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.

Operating Systems

Ask Slashdot: Do You Miss Windows Phone? (theverge.com) 284

An anonymous reader writes: After recently switching on an old Windows Phone to create a silly April Fools' joke, The Verge's Tom Warren discovered just how much he missed Microsoft's mobile OS. Two of the biggest features that are hard to find/replicate on iOS and Android are the Metro design and Live Tiles. "Android and iOS still don't have system-wide dark modes, nearly 8 years after Windows Phone first introduced it," notes Warren. "Live Tiles were one of Windows Phone's most unique features. They enabled apps to show information on the home screen, similar to the widgets found on Android and iOS. You could almost pin anything useful to the home screen, and Live Tiles animated beautifully to flip over and provide tiny nuggets of information that made your phone feel far more personal and alive."

Some other neat features include the software keyboard, which Warren argues "is still far better than the defaults on iOS and Android," especially with the recently-added tracing feature that lets you swipe to write words. "Microsoft also experimented with features that were different to other mobile platforms, and some of the concepts still haven't really made their way to iOS or Android: Kid's Corner; Dedicated search button; Browser address bar; People hub; Unified messaging..." Aside from the competition aspect with Google and Apple, do you miss Windows Phone? What are some specific features you miss about the old mobile operating system?

Software

Number of Apps In App Store Declined For the First Time Last Year (fortune.com) 63

According to new data from the analytics company Appfigures, the total number of apps in the App Store declined for the first time last year. "Appfigures notes that just 755,000 apps were released for iOS last year, a 29% drop from 2016," reports Fortune. "In contrast, 1.5 million apps were released for Android last year, marking a 17% year-over-year increase." From the report: Over the course of the year, the number of apps in the store declined from 2.2 million to 2.1 million, marking the first time the store had fewer apps at the end of the year than it did in the beginning. The reason for that change is likely Apple's decision to remove older apps from the store that were not being updated regularly, The Verge notes. Last year, Apple removed apps that were not built on 64-bit architecture, something necessary for them to work on newer iPhone models.
Android

Slashdot Asks: Should Android OEMs Adopt the iPhone's Notch? 240

Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that Google was currently working on a "dramatic redesign" of its Android OS -- one that embraces the "notch" made popular by the iPhone X. A couple weeks after that report was published, Mobile World Congress was happening, and the biggest trend among Android OEMs was the introduction of a notch in their smartphones. The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Android smartphone manufacturers are straight up copying the iPhone's design with "more speed and cynicism" than ever before.

Should Android original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) adopt the iPhone's display notch? A display notch can offer a greater screen-to-body ratio, for example, but lower overall aesthetic value. It can also create a headache for developers who need to update their apps to account for the notch that eats into the actual display area. What are your thoughts on display notches? Should Android OEMs adopt the iPhone X's display notch in their devices?

If you're not a fan of notches for aesthetic reasons, you may like the solution that OnePlus has come up with. The company will soon be launching their notch-equipped OnePlus 6 smartphone, but will allow OnePlus 6 owners to "hide" the device's notch via software. Users will have the option to black out the background of the notifications and status bar if they so desire.
Iphone

Apple Working on Touchless Control and Curved iPhone Screen (bloomberg.com) 74

Apple might be working on touchless gesture control and curved screens for future iPhones, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. From a report: The control feature would let iPhone users perform some tasks by moving their finger close to the screen without actually tapping it. The technology likely won't be ready for consumers for at least two years, if Apple chooses to go forward with it, a person familiar with the work said. Apple has long embraced new ways for humans to interact with computers. Co-Founder Steve Jobs popularized the mouse in the early 1980s. Apple's latest iPhones have a feature called 3D Touch that responds differently depending on different finger pressures. The new gesture technology would take into account the proximity of a finger to the screen, the person said. Apple is also developing iPhone displays that curve inward gradually from top to bottom, one of the people familiar with the situation said. That's different than the latest Samsung smartphone screens, which curve down at the edges.
The Almighty Buck

Russia Debuts Postal Drone, Which Immediately Crashes Into Wall (futurism.com) 107

On Monday, Russia's postal service tested a delivery drone in the city of Ulan-Ude, Siberia, -- and it went horribly wrong. According to Futurism, soon after launch it crashed violently into the wall of a nearby building, "turning the UAV into a mess of jumbled parts." From the report: Here was the original plan for Monday's test. The $20,000 drone was supposed to pick up a small package and deliver it to a nearby village, Reuters reports. Instead the device failed spectacularly, only making it a short distance before crashing into a three-story building. The small crowd gathered to watch the test can be heard uttering expletives, according to Reuters. No one was injured in the crash, and it didn't do any damage, except to Russia's pride. The organizers aren't quite sure what went wrong, but they suspect the 100 or so nearby wifi spots could have had something to do with it.
Android

Google Is Considering Launching a Mid-Range Pixel Phone This Summer, Claims Report (arstechnica.com) 40

According to a report from The Economic Times, Google is developing a new mid-range Pixel smartphone. "The paper claims that 'Google's top brass shared details of its consumer products expansion plans in trade meetings held in Malaysia, the UK, and the U.S. last month." The story cites "four senior industry executives" that were present at the talks. Ars Technica reports: The Economic Times pegs "around July-August" for the launch date of this mid-range device, which the publication says will have a focus on "price-sensitive markets such as India." The phone would be part of Google Hardware's first push into India, which would involve bringing the Pixelbook, Google Home, and Google Home Mini to the country. The Indian paper did not say if the phone would launch in other countries, but it did say the phone would be launched in addition to the regular Pixel 3 flagship, which the report says is still due around October. It's good to hear Google is considering expanding the Pixel line to more countries (even if it's just one more country) as distribution is currently one of Google Hardware's biggest weak points. The Pixel 2 XL is only available in eight countries; by comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is sold in 110 countries. If Google really wants to compete in the smartphone market, it will have to do a lot better than selling in eight countries.
Google

Security Experts See Chromebooks as a Closed Ecosystem That Improves Security (cnet.com) 192

The founder of Rendition Security believes his daughter "is more safe on a Chromebook than a Windows laptop," and he's not the only one. CNET's staff reporter argues that Google's push for simplicity, speed, and security "ended up playing off each other." mspohr shared this article: Heading to my first security conference last year, I expected to see a tricked-out laptop running on a virtual machine with a private network and security USB keys sticking out -- perhaps something out of a scene from "Mr. Robot." That's not what I got. Everywhere I went I'd see small groups of people carrying Chromebooks, and they'd tell me that when heading into unknown territory it was their travel device... "If you want prehardened security, then Chromebooks are it," said Kenneth White, director of the Open Crypto Audit Project. "Not because they're Google, but because Chrome OS was developed for years and it explicitly had web security as a core design principle...." Drewry and Liu focused on four key features for the Chromebook that have been available ever since the first iteration in 2010: sandboxing, verified boots, power washing and quick updates. These provided security features that made it much harder for malware to pass through, while providing a quick fix-it button if it ever did.

That's not to say Chrome OS is impervious to malware. Cybercriminals have figured out loopholes through Chrome's extensions, like when 37,000 devices were hit by the fake version of AdBlock Plus. Malicious Android apps have also been able to sneak through the Play Store. But Chrome OS users mostly avoided massive cyberattack campaigns like getting locked up with ransomware or hijacked to become part of a botnet. Major security flaws for Chrome OS, like ones that would give an attacker complete control, are so rare that Google offers rewards up to $200,000 to anyone who can hack the system.

The article argues that "Fewer software choices mean limited options for hackers. Those are some of the benefits that have led security researchers to warm up to the laptops...

"Chrome OS takes an approach to security that's similar to the one Apple takes with iOS and its closed ecosystem."
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.
Government

FBI Had No Way To Access Locked iPhone After Terror Attack, Watchdog Finds (zdnet.com) 126

The FBI did not have the technical capability to access an iPhone used by one of the terrorists behind the San Bernardino shooting, a Justice Department watchdog has found. ZDNet: A report by the department's Office of Inspector General sheds new light on the FBI's efforts to gain access to the terrorist's phone. It lands almost exactly a year after the FBI dropped a legal case against Apple, which had refused a demand by the government to build a backdoor that would've bypassed the encryption on the shooter's iPhone. Apple said at the time that if it was forced to backdoor one of its products, it would "set a dangerous precedent." Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in the southern Californian town in December 2015. The 11-page report said that the FBI "had no such capability" to access the contents of Farook's encrypted iPhone, amid concerns that there were conflicting claims about whether the FBI may have had techniques to access the device by the time it had filed a suit against Apple. Those claims were mentioned in affidavits in the court case, as well as in testimony by former FBI director James Comey.
Security

Cops Are Now Opening iPhones With Dead People's Fingerprints (forbes.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares a report: In November 2016, around seven hours after Abdul Razak Ali Artan had mowed down a group of people in his car, gone on a stabbing spree with a butcher's knife and been shot dead by a police officer on the grounds of Ohio State University, an FBI agent applied the bloodied body's index finger to the iPhone found on the deceased. The cops hoped it would help them access the Apple device to learn more about the assailant's motives and Artan himself.

This is according to FBI forensics specialist Bob Moledor, who detailed for Forbes the first known case of police using a deceased person's fingerprints in an attempt to get past the protections of Apple's Touch ID technology. Unfortunately for the FBI, Artan's lifeless fingerprint didn't unlock the device. In the hours between his death and the attempt to unlock, when the feds had to go through legal processes regarding access to the smartphone, the iPhone had gone to sleep and when reopened required a passcode, Moledor said. He sent the device to a forensics lab which managed to retrieve information from the iPhone, the FBI phone expert and a Columbus officer who worked the case confirmed. That data helped the authorities determine that Artan's failed attempt to murder innocents may have been a result of ISIS-inspired radicalization.

Where Moledor's attempt failed, others have succeeded. Separate sources close to local and federal police investigations in New York and Ohio, who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to speak on record, said it was now relatively common for fingerprints of the deceased to be depressed on the scanner of Apple iPhones, devices which have been wrapped up in increasingly powerful encryption over recent years. For instance, the technique has been used in overdose cases, said one source. In such instances, the victim's phone could contain information leading directly to the dealer.

Iphone

State Department Seemingly Buys $15,000 iPhone Cracking Tech GrayKey (vice.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Grayshift, a company that offers to unlock modern iPhones for as little as $50 each, has caused a buzz across law enforcement agencies, with local police already putting down cash for the much sought-after tech. Now, it appears a section of the U.S. State Department has also purchased the iPhone cracking tool, judging by procurement records reviewed by Motherboard. Grayshift's iPhone product, dubbed GrayKey, can unlock devices running versions of Apple's latest mobile operating system iOS 11, according to marketing material obtained by Forbes. An online version of GrayKey which allows 300 unlocks costs $15,000 (which boils down to $50 per device), and an offline capability with unlimited uses is $30,000. According to a recent post from cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes, which obtained leaked details on GrayKey, the product itself is a small, four inch by four inch box, and two iPhones can be connected at once via lightning cables. Malwarebytes adds that the time it takes to unlock a device varies depending on the strength of the user's passcode: it may be hours or days. Notably, Grayshift includes an ex-Apple engineer on its staff, Forbes reported.

On March 6, the State Department ordered an item from Grayshift for just over $15,000, according to a purchase order listing available on the U.S. government's public federal procurement data system. The listing is sparse on details, putting the order under the generic label of "computer and computer peripheral equipment." But Motherboard confirmed that the Grayshift in the State Department listing is the same as the one selling iPhone cracking tech: the phone number of the vendor in both the purchase order and documents Motherboard previously obtained detailing a GrayKey purchase by Indiana State Police is the same. The "funding office" for the Grayshift purchase was the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, according to the procurement records. The Bureau acts as the law enforcement and security arm of the State Department, bearing "the core responsibility for providing a safe environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy," the State Department website reads.

Android

Face ID Deemed Too Costly To Copy, Android Makers Target In-Display Fingerprint Sensors Instead (9to5mac.com) 129

"Android phone makers are 'rushing' to implement fingerprint sensors under the display for upcoming handsets," reports 9to5Mac, citing a new report from Digitimes. "Android manufacturers have decided that recreating the 3D facial recognition used by iPhone X is simply too costly to include, and are instead focusing on implementing Qualcomm's ultrasonic fingerprint scanners." From the report: The report says that including an Infrared depth-sensing facial recognition system like the iPhone X is simply too expensive for Android smartphones to offer, which cannot command the same price premiums as Apple's iPhones. This is a combination of hardware and software development costs. Digitimes claims the cost of the TrueDepth 3D sensors in iPhone X peaked at $60 per unit, an incredibly high proportion of the overall phone cost if accurate. Android makers are also worried about possible patent infringement from adopting Infrared dot projector systems. Instead, they have turned to in-display fingerprint sensors as their next-generation of device authentication. This depends on using Qualcomm technology for ultrasonic-based fingerprint scanners, which can sit below the cover glass and work even if fingers are wet or greasy.

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