Tag Archives: Robocalls

PTJ 220: Lost Worlds

Politics body-slammed the tech world this week, cyber-criminals have figured out yet another way to rip off unsuspecting victims and an enterprising young archaeologist has come up with a way to let volunteers help look for lost ruins from the comfort of their own homes. And when El Kaiser and J.D. finish the news, it’s time to pour one out for the Father of Pac-Man. Welcome to Episode 220!

PTJ 180: Fighting Those Robocall Blues

You know them, you hate them: political robocalls, telemarketers and phone scams.

This week J.D. introduces us to services that help stop that flood of annoying calls and fills us in on what steps the FTC and the FCC are taking to help end the scourge.

In the news, Apple wins a big one in court;  Microsoft finally puts a price on its Hololens augmented headset (and it ain’t cheap); Google’s self-driving car gets into an accident; and a long trip into space comes to an end.

Of course there’s more news and lots of shenanigans, so click play and enjoy the ride!

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 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwrjAa1SgjQ

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?

Episode 40 News: Robocops and Robbers

Hate unauthorized robocalls on your cellphone that eat into your monthly minutes? The Federal Communications Commission has issued citations to two big political robocall companies accused of spewing audio spam to mobile numbers in 2011 and 2012. The firms could face up to $4.8 million in fines for this particular investigation. FCC rules and the Communications Act ban robocalls to mobile phones unless the recipient has given permission to be contacted by the company doing the calling or unless the call is part of an emergency information system. (Dirty tricks are an unfortunate part of politics and it appears there was even a cyberattack on the online election system last fall. )

picardSamsung finally whipped the veil off its Galaxy S4 smartphone last week and the fancy new model should be on sale by the end of April. The Android-based Galaxy S4 is bringing Samsung a lot of attention for its hardware design, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some Google executives are getting worried about that because it may mean Samsung wants to horn in on mobile-search revenue. Samsung has been tinkering around with its own mobile operating system as well.

Google itself it keeping busy and is said to be working on a new note-taking app called Google Keep that works a bit like the popular Evernote service and uses its own Google Drive cloud storage system. Some sources are also saying the company will soon be unifying its multiple messaging services — which include Google Talk, Hangout, Voice, Messenger, Chat for Drive collaboration, and the Google Talk for G+ — into one fresh new service called Babble that can go up against Apple’s iMessage service and BlackBerry Messenger. Google’s recent decision to kill off Google Reader has proven to be good news for the Feedly RSS service. The Los Angeles Times and others have reported that Feedly gained half-a-million users after Google announced it was dumping Reader and robbing the faithful of their favorite RSS software.

Electronic Arts says that customers who buy and register SimCity 5 before March 26 can choose a free game from a selection of EA digital downloads including Mass Effect 3, Plants vs Zombies and Bejeweled 3. Since SimCity 5 arrived in early March, many players have blamed the “always online” requirement for causing bugs, in-game glitches, crashes and long waits to even get on to play the game. Electronic Arts is also investigating a security issue with Origin, its online distribution system. Security researchers have experimented with exploiting a loophole in the way Origin handles links to games users have downloaded and installed, and they’ve been able to make it run code that compromised a target machine. (On a happier note, visitors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art can now see SimCity 2000 on display, along with several other classic games in the Applied Design exhibit.)

Microsoft would like you to update your Windows 7 machine to Windows 7 Service Pack 1 if you haven’t already done so. If not, Microsoft will start doing it for you this week as part of Windows Update. Microsoft has also stamped an end of mainstream-support date of July 8th, 2014 for its Windows Phone 8 software, which has started speculation that Windows Phone 9 may be on the way soon. And over in Cupertino, Apple released iOS 6.1.3 this week to fix a pesky flaw that knowledgeable intruders can use to blow by the lock screen.

And finally, Verizon could be to changing up the way it charges its customers for channel subscriptions on its FiOS TV service. The company would like to charge subscribers just for the channels they actually watch. This move could potentially weed out little-watched channels from the lineup, change how Verizon pays networks for their shows and make for more stable pricing. It could also make room for newer, more interesting channels. (Yo, Disney, how about a 24-hour Star Wars channel?)

Episode 40: Robocalls and Broken Hearts

J.D. clues us in on some useful websites that help you navigate other websites to easily update complicated privacy settings, cancel subscriptions and lots more. El Kaiser’s heart is shattered by Google as they pull the plug on Reader, their Web-based RSS feed aggregator, but he pulls it together long enough to talk to Aaron Bernstein of the Texas-based SerialKickers about their new ArchMount iPad tripod mount and how online crowdfunding sites and 3D printing could give small startups an edge. In the news: Google frets over Samsung’s Android hardware dominance as the Korean electronics giant debuts a new flagship smartphone; the FCC takes on political robocallers; hackers target Florida’s online election system; and Verizon looks to pare down their FIOS channel offerings by tracking viewing habits.