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Friday, December 4, 2020

Facebook denies it collects call and SMS data from phones without permission

After an Ars Technica report that Facebook surreptitiously scrapes call and text message data from Android phones and has done so for years, the scandal-burdened company has responded that it only collects that information from users who have given permission. Facebook’s public statement, posted on its press site, comes a couple of days after it took out full page newspaper ads to apologize for the misuse of data by third-party apps as it copes with fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal (follow the story as it develops here). In the ad, founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg wrote “We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it.” The company’s response to the Ars Technica story, however, struck a different tone, with Facebook titling the post “Fact Check: Your Call and SMS History.” It said “You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission. This is not the case,” before going on to explain that call and text history logging is included with an opt-in feature on Messenger or Facebook Lite for Android that “people have to expressly agree to use” and that they can turn off at any time, which would also delete any call and text data shared with that app. Ars Technica has already amended its original post with a response to Facebook’s statement, saying it contradicts several of its findings, including the experience of users who shared their data with the publication. “In my case, a review of my Google Play data confirms that Messenger was never installed on the Android devices I used,” wrote Ars Technica IT and national security editor Sean Gallagher in the amendment to his post. “Facebook was installed on a Nexus tablet I used and on the Blackphone 2 in 2015, and there was never an explicit message requesting access to phone call and SMS data. Yet there is call data from the end of 2015 until late 2016, when I reinstalled the operating system on the Blackphone 2 and wiped all applications.” In its statement, Facebook said “Contact importers are fairly common among social apps and services as a way to more easily find the people you want to connect with. This was first introduced in Messenger in 2015, and later offered as an option in Facebook Lite, a lightweight version of Facebook for Android .” When people first sign up for Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android or log into Messenger on an Android device, they see a screen giving them the option to continuously upload contacts as well as call and text history. Facebook added that on Messenger, users are then given three options: to turn the feature on, “learn more” for more information or “not now” to skip it. On Facebook Lite, they get two options: turn it on or skip. If users who opted in change their minds later, Facebook said they could turn it off in the app’s settings, with the option of turning off continuous call and text history logging while keeping contact uploading enabled or deleting all contact information they’ve uploaded from that app.” An image included with Facebook’s statement. Facebook emphasized in bold text that it “never sell this data, and this feature does not collect the content of your text messages or calls.” Even though the opt-in screens do state that granting permission will “continuously upload info” about contacts and call and text history, it is arguable that many users don’t really understand what that means and that instead of saying “this lets friends find each other on Facebook and helps us create a better experience for everyone” (a message sweetened with a saccharine cartoon of a figure texting a little heart), Facebook should really be giving more details about what exactly will be recorded and why. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal still fresh on everyone’s minds, Facebook’s apparent willingness to place the onus for protecting personal data on users who already feel victimized is unlikely to help them regain any goodwill. But even people who truly understand the implications of the feature and chose to opt-in anyway did so assuming that their data would be guarded as Facebook promised. As the Cambridge Analytica fiasco threw into sharp relief, that hasn’t always been the case.

The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative

The advanced universal remote market is not a very crowded market. In fact, for a while now, Logitech’s Harmony line has been pretty much the only game in town. Newcomer NEEO wants to upset that monopoly with its new NEEO Remote and NEEO Brain combo ($369), which is a system that can connect just about any AV system, along with a smorgasbord of connected smart devices including Nest, Philips Hue, Sonos and more. NEEO’s two-part system includes the Brain, which, true to its name, handles all of the heavy lifting. This is a puck-shaped device with 360-degree IR blasters dotting its outside perimeter, and which has one IR extender out (there’s one in the box) for connecting devices held within a closed AV cabinet, for instance. This central hub also connects to your Wi-Fi network, and setup requires plugging it into your router via Ethernet to get everything squared away, similar to how you initially set up Sonos speakers, if you’re familiar with that process. Most of the setup work you need to do to get NEEO working happens on your phone, and that’s where it becomes apparent that this smart remote was designed for a modern context. Logitech’s Harmony software has come a long way, and now you can do everything you need to do from the iOS and Android app, but it’s still somewhat apparent that its legacy is as something you initially setup using a desktop and somewhat awkward web-based software. The NEEO feels at home on mobile, and it makes the setup and configuration process much better overall. The other core component of the NEEO system is the NEEO Remote. This is a fantastic piece of industrial design, first of all. It’s a sleek rectangle crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum that oozes charm, in a way that nothing in the current Logitech Harmony lineup can come close to matching. The minimalist design still doesn’t suffer from the ‘which way is up?’ problem that the Apple Remote faces, because of subtle design cues including bottom weighting and the presence of ample physical buttons. A NEEO Remote isn’t necessary for the system to work – you can just use the Brain along with the companion app for iPhone or Android, but the remote is a joy to hold and use, thanks to its unique design, and it features a super high density display that’s extremely responsive to touch input and pleasingly responsive to touch. NEEO took a lot of time to get this touchscreen experience right, and it pays off, delivering a clear and simple control interface that shifts to suit the needs of whatever activity you’re running at the time. The NEEO Remote also has an “SOS” feature so that you can locate it if you happen to misplace it, and it can even be configured to recognize different hands if you want to set profiles for distinct members of the household, or set parental control profiles limiting access to certain content or devices. This kind of thing is where NEEO’s feature set exceeds the competition, and shows a particular attention to modern device use cases. One NEEO Remote can also control multiple NEEO Brains, which is another limitation of the completion. That means you can set up NEEO Brains in each room where you have devices to control, and carry your remote from place to place instead of having to have multiple. The NEEO Brain is still $200 on its own, however, so it’s definitely still a barrier to entry. NEEO otherwise does pretty much everything you’d expect a smart remote to do in 2018: You can set recipes on the deice itself, including with triggers like time-based alarms or motion detection (without using IFTTT). You can connect it to Alexa, though that functionality is limited at the moment, with more updates promised in future to make this better. The bottom line is that NEEO offers a competent, intelligent alternative the big dog on the block, Logitech’s Harmony system. Logitech’s offering is still more robust and mature in terms of delivering Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, as well as rock solid performance, but NEEO has some clever ideas and unique takes that will serve more patient and tech-forward users better over time.

Google Assistant on phones now lets you send and receive money

“Hey Google, send Brian $15 for breakfast today.” Starting today, you can use this command to tell the Google Assistant on your phone to send money to people with Google Pay, the re-branded version of what you may still think of as Android Pay. And if Brian, as usual, forgets to pay you back, you can also say: “Hey Google, request $20 from Brian for breakfast today.” For now, this feature is only available on phones, but Google tells us that it plans to offer the same functionality through its Google Home speakers in the coming months. One of the reasons for this is probably the fact that the phone offers a more secure process for authenticating who you are. On the phone, Google will ask for either a password or a fingerprint to make sure who are who you say you are. Google Home can already recognize different speakers, but for now, it’s unclear how Google will securely authenticate users there. Since quite a few people probably don’t have Google Pay set up yet, the Assistant will walk you through the setup process when you first try this feature. Sending and receiving money through Google Pay is free.

Insta360 One gets a massive upgrade with FlowState stabilization

One of the better 360-degree cameras out there just got a lot better: The Insta360 One, a standalone 4K 360 camera with a built-in iPhone or Android hardware connector now supports FlowState onboard stabilization. This provides much better automatic stabilization than the Insta360 One supported at launch, and enables a bunch of new editing and formatting features that really improve the value proposition of the $299 gadget. As you can see above, FlowState allows you to do a lot more with your footage after the fact, including creating smooth pans across footage for exporting to more standard vertical and wide-angle formats (since it’s very rare that people actually watch all that much true 360-degree footage). The changes make Insta360’s device a lot more like the Rylo camera in use, and more suitable for action sports and other adventure-friendly uses. Users can now add transition points in the mobile app to create dynamic camera angle changes, and also set object or person active tracking. There’s a hyper lapse feature that speeds up time for pulling more action out of even leisurely bike rides, and you can also take over manually to basically direct the experience as if you were shooting it in real time with a traditional video camera, including doing things like zooming. This update will be pushed out via the updated Insta360 app, and will require a firmware update for existing cameras. It’s a big upgrade for existing users, and a compelling reason to pick this up if you’re looking for something that’s easy to use, compatible with a range of mounts (it has a standard tripod screw mount in its base) and relatively affordable (cheaper than a GoPro Hero 6).

Waze Carpool expands to the entire state of Washington

Google -owned Waze is growing the footprint of its Waze Carpool product with a market expansion today to cover all of Washington state. That means Carpool is now available in California, Texas, Isreal and Washington following today’s launch. Waze also recently revamped its Carpool experience, which now includes new options for choosing what rides to tag along with, driver gender filters and other convenience tools that are designed to make the experience feel safer and more comfortable overall. Waze says this expansion shows that it’s increasing its commitment to the Carpool side of its project offering, since it’ll now reach an additional 375,000 commuters in Seattle alone. The company also has the support of local government in Seattle, with officials expressing their support for new solutions hoping to mitigate traffic in a press release announcing the launch. The Waze Carpool app is different from other offerings including Uber Pool, mainly because it doesn’t pay out all that much to drivers. In fact, the maximum earning a driver can make on any ride is $15 and that’s for longer commutes, as the fee structure is designed to help the driver pay for gas but not use it as a source of income. Waze’s aim is to link up multiple people commuting to work going in the same direction via its platform, per the company. This also means lower costs for riders. Anyone interested in driving Waze Carpool in Seattle can pick up the standard Waze app now to gain access, and on the rider side you can download the dedicated Waze Rider app on either iOS or Android to get started.

Anker’s Nebula Capsule portable projector is a pocket powerhouse

Anker is a devie maker that’s rapidly become a go-to brand for affordable, quality accessories include cables, chargers and backup batteries. More recently, it’s started to branch out into additional areas, including projectors through its Nebula brand. The Nebula Capsule is the latest product from that line, a super portable projector with an Android-based OS, a built-in battery and the ability to double as a Bluetooth speaker. The Nebula Capsule is the smaller sibling to the Nebula Mars portable cinema projector, which is actually far less portable than the newer Capsule. The Mars is more of a home theater projector that you’re also technically able to take with you if you want, whereas the Capsule is roughly the size of a can of Coke, and easy to stash in even smaller bags, or, if you’re not worries bout some bulging, even in a jacket pocket. Anker initially launched the Capsule on Indiegogo, but now it’s made its way to Amazon where it retails for $349. The projector can extend an image up to 100 inches in diameter, with 100 ANSI lumens of brightness, and it can mange four hours of video playback on its built-in power source. There’s a 360-degree speaker integrated into the base, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Android 7.1, with its own app store to run popular apps like Netflix, Plex, Hulu and Amazon Prime. The device has micro USB OTG input, and can read from USB drives formatted in FAT32, plus a full-sized HDMI for attaching basically anything. Its native 854×480 resolution isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s hardly important when you’re catching up on a show on the road or playing Switch in your backyard on a stretched out bed sheet. And the trade-off, in terms of portability and versatility, its worth it. On top of the device, there are arrows that help you adjust volume, and there’s a button to turn it on, as well as a mode switch so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker I you want. Focus adjustment is handled via a wheel mounted into the side, and this is a bit tricky because it involves a little hunting to get it just right, but the minimal interface options, but again, it’s a practical way of doing it and works given the form factor of the device. In the box, you also get a remote control, which works via IR (there’s a receiver built into the back of the device). Here, it’d be nicer to have some kid of RF-based remote instead, but the IR version works well enough, and there’s a companion mobile app for both controlling the projector and for mirroring your content. You can’t mirror content-protected media, which is a bit of a pain, but the fact that the Capsule supports streaming media from built-in apps mostly makes up for this. The speaker is surprisingly powerful, and can fill a small room easily. It’s not going to compete with 5.1 audio systems, or with something like the HomePod, but it’s plenty good enough that watching a show or movie on the Capsule is pleasant, and never falls down on the back of bad sound. Plus, I almost always pack a dedicated Bluetooth speaker on my trips away, anyway – the Capsule doubles as one, and takes up as little or even less space than most, with equivalent sound quality. Acting just as a Bluetooth speaker, the capsule’s battery life extends out to 30 hours. Considered as a two-for-one combo that includes a great travel projector and a terrific portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Nebula Capsule is a hard bargain to pass up.

Warner Bros. is pre-registering people for its Westworld game

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is capitalizing on the wildly successful Westworld experience at South by Southwest and offering pre-registration for its upcoming mobile game — based on HBO’s series of the same name. Produced by the company’s WB Games in San Francisco through a collaboration with Kilter Films, the game was developed by Behaviour Interactive […]

YouTube Live gains automatic captions, chat replay and more

YouTube today announced several new features designed to improve the live streaming experience for both creators and viewers. The most notable additions include the ability to play back a live chat after the live stream ends, and the launch of live automatic captions on videos. YouTube began offering automatic captioning back in 2009, and has […]

Secure communications service Wickr is rolling out new free features

Wickr, the secure communications service, is bringing new features to its free users. Already available to paying Wickr customers, users of Wickr’s “Me” service will also now be able to enjoy encrypted calling to protect against listening ears. The company is adding end-to-end encrypted calling along with encrypted and ephemeral voice messages and memo. These […]

HMD/Nokia’s smartphones join Google’s Android One program ‘leading the charge’

Alongside HMD’s big bet on reviving the legendary Nokia brand and business through a licensing deal and a new wave of handsets that it is unveiling today at MWC in Barcelona, the company also announced another interesting piece of news: it has entered a new partnership with Google, where HMD/Nokia is now a leading participant in Google’s Android One — a program where Google… Read More
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RANDOM POSTS TODAY

The fragmentation of everything | MIT Technology Review

The rise of technonationalism. Diverging regulatory regimes. The spread of “walled gardens.” Polarization like nothing we’ve seen before. The confluence of several trends...