OnePlus Keeps Dropping Titbits



With just a week to go, OnePlus has kept up a steady stream of news for the upcoming OnePlus 7 Pro. Mostly using Pete Lau’s Twitter, there’s news on the screen, water resistance, UFS 3.1 storage and the camera’s been busy with a few cover shoots too.

 

In official press release news, it’s been confirmed today that the 7 Pro will come with an HDR10+ certified display. As already mentioned in the tweets, the OnePlus 7 Pro display comes with an A+ top-grade rating given by DisplayMate, and is ‘Safety for Eyes’ certified by VDE

HDR10+ is the future of not just television displays, but also smartphone displays as well,” says OnePlus CEO Pete Lau. “We hope that our newest device will set a new benchmark for the smartphone industry and open up a new world of visual fluidity for users. We’re glad we are leading the ranks in sharing quality technology with the world.” 

For those unfamiliar with HDR10+, it provides frame-by-frame adjustments for the best representation of contrast from the HDR source content. HDR10+ also produces 4,000 nits of peak brightness, a massive raise of 3,000 nits compared to HDR10. Being an open format, it’s license and royalty free and can be adopted by manufacturers and content producers. Quality is maintained through a HDR10+ certification and logo programme.

Let’s hope there are still a few surprises left for next Tuesday.


UK Government Consults on IoT Security



The UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (aka Ministry of Fun) has announced plans to introduce new laws governing internet-connected devices, i.e. Internet of Things.

Given that there have been some high-profile instances involving connected toys and cameras, this is welcome news. In a perfect world, users should be educated in the basics of IT security such as changing the default password, but sadly it’s case of getting a gadget out of the box and setup as fast as possible.

The Government is consulting on a “Secure by Design” initiative which intends for basic cyber security features to be built into products and for consumers to get better information on how secure the devices are.

Much like food packaging or the energy ratings on white goods, the Government is proposing a mandatory labelling scheme that states the security level of the gadget. Only goods with the applicable “IoT” label could be legally sold in the UK.

The consultation proposes three essential requirements for internet-connected gadgets.

  1. Device passwords must be unique without any standard factory setting
  2. The minimum duration for which the device will receive security updates must explicitly stated
  3. A public point of contact as part of a vulnerability disclosure policy must be given

Point 3 isn’t directly for consumers but rather for security researchers who will be able to directly contact organisations about security issues. All of these points will be a significant deterrent to the “cheap’n’cheerful” IoT gadgets that typically come in from China with zero support.

Overall, this is a very welcome consultation and I would encourage readers to review the proposals and feedback on the options. This is very much about protecting ourselves and our families and reducing the risk of being hacked. For too long, manufacturers have got away with having little responsibility for their devices after they’ve been bought and these ideas address that balance.

If you want to know more on the consultation and comment on the proposals, it’s over here.

Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash.


Facebook Banned “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”



Several websites have reported that Facebook has banned a group of people who have broken the company’s Community Standards. More specifically, those recently banned have broken the “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” portion of Facebook’s and Instagram’s Community Standards.

The “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” policy states: “In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we do not allow any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence, from having a presence on Facebook. This includes organizations or individuals involved in the following: terrorist activity, organized hate, mass or serial murder, human trafficking, organized violence or criminal activity.

The policy also says: “We also remove content that expresses support or praise for groups, leaders, or individuals involved in these activities.”

Buzzfeed News got a statement from a Facebook spokesperson who said: “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

BuzzFeed News reported that the ban will affect both Facebook and Instagram.

Here is a list of those who have been banned: Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones (and his Infowars site), Laura Loomer, Louis Farrakhan, Paul Joseph Watson, and Paul Nehlen. Some of the people who were banned from Facebook and Instagram have been previously banned from other platforms. I’ll leave you to read the BuzzFeed News article if you would like more details.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Facebook (and Instagram) are not part of Congress. They are private companies.


Facebook Says “The Future is Private”



At F8 2019, Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives repeated a version of the phrase “the future is private”. Personally, that particular phrase is not one I would expect to hear from Facebook, given their multitude of privacy issues that somehow seem to keep happening.

Facebook Newsroom has information about some upcoming “privacy-focused” changes to Facebook’s products.

Mark Zuckerberg opened the two-day event with a keynote on how we’re building a more privacy-focused social platform – giving people spaces where they can express themselves freely and feel connected to the people and communities that matter most. He shared how this is a fundamental shift in how we build products and run our company.

Here are some key points:

Messenger will have a “dedicated space where you can discover Stories and messages with your closest friends and family.” Users will be able to choose exactly who sees what they post. This sounds good!

Messenger will also have something that makes “it even easier for businesses to connect with potential customers by adding lead generation templates to Ad Manager.” It will allow business to make ads with a “simple Q&A” that allows the business to learn more about their customers. This does not sound like it is privacy-focused.

WhatsApp is getting a Business Catalog that allows users to chat with businesses and for businesses to showcase their goods. This doesn’t sound privacy-focused.

Facebook is putting Groups first by making it easier for people to find Groups and participate in them. Some of the other changes sound to me like Facebook wants to make Groups more like what Discord already offers. If I remember correctly, there were some politically motivated shenanigans happening in Groups before the 2016 election. I expect the updated Groups will be manipulated the same way.

Facebook Dating is going to have a feature called “Secret Crush”. Users can add up to nine friends that they want to express interest in. Those friends will get a notification saying someone has a crush on them. If a user’s crush adds them to their Secret Crush list – they make a match and it appears both will be notified of that. Is this really privacy-focused if Facebook still has all the data? What if that leaks?

Instagram is getting features that appear to be primarily designed to make it easier for creators to sell products to other Instagram users. Not sure why this is considered privacy-focused by Facebook. To me, this sounds like its more about sales than privacy.

Fancy new features can make Facebook’s products more interesting (at least, for a little while). But, it’s one thing to say that the company will be privacy-focused, and quite another to actually take actions that truly do improve the privacy of users – and their data. Will Facebook make significant, meaningful, changes? Or is this just a bunch of hype?


Keep Podcasts in Sync with Pocket Cast’s Alexa Skill



Pocket Casts is one of the most used apps on my OnePlus 3T, playing podcasts in the car and while out walking. It’s a great app, though I’m still in two minds about the new version 7.0. Why do app developers feel the need to alienate existing users with radical redesigns for no real benefit?

Regardless, one of the coolest features of Pocket Casts is that it keeps playback in sync across multiple devices. Say I listen to Geek News Central in my car and I get about half-way through the latest show. Once I’m home, maybe I want to use my tablet rather than my phone and Pocket Casts knows exactly where I got to in the GNC show. It picks up where I left off without missing a word. Very cool.

And even more cool is that Pocket Casts has an Alexa skill that plugs into the same ecosystem. Once setup on your Echo, it’s “Alexa, open Pocket Casts” and Alexa responds “Welcome to Pocket Casts. Would you like to keep playing Geek News Central?” I say, “Yes” and Alexa plays from wherever I was. Fantastic.
Alternatively, I could decline the initial offer and ask to play a different podcast from my library.

To enable Pocket Casts, and in particular, the cross-platform syncing, there are three things you need to do

  1. Buy Pocket Casts for your smartphone (both Android and iOS) and setup an account
  2. Enable the Alexa skill via the Alexa app
  3. Log in to your Pocket Casts account via the Alexa app to link your account

With the Alexa and Pocket Casts account now linked, you can listen to podcasts on all your devices without having to scrub backwards and forwards to find the right spot. Give it a try.


Apple Cracks Down on Apps that Limit Screen Time



The New York Times reported that Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, and also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps that had the same functions. The analysis was done by The New York Times and an app-data firm called Sensor Tower.

In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store.

According to the New York Times, Apple started removing or restricting apps that allow people to limit their own, or their children’s screen-time shortly after Apple made its own screen-time app. In addition, in order to use Apple’s screen-time app to limit children’s screen time, the entire family must have iPhones. Obviously, this would be very beneficial to Apple.

The New York times reported a statement from Apple:

“We treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services,” said Tammy Levine, an Apple spokeswoman. “Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible.” She said Apple removed or required changes to the apps because they could gain too much information from users’ devices. She added that the timing of Apple’s moves was not related to its debut of similar tools.

There are two groups of people who are directly affected by this. One is the screen-time app makers, who are losing business due to their app being removed from the App Store. The other are some parents who were using one of those apps to control their children’s phones – and who cannot do that anymore with the app they were originally using. Apple’s screen-time app reportedly provides the option “Ignore Limit” when a user hits the app’s time limit.

One thing is clear. Apple has a whole lot of control over what apps are allowed in the App Store, and can and does remove apps that it feels should not be there. On the one hand, it makes sense for Apple to remove apps that have malware or otherwise are acting maliciously.

On the other hand, this situation shows that removal of apps has a negative impact on the companies who create them and the people who use them. I think this situation is going to make some people want Apple to be investigated for the purpose of determining whether or not some regulation is needed.


Regulators are Investigating Facebook’s Privacy Practices



Regulators, from several countries, are investigating Facebook’s privacy practices. This comes after Facebook has done numerous sketchy things with user’s personal information, passwords, and data. It seems to me that at least one of these investigations will result in meaningful consequences and/or penalties for Facebook.

In the United States, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Facebook’s unauthorized collection of 1.5 million Facebook users’ email contact databases.

“It is time Facebook is held accountable for how it handles consumers’ personal information,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of respect for consumers’ information while at the same time profiting from mining that data. Facebook’s announcement that it harvested 1.5 million users’ email address books, potentially gaining access to contact information for hundreds of millions of individual consumers without their knowledge, is the latest demonstration that Facebook does not take seriously its role in protecting personal information.”

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission has commenced a statutory inquiry in relation to Facebook’s storing of the passwords of hundreds of millions of Facebook, Facebook Lite and Instagram users in plain text on Facebook’s internal servers. The inquiry will determine whether Facebook has complied with its obligations under relevant provisions of the GDPR.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada did a joint investigation of Facebook with the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. It focused on the TYDL App. (“thisisyourdigitallife). A summary of the investigation found:

  • Facebook failed to obtain valid and meaningful consent of installing users.
  • Facebook also failed to obtain meaningful consent from friends of installing users.
  • Facebook had inadequate safeguards to protect user information.
  • Facebook failed to be accountable for user information under its control.

In February of 2019, Germany’s Bundeskartellmant prohibited Facebook from combining user data from different sources. Also in February, the House of Commons Digital, Media, and Sport Committee in the UK released a report in which it called Facebook “digital gangsters”. The Committee concluded that Facebook broke privacy and competition law and should be subject to statutory regulation.