time-lapse videos. The researchers wrote up their findings in a paper whimsically titled “Time-Lapse Mining from Internet Photos.”

And finally, Microsoft is celebrating 25 years of Solitaire on Windows. Woo hoo! Microsoft’s solitaire collection, which includes the standard Klondike version, plus the FreeCell, Spider, TriPeaks, and Pyramid variations, is available free in the online app store for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. Here’s to a quarter century of lost productivity in offices across the globe!

PTJ 137 News: Sticks and Phones

roku3Spring is full of popular television shows returning with fresh new episodes, and streaming TV boxes are busting a move. Roku has upgraded its Roku 3 and Roku 2 set-top streaming boxes with improved features like alphabetical search and a movie watchlist. A software update for existing Roku boxes also adds these features. The $100 Roku 3 (shown here) now has voice search — and a headphone jack — in its remote control. The $70 Roku 2 is pretty much the same streaming box without the fancy remote. Oh, and Roku just updated its Android app and is putting the finishing touches on the iOS version this week.

BuzzFeed New, which was the first to publish reports on the new updated Apple TV box expected later this year, has new information on the forthcoming device, mainly that it will not initially support those big but glorious 4K video streams. Apple is not commenting.

With new phones, come new complaints from early adopters — and PR moves to quell the unrest.  Samsung responded to a video from mobile-warranties dealer SquareTrade that purported to show a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge being bent and then broken. While arguing about the test’s methodology, Samsung released its own “Three-Point Bend Test” video. (The company also says that contrary to reports from developer forums, pre-installed apps on its Galaxy S6 phones cannot be uninstalled, just hidden from view.)

Ever quoted a tweet but had no room for your own comment due to Twitter’s character limit?  Twitter said this week that it was tweaking the “quote tweet” feature, which should give the quoters another 116 characters for snark or bark on the original.

Researchers at Stanford University are testing a new aluminum-ion battery that could one day replace the current lithium-ion and alkaline power cells we use today. They charge faster and catch on fire less, which is an improvement over current batteries all around.

oliverTV comedian John Oliver of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight” interviewed NSA leaker Edward Snowden to discuss government surveillance reform. Oliver broke down the topic into parts the average user who does not care about the complexities of government surveillance can understand.  In other Snowden news, activists placed a large sculpture of Edward Snowden in the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn his week. City workers quickly removed it, but a second activist group then began to project a hologram in the same place dedicated to Snowden.

Facebook is apparently being used to officially serve divorce papers. Will Facebook weddings be legal soon, too?

Apple Maps has now added content from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on certain hotel reviews. Hopefully, the maps themselves have gotten better, too.

surface3Speaking of products that originally arrived with a deep thud, Microsoft just released a new version of its tablet computer. The Surface 3 is thinner and lighter than previous versions. Prices start at $499. The Surface 3 is the less-corporate version of the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s touted laptop-replacement tablet that starts at $799.

Microsoft is middle-aged now. The company, which was founded on April 5th, 1975, just celebrated the big 4-0 this past weekend and is shopping for future relevance along with a little red Corvette.

Microsoft may have gotten rich selling PC software, but the PC hardware itself has slimmed down quite a bit over the years. As shown at the top of this post, Intel’s Compute Stick, (which started pre-orders this week), is an extremely narrow portable PC that plugs into the HMDI port on a big monitor or TV. With a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, it turns it into a Windows 8.1 or Linux computer.  You can’t shake a Compute Stick at the competition, though, as Google’s Chromebit offers a colorful alternative to the system-on-a-stick approach.

A new Microsoft update for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 includes a little code for the future, reports the Myce.com site. There’s a Windows 10 downloader quietly nestled in the update code, just waiting for its cue to make Windows 8.1 users deliriously happy.

The new YouTube Kids mobile app is already coming under fire from parental groups. Some have asked the Federal Trade Commission to take a look at the program, which they says deceptively targets toddlers with advertising. Google denies the accusations, saying it worked with numerous child advocacy groups on the app.

It’s National Robotics Week! The annual event features more than 250 events around the country designed to get kids interested in the science of robotics. iRobot, the IEEE Spectrum and Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines are pitching in for the event and have even released a set of all-star real robot trading cards that you can download in PDF form, and IEEE Spectrum also has a free Robots app for the iPad that lets kids see and interact with 158 robots from 19 different countries. Because real robots are even cooler than movie robots (most of the time).

robotcards