Author Archives: mPlotts

Kill Switch for Smartphones Coming Next Year

The biggest cell phone manufacturers plan on having “kill switches” a standard feature on smartphones sometime in 2015. These “kill switches” would be able to remotely disable the device, effectively wiping all data from memory. Advocates say that this will deter thieves from stealing cell phones, which seems to me that it would. People store a bunch of sensitive information on their phones, and some people (with questionable morals) look to get this information. Maybe they want to steal the person’s identity, get information about another person, etc. With the “kill switch”, once you determine that your phone has been stolen or lost, you can wipe that device clean and have peace of mind.
I tried to think of some disadvantages to having standard “kill switches” on cell phones, but I am having a hard time coming up with any. I ask myself, why hasn’t this feature been standard a long time ago? Well, according to this article, “they fear hackers exploiting remote-kill technology, while critics accuse the industry of not wanting to lose revenue from replacing and activating stolen phones.” Unfortunately, money seems to win out over common sense sometimes.
Although this is an opt-in feature, continued pressure from legislature will probably push carriers to offer it as an opt-out feature in the near future.

Restaurant Googles its patrons

A restaurant is using Google to gather information about its customers before they arrive. They are doing this in order to provide better service by customizing patrons’ experiences. They will wish someone a happy birthday, match servers with patrons with certain similar interests, etc.

While I can understand trying to provide better service, it’s sort of creepy having someone snoop on you personally. They aren’t necessarily looking at your professional life (although they could use information regarding your career to connect with a patron on a more personal level). They gather and use any information that they can find on the internet about you.

Imagine you sit down to eat, and a server comes up and unexpectedly wishes you a happy birthday. Would you say thank you and feel good that someone took the time to wish you a happy birthday? Or would you wonder, or possibly ask how he/she knew it was your birthday? My reaction would be surprise (not the good kind) and a feeling of violation, possibly disgust (after I confirmed with everyone at my table that they said nothing about it being my birthday).

At what point to we say it’s ok for anyone to know certain information about you and when it’s not ok? I thought a quote from this article stated it pretty well: “most people aren’t too hesitant to give up their personal information, but when it’s used for stuff they aren’t expecting, it feels like a violation.”

Alternatives to the Password

Most of us know how difficult it can be to remember all of the passwords for all of the different web sites, operating systems, programs, etc. There are programs that will store your usernames and passwords for you so that you don’t have to write them down or memorize them. Currently, I have 90 entries in my password keeper on my phone. But how secure is this program? What if someone hacks into this app? Then they have ALL of my passwords. It’s scary to think about what would happen if someone got hold of my phone and hacked it.
The next wave in computer security will be biometric authentication. We all know that the fingerprint is being used for security (e.g. the iPhone 5S). But there are more biometric authentication identifiers on the way. For one, your heartbeat has electrical signals that are hard to duplicate. Devices like the Fitbit are already on the market, and they detect a person’s heart rhythm. Other personal identifiers include ear shape, the way you walk, and face recognition.
While biometric security seems to be more convenient than memorizing a slew of passwords, there are some negative known, and unknown, consequences. For example, if you use a fingerprint to access some information, you run the risk of someone obtaining this print by means that are not necessarily just invasive to your privacy. According to Wikipedia, “in 2005, Malaysian car thieves cut off the finger of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class owner when attempting to steal the car.”
With any new technology, we need to be prepared for the consequences that we are aware of as well as those that are unanticipated.

Netflix Reluctantly Pays for Faster Connections

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings accused internet service providers of demanding fees to ensure quick delivery of Netflix content.  He accused the ISPs of slowing users’ internet connection in order to extract funds from Netflix.  They did announce an agreement with Comcast, in which it would indeed pay for high speed connections for their users, and they are working on an agreement with Verizon as well.

Hastings accuses ISPs of abusing their market share to pretty much extort funds from Netflix.  ISPs, on the other hand, claim that Netflix users consume a large amount of bandwidth, and high-speed internet is expensive to deploy.  According to the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, about one percent of broadband customers consume 40% of bandwidth going into homes.  ISPs point out that nearly one third on online traffic during peak hours is Netflix users streaming videos.

It only seems fair that Netflix pays a fee to internet service providers since their customers consume so much bandwidth.  The cost of providing high-speed internet is high, so they should be compensated accordingly.  Also, increased revenue should result in better internet service in the future.  Some other companies, such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook already have deals with the major ISPs.

Body-mounted Cameras for Law Enforcement

Some U.S. police departments are experimenting with body-mounted cameras for police officers that will record their interactions with civilians. Supporters of this new technology say that it will aid in evidence gathering at a crime scene, and it also creates a record of officers’ behavior, which would cut down on the amount of unnecessary force and abuse of power.
The obvious concern about this new law enforcement technology is privacy. Without the proper laws, recordings taken by these cameras can leave open the possibility of abuse. A law pending in Pennsylvania has its opposition. The ACLU says that it “places too much power in the hands of officers and not enough in the hands of the public.” One issue that has already arisen is that some officers turned off their cameras during a confrontation with protesters.
Having police officers wearing cameras does have some benefits, but it can also lead to some unwanted consequences. It would definitely help with prosecuting criminals if actions were caught on video. But what if civilians start wearing cameras in response to law enforcement wearing them. If they can record us, why wouldn’t we be able to do the same. I suppose that we are already doing that, in a way. Most cell phones have cameras these days. And how many videos have been taken in public and posted to this website or that one. It seems that people are having less and less privacy as technology continues advancing.

Google Glass App to help see taxpayer waste everywhere they look

Developers have come up with an app for Google Glass, called Augmented Advocacy, that would display government wasteful spending in your field of vision, using Google’s head-mounted computer.  Just stand next to a government building, and it will display information in the form of a Glass information card directly in your field of vision.  The app knows where you are, but currently it works only in Washington DC.

This idea, on the surface, looks like a good idea.  It gives the public an easy, quick view of how wasteful the government is with taxpayer’s money, although the information strictly comes from conservatives.  This app would appeal to the Republican, but Democrats may not be very interested in this app.  If it is successful, we may see a similar app come out that may have information submitted by left-wingers.

What’s not clear is how far this app will go.  Will it display information for the public sector only in the future, or will it expand into the private sector as well?  Will it be possible for the common Joe to upload information about, say, the price of houses in a neighborhood?  What would it be like to have friends/coworkers/etc. know how much your house is just by using Glass.  Sure, you can get this information online, but this information could be so much easier to access in the near future.