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I've written before about the losing battle you have with trying to keep your smartphone (or any phone!) over the longer term.  As manufacturers have moved toward non-removable batteries this appeared to be a game forced by them to get you to buy a new device every couple of years.

But..... of late it has gotten worse.

Much worse.

Let's take T-Mobile as an example.

T-Mobile has had a number of areas of the country with "sketchy" (and that's being kind) reception.  Specifically, Northern Michigan had zero native coverage from roughly Flint northward.  They had roaming agreements with some providers for a while (Centennial Wireless being one) but then Centennial got bought by AT&T (surprise!) and their service for roaming customers went to crap or disappeared entirely.

Somewhat recently T-Mobile turned up a bunch of Band 12 LTE towers and basically blanketed the lower peninsula (at least.)  This would nominally be good, as Band 12 is low-frequency and thus travels longer distances than the PCS frequencies that T-Mobile has historically used.  That's good for both building penetration and rural areas, and is a (big) net win.

Or so it seems.

However, at the same time it appears that T-Mobile turned off a material number of their former PCS frequency towers entirely.  Specifically, with the exception of some of the "cities" (really larger towns) there is now no high-frequency service available in many of these areas -- where there formerly was!

The problem is that if you have an older handset (anything designed more than roughly a year and a half to 2 years ago) your phone doesn't have Band 12 in it because it wasn't available when your phone was designed and built.

If you live in or travel to such an area your coverage has not improved, it has instead been effectively destroyed unless you buy a new device!

This is going to continue folks and it's going to continue to bite you, especially if you travel a lot.

AT&T has said they intend to shut down most of their former low-frequency EDGE/GSM/GPRS service and re-use that band space for LTE.  This is good if you have a handset that has LTE in it and can work on that frequency.  It's disastrous if you don't. For AT&T customers this is most-likely going to impact "dumb phone" customers -- those customers who haven't and don't want to move to a "smart" device -- because there has never been a reason for said devices to include high-speed data network capability (or absorb its cost) due to the fact that they can't use it anyway!

This mess is a result of the scatter-shot means by which our so-called "band plan" has developed for mobile service in the US, and is going to get worse.  There are additional low-frequency mobile reallocations that are going to come into play in the next few years, with one of the more-notable ones being in space that used to be allocated to analog TV.  There are no -- I repeat no -- current mobile handsets that will be able to access that band, which means whatever you're using now if your carrier bids on this space and deploys on it you will be forced to buy a new handset if you want the improved coverage, and your carrier may force the issue by withdrawing previously-offered coverage on bands your current device knows how to access.

Beware, if you're not a "trend follower" or think the practice of trying to force you to buy a $500+ device every year or two is outrageous.  Yes, it is outrageous, but no, at least in the US, there is no reasonable way at present to avoid this sort of screwing -- even if you don't want or need the "expanded" coverage, but are content with what you have now.

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Give me a break...

As expected, this new version of macOS will finally bring support for Siri to the desktop. To bring up Siri, which is getting its own improvements today, too, all you have to do is say “hey Siri,” and Apple’s modestly useful AI assistant will be at your beck and call.

Siri will be able to help you find files on your Mac and send messages, and because it works in the background, it’ll also help you perform tasks while you are using other apps in full-screen mode, Apple says.

And, of course, it will be transmitting your speech back to Apple whenever it feels like it.

Welcome to spying corporate-style.  Well, at least until the government "asks", at which point it will be open season.

My only question to Apple would be this: Can I shut that piece of crap off and actually know it's off or do I need to open up the Mac and snip the microphone connector wire physically?

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The following is targeted specifically at the BlackBerry Priv owner, although some of what I am going to describe will work on all Marshmallow-running phones.  There are real advantages that the Priv has over the competition, however, when it comes to security and privacy -- two things that none of the phone companies want you to have any of, and all are interested in exploiting you.

Indeed, one of the latest games T-Mobile is playing is their "Tuesday" schtick where they are actually offering a "free" pick-up pizza to their customers -- quite arguably "diabetes in a box."   Of course I'm sure this requires you to disclose your exact location to pick it up if not more-often, and they'd never do anything with that, right?  One has to wonder whether that's genius,  outrageous market confluence or both -- when you're decrepit and your feet are amputated you'll be spending more time on your phone, right?  The flaw in the argument is that diabetes also (eventually) makes you go blind -- oops.

The problem with all of this is that your phone is a spying device and inherently has to spy to some degree in order to work.  That is, the cell system is, well, made up of cells.  The phone and towers it's talking to are communicating regularly to "ping" each other and hand off service from one to the next, and to do that all the towers that can see your phone at one time, along with your phone, are evaluating the signals from each and occasionally transmitting.  This gives the phone company a pretty good general idea of where you are, although they do not as a rule intentionally triangulate position (that is, use precision timing and pings to get a "fix" via this method) although the system can do that.  The reason it doesn't is simply resource use -- that ability is reserved for when law enforcement asks for it (yes, they do) and especially today it's less-common since the cell system can ask for the GPS to be enabled (and in fact this automatically happens, and has for roughly the last 10 years, if you dial 911 in an attempt to get a precise fix for the emergency call.)

The cell operating system manufacturers, for their part, also like the data and they sell it.  Google's Android is "free".  Of course there is no such thing as free; there is always a cost, but you might not see it directly.  In this case the cost is imposed on you via rank violations of your privacy -- Google literally knows where you are virtually all the time and yes, they sell that.  So does any app that asks.

Now here's some really bad news: On Lollipop and before you cannot turn off application permissions.  I have done repeated audits of behavior by apps on previous Android revisions and if you're on Lollipop or before I can tell you with certainty that many apps will install a service then ask for and transmit your location even when they're not visibly running.  Some of those I've caught doing this are Charity Miles, Walmart, MapMyRun, WorldOfBeer and more.  I refuse to have anything to do with Charity Miles as a result of this and their response to me when I challenged them on it, as just one example.  After all while the premise sounds good (they make a donation predicated on your running or walking activity) I refuse to give up my location data on a 24x7 basis in exchange for that, and you should too.

Even craftier, however, is that some of these apps will detect being on Marshmallow and stop doing that when they find themselves installed on an operating system where you can deny location permission without uninstalling!  That's right folks -- these guys are crafty enough to detect that if you figure it out you can shut them off, so they either misbehave less or not at all if you are using them on a platform where you can deny the privilege!

The Priv has a tool called DTEK which makes detecting these abuses easy.  Without it detection is pretty hard; you basically have to connect the phone to a VPN and start doing packet inspection, and in the case of apps using HTTPS to upload you get to guess too, since the actual transmission is encrypted.   I will note that not all of the abusive apps use HTTPS, which makes their offense incalculably worse since your location can in that instance be picked off from any network you're connected to.  This is a particular risk if you use public WiFi hotspots to decrease data usage as those are almost all operating unencrypted!

Be aware that any data taken from your phone and handed to a third party (app developer, etc) is forever gone and under their control.  The reason they obtain it is that it has value to them -- they're using you as a product.  There is utterly nothing you can do about previously-collected data of this sort and despite all of their claims that it has "no personally identifying information" knowing where you are on an every-few-minute basis will within hours determine you exact identity in virtually all cases since it will include both your place of employment (or school) and home.  It is simply a matter of time before that data winds up being accessed by those with evil intent whether it be simple robbery (gee, isn't it nice to know when you're not at your house every day and exactly where it is?) or otherwise.

So with all that said we're going to, within our abilities limited by the designers of said operating system, go "cellphone Ninja" level on a modern Android Marshmallow phone (specifically, the Priv) and make a few changes in menus that are accessible but nominally hidden to help your privacy.  No, this is not a 100% cure by any means, and yes, it has a small operational impact.  But it will materially improve privacy, it has little impact on your normal use, and it even denies Google some of the data it wants, which in my view makes it a triple good thing.

We're going to start by using DTEK which only the Priv has: Open it, and scroll down until you see this much of the report.  The only exception to a green shield should be the Developer Options if you are in the beta program or doing development on your handset; all others should indicate ok.  Of particular interest is the Operating System Integrity entry -- if that is not green at any point you must do a factory reset immediately.

 by tickerguy

Now at the top of that screen is "Apps and Permissions."  Select it, and all the apps on your device will show up.  Select each app one at a time and for each that shows an active permission (a check as opposed to a "not" circle with line) carefully consider whether such app needs that capability and if not, remove it.  You should wind up with most permissions denied -- but there will be exceptions.  For example, Connect, the Garmin app that talks to my Fenix, requires access to my location to work at all, and it wants access to my contacts so when it displays a notification on my Fenix it can get the name of a caller or text message sender instead of just the number.  It also wants calendar access so it knows when to shut up (e.g. when I'm in a meeting) in that regard.

Be especially aware of apps that want location, contacts, calendar, storage and phone access.  Location is "requested" by nearly all apps, but it is almost never a good idea to grant it.  Yes, it means you can punch up an app and then ask "where's the closest X" (e.g. WalMart) but granting it means the app can ask for location any time it wants.  If you wish to grant this then turn on DTEC's tracking and notifications for that permission so you know when it's being used -- or abused.

Any app that asks for Contacts, Calendar or Storage access can potentially grab any of those items (including in the latter case any file on the "mass storage" parts of your phone) and steal them.  Any app that asks for location can request it at any time and many of them will do exactly that, often every 5 minutes or so even if you're not using the app, and send it to the author who will then sell it.

Just one such app on your device will give the author the ability to, within days, know exactly who you are, where you live, where you work, where you shop and where you travel on a frequent basis.  That data will be inextricably tied to you personally because it will show a huge block of time with you in your residence and again at your job.

The average person I've looked at has no fewer than five such apps on their device.

Oh, by the way, all that spying also eats your battery and you're paying for it in the form of data package consumption too.

I also recommend that for any app where you are wondering about its use of such privileges that you turn on notification of said access in DTEK.  It will then pop up a notification in the shade whenever such access is made.  If you find an app requesting location or other privileged data (such as your contacts) when you're not using it, you will now know about it when it happens.

This part I've written on before.

Now let's talk about a part I haven't, but is at least as important.

Pull down your settings pane; pull down the shade, select the gear and then click "Data Usage."  The first thing to do is turn on "Queue cellular data."  This batches transmissions and will reduce battery usage with zero impact on your user experience.

Next, scroll down -- you will see your apps that have used cellular data.

For each that you do not want to actually run in the background and spy on you when you are not on a WiFi network click it and set Restrict app background data.

 by tickerguy

In particular turn this on for both Google Play Store and Google Services.

You will probably find that Play Store is the top, or one of the top, data consumers in the background.  Google Services is less-so, but still there.  Between the two they are spying on you whenever your cellular connection is on and this stops them from doing so except when you are either on a WiFi network or using the Play Store app.

Note that this will prohibit app update notices when you are not on WiFi and you won't be able to search for new apps on cellular service either; the reason is that Services is always in the background, so what you're doing is denying the check function when not on WiFi.  That's the price of this, but it's worth it.

For apps if you shut this off they will not be able to provide notifications when you are not actively using them.  That in turn means for messaging apps (e.g. BBM, WhatsApp, etc) you can't turn this on without losing the ability of the app to notify you of things when it's not being looked at actively.  In addition if you have a running app (e.g. Connect) you don't want this on either if you want it to operate on the network when you've got the screen off or otherwise looking at something else.  There are apps for which you want this to be turned on; your bank's might be one of them, for example, if you have it set to notify you on certain events (e.g. someone accessing your account.)

But for the vast majority of apps you want to restrict this capability.  It will not only dramatically reduce your data usage it will also dramatically improve your privacy because apps will be unable to upload data except when they're being actively used or when you're on a WiFi network.

An app that has not used any cell data will not show up in this list, but eventually any app that communicates will, and as soon as it does you can deny it the ability to transmit when you're on cellular networks.

Finally, as an experiment you can also temporarily uninstall any suspected "bad actors" and then immediately re-open DTEK and make sure your operating system hasn't been tampered with.  You may get an ugly surprise doing this (I have), and if you do immediately perform a factory reset and do not reload the offending app -- ever.

You cannot, in today's world, deny network permission to apps on a blanket basis, but Marshmallow at least allows you to shut down the ability of apps in the background to get out on the cellular network.  While the obvious intent is for traffic management (since you typically have a bucket of data allocated and you pay for it) it also is a quite-powerful privacy tool, albeit imperfect.

Use it, and watch your back.

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It's over folks...

I know, you're going to tell me it's not; that the 'social media' companies will continue to grow, continue to "gain relevance", continue to siphon off advertising dollars from other media sources, etc.

I will remind you of a few facts:

  • These firms, and these apps, are all fads.  Every.  Single.  One.  Sure, some run for longer than others, but at their core none of them ever produce anything.  They're all huge time-wasters, and this is a self-limiting phenomena.

  • These firms and their apps are all trying to exploit you as a product.  That is, they intend to and do attempt to get you to enslave yourself.  Facebook is arguably the worst at this regard but they are not alone.

Finally, these ads simply don't work.  The entire ad channel in the online space is rife through with fraud, bogosity and intentional filtering to try to force businesses to buy advertising rather than generate organic interest.

The premise on which Facebook, for example, sells itself to businesses is that you can publicize events and such and generate organic "likes" and views, but what you find is that those who follow you will not see your material first, or even at all, on a reliable basis unless you buy ever-more-expensive advertising.  Oh sure, someone can explicitly search for your company and find your timeline but they can also google your name and find your web site too; the "point" of Facebook is that people who like you will see your stuff.

The problem is that this is simply not true on a "first and foremost" basis unless you are making an ever-increasing ad spend, and you cannot prevent some of that ad spend from going where your customers are not.  If you rent billboard space in your town you know exactly who is going to see the ad you paid for -- those who drive by the billboard, and, assuming it's strategically placed, they are potential customers.  There is literally no way to make sure, nor to reliably audit, that when you place an online ad your exposures are going to customers who can actually transact with you and that your money is being spent there, and only there.

Facebook's Instagram saw the biggest year-over-year drop — usage was down 23.7 percent this year, closely followed by Twitter (down 23.4 percent), Snapchat (down 15.7 percent) and Facebook (down 8 percent), the study found.

Note that Instagram is the thing that so-called "media and market pundits" are saying will be the "next driver" of Facebook's earnings and revenues.  Uh, no.  Nor will it be Facebook's core; both are in decline.

Good luck suckers...

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So your battery is low, eh?

Uber knows this, and has explored screwing you if it is.

Why?  It might go dead -- and then you might shortly be dead.  So therefore fisting you is perfectly fine, and all because you invited them into your device and nothing prohibits them from exploiting anything they learn as a consequence.

One of the things you may not realize is that Uber can tell when your phone battery is about to die. In an episode of NPR’s The Hidden Brain, Uber’s head of economic research Keith Chen says when you hit accept to download, you give Uber the permission to know this in order to tell when to switch to low-power mode.

While that’s interesting, what’s even more revealing is how much people are willing to pay surge pricing depending on their phone’s battery level. Chen says users will pay up to 9.9 times in surge if their battery is critical just so they’re not stranded wherever they are (of course, assuming that your driver doesn’t cancel on you after your phone’s dead.)

Just wait until someone gets raped as a result of Uber trying to hammer them not based on demand for cars but based on the stolen knowledge that the user's battery in their phone is almost out of power.

And you wonder why I believe the people who run these companies -- all of them -- need to be in prison?

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