Start up: why Android should encrypt, Facebook v the intifada, 3D Touch v page parking, wary drones and more


“My GPS says we finished ages ago!” Photo by A Brand New Minneapolis on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Please note: if reading the emails, you can’t link directly to the extracts. Monkeys, eh. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Is Google’s lacklustre support for encryption a human rights issue? » MIT Technology Review

Tom Simonite, reporting on a conference where American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) principal technologist Chris Soghioan argued thus:

People using phones powered by Google’s Android software are not so well protected, said Soghioan. The company said last year that it would make Android phones encrypt all stored data by default, like Apple devices do, but reversed that decision early this year. Google said this month it will require only devices meeting certain hardware performance standards to encrypt stored data, which Soghioan thinks will exclude cheaper devices. Google’s Hangouts text and video chat service bundled with Android does not use end-to-end encryption.

Soghioan said this means that someone who uses a cheap Android device is a much easier target for law enforcement or intelligence agencies — which he argues are prone to abusing their surveillance powers. He cited the way the FBI snooped on Martin Luther King’s phone calls and said he fears that US and overseas activists of today and tomorrow will be even easier targets. “The next civil rights movement will use the technology against which surveillance works best,” he said. Protest movements don’t typically start in society’s upper socioeconomic echelons, he noted.

The difference between Apple and Google’s stances on encryption for mobile devices appears to be due to corporate rather than technical reasons, said Soghioan. “Google has by far the best security team of any company in Silicon Valley, and the security people I know at Google are embarrassed by Android,” he said. “But Apple sells luxury goods and Google gives away services for free in return for access to data.”

That point about protest movements is so important. Would you want people in a repressive regime to have phones that could or couldn’t be tapped? Now you’ve decided, we move on to the next conundrum…
link to this extract


The Facebook intifada » The New York Times

Micah Lakin Avni’s (Israeli) father was stabbed and shot by two Palestinian men in Jerusalem, who acted in the latest intifada (uprising) by Palestinians:

Watching the well-wishers congregating in the intensive care unit, however, I realized that the world leaders who were having the most impact on the situation in the Middle East right now weren’t Mr. Ban or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and other young entrepreneurs who shape the social media platforms most of us use every day.

It may sound strange to talk of Twitter and Facebook as relevant players in the war against terror, but as the recent wave of violence in Israel has proved, that is increasingly the case. The young men who boarded the bus that day intent on murdering my 76-year-old father did not make their decision in a vacuum. One was a regular on Facebook, where he had already posted a “will for any martyr.” Very likely, they made use of one of the thousands of posts, manuals and instructional videos circulating in Palestinian society these last few weeks, like the image, shared by thousands on Facebook, showing an anatomical chart of the human body with advice on where to stab for maximal damage…

…Just as it is universally recognized that shouting fire in a crowded theater is dangerous and should be prohibited, so, too, must we now recognize that rampant online incitement is a danger that must be reckoned with immediately, before more innocent people end up as victims.

Before Facebook or Twitter or Google, those charts would have been available in a library, or in books on sale or smuggled in. What’s different now is the scale and speed with which information can be disseminated. It sounds trite, but what Israel and Palestine need is more speech, not less – but speech of the right kind, to negotiate their differences.
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Google owner accuses EU of antitrust about-face » WSJ

Tom Fairless and Natalia Drozdiak:

Google owner Alphabet Inc. accused European Union regulators of making an unexplained about-face in their decision to file antitrust charges against the US search giant, and warned that there was “no basis” for imposing fines, according to a redacted copy of Google’s response seen by The Wall Street Journal.

The response, which runs to almost 130 pages and leans heavily on legal opinions and case law, suggests that Google is gearing up for a protracted legal battle against the European Commission, which has alleged the search giant skewed search results to favor its own comparison-shopping service.

“The theory on which the [EU’s] preliminary conclusions rest is so ambiguous that the Commission itself concluded three times that the concern had been resolved,” Google’s lawyers wrote in the document.

It’s certainly a good point that the EC antitrust team were ready to okay everything, and then decided not to. But the EC would say that new evidence became available (which it did) and that changed things. Less convincing on Google’s part is its quoting of a US academic who used to be in the US Department of Justice antitrust side. That’s not likely to hold any sway.
link to this extract


Why every GPS overestimates distance travelled » IEEE Spectrum

Douglas McCormick on how an Austrian team discovered subtle but persistent errors in GPS:

Not content with mere calculation, Ranacher, Reich, and their colleagues went on to test their findings experimentally. In an empty parking lot, they staked out a square course 10 m on a side, reference-marked each side at precise 1-m intervals, and set a GPS-equipped pedestrian (a volunteer, one hopes) to walk the perimeter 25 times, taking a position reading at each reference mark.

The researchers analyzed the data for segment lengths of 1 meter and 5 meters. They found that the mean GPS measurement for the 1-m reference distance was 1.02m (σ2 = 0.3) and the mean GPS measurement for the 5-m reference distance was 5.06m (σ2 = 2.0).  They also ran a similar experiment with automobiles on a longer course, with similar results.

Now, that pedestrian-course error of 1.2% to 2% isn’t huge. But it is big enough that your GPS watch could tell you you’re crossing the finish line of a 42,195-metre [26-mile] marathon while the real terminus is more than 400 meters ahead.

Sooo.. how do they measure a marathon? Does someone go around with one of those wheel things? Asking for all my marathon-running friends.
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3D Touch on iPhone 6S: embrace the Force » Nielsen-Norman Group

Raluca Budiu:

Is this a feature worth having? Yes, as an enhancement. There is a lot of potential for improving the user experience and supporting behaviors that mobile and desktop users are engaging in already. Two of them come to mind: microsessions and avoiding pogo sticking.

Microsessions are phone sessions that are 15 seconds or shorter. Recent research by Denzil Ferreira and colleagues shows that 40% of app launches are microsessions, namely short interactions in which users are able to quickly satisfy their goals. A common microsession activity is checking for updates in an app (such as Email or Facebook); the quick actions offer an opportunity for rapid access to such frequent tasks or content. Peek-and-pop views should also make many microsessions more efficient for users.

Pogo sticking refers to alternating between inspecting a collection of items (such as a list of products) and looking at each item individually (a product in the list). It is usually an inefficient behavior because it makes users jump back and forth between pages, losing not only time for loading the page but also the time needed for recovering context. Our recent research with Millennials shows that pogo sticking is so annoying that, on desktop, users have developed a special behavior called page parking to avoid it. On mobile phones, page parking is a lot more difficult.

“Page parking” is basically “open that link in another tab/window while I get on with this”. Other points: interstitials screw up the previewing experience, and so do “can we use your location?” questions.
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Back-alley upgrades: in China, $100 can get you an 128GB iPhone boost » WSJ

Yang Jie and Josh Chin:

If you’re an Apple Inc. device user, you can also now boost your iPhone’s storage from the cramped-feeling 16GB standard to a cavernous 128GB for less than a hundred bucks.

Mobile phone repair shops in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have sparked curiosity on sidewalks and social media by offering the service, which appears aimed at the many aspirational Chinese device users who can’t afford the roughly $200 premium attached to large-capacity iPhones.

Some are offering the service through online shops on China’s biggest e-commerce site Taobao. One such shop offers to upgrade an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus from 16GB to 128GB for 500 yuan ($79). Descriptions posted by several Taobao vendors indicate that the new storage card is hand-welded into the phone after the old card is removed. An unnamed software [program] is then used to trick the device into accepting the unapproved hardware.

Love the comment from one customer: “I’ve used it for a day. It feels so great.”
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Huawei emerges as 2nd largest Android brand in EU’s big five » Kantar Worldpanel

“In urban China, with a market share that grew 72% over the third quarter of 2014, Huawei remained the top brand followed by Xiaomi and Apple,” Tamsin Timpson, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech Asia, commented. “iOS continued to grow year over year with 56% of iPhone buyers during the quarter switching from Android and with iPhone 6 and 6Plus retaining their positions as the best selling and second best-selling smartphones.

“Next month all eyes will be on Apple’s performance in the US and China, as many observers continue to doubt the size of the remaining opportunity for Apple,” Milanesi explained. “28% of consumers in China who own smartphones plan to upgrade in the next 12 months. Among them, 79% of those who own iPhones, and 25% of those who own Android devices, say they prefer Apple.”

That “56% of iPhone buyers in China were switchers” number is remarkable – perhaps it was people waiting for the 6S/Plus. Meanwhile in the UK, Samsung and LG were the only Android makers to grow their share; the implication seems to be that people were switching to iPhones.
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Self-flying drone dips, darts and dives through trees at 30 mph » MIT CSAIL

Adam Conner-Simons of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory:

“Everyone is building drones these days, but nobody knows how to get them to stop running into things,” says CSAIL PhD student Andrew Barry, who developed the system as part of his thesis with MIT professor Russ Tedrake. “Sensors like lidar are too heavy to put on small aircraft, and creating maps of the environment in advance isn’t practical. If we want drones that can fly quickly and navigate in the real world, we need better, faster algorithms.”

Running 20 times faster than existing software, Barry’s stereo-vision algorithm allows the drone to detect objects and build a full map of its surroundings in real-time. Operating at 120 frames per second, the software – which is open-source and available online – extracts depth information at a speed of 8.3 milliseconds per frame.

The drone, which weighs just over a pound and has a 34-inch wingspan, was made from off-the-shelf components costing about $1,700, including a camera on each wing and two processors no fancier than the ones you’d find on a cellphone.

If this doesn’t lead to an amazing VR “fox and hounds” sort of game soon, someone’s missing a trick. Quad-core CPUs and stereo cameras. Expect the price to halve in a year or so.

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Hilton obstructed investigation into Wi-Fi blocking at hotels, FCC says » Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday issued proposed fines against two companies in its latest actions against Wi-Fi blocking at hotels and convention centers.

The FCC said it proposed a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide Holdings “for its apparent obstruction of an investigation into whether Hilton engaged in the blocking of consumers’ Wi-Fi devices.” The FCC also plans a $718,000 fine against M.C. Dean, a Wi-Fi access provider that is accused of “blocking consumers’ Wi-Fi connections at the Baltimore Convention Center” on dozens of occasions.

Each company has been accused of blocking personal Wi-Fi hotspots that let consumers share mobile data access with other devices such as laptops and tablets. Hilton and M.C. Dean must pay the fines within 30 days or file written statements seeking reduction or cancellation of the penalties.

The FCC last year received a complaint against a Hilton hotel in Anaheim, California that the company “blocked Wi-Fi access for visitors at the venue unless they paid a $500 fee.” More complaints against other Hilton properties followed, and in November 2014, the FCC issued Hilton a letter of inquiry seeking information about its Wi-Fi management practices at various Hilton-owned hotel chains.

Obstructing the FCC seems to be a parlour game for some companies. Remember Google and its Wi-Fi sniffing? That earned a $25,000 FCC fine for impeding investigation in 2012.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: gave the wrong link for the Microsoft OneDrive story in yesterday’s email – this is the right one (damn ZDNet scrolling system). And no, you won’t use up 5GB of storage with 10 Microsoft Word documents. Unless they’re very big.

One thought on “Start up: why Android should encrypt, Facebook v the intifada, 3D Touch v page parking, wary drones and more

  1. Pingback: Start up: the Watch drop, Tango slows, Samsung’s bug bonanza, kids and tablets, and more | The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say

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