Google

Google Is 'Pausing' Work On Allo In Favor 'Chat,' An RCS-Based Messaging Standard (theverge.com) 136

An anonymous reader shares an exclusive report from The Verge about Google's next big fix for Android's messaging mess: Instead of bringing a better app to the table, it's trying to change the rules of the texting game, on a global scale. Google has been quietly corralling every major cellphone carrier on the planet into adopting technology to replace SMS. It's going to be called "Chat," and it's based on a standard called the "Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services." SMS is the default that everybody has to fall back to, and so Google's goal is to make that default texting experience on an Android phone as good as other modern messaging apps. As part of that effort, Google says it's "pausing" work on its most recent entry into the messaging space, Allo. It's the sort of "pause" that involves transferring almost the entire team off the project and putting all its resources into another app, Android Messages. Google won't build the iMessage clone that Android fans have clamored for, but it seems to have cajoled the carriers into doing it for them. In order to have some kind of victory in messaging, Google first had to admit defeat. Some of the new features associated with Chat include read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and group texts. It's important to keep in mind that it's a carrier-based service, not a Google service. It won't be end-to-end encrypted, and it will follow the same legal intercept standards. The new Chat services will be switched on in the near future, but ultimately carriers will dictate exactly when Chat will go live. Also, you may be persuaded to upgrade your data plan since Chat messages will be sent with your data plan instead of your SMS plan.
Google

Google's Phone App Is Getting the Power To Send Spam Calls Straight To Voicemail (9to5google.com) 85

According to 9to5Google, Google's dialer app for Pixel, Nexus, and Android One devices is being upgraded with the ability to send spam calls straight to voicemail. "In 2016, the app began alerting users to potential spam callers by flashing the incoming call screen bright red, with another 'Suspected spam caller' alert just underneath the phone number," reports 9to5Google. The new spam filtering feature goes a step further. From the report: [U]sers will not receive a missed call or voicemail notification, though filtered calls will appear in call history and any voicemails left will still show up in that respective tab. This feature is rolling out worldwide over the next few weeks, but those who join the new beta will have initial access to it. Like its other programs, Google notes that the test allows you to use experimental features before they're released. Google warns that features will still be in-development, might be unstable, and have "a few problems." Meanwhile, users will have the ability to submit in-app feedback throughout the process. Head to the Google Play listing for the Phone app and scroll down to "Become a tester" in order to join.
Cellphones

The Personality Traits That Put You At Risk For Smartphone Addiction (washingtonpost.com) 73

Zorro shares a report from The Washington Post: When the Trump-affiliated firm Cambridge Analytica obtained data on tens of millions of Facebook users, it used the "Big 5" or "Five Factor Model" personality test to target them with ads designed to influence their votes in the 2016 election. The test scores people on five traits -- openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism -- and was used in the election to predict the way a voter would respond to an advertisement. But the Big 5 can predict a lot more -- including how likely you are to even use Facebook or any other social media (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source).

That's because the way you score on the test can tell you how likely you are to become addicted to your screen. Research shows that people who score high on neuroticism, low on conscientiousness, and low on agreeableness are more likely to become addicted to social media, video games, instant messaging, or other online stimuli. Studies have also found that extraverts are more likely to become addicted to cellphone use than introverts. Some of the correlations make sense. Less agreeable people may be more apt to immerse themselves in technology because it does not require the kind of friendly interactions that real life does. Neurotic people have been shown to spend more time online because it validates their desire to belong or be part of a group. Conscientious people are less impulsive and therefore more able to control and organize their time. But then it gets complicated. Because according to a new study out of the State University of New York at Binghamton, specific combinations of those personality traits can mitigate or exaggerate one's propensity to addiction.

Android

LG's Upcoming 'G7 ThinQ' Smartphone To Feature Almost-Bezel-Less Display With Notch, Launch On May 2nd (9to5google.com) 51

Earlier this morning, LG announced in a blog post that it will be hosting an event on May 2nd in New York City, where it would unveil its upcoming "LG G7 ThinQ" Android smartphone, with a public event in Korea on May 3rd. While LG has yet to confirm any other details of the phone in this post, we do have a pretty good idea as to what this flagship smartphone will feature thanks to some recently-leaked renders courtesy of Android Headlines. 9to5Google reports: This latest shot of the phone gives us a clear look at the design on the front and back. Up front, there's the same notched display we saw at MWC with questionably thick bezels on the bottom and top. With those bezels and the notch, users are undoubtedly going to be questioning LG's design choices this time around. There's also a glass back that comes in several colors with a fingerprint sensor and vertically oriented camera in tow. According to the report, LG will be launching the phone in Aurora Black, Platinum Grey, Moroccan Blue, Moroccan Blue (Matte), and Raspberry Rose, but it's unclear which markets those colors will be available in.
Privacy

'Big Brother' In India Requires Fingerprint Scans For Food, Phones, Finances (nytimes.com) 132

The New York Times reports of the Indian government's intent to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly "scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents (alternative source) and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones." Here's an excerpt from the report: Civil libertarians are horrified, viewing the program, called Aadhaar, as Orwell's Big Brother brought to life. To the government, it's more like "big brother," a term of endearment used by many Indians to address a stranger when asking for help. For other countries, the technology could provide a model for how to track their residents. And for India's top court, the ID system presents unique legal issues that will define what the constitutional right to privacy means in the digital age. The government has made registration mandatory for hundreds of public services and many private ones, from taking school exams to opening bank accounts.

Technology has given governments around the world new tools to monitor their citizens. In China, the government is rolling out ways to use facial recognition and big data to track people, aiming to inject itself further into everyday life. Many countries, including Britain, deploy closed-circuit cameras to monitor their populations. But India's program is in a league of its own, both in the mass collection of biometric data and in the attempt to link it to everything -- traffic tickets, bank accounts, pensions, even meals for undernourished schoolchildren.

United States

US Suspects Listening Devices in Washington (apnews.com) 137

For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminal could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages. From a report: The use of what are known as cellphone-site simulators by foreign powers has long been a concern, but American intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- which use such eavesdropping equipment themselves -- have been silent on the issue until now. In a March 26 letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that last year it identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation's capital. The agency said it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them. Nor did it say how many it detected or where.

The agency's response, obtained by The Associated Press from Wyden's office, suggests little has been done about such equipment, known popularly as Stingrays after a brand common among U.S. police departments. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation's airwaves, formed a task force on the subject four years ago, but it never produced a report and no longer meets regularly. The devices work by tricking mobile devices into locking onto them instead of legitimate cell towers, revealing the exact location of a particular cellphone. More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware.

Cellphones

Two Studies Find 'Clear Evidence' That Cellphone Radiation Causes Cancer In Rats (qz.com) 217

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: [A] pair of studies by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found "clear evidence" that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found "some evidence" that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. (Both are positive results; the NTP uses the labels "clear evidence," "some evidence," "equivocal evidence" and "no evidence" when making conclusions.) Tumors were found in the hearts of female rats, too, but they didn't rise to the level of statistical significance and the results were labeled "equivocal;" in other words, the researchers couldn't be sure the radiation is what caused the tumors. The next scientific step will be to determine what this means for humans. The peer-reviewed papers will be passed on to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for determining human risk and issuing any guidelines to the public, and the Federal Communications Commission, which develops safety standards for cell phones. The FDA was part of the group of federal agencies who commissioned the studies back in the early 2000s.

Ronald Melnick, the NTP senior toxicologist who designed the studies (and who retired from the agency in 2009), says it's unlikely any future study could conclude with certainty that there is no risk to humans from cell phone use. "I can't see proof of a negative ever arising from future studies," Melnick says. He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. "I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public," Melnick says. "Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don't sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now."
Quartz notes that when the draft results were published earlier this year, all the results were labeled "equivocal," meaning the study authors felt the data weren't clear enough to determine if the radiation caused the health effects or not. "But the panel of peer reviewers (among them brain and heart pathologists, toxicologists, biostaticians, and engineers) re-evaluated the data and upgraded several of the conclusions to 'some evidence' and 'clear evidence.'"
AT&T

Huawei Commits To Bringing Its Products To the US Despite Government Security Concerns (phonedog.com) 40

Within the last few months, AT&T and Verizon have reportedly decided not to sell Huawei's flagship smartphone due to pressure from the U.S. government, with Best Buy opting to stop offering all Huawei products. Despite all of this, though, the company isn't giving up its U.S. ambitions. PhoneDog reports: Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei's consumer business group, says that Huawei will continue working to establish itself in the U.S. and earn consumers' trust. Yu's statement to CNET: "We are committed to the U.S. market and to earning the trust of U.S. consumers by staying focused on delivering world-class products and innovation. We would never compromise that trust." Yu went on to say that the security concerns that the U.S. government has about Huawei are "based on groundless suspicions and are quite frankly unfair." He added that Huawei is open having a discussion with the heads of the CIA, FBI, and NSA so long as it is based on facts.
Android

Verizon Plans To Launch a Palm Smartphone Later This Year (androidpolice.com) 45

Verizon is planning on launch a Palm-branded smartphone later this year, an anonymous source told Android Police. The rumor backs up what a TCL executive said last August, when they confirmed that the company would launch a Palm phone this year. From the report: Sadly, we don't know anything about the phone itself at this time (well, we know it runs Android), but the fact that TCL is working with Verizon is telling. The carrier was a longtime Palm partner, selling most of the brand's webOS handsets all the way through the Pre 2. Verizon had intended to carry the ill-fated Pre 3, but the phone was cancelled by Palm's then-buyer HP before it could be released in the U.S. TCL acquired the rights to the Palm name back in 2015, and it's starting to get something of a reputation for reviving dead and dying brands: the Chinese firm manufactures BlackBerry handsets, which have received a surprising amount of attention in the mainstream press.
Cellphones

How Technology Caught the Austin Serial Bomber (foxnews.com) 148

Wednesday police in Austin, Texas finally located the "serial bomber" believed to be responsible for six package bombs which killed two people over the last three weeks. "The operation was aided by different uses of technology, including surveillance cameras and cell phone triangulation." An anonymous reader shares this article: The suspect, who has been identified as 24-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt, was killed near the motel he was traced to thanks to surveillance footage from a Federal Express drop-off store, The Austin American-Stateman reported. The authorities were able to gather information after police noticed the subject shipped an explosive device from a Sunset Valley FedEx store, a suburb approximately 25 minutes away from Austin. The evidence included the security footage from the store, as well as store receipts obtained showing suspicious transactions. The authorities were also able to look at the individual's Google search history, the Statesman noted, which gave them further insight into his dealings...

The authorities were also able to use cell phone triangulation technology, which provides a cell phone's location data via information collected from nearby cell towers... The phone's GPS capabilities can track the phone within 5 to 10 feet and can also provide "historical" or "prospective" location information. It can also "ping" the phone, forcing it to reveal its exact location... As cell phone companies store this type of data, law enforcement authorities must request it via the appropriate court processes.

"Authorities in Austin were able to use this technology to trace the suspect to a hotel in Williamson County."
Cellphones

World's Largest Animal Study On Cell Tower Radiation Confirms Cancer Link (digitaljournal.com) 242

capedgirardeau shares a report from Digital Journal: Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer. The RI study also found increases in malignant brain (glial) tumors in female rats and precancerous conditions including Schwann cells hyperplasia in both male and female rats. A study of much higher levels of cell phone radiofrequency (RF) radiation, from the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), has also reported finding the same unusual cancer called Schwannoma of the heart in male rats treated at the highest dose.

The Ramazzini study exposed 2448 Sprague-Dawley rats from prenatal life until their natural death to "environmental" cell tower radiation for 19 hours per day (1.8 GHz GSM radiofrequency radiation (RFR) of 5, 25 and 50 V/m). RI exposures mimicked base station emissions like those from cell tower antennas, and exposure levels were far less than those used in the NTP studies of cell phone radiation. "All of the exposures used in the Ramazzini study were below the U.S. FCC limits. These are permissible exposures according the FCC. In other words, a person can legally be exposed to this level of radiation. Yet cancers occurred in these animals at these legally permitted levels. The Ramazzini findings are consistent with the NTP study demonstrating these effects are a reproducible finding," explained Ronald Melnick PhD, formerly the Senior NIH toxicologist who led the design of the NTP study on cell phone radiation now a Senior Science Advisor to Environmental Health Trust (EHT). "Governments need to strengthen regulations to protect the public from these harmful non-thermal exposures."

Cellphones

There Are Still 100,000 Pay Phones In the US (cnn.com) 97

According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States, and about a fifth of those are in New York. The number has decreased rapidly over the last couple decades as cellphones have been adopted by 95% of Americans. CNN reports of how these remaining pay phones still remain a steady business for some of the 1,100 companies operating them across the country: Pay phone providers reported $286 million in revenue in 2015, according to the most recent FCC report. They can still be profitable, particularly in places where there isn't cell phone or landline coverage, said Tom Keane, president of Pacific Telemanagement Services. Keane's company operates 20,000 pay phones around the country. "We have phones in Yosemite Valley that are extremely busy when there's not snow on the ground," he said. Victor Rollo said he is still making money off his 170 phones in the San Diego area. Rollo declined to say how much, but he believes pay phones are a lifeline for people who don't have other options and are valuable during emergencies or natural disasters. Rollo says he evaluates how many calls are made on the phones every month, how far away they are from each other, and how much his expenses are per month to determine whether to keep them in the ground. Phones in hospitals and along the border, where cell coverage is weak, are some of his most profitable ones.
Android

Samsung Will Begin Offering Same-Day Repairs On Galaxy Phones This Week (bgr.com) 19

hyperclocker shares a report from BGR: Samsung announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with uBreakiFix to bring same-day, in-person phone repairs to Galaxy device owners across the United States. Starting on March 15th, Samsung customers will be able to bring their phones to any of more than 300 uBreakiFix service locations and have their devices repaired on the spot and usually within two hours or less. Samsung plans to expand the program throughout 2018 as well. Galaxy owners will have the option to either schedule an appointment at a uBreakiFix location, or just drop the phone off without calling ahead. Samsung assures customers that all uBreakiFix repair centers will have genuine Samsung parts, proprietary Samsung tools for the repairs, and conduct repairs by Samsung certified pros.
Android

Android Beats iOS In Smartphone Loyalty, Study Finds 145

Android users don't appear to be switching to the iPhone like they used to. According to a new study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), Android users have higher loyalty than iOS users do. "The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen," reports TechCrunch. From the report: Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017. From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent. Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point. "With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to sell products and services to these loyal customer bases," he said. It's worth noting that Android hasn't always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.
Cellphones

FBI Again Calls For Magical Solution To Break Into Encrypted Phones (arstechnica.com) 232

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: FBI Director Christopher Wray again has called for a solution to what the bureau calls the "Going Dark" problem, the idea that the prevalence of default strong encryption on digital devices makes it more difficult for law enforcement to extract data during an investigation. However, in a Wednesday speech at Boston College, Wray again did not outline any specific piece of legislation or technical solution that would provide both strong encryption and allow the government to access encrypted devices when it has a warrant. A key escrow system, with which the FBI or another entity would be able to unlock a device given a certain set of circumstances, is by definition weaker than what cryptographers would traditionally call "strong encryption." There's also the problem of how to compel device and software makers to impose such a system on their customers -- similar efforts were attempted during the Clinton administration, but they failed. A consensus of technical experts has said that what the FBI has asked for is impossible. "I recognize this entails varying degrees of innovation by the industry to ensure lawful access is available," Wray said Wednesday. "But I just don't buy the claim that it's impossible. Let me be clear: the FBI supports information security measures, including strong encryption. Actually, the FBI is on the front line fighting cyber crime and economic espionage. But information security programs need to be thoughtfully designed so they don't undermine the lawful tools we need to keep the American people safe."
Communications

New LTE Attacks Can Snoop On Messages, Track Locations, and Spoof Emergency Alerts (zdnet.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A slew of newly discovered vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on 4G LTE network users by eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, knocking devices offline, and even spoofing emergency alerts. Ten attacks detailed in a new paper by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa expose weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securely attaching a device to the network and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages. Those flaws can allow authentication relay attacks that can allow an adversary to connect to a 4G LTE network by impersonating an existing user -- such as a phone number. Although authentication relay attacks aren't new, this latest research shows that they can be used to intercept message, track a user's location, and stop a phone from connecting to the network. By using common software-defined radio devices and open source 4G LTE protocol software, anyone can build the tool to carry out attacks for as little as $1,300 to $3,900, making the cost low enough for most adversaries. The researchers aren't releasing the proof-of-concept code until the flaws are fixed, however.
Android

Samsung Announces the Galaxy S9 With a Dual Aperture Camera, AR Emojis (arstechnica.com) 137

Samsung has taken the wraps off of its latest flagship, the Galaxy S9, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The S9 features a familiar body with an upgraded camera, relocated fingerprint scanner, and newer processor. As usual, there are two versions: the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. Ars Technica reports: The S9 is one of the first phones announced with the new 2.8Ghz Snapdragon 845 SoC in the US, while the international version will most likely get an Exynos 9810. Qualcomm is promising a 25-percent faster CPU and 30-percent faster graphics compared to the Snapdragon 835. The rest of the base S9 specs look a lot like last year, with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 3000mah battery, and a 5.8-inch 2960x1440 OLED display. The S9+ gets the usual bigger screen (6.2 inches @ 2960x1440) and bigger battery (3500mAh), but one improvement over last year is a RAM bump to 6GB. Neither RAM option is really outstanding for a phone this expensive, considering the much cheaper OnePlus 5T will give you 6GB and 8GB options for RAM at a much lower price. Both S9 models have headphone jacks, MicroSD slots, a new stereo speaker setup (one bottom firing, one doubles as the earpiece), IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and ship with Android 8.0 Oreo.

Both the Galaxy S9 versions are getting a main camera with two aperture settings. Just like a real camera, the Galaxy S9 has a set of (very tiny) aperture blades that can move to change the amount of incoming light. On the S9 they're limited to two different positions, resulting in f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures. In low light the aperture can open up to f/1.5 to collect as much light as possible, while in normal or bright light it can switch to f/2.4 for a wider depth of field. Samsung is also answering Apple's Animojis with "AR Emoji." They work just like Apple's Animoji: using the front sensors to perform a primitive version of motion capture, the phone syncs up a character's facial expressions to your facial expressions.
The Galaxy S9 clocks in at $719.99 and the S9+ is going for $839.99. In the U.S., preorders start March 2 at all four major carriers, and the phones ship out on March 16.
Cellphones

Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Down For First Time Ever (theregister.co.uk) 77

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones have declined year-on-year for the first time since the research company started tracking the global smartphone market in 2004. "Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled nearly 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016," reports Gartner. The Register reports: In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones -- but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip. Several major factors caused the market shrinkage, said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed right down due to a lack of quality 'ultra-low-cost' smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales," Gupta added. This is a characteristic of the emerging markets, where all the action is -- not mature markets like the UK or USA. Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average -- Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.
Cellphones

Apple Devices At California Repair Center Keep Calling 911 88

Since October 2017, Apple has made around 1,600 false alarm 911 calls from a distribution site in Elk Grove. "We've been seeing these calls for the last four months from Apple," said police dispatcher Jamie Hudson. "We're able to see quickly where the call is coming from, so when we get one from Apple, the address will come up with their location." CBS Sacramento reports: On average, Elk Grove Police say they've received 20 accidental 911 calls a day from Apple, roughly 1,600 calls since October. Hudson says the calls take valuable seconds away from calls that could be real life-and-death emergencies. "The times when it's greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call," he said. The calls are all coming from an Apple repair and refurbishing center off Laguna Boulevard. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Communication Center is also getting these calls -- 47 since January 1. Dispatchers there say they sometimes hear technicians working in the background. Apple hasn't confirmed which of their devices is actually causing these calls: the iPhone or Apple watch, but both devices can be triggered easily. With just a touch of a button, SOS comes on and 911 is called.

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