FCC Chairman Recommends Approval of T-Mobile and Sprint Merger



FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made a statement (PDF) in which he approved of the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. In the statement, he says his approval came after the two companies made some commitments regarding their 5G network. FCC Office of Commissioner Brendan Carr also made a statement (PDF) approving the merger.

VentureBeat provided a good summary of what commitments T-Mobile and Sprint will make:

  • 97% U.S. population coverage within three years of the merger’s close, including 85% of rural Americans
  • 99% U.S. population coverage within six years of the merger’s close, including 90% of rural Americans
  • A guarantee that 90% of Americans will have mobile broadband access at 100Mbps or more, with 99% able to access speeds of 50Mbps or more
  • A guarantee that at least two-thirds of rural Americans will have access to high-speed, mid-band 5G
  • An agreement to divest Boost Mobile to retain competitiveness in the prepaid wireless segment
  • Billions of dollars in penalties to the FCC if the merged “New T-Mobile” fails to follow through on these commitments.

Not everyone is happy about this merger. Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Justice Department is against approving the T-Mobile and Sprint merger. According to Bloomberg, “someone familiar with the review” said the reason was the DOJ feels the companies do not go far enough to resolve antitrust concerns.

Makan Delrahim is the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division and the person who can put a stop to the merger. The DOJ reviews if a merger would hurt competition and raise prices for customers. The T-Mobile and Sprint merger would combine the number 3 and number 4 wireless carriers in the U.S., leaving just three national competitors.

Bloomberg says it is rare for the Justice Department and the FCC to diverge on a merger. It seems like there is a good chance that the merger will not be approved. I also think that people who are currently using either T-Mobile or Sprint might feel anxious about how the merger could affect the quality and cost of their service.


Flic 2 Launches on Kickstarter



Flic smart buttons first appeared at CES 2015 and since then, they’ve made steady progress as a useful element of a smart home solution. CES 2018 saw the introduction of the Flic Hub which eliminated the need for a nearby smartphone to process activity.

Flic buttons are little rubberised push switches that use Bluetooth to communicate with the complementary Flic smartphone app (or Flic Hub), which then initiates actions based on rules created in the app. There’s lots of flexibility built into the app so the Flic can turn on lights or make Skype calls – all kinds of things.

Flic 2 is coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday and the Swedish team is promising a brand new open platform to encourage community development and integration with other smart home systems. The buttons themselves have been improved with a new design, improved range, better tactile response and a three-coloured LED for additional feedback.

The Flic buttons will support Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) meaning the Flics can emulate keyboards, mice, gamepads and other devices. Maybe you want a button to do a screen grab – that’s when you could use HID to “press” PrtScn.

Although I don’t have a Flic Hub, I understand it has a IR port and can control TVs, set-top boxes and media players – anything that has an IR remote control. It would be handy to power everything down without having to find all the remote controls at the end of the day.

If you are interested in more details, you can sign up here (disclosure: this link will get me some Flic brownie points), or you can wait for Flic 2 to launch on Kickstarter at 1600 BST  / 1100 EST on 21st May 2019. Looks like there’s some good value early bird specials.

In particular, I’m hoping there will be good integration with Samsung’s SmartThings. Fingers crossed.


Google is Tracking a History of Things You Buy



Google has a sketchy history when it comes to privacy. It turns out that Google has been tracking a history of things you have purchased – even if you bought those things in a store or from Amazon.

CNBC reported that there is a page called “Purchases” that shows a list of the things you have bought. The list can go back for years.

It appears that Google is getting information from people’s Gmail accounts. If you’ve ever had a digital receipt sent to your Gmail account – that information was tracked and saved by Google.

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings, and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.”

While it is good that Google isn’t looking at your Gmail for the purpose to show you ads – that doesn’t make what Google is doing acceptable. It is not clear how long Google has been collecting data about the things people purchase.

It also isn’t easy to find out what information Google has collected about what you have purchased. You can view it here. CNBC reports that there is no way to delete the information in Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail.

Personally, I don’t believe Google is tracking people’s purchases because Google wants users to “easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place”. Google is collecting data about the things you buy because Google is greedy and doesn’t care that its actions are an invasion of privacy.


Last Live Show in Hawaii #1368



Last Live show here in Hawai, which as you would expect was full of issues of the stream going down. Never fails when you want to have fun things go sideways. Well anyway it will be fun calling the cable company and downgrading the speed tomorrow. Audio show continues next week. That said there are some pretty serious stories in today’s show that should invoke some reaction by all of you. See you Monday Audio only.

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Trump Administration Launches Tool to Report Censorship



The Trump Administration has launched a web survey for people to use if they feel they have been wrongly censored on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube. The survey was created with the online form-building tool Typeform. The first page of the survey says:

SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear “violations” of user policies. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.

The Guardian reported that the survey asks users to provide their names, contact information, social media accounts, and screenshots of interactions with social media platforms. Only US citizens and permanent residents are asked to participate. The Guardian wonders what the Trump administration will do – and what it won’t do – with the names and contact information of the people who fill out the survey.

Typeform tweeted: “We didn’t get any further than this @WhiteHouse”. The tweet included a screenshot of the question “Are you a U.S. citizen or permanent resident?” Typeform checked “no”. The Guardian reported that Typeform is based in Barcelona.

As always, it is a good idea to read a survey’s user agreement before you post any of your information into it. Ars Technica reported that the user agreement gives the Trump Administration a broad license to use the information that users post into the survey, including publishing it.

More specifically, the user agreement “grants the U.S. Government a license to use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute all or part of the Content (including edited, composite, or derivative works made therefrom)”.

“You waive any right to inspect or approve of any Content edited, composite or derivative works made from Content (including those which may contain your information) before use. You are not entitled to any prior notice before the U.S. Government uses Content or Information. You are not entitled to any compensation for Content.”

“You understand that Content may not be altered or deleted by you after submission, You further understand that your submission may be subject to the Federal Records Act and/or the Presidential Records Act and may be subject to public release according to those statutes.”

The Verge reported that near the end of the survey, it invites users to opt into email newsletters from President Trump “so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”

Another part of the survey points users toward the user agreement, and states: “you understand this form is for information gathering only.” I think there are going to be a lot of disappointed people who presume that filling out the survey will instantly make their suspended or banned accounts accessible once again. In addition, some people may not realize they opted-in to a newsletter.


Social Media Companies to Tackle Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content



Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have responded to the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online by committing to remove that content from their social media sites. As far as I can tell, this is the first time those three companies have decided to work together on removing that type of content.

In March of this year, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was livestreamed. The Christchurch Call was created by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron. Ars Technica reported that Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have signed on.

The Christchurch Call is a commitment by Governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. It rests on the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society. Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental. However, no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all committed to the Christchurch Call. Each company posted nearly identical details about how they will enact policies to combat the spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Each company will be: “identifying appropriate checks on livestreaming, aimed at reducing the risks of disseminating terrorist and violent extremist content online. These may include enhanced vetting measures (such as streamer ratings or scores, account activity, or validation processes) and moderation of certain livestreaming events where appropriate. Checks on livestreaming necessarily will be tailored to the context of specific livestreaming services, including the type of audience, the nature or character of the livestreaming service, and the likelihood of exploitation.”

The companies will also improve technology to detect and remove terrorist and violent extremist content. They will combat hate and bigotry by providing greater support for relevant research – with an emphasis on the impact of online hate on offline discrimination and violence – and supporting capacity and capability of NGOs working to challenge hate and promote pluralism and respect online.

Personally, I think this is a step in the right direction. It is abundantly clear that hateful content online influences some people to take that hate offline and to act in ways that cause harm to other people. Something must be done to prevent that.


Wife’s Search Appears In My Adverts



Anyone who has spent any time on the internet will have seen this. You do a search for a product or service, look at a few options, and for the next few days, you’ll see whatever you found advertised back to you in web pages. It’s annoying because either I’ve already bought the product or else I’ve dismissed it as unsuitable.

Here’s an example. The picture on the left is a holiday house in Iceland. The picture on right is the house advertised back to me later via a Dilbert email.

It all looks fairly normal, except that I didn’t do the search for the house. My wife did. The picture on the left is from my wife’s Samsung S2 tablet. The picture on the right is from my Huawei Mediapad.

I was very surprised to see this house. I only knew about it because my wife had shown me the pictures for Iceland as a holiday destination. Somehow the advertisers have managed to digitally link me and my wife. I have no idea how this was done as we have our own accounts on all our devices.

It’s really cunning. Advertise to partners for things that the other has already been searching on. Sow that seed in a husband’s mind – “Oooh, that looks like something Jenny would like! I’ll order that now.” Kerching…

Be aware of this. If you get advertised for something that you don’t recognise and would probably be of interest to your partner, you’re being fished.

And if it’s something that you don’t recognise, you’d quite like and your birthday’s coming up, just act surprised when you unwrap it.

Anyone else seen this? Very insidious.