Start up: goodbye Phorm!, the empty iPhone 5C, why we aren’t sharing now, the trouble with specs, and more

Canada’s police – and the UK and US spy agencies? – have had BlackBerry’s global encryption key for some years. Photo by portalgda on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Pre-packed for freshness. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What children learned from the shared family phone » WSJ

Sue Shellenbarger:

»“My dad can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?” It is an expression we hear less and less as the shared family phone disappears.

Nearly half of U.S. households no longer have landlines and instead rely on their cellphones, up from about 27% five years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics says. Among young adults ages 25 through 34, fewer than one-third have landlines. Even at homes with landlines, the phone rings mainly with telemarketers and poll-takers.

Few miss being tethered by a cord to a three-pound telephone. But family landlines had their pluses. Small children had an opportunity to learn telephone manners, siblings had to share, and parents had to set boundaries governing its use. Now, the shared hub of family communication has given way to solo pursuits on mobile devices.

«

Looked at from this distance, they aren’t such gigantic pluses, are they?

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Canadian police obtained BlackBerry’s global decryption key » VICE News

Justin Ling and Jordan Pearson:

»A high-level surveillance probe of Montreal’s criminal underworld shows that Canada’s federal policing agency has had a global encryption key for BlackBerry devices since 2010.

The revelations are contained in a stack of court documents that were made public after members of a Montreal crime syndicate pleaded guilty to their role in a 2011 gangland murder. The documents shed light on the extent to which the smartphone manufacturer, as well as telecommunications giant Rogers, cooperated with investigators.

According to technical reports by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were filed in court, law enforcement intercepted and decrypted roughly one million PIN-to-PIN BlackBerry messages in connection with the probe. The report doesn’t disclose exactly where the key — effectively a piece of code that could break the encryption on virtually any BlackBerry message sent from one device to another — came from. But, as one police officer put it, it was a key that could unlock millions of doors.

«

This would be akin to the backdoor to the iPhone 5C that Apple didn’t want to offer. The story of how the key’s ownership came to be known is pretty remarkable too – gangland killings and all. And what’s the betting that the key has been widely shared among the “Five Eyes” nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, US)?
link to this extract

 


Aim-listed online ads company Phorm goes bust leaving investors £200m out of pocket » Daily Telegraph

Christopher Williams:

»Phorm, an Aim-listed online advertising technology specialist that once boasted deals with Britain’s biggest broadband providers before it was engulfed by a privacy scandal, is to cease trading with investors due to lose every penny of the £201m sunk into it.

The directors said they were pulling the plug “in light of the company’s uncertain financial position, lack of trading activities and absence of any suitable funding”.

Shareholders will get nothing from any administration or liquidation, they added. After by repeatedly tapping investors for cash while accumulating total losses of around £250m, Phorm was forced to turn to high interest loans to stay afloat. Those have also now been spent, leaving the company without a website because it is unable to pay the hosting bills.

«

Phorm was offering to do DPI (deep packet inspection) and target ads based on what you were browsing, replacing web banners on sites with its own. ISPs and publishers would reap the benefits. Also, Phorm.

People detested the idea of DPI and targeted ads. Phorm never recovered from a storm of bad PR in 2007-8.
link to this extract

 


Source: Nothing significant found on San Bernardino iPhone so far » CBS News

»A law enforcement source tells CBS News that so far nothing of real significance has been found on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone, which was unlocked by the FBI last month without the help of Apple.

It was stressed that the FBI continues to analyze the information on the cellphone seized in the investigation, senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports.

«

No surprise there. This is the employer-supplied, mobile-device-managed phone that Farook left in his car, back at home with his mother who was looking after his child while he and his wife went and shot people. Two other phones were found destroyed in a dumpster.
link to this extract

 


Context collapse and context restoration » ROUGH TYPE

The ever-readable Nick Carr on Facebook’s struggle with fewer people offering up their own life details for “sharing”:

»Before social media came along, your social life played out in different and largely separate spheres. You had your friends in one sphere, your family members in another sphere, your coworkers in still another sphere, and so on. The spheres overlapped, but they remained distinct. The self you presented to your family was not the same self you presented to your friends, and the self you presented to your friends was not the one you presented to the people you worked with or went to school with. With a social network like Facebook, all these spheres merge into a single sphere. Everybody sees what you’re doing. Context collapses.

When Mark Zuckerberg infamously said, “You have one identity; the days of you having a different image for your work friends or your co-workers and for the people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly,” he was celebrating context collapse. Context collapse is a wonderful thing for a company like Facebook because a uniform self, a self without context, is easy to package as a commodity. The protean self is a fly in the Facebook ointment.

Facebook’s problem now is not context collapse but its opposite: context restoration. When people start backing away from broadcasting intimate details about themselves, it’s a sign that they’re looking to reestablish some boundaries in their social lives, to mend the walls that social media has broken. It’s an acknowledgment that the collapse of multiple social contexts into a single one-size-fits-all context circumscribes a person’s freedom.

«

link to this extract

 


Chinese phone companies are speaking my language » The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»I think we lose something (maybe not entirely tangible) when we adapt the presentation of technological products to the lowest-common-denominator audience. Apple obviously doesn’t agree, and it set the tone for simplifying technology and making it seem less daunting — but maybe we’ve overcorrected. At the same Mobile World Congress where Xiaomi made me grin with joy at its no-nonsense deep dives into things like Deep Trench Isolation, LG was conducting a slow-motion car crash of an event for its new G5 flagship. The Korean company had hired a distinctly unlikeable actor to demonstrate all the various features of its new phone in a series of video skits. I was left scratching my head as to whether it was a form of self-parody or truly unintentional comedy of awkwardness. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

I’m not intimately familiar with the priorities of Chinese consumers, but judging by the devices fashioned out by their local manufacturers, high specs remain highly desirable (along with the rising importance of distinctive and attractive design). Maybe it’s easier for Meizu and Xiaomi to market themselves with a straightforward message to their national audience because that audience isn’t yet jaded and cynical about technological advancements. But I still firmly believe that the message of real technological progress is a universally appealing one.

«

Usually I agree with Savov’s evaluations, but on this I don’t. Most people really don’t care about, and truly don’t understand, technological numbers or concepts. For example, Deep Trench Isolation (which I think did get a mention in Apple’s iPhone 6S launch) is so abstruse that barely anyone can properly understand it; the word for such not-understood-but-used-to-impress phrases is “jargon”.

What people do react to is outcomes – or solutions if you prefer. Does the phone take great pictures? Do things happen quickly? When you scroll, is the scrolling smooth? Those details aren’t determined by hardware numbers alone, which is why “feeds and speeds” don’t tell the story of a device. A deca-core smartphone won’t necessarily do more, or do it faster, than a dual-core one like the iPhone 6S, and understanding why that’s so is important for the journalist (and, arguably, the reader who might spend money).
link to this extract

 


The digital media bloodbath: hundreds of jobs lost » BuzzFeed News

Matthew Zeitlin:

»For media companies chasing the biggest possible audiences, it’s hard to resist the lure of a story blowing up on Facebook. When the social network’s algorithms smile upon a particularly shareable post, it can put it in front of millions of people — sometimes tens of millions. That has led many ambitious media companies to pursue Facebook traffic relentlessly — a pursuit some believe will be fatal to all but the biggest players.

“The cracks are beginning to show, the dependence on platforms has meant they are losing their core identity,” said Rafat Ali, the founder and editor-in-chief of Skift, a news site focused on the travel industry. “If you are just a brand in the feed, as opposed to a brand that users come to, that will catch up to you sometime.”

Mashable, for example, started out as a narrowly focused publication targeting the social media business and then, engorged with venture capital, chased scale. Ali pointed to sites like Mic and Refinery29 that started out small and are trying to ride viral success to become something larger. “The reality is that scale for scale’s sake will catch up with people.”

«

The biggest number of jobs lost is at Al-Jazeera US, where 700 have gone. The others are generally fewer than 100 (excepting the Guardian, which intends to lay off around 250). The feeling that it’s venture-funded sites that are struggling is tempting, but not quite proven: both AJA and The Guardian have entirely different funding models.
link to this extract

 


University of California at Davis spent thousands to scrub pepper-spray references from internet » The Sacramento Bee

Sam Stanton and Diana Lambert:

»UC Davis contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings following the November 2011 pepper-spraying of students and to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, newly released documents show.

The payments were made as the university was trying to boost its image online and were among several contracts issued following the pepper-spray incident.

Some payments were made in hopes of improving the results computer users obtained when searching for information about the university or Katehi, results that one consultant labeled “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis and the chancellor.”

Others sought to improve the school’s use of social media and to devise a new plan for the UC Davis strategic communications office, which has seen its budget rise substantially since Katehi took the chancellor’s post in 2009. Figures released by UC Davis show the strategic communications budget increased from $2.93m in 2009 to $5.47m in 2015.

«

The “right to be forgotten for enough money”. (It’s done by stuffing the web with “favourable” content about the organisation, and/or seeking to get the other content removed.)
link to this extract

 


Google removes links on celebrity injunction couple » The Guardian

Jasper Jackson:

»Google has removed links to articles about the celebrity couple at the centre of a injunction in response to legal requests.

Searches for the names of either person return notices at the bottom of the page saying results have been removed.

Removed entries on both sets of searches are linked to the same legal requests. However, links to a database which records takedown notices go to pages without any information.

The Daily Mail reported that an online privacy firm claiming to be acting on behalf of the couple had complained about more than 150 links on the search engine.

The removal notices are more normally used for taking down links to copyrighted information. They are different to the messages Google posts when it removes links under EU “right to be forgotten” rules.

Google declined to comment.

«

Well, of course Google wouldn’t comment; how is it going to balance its visceral hate of the “right to be forgotten” with its insistence that it’s “organising the world’s information” while also freeing the oppressed from the yoke of censorship? There’s no way to square that circle. (Is Facebook doing the same?)
link to this extract

 


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start up: Pono Pogued, Jawbone money hassles?, car hacking, Apple Watch ahoy!, and more


Apple Watch v the rest. Photo by Martin uit Utrecht on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Neil Young’s PonoPlayer: The emperor has no clothes » Yahoo News

David Pogue idly kicks a hornet’s nest:

The Pono Player, once just a Kickstarter prototype, is now a product that anyone can buy, for $400. To hear the magic, you’re supposed to buy all new music—high-resolution audio files—from Pono’s new music store (ponomusic.force.com), and load them onto your Pono using a new Mac or PC loading-dock program (Pono World). Albums cost about $25 each.

You’ve got to admit it: The argument for the Pono Player sure is appealing — that we don’t know what we’ve been missing in our music.

Unfortunately, it isn’t true.

I’m 51 and a former professional musician. I know how to listen. But when I bought Pono’s expensive remastered songs and compared them with the identical songs on my phone, I couldn’t hear any difference whatsoever.

He carried out an A/B test , but – DOOM! – used a Radioshack switch to do it. This has people saying that the switch is the reason why people couldn’t tell the difference. Uh, no. It’s electricity, not witchcraft.


BMW fixes security flaw in its in-car software » Reuters

Edward Taylor:

BMW said officials at German motorist association ADAC had identified the problem, which affected cars equipped with the company’s ConnectedDrive software using on-board SIM cards – the chips used to identify authorised users of mobile devices.

BMW drivers can use the software and SIM cards to activate door locking mechanisms, as well as a range of other services including real-time traffic information, online entertainment and air conditioning.…

…cybersecurity experts have criticized the automotive industry for failing to do more to secure internal communications of vehicles with network-connected features.

The danger, they say, is that once external security is breached, hackers can have free rein to access onboard vehicle computer systems which manage everything from engines and brakes to air conditioning.

They fear it is only a matter of time before hackers might break into wireless networks on cars to exploit software glitches and other vulnerabilities to try to harm drivers.

Charlie Miller, ex-NSA, is very interested in hacking cars – just to see what can be done. He was the person who showed publicly how to hack the iPhone back in 2009. So what he’s thinking, the NSA – and many others – probably are too.


Waze and the politics of public spaces » NYMag

Benjamin Wallace-Wells:

To let Waze pick your route is to feel a kind of surrender. The presence of all those other users in the system (50 million worldwide, dutifully flagging accidents and vehicles stopped on the side of the road and police cars up ahead) means that you never know whether you are being directed by the machine algorithm or the human ghost within it. You could imagine that my Dobbs Ferry detour was a kind of hiccup in the Waze mapping algorithm, or the consequence of someone driving up the Saw Mill ahead of me and mistakenly flagging an accident when they were trying to text. Or, if you are open to more devious possibilities, you might imagine an unscrupulous coffee-shop owner in downtown Dobbs Ferry continuously reporting phantom accidents on the Saw Mill, hoping to divert customers off the road and past his counter…

…The promise of Waze is that it occupies public spaces while subverting the public’s control of that space — the cops, whose speed traps are flagged by passing Wazers, and the arterial systems by which we funnel traffic away from residential neighborhoods. I think this explains that strange little feeling you get, both a bit anxious and a bit excited, when Waze starts sending your car on some manic sprint away from traffic

An odd feeling, and that’s just from traffic routing. Wait until it’s deciding what you do with your day all the time.


Let’s ignore each other together » Medium

Leigh Alexander:

Recently I was out to dinner with a big group of colleagues, chatting while we waited to be seated in a restaurant. I didn’t notice the sudden lull that had come over the group until someone commented, “So we’re all doing this, huh?”

Most of us were looking at our phones. And resigned in the act, too — no pretense of apology, no genuine sense that it was inappropriate or impolite. Once acknowledged, more people took phones out, and we all began concentrating on them in earnest rather than guiltily, enjoying the permission to indulge in the few minutes of relief we all knew we all wanted.

Despite the finger-wagging modern etiquette pieces, the obligation to provide your full attention to any one person or thing for a sustained period of time is becoming more difficult to meet.

Er.. is this a generational thing? If I’m out for dinner with people, then sure I’ll have put my phone away. It’s pretty easy really. But sure, you have to want to talk to people who are there.

The whole piece is an interesting take on Ringly, a ring that does notifications which I think is a novel approach to the topic.


One word sums up Google’s problem: Facebook » Seeking Alpha

Dana Blankenhorn (who owns Google stock) enunciating a view that is becoming increasingly widely held among industry analysts:

While Google Plus is a failure, Facebook is super-sticky, and acquisitions like Instagram and WhatsApp are designed to make it even stickier. While a 40-something Google user might be in-and-out in seconds, a 20-something Facebook user may spend hours on that site. Over the last year, Facebook is up 40% while Google stock is down 10%.

This doesn’t mean Google is dead. Google has an enormous global infrastructure, it has lots of smart people and it has enormous resources with which to address its problems. But YouTube isn’t Amazon.com or Netflix, as a studio it’s nowhere.

Google has always described its business as search, but what happens to customers when they find? This is something the company’s products have never answered. They’re the conduit, not the destination.

“Stickiness” matters; if people spend time on a service, that matters. Though you could ask “what about people looking at Facebook on Android phones?” But the ability to monetise mobile is where Facebook clearly shines – and outshines Google.


How ‘precarious’ are Jawbone’s finances? » Fortune

A lawsuit suggested the wearables company was a long way behind paying some debts, Adam Lashinsky explains:

One reason why Jawbone, a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, is having trouble paying its debts is that it isn’t profitable. What’s more, it has had trouble raising additional funding, despite having collected more than $400m in debt and equity over the course of its 16-year existence. As previously reported, Jawbone agreed with financial firm Rizvi Traverse early last year to an investment round of $250m. Yet over the course of 2014 not all the investment materialized. According to the Flextronics suit, in late June Jawbone agreed to a five-month payment plan with Flextronics. “Jawbone advised Flextronics that it would be receiving additional funding that would assure Jawbone’s ability to make the payments,” the suit says.

According to the suit, Jawbone again failed to make a payment deadline, prompting the suit, which was promptly settled. Jawbone, surprised the lawsuit documents were publicly available, issued the following statement: “The fact that the lawsuit was so quickly dismissed after it was filed shows that this business dispute was really more of a miscommunication between two partners.” According to multiple sources, Jawbone repeatedly has been late on payments to various vendors over the course of its corporate history.

Jawbone seems to pervasive to fail, and yet it’s the sort of thing that can happen. Who would buy it if it hits the rocks?


I spotted an Apple Watch on the train this morning, and now I’m a believer » VentureBeat

Mark Sullivan:

As the train stopped in a tunnel, the man apparently received a reminder on his wrist, and when he raised his wrist I got a clear view. No, it wasn’t one of the knockoffs they were selling at CES. This thing looked like a luxury item, and it had the now familiar “bubbles” Watch user interface.

I saw a text reminder on the screen, and then, briefly, a map. It appeared that the guy had been using the Watch for some time and was pretty used to it. The product is supposed to go on sale in April, but Apple gave Watches to a number of its employees to gather feedback and fix bugs.

On this guy, at least, the Watch looked proportionate to his wrist. The polished metal watch band looked very traditional, and, it seemed to me, made the Watch itself seem less out of the ordinary. It’s very much within the wristwatch paradigm, and doesn’t scream for attention.

One thing that disturbed me slightly about the device?

Like other blockbuster Apple products, when you see it, something somewhere in the corner of your mind clicks on, and then you realize:

You want one.

The commenters are enthralled. Well, that might be the wrong word. Obviously, they’ve all seen one and… no, hang on.


Cyanogen spurns Google acquisition interest, seeks $1bn valuation » The Information

Amir Efrati, in October 2014:

Billions of new customers will buy phones powered by Android before the end of the decade. Already there are hundreds of millions of Android phones that don’t run Google’s version of the software, but that group is highly fragmented. Cyanogen investors believe the company can consolidate a chunk of the non-Google-controlled Android market and build its own “ecosystem” of hardware and app partners.

As Google requires Android phone manufacturers to pre-install more Google-owned apps, much to the chagrin of Google’s rivals and some of those manufacturers, Cyanogen sees an opportunity to create an “open” platform that rewards the best services and applications based on what device owners choose. That’s closer to the original vision of Android co-founder Andy Rubin, who sold his startup to Google and developed the Android operating system there, before stepping aside for Mr. Pichai last year.

A Google spokesman did not have a comment. Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen’s CEO, acknowledged the startup is “talking to many potential partners including software makers and hardware manufacturers.” Existing investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Redpoint Ventures, Benchmark Capital and Chinese Web-services giant Tencent.

If Microsoft is investing, things become more interesting – and Cyanogen could be the route out of China for lots of software and services companies that otherwise can’t get onto Android handsets.


Why solar costs will fall another 40% in just two years » Renew Economy

Deutsche Bank notes that total module costs of leading Chinese solar companies have decreased from around $1.31 a watt in 2011 to around $0.50/W in 2014. It says this was primarily due to the reduction in processing costs, the fall in polysilicon costs and improvement in conversion efficiencies.

That represents a fall of around 60% in just three years. Deutsche Bank says total costs could fall another 30-40% over the next several years, with the greatest cost reductions are likely to come from the residential segments as scale and operating efficiencies improve.

It sees a precedent for this in the oldest major solar market in the world – Germany. “Costs today are well below costs in the United States and other less mature markets, and total installed costs have declined around 40% over the past three years in the country. The exact drivers behind cost declines may vary between countries, but we believe the German example continues to prove that overall system costs have yet to reach a bottom even in comparatively mature markets.”

Make a note: even with the plunging oil price, solar is going to be a sensible power source in the longer term.