Communications

Google is Making it Easier For 911 To Find You in an Emergency (engadget.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: When you call 911 from a cellphone, your location is typically sent to the call taker by a wireless carrier. But that information isn't always so accurate. Well Google might have a better way of going about it and it tested its system across a few states in December and January, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the states where the tests took place, Google sent location data from a random selection of 911 callers using Android phones straight to the people taking those calls. The test included 50 call centers that cover around 2.4 million people in Texas, Tennessee and Florida, and early reports of the results suggest the system is promising.

One company involved in the test told the Wall Street Journal that for over 80 percent of the 911 calls where Googl's system was used, the tech giant's location data were more accurate than what wireless carriers provided. The company, RapidSOS, also said that while carrier data location estimates had, on average, a radius of around 522 feet, Google's data gave estimates with radii around 121 feet. Google's data also arrived more quickly than carrier data typically did.

Privacy

Seattle To Remove Controversial City Spying Network After Public Backlash (seattletimes.com) 83

schwit1 shares a report from Activist Post: Following years of resistance from citizens, the city of Seattle has decided to completely remove controversial surveillance equipment -- at a cost of $150,000. In November 2013, Seattle residents pushed back against the installation of several mesh network nodes attached to utility poles around the downtown area. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and privacy advocates were immediately concerned about the ability of the nodes to gather user information via the Wi-Fi connection. The Seattle Times reports on the latest developments: "Seattle's wireless mesh network, a node of controversy about police surveillance and the role of federal funding in city policing, is coming down. Megan Erb, spokeswoman for Seattle Information Technology, said the city has budgeted $150,000 for contractor Prime Electric and city employees to remove dozens of surveillance cameras and 158 'wireless access points' -- little, off-white boxes with antennae mounted on utility poles around the city."

The nodes were purchased by the Seattle Police Department via a $3.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The Seattle Police Department argued the network would be helpful for protecting the port and for first-responder communication during emergencies. As the Times notes, "the mesh network, according to the ACLU, news reports and anti-surveillance activists from Seattle Privacy Coalition, had the potential to track and log every wireless device that moved through its system: people attending protests, people getting cups of coffee, people going to a hotel in the middle of the workday." However, by November 2013, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb announced, "The wireless mesh network will be deactivated until city council approves a draft (privacy) policy and until there's an opportunity for vigorous public debate." The privacy policy for the network was never developed and, instead, the city has now opted to remove the devices at a cost of $150,000. The Times notes that, "crews are tearing its hardware down and repurposing the usable parts for other city agencies, including Seattle Department of Transportation traffic cameras."

Verizon

Verizon is Locking Its Phones Down To Combat Theft (cnet.com) 130

Verizon is taking an extra step to protect its phones. CNET: The nation's largest wireless carrier said Monday that it would begin locking the phones it sells to consumers, which will prevent them from using a SIM card from another carrier. Initially, the phones will be unlocked as soon as a customer signs up and activates the service. But later in the spring, the company will begin the practice of keeping the phone locked for a period of time after the purchase -- in line with the rest of the industry. Verizon said it is doing this to deter criminals from stealing phones, often on route to retail stores or from the stores themselves.
Bug

A Flaw In Hotspot Shield Can Expose VPN Users, Locations (zdnet.com) 25

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: A security researcher has found a way to identify users of Hotspot Shield, a popular free virtual private network service that promises its users anonymity and privacy. Hotspot Shield, developed by AnchorFree, has an estimated 500 million users around the world relying on its privacy service. By bouncing a user's internet and browsing traffic through its own encrypted pipes, the service makes it harder for others to identify individual users and eavesdrop on their browsing habits. But an information disclosure bug in the privacy service results in a leak of user data, such as which country the user is located, and the user's Wi-Fi network name, if connected. That information leak can be used to narrow down users and their location by correlating Wi-Fi network name with public and readily available data.
Bitcoin

Man Sues T-Mobile For Allegedly Failing To Stop Hackers From Stealing His Cryptocurrency (theverge.com) 133

Over the weekend, a lawsuit was filed against T-Mobile claiming that the company's lack of security allowed hackers to enter his wireless account last fall and steal cryptocoins worth thousands of dollars. "Carlos Tapang of Washington state accuses T-Mobile of having 'improperly allowed wrongdoers to access' his wireless account on November 7th last year," reports The Verge. "The hackers then cancelled his number and transferred it to an AT&T account under their control. 'T-Mobile was unable to contain this security breach until the next day,' when it finally got the number back from AT&T, Tapang alleges in the suit, first spotted by Law360." From the report: After gaining control of his phone number, the hackers were able to change the password on one of Tapang's cryptocurrency accounts and steal 1,000 OmiseGo (OMG) tokens and 19.6 BitConnect coins, Tapang claims. The hackers then exchanged the coins for 2.875 Bitcoin and transferred it out of his account, the suit states. On November 7th, the price of Bitcoin was $7,118.80, so had the hackers cashed out then, they would have netted a profit of $20,466.55. Tapang goes on to say, "After the incident, BTC price reached more than $17,000.00 per coin," but given the volatility of bitcoin prices, the hackers may not have benefited from the soar.

The suit alleges T-Mobile is at fault partly because the carrier said it would add a PIN code to Tapang's account prior to the incident, but didn't actually implement it. Tapang also states that hackers are able to call T-Mobile's customer support multiple times to gain access to customer accounts, until they're able to get an agent on the line that would grant them access without requiring further identity verification. The complaint also lists several anonymous internet users who have posted about similar security breaches to their own T-Mobile accounts.

Patents

Amazon Patents Wristbands Designed To Track and Steer Employees' Movements (nydailynews.com) 96

New submitter hyperclocker shares a report from NY Daily News: Amazon workplace employees may soon be guided by their wrists. The tech company this week received two patents for a wristband designed to guide warehouse workers' movements with the use of vibrations. The concept relies on ultrasonic sound pulses or radio transmissions to detect the position of an employee's hand in relation to a series of inventory bins, GeekWire reported. Upon receiving product orders, warehouse workers are required to retrieve the requested item from such bins or shelves and pack it in a delivery box before moving on to the next order. If a worker's hands begin to move toward the wrong direction, the proposed "haptic feedback system" would cause the wristband to buzz and direct their hand in the correct direction. The wristbands, according to the patent documents, were designed as a means to keep track of products within Amazon warehouses as well as up day-to-day productivity. The proposed tech, however, could also provide Amazon management with a new means of workplace surveillance that would alert them to staffers who are wasting time or breaking for too long.
Communications

Google Fiber's Wireless Internet Service Is Leaving Boston (theverge.com) 63

Webpass, the wireless home broadband company that Google Fiber acquired in 2016, is exiting the Boston market. The Verge received a reader tip on the situation and a quick look around revealed that Boston is no longer listed as a current Webpass market on the company's website. From the report: "As with any acquisition, we've spent some time evaluating the Webpass business. As a result of our analysis, we've made the decision to wind down Webpass operations in Boston," an Access spokesperson said by email. "We'll work with customers and partners to minimize disruption, and there will be no immediate impacts to their Webpass service. We continue to see strong subscriber response across the rest of the Webpass portfolio, including successful launches in Denver and Seattle in 2017."

Before this move, Boston was one of 8 cities served by Webpass, which delivers up-to-gigabit internet speeds for residential and commercial buildings by using point to point wireless. That number has dropped to 7, and old Google search results for Webpass service in Massachusetts now redirect to the main homepage. Webpass internet service is available exclusively in apartment units and condo buildings. It originally came to Boston in 2015 and the company has (or at least had) an office in the city.

United States

New FCC Rules Will Require Wireless Companies To Deliver Emergency Alerts More Accurately (recode.net) 57

The Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to update the country's wireless emergency alert system, aiming to ensure that local officials only sound alarms on Americans' smartphones when those citizens are truly in harm's way. From a report: The system, implemented in 2012, allows first responders around the country to dispatch short, loud, text-message-like bulletins to warn mobile users about inclement weather, abducted children or criminals at large. But public-safety leaders long have complained the alerts are inaccurate, rendering it difficult to use them in times of disaster without creating undue panic. And they fret that "over-alerting" has proven so frustrating to smartphone owners that they've simply turned off the alarms entirely -- rendering it even more difficult to communicate in times of an emergency.
IOS

There May Not Be An iPhone SE 2 After All (theverge.com) 58

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo issued a research note today that casts doubt on rumors about a second-generation iPhone SE launching in the second quarter of 2018. If there is a successor, customers can expect a minor update that amounts to a run-of-the-mill spec boost and no new features like wireless charging or Face ID. The Verge reports: According to Kuo, between the three phones Apple released last year (iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X) and the three phones rumored to be released this fall, the company may not have enough development resources for an SE follow up as a fourth phone for 2018. That said, Kuo also does acknowledge that a basic processor update could still happen, but it seems that SE fans should keep expectations low. The iPhone SE still fills an interesting place in Apple's lineup. It uses the same design as the iPhone 5, which was released in 2012, with the 2015 internals of an iPhone 6s. This means the current model would get a boost in processor speed -- something that will likely continue to get worse with the presumed release of iOS 12 this fall. But SE is still popular for its low price and smaller size among consumers. Compared to the giant 6-inch-plus phones Apple is rumored to be releasing this year, it could make sense to keep an updated version of the smaller SE around.
Communications

FCC Chairman Slams Trump Team's Proposal To Nationalize 5G (axios.com) 248

The Federal Communications Commission's Republican chairman on Monday opposed a plan under consideration by the Trump White House to build a 5G mobile network, nationalizing what has long been the role of private wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon. From the report: "I oppose any proposal for the federal government to build and operate a nationwide 5G network," he said. The FCC's reaction doesn't bode well for the proposal the Trump administration is considering, first reported by Axios on Sunday night, since it's one of the main government agencies when it comes to wireless issues.
Cellphones

Trump Team Considers Nationalizing America's 5G Network (axios.com) 383

JoeyRox writes: "Trump national security officials are considering an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation's mobile network to guard against China, according to sensitive documents obtained by Axios." This is based on a PowerPoint presentation Axios has in their possession. Two options are described -- a national 5G network funded and built by the Federal government, or a mix of 5G networks built by existing wireless providers. A source suggests the first option is preferred and essential to protect against competition from China and "bad actors". The presentation suggests that a government-built network would then be leased out to carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.
The PowerPoint presentation was produced by a senior National Security Council official, and argues that the move is necessary because "China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure," and "China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain."

It also suggests America could export its secure 5G technology to protect its allies, and "Eventually this effort could help inoculate developing countries against Chinese neo-colonial behavior."
Businesses

San Jose Mayor Quits FCC Advisory Committee, Says It is Dealing ISPs a 'Very Favorable Hand' (axios.com) 99

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo resigned today from a panel that advises the Federal Communications Commission on broadband deployment, alleging that the committee is dealing internet service providers "a very favorable hand" of policy recommendations, Axios reports. From the report: The Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee is a key element of Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's priority of making sure broadband internet reaches all Americans. "It has become abundantly clear that despite the good intentions of several participants, the industry-heavy makeup of BDAC will simply relegate the body to being a vehicle for advancing the interests of the telecommunications industry over those of the public," said Liccardo, a Democrat, in his resignation letter. He told Axios that he thought that the committee's draft recommendations were trying to "steamroll cities" in favor of industry access to infrastructure. He pointed to a draft model law that would give states power over permitting for wireless broadband infrastructure at the expense, Liccardo says, of cities' interests.
Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
The Internet

Ajit Pai's FCC Can't Admit Broadband Competition Is a Problem (dslreports.com) 109

An anonymous reader quotes a report from DSLReports: While the FCC is fortunately backing away from a plan that would have weakened the standard definition of broadband, the agency under Ajit Pai still can't seem to acknowledge the lack of competition in the broadband sector. Or the impact this limited competition has in encouraging higher prices, net neutrality violations, privacy violations, or what's widely agreed to be some of the worst customer service of any industry in America. The Trump FCC had been widely criticized for a plan to weaken the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up, to include any wireless connection capable of 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up. Consumer advocates argued the move was a ham-fisted attempt to try and tilt the data to downplay the industry's obvious competitive and coverage shortcomings. They also argued that the plan made no coherent sense, given that wireless broadband is frequently capped, often not available (with carrier maps the FCC relies on falsely over-stating coverage), and significantly more expensive than traditional fixed-line service.

In a statement (pdf), FCC boss Ajit Pai stated the agency would fortunately be backing away from the measure, while acknowledging that frequently capped and expensive wireless isn't a comparable replacement for fixed-line broadband. "The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload," stated Pai. "The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. Instead, it notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands." That's the good news. The bad news: the FCC under Pai's leadership continues to downplay and ignore the lack of competition in the sector, and the high prices and various bad behaviors most people are painfully familiar with.

Businesses

Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess (theverge.com) 276

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there's now a divergence of digital alternatives -- Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone -- and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony's working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It's all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we're going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you'll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.
Wireless Networking

Google Releases Fix For Chromecast Wi-Fi Crashes (zdnet.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Google on Wednesday said it will release an update Jan. 18 to fix a bug in Cast software on Android phones that dramatically slows down WiFi networks. Reports have been circulating this week that the Google Home Max speaker can knock the TP-Link Archer C7 router offline. In a support page, Google explains a bug caused the Cast software that connects with Chromecast devices to send a large amount of network traffic routers can't handle. Google said the update will roll out via a Google Play services update. Until the update is released, Google advises users to try rebooting their Android phone, and check that their WiFi router is updated with the latest firmware. Google didn't list specific routers impacted by the bug, but reports have indicated routers from Linksys and Synology are seeing network crashes as well.
IOS

Apple Is Blocking an App That Detects Net Neutrality Violations (vice.com) 259

dmoberhaus writes: Apple isn't allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained "objectionable content" and "has no direct benefits to the user."
The reporter, who tested the app through the beta channel, writes: The app is designed to test download speeds from seven apps: YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. According to the app, my Verizon LTE service streamed YouTube to my iPhone at 6 Mbps, Amazon Prime video at 8 Mbps, and Netflix at 4 Mbps. It downloaded other data at speeds of up to 25 Mbps. UPDATE: Slashdot reader sl3xd has made us aware of an update to the story. "After this article was published, Apple told Dave Choffnes that his iPhone app, designed to detect net neutrality violations, will be allowed in the iTunes App Store," reports Motherboard. "According to Choffnes, Apple contacted him and explained that the company has to deal with many apps that don't do the things they claim to do. Apple asked Choffnes to provide a technical description of how his app is able to detect if wireless telecom providers throttle certain types of data, and 18 hours after he did, the app was approved." "The conversation was very pleasant, but did not provide any insight into the review process [that] led the app to be rejected in the first place," Choffnes told Motherboard in an email.
Wireless Networking

Google Home and Chromecast Could Be Overloading Your Home Wi-Fi (theverge.com) 129

Google Cast products could be to blame for your wonky internet connection. According to TP-Link, "The Cast feature normally sends packets of information at regular intervals to keep a live connection with products like Google Home," reports The Verge. "However, if the device is awakened from a 'sleep' mode, it will sometimes send a burst of information at once, which can overwhelm a router. The longer a Cast device has been in 'sleep' mode, the more information it might send at once." The engineer says that could exceed over 100,000 packets, an amount that "may eventually cause some of [the] router's primary features to shut down -- including wireless connectivity."

TP-Link has reportedly fixed the issue in its C1200 router, but a broader fix from Google's end has not been found.
AT&T

US Lawmakers Urge AT&T To Cut Commercial Ties With Huawei and Oppose China Mobile Citing National Security Concerns (reuters.com) 60

U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei Technologies and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the U.S. market because of national security concerns, two congressional aides told Reuters. From the report: The warning comes after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump took a harder line on policies initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from Beijing's role in restraining North Korea to Chinese efforts to acquire U.S. strategic industries. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources told Reuters. The U.S. government has also blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns, including Ant Financial's proposed purchase of U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International.
Google

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can't (wsj.com) 200

Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don't more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers? From a report, shared by a reader: Software on Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones help mobile apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user's location, making it possible to order a car, check in at a local restaurant or receive targeted advertising. But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past. U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can't speak or identify his or her location. After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow. Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones, according to a trade group that represents first responders. For landlines, the system shows a telephone's exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call. That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo., just outside Denver.

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