Government

FCC approval of Europe’s Galileo satellite signals may give your phone’s GPS a boost

Posted by | FCC, Gadgets, galileo, Government, gps, Mobile, Satellites, Space | No Comments

The FCC’s space-focused meeting today had actions taken on SpaceX satellites and orbital debris reduction, but the decision most likely to affect users has to do with Galileo . No, not the astronomer — the global positioning satellite constellation put in place by the E.U. over the last few years. It’s now legal for U.S. phones to use, and a simple software update could soon give your GPS signal a major bump.

Galileo is one of several successors to the Global Positioning System that’s been in use since the ’90s. But because it is U.S.-managed and was for a long time artificially limited in accuracy to everyone but U.S. military, it should come as no surprise that European, Russian and Chinese authorities would want their own solutions. Russia’s GLONASS is operational and China is hard at work getting its BeiDou system online.

The E.U.’s answer to GPS was Galileo, and the 26 (out of 30 planned) satellites making up the constellation offer improved accuracy and other services, such as altitude positioning. Test satellites went up as early as 2005, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it began actually offering location services.

A Galileo satellite launch earlier this year.

Devices already existed that would take advantage of Galileo signals — all the way back to the iPhone 6s, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and many others from that era forward. It just depends on the wireless chip inside the phone or navigation unit, and it’s pretty much standard now. (There’s a partial list of smartphones supporting Galileo here.)

When a company sells a new phone, it’s much easier to just make a couple million of the same thing rather than make tiny changes like using a wireless chipset in U.S. models that doesn’t support Galileo. The trade-off in savings versus complexity of manufacturing and distribution just isn’t worthwhile.

The thing is, American phones couldn’t use Galileo because the FCC has regulations against having ground stations being in contact with foreign satellites. Which is exactly what using Galileo positioning is, though of course it’s nothing sinister.

If you’re in the U.S., then, your phone likely has the capability to use Galileo but it has been disabled in software. The FCC decision today lets device makers change that, and the result could be much-improved location services. (One band not very compatible with existing U.S. navigation services has been held back, but two of the three are now available.)

Interestingly enough, however, your phone may already be using Galileo without your or the FCC’s knowledge. Because the capability is behind a software lock, it’s possible that a user could install an app or service bringing it into use. Perhaps you travel to Europe a lot and use a French app store and navigation app designed to work with Galileo and it unlocked the bands. There’d be nothing wrong with that.

Or perhaps you installed a custom ROM that included the ability to check the Galileo signal. That’s technically illegal, but the thing is there’s basically no way for anyone to tell! The way these systems work, all you’d be doing is receiving a signal illegally that your phone already supports and that’s already hitting its antennas every second — so who’s going to report you?

It’s unlikely that phone makers have secretly enabled the Galileo frequencies on U.S. models, but as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out in a statement accompanying the FCC action, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening:

If you read the record in this proceeding and others like it, it becomes clear that many devices in the United States are already operating with foreign signals. But nowhere in our record is there a good picture of how many devices in this country are interacting with these foreign satellite systems, what it means for compliance with our rules, and what it means for the security of our systems. We should change that. Technology has gotten ahead of our approval policies and it’s time for a true-up.

She isn’t suggesting a crackdown — this is about regulation lagging behind consumer tech. Still, it is a little worrying that the FCC basically has no idea, and no way to find out, how many devices are illicitly tuning in to Galileo signals.

Expect an update to roll out to your phone sometime soon — Galileo signals will be of serious benefit to any location-based app, and to public services like 911, which are now officially allowed to use the more accurate service to determine location.

Powered by WPeMatico

Prolific swatter and bomb hoaxer who broke up FCC’s net neutrality vote pleads guilty

Posted by | Gaming, Government, swatting | No Comments

It was a dramatic moment during the FCC’s net neutrality proceedings last December when the Commission’s public meeting was abruptly evacuated and bomb squads moved in — all while thousands watched on the live stream. The person who called in that threat has just entered a guilty plea to that and numerous other crimes, including a SWAT hoax that killed a man last December.

Tyler Barriss is a Kansas resident who has racked up dozens of charges of swatting, calling in bomb threats and other “pranks” that have proven to be anything but.

Swatting is the practice of calling the police and convincing them a dangerous armed person is at a given address in order to provoke an aggressive response by police or SWAT officers — a response that can be disastrous or fatal.

The latter was the result of one particular call Barriss made in December of 2017. He had done it like he’d done many others, for a favor or for money — this time sending the police to the former home of an acquaintance’s Call of Duty rival. The officers shot and killed the current resident of that home, and Barriss — who made no secret of his involvement — was arrested shortly afterwards. It had only been about a year since he was released from prison for similar crimes.

Today Barriss, who was 25 when he was arrested in January, pleaded guilty to a number of charges that had been filed under a variety of jurisdictions. Among them was the bomb threat called in to the FCC, but the sheer variety of schools, malls and homes he threatened, as documented in an indictment, is disturbing.

In simultaneously depressing and haunting Twitter conversations disclosed during the trial, Barriss and his target are seen exchanging direct messages, sparring over each other’s cred and making light of the swatting attempt.

Barriss had in fact called the cops, and convinced them to show up to the address Gaskill had given.

And Gaskill soon found out that his attempt to troll Barriss had resulted in a man’s death:

All three were charged with various crimes, but Barriss with his long, well-documented history of swatting and bomb threats, was the clear priority. The terms of his guilty plea aren’t documented yet but it would be hard to get away from significant time in prison even if he managed to dodge half of the charges he faced.

It’s a sad story from start to finish, but at least the bad guy didn’t get away.

Powered by WPeMatico

Open sourcing analysis, plus US, China and HQ2

Posted by | Amazon, Asia, Government, hq2, Mobile, new york city, oppo, Tencent, washington DC, WeChat, WhatsApp, Xiaomi | No Comments

The big news today is that — finally — we have Amazon’s selection of cities for its dual second headquarters (Northern Virginia and NYC). Then some notes on China. But first, semiconductors and open sourcing analysis.

We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch. This is a rough draft of something new — provide your feedback directly to the authors: Danny at danny@techcrunch.com or Arman at Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com if you like or hate something here.

Pivot: Future of semiconductors, chips, AI, etc.

Last week, I focused on SoftBank’s debt and Form D filings by startups. On Friday, I asked what I should start to analyze next. There were several feedback hotspots, but the one that popped out to me was around next-generation chips and the battle for dominance at the hardware layer.

As a software engineer, I know almost nothing about silicon (the beauty of abstraction). But it is clear that the future of all kinds of workflows will increasingly be driven by capabilities at the hardware/silicon level, particularly in future applications like artificial intelligence, machine learning, AR/VR, autonomous driving and more. Furthermore, China and other countries are spending billions to go after the leaders in this space, such as Nvidia and Intel. Startups, funding, competition, geopolitics — we’ve got it all here.

Arman and I are now diving deeper into this space. We will start to post once we have some interesting things to share, but if you have ideas, opinions, companies or investments in this space: tell us about them, as we are all ears: danny@techcrunch.com and Arman.tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

Open-source analysis at TechCrunch

Since I launched this daily “column” last week, I have included the text near the top that “We are experimenting with new content forms at TechCrunch.” One of those forms is what might be called open-source journalism. Definitions are fuzzy, but I take it to mean working “in the open” — allowing you, the audience of this column, to engage in not just feedback around finalized and published posts, but to actually affect the entire process of analysis, from sourcing and ideation to data science and writing.

I am thankful to work at a publication like TechCrunch where my readers are often working in the exact sectors that I am writing about. When I wrote about Form Ds last week, a number of startup attorneys reached out with their own thoughts and analysis, and also explained key aspects of how the law is changing around SEC disclosure for startups. That’s really powerful, and I want to apply it to as many fields as possible.

This thesis is ultimately intentional — now I have to operationalize it. There aren’t good tools (yet!) that I know of that allow for easy sharing of data and notes that don’t rely on a hacked-together set of Google Docs and GitHub. But I’m exploring the stack, and will publish more things publicly as we have them.

Amazon HQ2 — the future of corporate relations with cities

Amazon’s long process for selecting an HQ2 is finally over, and the official answer is two: Northern Virginia and NYC. Tons of words have been spilled about the search, and I am sure even more analysis will strike today about what put those two locations over the top.

To me, the key for mayors is to start using these reverse searches (where a company seeks a city and not vice versa) as leverage to actually get resources to fund infrastructure and other critical services.

This is a theme that I discussed about a year ago:

Take Boston’s bid for GE’s new headquarters. Yes, the city offered property tax rebates of about $25 million , but GE’s move also pushed the state to fund a variety of infrastructure improvements, including the Northern Avenue bridge and new bike lanes. That bridge adds a critical path for vehicles and pedestrians in Boston’s central business district, yet has gone unfunded for years.

Ideally, governments could debate, vote, and then fund these sorts of infrastructure projects and community improvements. The reality is that without a time-sensitive forcing function like a reverse RFP process, there is little hope that cities and states will make progress on these sorts of projects. The debates can literally go on forever in American democracy.

So if you are a mayor or economic planning official, use these processes as tools to get stuff done. Use the allure of new jobs and tax revenues to spur infrastructure spending and get a rezoning through a recalcitrant city council. Use that “prosperity bomb” to upgrade old parts of the urban landscape and prepare the city for the future. A healthier, more humane city can be just around the corner.

Take DC. The city has seen one of the best-run Metro systems deteriorate to abysmal levels over the past few years due to a complete dumpster fire of organizational design (the DC transit agency WMATA is funded by inconsistent revenue sources that ensure it will never be sustainable). Here is an opportunity to use Amazon’s announcement to get the tax framework and operations figured out to ensure that real estate, transportation and other critical urban infrastructure are designed effectively.

China’s mobile internationalization

Timothy Allen/Getty Images

Talking about second headquarters, the technology industry clearly has separated into poles, one based around the United States and the other based around China. Two articles I read recently gave good insights of the benefits and challenges for China in this world.

The first is from Sam Byford writing at The Verge, who investigates the native OS options that Chinese consumers receive from companies like Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo and others. The headline is much more shrill than the text, so don’t let that frighten you.

Byford provides an overview of the lineage of Chinese mobile OSes, and also notes that what might look like design gaffes in Western consumer eyes might be critical needs for Chinese buyers:

But what is true today is that not all Chinese phone software is bad. And when it is bad from a Western perspective, it’s often bad for very different reasons than the bad Android skins of the past. Yes, many of these phones make similar mistakes with overbearing UI decisions — hello, Huawei — and yes, it’s easy to mock some designs for their obvious thrall to iOS. But these are phones created in a very different context to Android devices as we’ve previously understood them.

The article is perhaps a tad long for what it is, but Byford’s key viewpoint should be repeated as a mantra by any person connected to the technology sector today: “The Chinese phone market is a spiraling behemoth of innovation and audacity, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. If you want to be on board with the already exciting hardware, it’s worth trying to understand the software.”

Of course, while China may be a huge country, its leading technology companies do want to globalize and expand their user bases outside of the Middle Kingdom’s borders. That may well be a challenging proposition.

Writing at Factor Daily, Shadma Shaikh dives into the failure of WeChat to break into the Indian market. The product lessons learned by WeChat’s owner Tencent could be applied to any Silicon Valley company — cultural knowledge and appropriate product design are key to entering overseas markets.

Shaikh gives a couple of examples:

Another design feature in the app allowed users to look up and send add-friend requests to WeChat users nearby. During initial onboarding when users were just checking app’s features, many would tap the “people nearby” feature, which would switch on location sharing by default – including with strangers. Once location sharing with strangers was switched on, it wasn’t very intuitive to turn it off.

“Women used to get a lot of unwarranted messages from men, which was a major turn off and many of them left the platform,” Gupta says. “China probably didn’t have this stalking problem.”

And

In China, where the internet was cheaper than in India in 2012, sending video files of, say, 4 MB was not a challenge. WhatsApp compresses a 5 MB photo to 40 kilobytes. WeChat did not compress the files and took many minutes and data to send and receive media files.

Internationalization will never be easy, but the lessons that Silicon Valley has slowly learned over the past two decades will need to be learned again by Chinese companies if they want to export their software to other countries.

Reading Docket

Powered by WPeMatico

Civil servant who watched porn at work blamed for infecting a US government network with malware

Posted by | Android, computer security, computing, cybercrime, Cyberwarfare, Government, malware, national security, Prevention, ransomware, Removable media, Security, security breaches, spokesperson, U.S. government, United States | No Comments

A U.S. government network was infected with malware thanks to one employee’s “extensive history” of watching porn on his work computer, investigators have found.

The audit, carried out by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s inspector general, found that a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) network at the EROS Center, a satellite imaging facility in South Dakota, was infected after an unnamed employee visited thousands of porn pages that contained malware, which downloaded to his laptop and “exploited the USGS’ network.” Investigators found that many of the porn images were “subsequently saved to an unauthorized USB device and personal Android cell phone,” which was connected to the employee’s government-issued computer.

Investigators found that his Android cell phone “was also infected with malware.”

The findings were made public in a report earlier this month but buried on the U.S. government’s oversight website and went largely unreported.

It’s bad enough in this day and age that a government watchdog has to remind civil servants to not watch porn at work — let alone on their work laptop. The inspector general didn’t say what the employee’s fate was, but ripped into the Department of the Interior’s policies for letting him get that far in the first place.

“We identified two vulnerabilities in the USGS’ IT security posture: web-site access and open USB ports,” the report said.

There is a (slightly) bright side. The EROS Center, which monitors and archives images of the planet’s land surface, doesn’t operate any classified networks, a spokesperson for Interior’s inspector general told TechCrunch in an email, ruling out any significant harm to national security. But the spokesperson wouldn’t say what kind of malware used — only that, “the malware helps enable data exfiltration and is also associated with ransomware attacks.”

Investigators recommended that USGS enforce a “strong blacklist policy” of known unauthorized websites and “regularly monitor employee web usage history.”

The report also said the agency should lock down its USB drive policy, restricting employees from using removable media on government devices, but it’s not known if the recommendations have yet gone into place. USGS did not return a request for comment.

Powered by WPeMatico

White House belatedly begins planning for 5G with memo asking for policy recommendations

Posted by | 5g, FCC, Government, Mobile, TC | No Comments

The White House has issued a memorandum outlining the need for a new national wireless connectivity strategy; the document doesn’t really establish anything new, but does request lots of reports on how things are going. Strangely, what it proposes sounds a lot like what the FCC already does.

The memorandum, heralded by a separate post announcing that “America Will Win the Global Race to 5G,” is not exactly a statement of policy, though it does put a few things out there. It’s actually more of a request for information on which to base a future policy — apparently one that will win us a global race that began years ago.

In fact, the U.S. has been pursuing a broad 5G policy for quite a while now, and under President Obama we were the first country to allocate spectrum to the nascent standard. But since then progress has stalled and we have been overtaken by the likes of South Korea and Spain in policy steps like spectrum auctions.

After some talk about the “insatiable demand” for wireless spectrum and the economic importance of wireless communications, the memo gets to business. Reports are requested within 180 days from various Executive branch departments and agencies on “their anticipated future spectrum requirements,” as well as reviews of their current spectrum usage.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy is asked to report in the same time period on how emerging tech (smart homes and grids, for instance) could affect spectrum demand, and how research and development spending should be guided to improve spectrum access.

Another report from the Secretary of Commerce will explain “existing efforts and planned near- to mid-term spectrum repurposing initiatives.”

Then, 270 days from today the various entities involved here, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC, will deliver a “long-term National Spectrum Strategy” that hits a number of targets:

  • Increase spectrum access, security and transparency
  • Create flexible spectrum management models, including standards, incentives and enforcement mechanisms
  • “Develop advanced technologies” to improve spectrum access and sharing
  • Improve the global competitiveness of U.S. “terrestrial and space-related industries” (which seems to encompass all of them)

It’s not exactly ambitious; the terms are vague enough that one would expect any new legislation or rules to accomplish or accommodate these things. One would hardly want a spectrum policy that decreased access and transparency. In fact, the previous administration issued spectrum memos much like these, years ago.

Meanwhile, this fresh start may frustrate those in government who are already doing this work. The FCC has been pursuing 5G and new spectrum policy for years, and it’s been a particular focus of Chairman Ajit Pai. He proposed a bunch of rules months ago, and just yesterday there was a proposal to bring Wi-Fi up to a more compatible and future-proof state.

It’s entirely possible that the agency may have to justify and re-propose things it’s already doing, or see those actions and rules questioned or altered by committees over the next year. From what I heard this whole effort from the White House was pursued without much participation from the FCC. I’ve contacted the Chairman’s office for details (he’s out of the country presently and had no prepared statement, which may give you an idea of his level of involvement).

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was not enthusiastic about the memo.

“We are ripping up what came before and starting with a new wireless policy sometime late next year. But the world isn’t going to wait for us,” she said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Other nations are moving ahead with strategies they are implementing now while we’re headed to study hall — and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on the most essential elements of 5G networks. If you stand back and survey what is happening, you see that we’re not expediting our 5G wireless leadership, we’re making choices that slow us down.”

Whether this new effort will yield worthwhile results, we’ll know in 270 days. Until then the authorities already attempting to make the U.S. the leader in 5G will continue doing what they’re doing.

Powered by WPeMatico

Facebook launches Candidate Info where politicians pitch on camera

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Facebook Election Security, Facebook Politics, Government, Mobile, Social, TC | No Comments

Facebook wants to make YouTube-style monologue videos the new way for politicians to talk straight with their constituency. Today, Facebook launches Candidate Info, featuring thousands of direct-to-camera vertical videos where federal, state and local candidates introduce themselves and explain their top policy priority, qualifications and biggest goal if they win office. Elizabeth Warren (D – MA Senate), Scott Walker (R – WI Governor) and Beto O’Rourke (D – TX Senate) have already posted, and Facebook expects more candidates to jump in shortly.

These videos will soon be available as part of an Election 2018 bookmark in the Facebook mobile app’s navigation drawer. And starting next week, the clips will begin appearing to potential constituents in the News Feed.

Facebook tells me these videos will make it easier for people to learn about and compare different candidates. The effort extends the Town Hall feature Facebook launched in 2017 that offers a personalized directory of candidates they could vote for. Candidate Info will similarly only show videos from politicians running in elections relevant to a given user, so if you’re in California you won’t see videos from the Texas senate race between O’Rourke and Ted Cruz. But you can still find their videos on their Facebook Pages.

With the mid-terms fast approaching, Facebook is trying to do everything it can to protect against election interference by foreign and domestic attackers, offer transparency about who bought campaign adsconnect users to candidates and encourage people to register and vote. With fake news that spread through the social network thought to have influenced the 2016 election, and ill-gotten Facebook user data from Cambridge Analytica applied to Donald Trump’s campaign ad targeting, Facebook is hoping to avoid similar problematic narratives this time around.

You can see some examples of Candidate Info videos below from O’Rourke and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Powered by WPeMatico

Italian consumer watchdog hands down €15M in fines to Apple and Samsung for slowing devices

Posted by | Apple, Europe, Gadgets, Government, Italy, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Italy’s Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato, roughly equivalent to this America’s FTC, has fined Apple and Samsung a total of $15 million for the companies’ practice of forcing updates on consumers that may slow or break their devices. The amount may be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a signal that governments won’t always let this type of behavior fly.

The “unfair commercial practices” are described by the AGCM as follows:

The two companies have induced consumers – by insistently proposing to proceed with the download and also because of the significant information asymmetry of consumers vis-a-vis the producers – to install software updates that are not adequately supported by their devices, without adequately informing them, nor providing them an effective way to recover the full functionality of their devices.

Sounds about right!

In case you don’t remember, essentially Apple was pushing updates to iPhones last year that caused performance issues with older phones. Everyone took this as part of the usual conspiracy theory that Apple slows phones to get you to upgrade, but it turns out to have been more like a lack of testing before they shipped.

Samsung, for its part, was pushing Android Mashmallow updates to a number of its devices, but failed to consider that it would cause serious issues in Galaxy Note 4s — issues it then would charge to repair.

The issue here wasn’t the bad updates exactly, but the fact that consumers were pressured into accepting them, at cost to themselves. It would be one thing if the updates were simply made available and these issues addressed as they came up, but both companies “insistently suggested” that the updates be installed despite the problems.

In addition to this, Apple was found to have “not adequately informed consumers about some essential characteristics of lithium batteries, such as their average duration and deterioration factors, nor about the correct procedures to maintain, verify and replace batteries in order to preserve full functionality of devices.” That would be when Apple revealed to iPhone 6 owners that their batteries were not functioning correctly and that they’d have to pay for a replacement if they wanted full functionality. This information, the AGCM, suggests, ought to have been made plain from the beginning.

Samsung gets €5 million in fines and Apple gets €10 million. Those may not affect either company’s bottom line, but they are the maximum possible fines, so it’s symbolic as well. If a dozen other countries were to come to the same conclusion, the fines would really start to add up. Apple has already made some amends, but if it fell afoul of the law it still has to pay the price.

Powered by WPeMatico

Smart home makers hoard your data, but won’t say if the police come for it

Posted by | Amazon, Apple, computer security, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, Government, hardware, Internet of Things, law enforcement, national security, privacy, Security, smart home devices, television, transparency report | No Comments

A decade ago, it was almost inconceivable that nearly every household item could be hooked up to the internet. These days, it’s near impossible to avoid a non-smart home gadget, and they’re vacuuming up a ton of new data that we’d never normally think about.

Thermostats know the temperature of your house, and smart cameras and sensors know when someone’s walking around your home. Smart assistants know what you’re asking for, and smart doorbells know who’s coming and going. And thanks to the cloud, that data is available to you from anywhere — you can check in on your pets from your phone or make sure your robot vacuum cleaned the house.

Because the data is stored or accessible by the smart home tech makers, law enforcement and government agencies have increasingly sought data from the companies to solve crimes.

And device makers won’t say if your smart home gadgets have been used to spy on you.

For years, tech companies have published transparency reports — a semi-regular disclosure of the number of demands or requests a company gets from the government for user data. Google was first in 2010. Other tech companies followed in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations that the government had enlisted tech companies’ aid in spying on their users. Even telcos, implicated in wiretapping and turning over Americans’ phone records, began to publish their figures to try to rebuild their reputations.

As the smart home revolution began to thrive, police saw new opportunities to obtain data where they hadn’t before. Police sought Echo data from Amazon to help solve a murder. Fitbit data was used to charge a 90-year old man with the murder of his stepdaughter. And recently, Nest was compelled to turn over surveillance footage that led to gang members pleading guilty to identity theft.

Yet, Nest — a division of Google — is the only major smart home device maker that has published how many data demands it receives.

As first noted by Forbes last week, Nest’s little-known transparency report doesn’t reveal much — only that it’s turned over user data about 300 times since mid-2015 on over 500 Nest users. Nest also said it hasn’t to date received a secret order for user data on national security grounds, such as in cases of investigating terrorism or espionage. Nest’s transparency report is woefully vague compared to some of the more detailed reports by Apple, Google and Microsoft, which break out their data requests by lawful request, by region and often by the kind of data the government demands.

As Forbes said, “a smart home is a surveilled home.” But at what scale?

We asked some of the most well-known smart home makers on the market if they plan to release a transparency report, or disclose the number of demands they receive for data from their smart home devices.

For the most part, we received fairly dismal responses.

What the big four tech giants said

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment when asked if it will break out the number of demands it receives for Echo data, but a spokesperson told me last year that while its reports include Echo data, it would not break out those figures.

Facebook said that its transparency report section will include “any requests related to Portal,” its new hardware screen with a camera and a microphone. Although the device is new, a spokesperson did not comment on if the company will break out the hardware figures separately.

Google pointed us to Nest’s transparency report but did not comment on its own efforts in the hardware space — notably its Google Home products.

And Apple said that there’s no need to break out its smart home figures — such as its HomePod — because there would be nothing to report. The company said user requests made to HomePod are given a random identifier that cannot be tied to a person.

What the smaller but notable smart home players said

August, a smart lock maker, said it “does not currently have a transparency report and we have never received any National Security Letters or orders for user content or non-content information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),” but did not comment on the number of subpoenas, warrants and court orders it receives. “August does comply with all laws and when faced with a court order or warrant, we always analyze the request before responding,” a spokesperson said.

Roomba maker iRobot said it “has not received any demands from governments for customer data,” but wouldn’t say if it planned to issue a transparency report in the future.

Both Arlo, the former Netgear smart home division, and Signify, formerly Philips Lighting, said they do not have transparency reports. Arlo didn’t comment on its future plans, and Signify said it has no plans to publish one. 

Ring, a smart doorbell and security device maker, did not answer our questions on why it doesn’t have a transparency report, but said it “will not release user information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us” and that Ring “objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.” When pressed, a spokesperson said it plans to release a transparency report in the future, but did not say when.

Spokespeople for Honeywell and Canary — both of which have smart home security products — did not comment by our deadline.

And, Samsung, a maker of smart sensors, trackers and internet-connected televisions and other appliances, did not respond to a request for comment.

Only Ecobee, a maker of smart switches and sensors, said it plans to publish its first transparency report “at the end of 2018.” A spokesperson confirmed that, “prior to 2018, Ecobee had not been requested nor required to disclose any data to government entities.”

All in all, that paints a fairly dire picture for anyone thinking that when the gadgets in your home aren’t working for you, they could be helping the government.

As helpful and useful as smart home gadgets can be, few fully understand the breadth of data that the devices collect — even when we’re not using them. Your smart TV may not have a camera to spy on you, but it knows what you’ve watched and when — which police used to secure a conviction of a sex offender. Even data from when a murder suspect pushed the button on his home alarm key fob was enough to help convict someone of murder.

Two years ago, former U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper said the government was looking at smart home devices as a new foothold for intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance. And it’s only going to become more common as the number of internet-connected devices spread. Gartner said more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

As much as the chances are that the government is spying on you through your internet-connected camera in your living room or your thermostat are slim — it’s naive to think that it can’t.

But the smart home makers wouldn’t want you to know that. At least, most of them.

Powered by WPeMatico

Presidential alerts we really hope Trump won’t send…

Posted by | america, donald trump, Emergency Alert System, Google, Government, Mobile, president, text messaging, Twitter, United States, White House | No Comments

Move over Twitter, President Trump now has the power to send every phone in the land a simultaneous message — thanks to the new “presidential alert”, tested by FEMA yesterday.

What’s it for? The idea is to enable the president of the United States to warn the nation of major threats — such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

FEMA did already have the power to mass text US phones, via the National Wireless Emergency Alert System devised by the Bush administration in 2006, which has been used for sending alerts about national emergencies like weather events or missing children at a local level.

But now the system has been expanded to allow for the White House to compose and send its own ‘presidential alert’ to all phones in a national emergency situation.

There is no opt-out.

Repeat: No opt-out.

Fortunately Congress did limit the substance of these alerts — to “natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters or threats to public safety”, further stipulating that:

Except to the extent necessary for testing the public alert and warning system, the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.

But bearing in mind the ‘rip it up’ record of the current holder of office of the president of the US, there are no copper-bottomed guarantees about how ‘threat to public safety’ might be interpreted by president Trump.

So it remains a slightly mind-bending concept that the president could, say after a 3am binge-watch of his favorite TV show, fire out an alert entirely of his framing to EVERY US PHONE.

Technology is indeed a double-edged sword.

Here are a few ideas of presidential alerts we really hope Trump won’t be sending…

  • an accidental photo of a body part after he couldn’t figure out how to use the system and hit send accidentally
  • a text message intended for his son-in-law
  • “Donald Trump”
  • covfefe
  • an even worse spelling mistake, e.g. mangling the name of another world leader — like French president “Manuel Macaroon”
  • actual insults directed at other world leaders, e.g. suggesting Emmanuel Macron has a dandruff problem
  • threats of thermonuclear war
  • an unfortunate spoonerism, e.g. ‘the rockets are cot numbing’
  • a love sonnet to president Kim Jong-Un
  • encouragement to Russia to hack political opponents’ emails
  • a recipe for a “beautiful” chocolate cake
  • his golf handicap
  • an affiliate link to a brochure of Trump Tower
  • US stock market numbers
  • investment advice
  • an affiliate link to buy The Art of The Deal
  • any other book recommendations at all
  • a love sonnet to Ivanka Trump
  • a claim that the hurricane isn’t actually as bad as FEMA’s alert says it is
  • #MAGA
  • “Lock her up”
  • “His testimony was very credible, very credible”
  • “You also had some very fine people on both sides”
  • any claim about the size of the crowds at his inauguration
  • any claim about historical precedence and what his administration has achieved
  • all forms of self congratulation
  • his thoughts on the UN
  • his thoughts on NATO
  • his thoughts on the EU
  • his thoughts on China
  • his thoughts on the Queen
  • anything at all about women
  • “Melanie”
  • all insults about “the failing New York Times”
  • a heart emoji + the words “Tucker Carlson”
  • any text that includes the words “Fox & Friends”
  • any text that includes the phrase “America first”
  • a photo of Melania reclining on gilt furniture, in a gilt room, with some gilt statues
  • a selfie with anyone, especially Nigel Farage
  • any text written in ALL CAPS
  • any text ending with the word “Sad!”
  • his travel itinerary for his next trip to the Winter White House
  • a love sonnet to president Putin
  • ‘exciting’ real estate opportunities
  • credit for Brexit
  • a threat to Twitter not to shadowban conservative voices
  • “You’re fired!”
  • “Build the wall!”
  • “Mission accomplished!”
  • anything at all about president Obama
  • all sports commentary
  • anything containing the word “winning”
  • his thoughts on climate change
  • his thoughts on environmental protection
  • his thoughts on the safety of radioactive substances
  • a list of reasons why the Iran deal was a mistake
  • his thoughts on anything at all to do with the rest of the world
  • a photoshopped picture of Justin Trudeau to make him look ugly
  • diet advice
  • travel advice
  • fashion advice
  • complaints that Google is biased
  • anything about tax — unless it’s his own tax returns
  • a message to Peter Thiel asking him to come back
  • a message asking where the nearest KFC is
  • a message asking where he left his last bucket of KFC
  • a really boring and slightly blurred photo of the inside of Air Force One
  • any message about anything at all he saw on TV last night
  • “Ha-ha you can’t opt out!”
  • “Genius”
  • his thoughts

Powered by WPeMatico

California cops bust crime ring that nabbed $1M worth of devices from Apple Stores

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, Government | No Comments

Fear not, citizens — the law enforcement apparatus of California has apprehended or is hot on the trail of more than a dozen hardened criminals who boldly stole from the state’s favorite local business: Apple . Their unconscionable larceny amounted to more than a million dollars’ worth of devices stolen from Apple Stores — the equivalent of hundreds of iPhones.

The alleged thieves would wear hoodies into Apple stores — already suspicious, I know — and there they would snatch products on display and hide them in the ample pockets of those garments. Truly cunning.

These crimes took place in 19 different counties in California, the police forces of which all collaborated to bring the perpetrators to justice, though the San Luis Obispo and Oakland departments led the charge. So far seven of the thieves have been arrested, and nine more have warrants out.

In a press release, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra harangued his state regarding the dangers of the criminal element:

Organized retail thefts cost California business owners millions and expose them to copycat criminals. Ultimately, consumers pay the cost of this merchandise hijacking. We will continue our work with local law enforcement authorities to extinguish this mob mentality and prosecute these criminals to hold them accountable.

You hear that, would-be copycats? You hear that, assembling mob? Xavier’s gonna give it to you… if you don’t fly straight and stop trying to stick ordinary consumers with the costs of your crimes. Not to mention California businesses. With Apple paying that $15 billion in back taxes, it doesn’t have a lot of cash to spare for these shenanigans.

Well, I suppose it’s doing okay.

I’ve asked Apple for comment on this case and whether they participated or cooperated in it. Perhaps Face ID helped.

Powered by WPeMatico