Twitter wants to know what other apps you have on your phone

Twitter, hungry for new data to fuel its targeted advertising, will start looking at what other apps its users have downloaded.

Starting Wednesday, the company will begin collecting data on which other apps its users have on their iOS and Android smartphones. The data, Twitter says, will help it deliver better “tailored content” to its users. That’s sure to include ads, but maybe also better recommendations about whom to follow when users sign up, or more relevant first tweets in the feed, which could help Twitter hook people early.

It’s strictly a list of the apps users have installed, Twitter says, not data pertaining to what people do inside those apps. So Twitter would know if you have a ride-hailing app, but it wouldn’t see your rides taken with the app.

Well, this week, anyway.

…Twitter’s move stands to raise privacy concerns at least among some people, perhaps depending on which other apps are on their phones.

Twitter’s data collection will start automatically, unless users have already turned on the built in “limit ad tracking” or “opt out of interest-based ads” option on iOS or Android phones, respectively. Twitter users will be notified of the data collection, but they can turn it off at any time from within their app’s settings, Twitter says. If users turn it off, the data is removed from Twitter’s servers…the company says.

Is the NSA buying stock in Twitter, yet?

Thanks, Mike

Japanese androids bring us closer to Blade Runner

A future in which it is difficult to tell man and machine apart could soon become reality, scientists say, after recent robotic breakthroughs in Japan.

But as the once-fantastical idea of wise-cracking android sidekicks takes form in laboratories — and the gap between humans and robots narrows — society faces ethical and legal complications as yet undreamed of, they warn…

Robots already perform a wide variety of tasks in Japan: they cook noodles, help patients undergo physiotherapy and have been used in the clean-up after the 2011 nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.

South Korea deploys jellyfish-terminating robots, while a robot with artificial intelligence able to analyse market trends has become a company director in Hong Kong.

One day, predict future-gazers, robots will perform all kinds of household chores, monitor the sick, and even serve up cappuccinos…

But will they look like us..?

“More important is robots and androids as a mirror to reflect humanity. Once we become friends, the boundary between human and robot disappears,” added Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University.

The blurring of that line has long been a source of worry for humanity, as often depicted in popular culture…

Ishiguro foresees that just as younger people today are attached to their mobile phones — in reality powerful computers that mediate much of their lives — androids will one day become an indivisible part of our landscape.

“Everyone is going to have an android,” he predicted. “Handicapped people need another body. We are going to have more choices.”

In my geek news junkie experience, most people sitting around moralizing about robots, worrying about the effects of their mirror to humanity, don’t know squat about machines, robots, computers – and probably human beings outside of their classrooms and psychologizing seminars.

Go back and read Isaac Asimov, read Ray Kurzweil, quit worrying about what you think Freud thought about Golems. Real life experience will sort things out.

NSA and GCHQ target apps like Angry Birds to steal user data

Darth NSA bird

The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users’ private information across the internet, according to top secret documents.

The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users’ most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger…

Depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user’s life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, martial status – options included “single”, “married”, “divorced”, “swinger” and more – income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.

The agencies also made use of their mobile interception capabilities to collect location information in bulk, from Google and other mapping apps. One basic effort by GCHQ and the NSA was to build a database geolocating every mobile phone mast in the world – meaning that just by taking tower ID from a handset, location information could be gleaned…

The NSA said its phone interception techniques are only used against valid targets blah, blah, blah.

GCHQ declined to comment on any of its specific programs, but stressed blah, blah, blah.

Official liars both sides of the pond assure us the protocols in place don’t violate anyone’s rights or privacy. Their patented bobblehead judges have examined the potential for abuse and found nothing to threaten our liberty.

Phew. I need a new pair of Wellies just to stand around in that much bullshit – even offered in irony.

Researchers bypass Android encryption by freezing cellphones


Security researchers in Germany have discovered that physically freezing an Android smartphone can grant access to encrypted data.

Google’s encryption method, which has been a part of Android since the “Ice Cream Sandwich” release, was bypassed by exposing a smartphone to freezing temperatures for an hour, according to the BBC. After that time period, researchers were able to access previously encrypted contacts, browsing histories, and photos.

The test was conducted by researchers from Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany with Samsung Galaxy Nexus handsets, and the phones were cooled to 10 degrees below zero Celsius. Then the battery was quickly disconnected and reconnected, placing the handset into a vulnerable mode.

“This loophole let them start it up with some custom-built software rather than its onboard Android operating system,” the report said. “The researchers dubbed their custom code Frost — Forensic Recovery of Scrambled Telephones.”

The strange and involved process of bypassing Android encryption is not likely a concern to end users of Android devices, but could be an issue for corporations and governments that carry highly sensitive information on mobile devices. The researchers said that while they tested their methods with the Galaxy Nexus, other Android phones are also likely to be vulnerable.

Freezing the phone reportedly aids in the hacking of Android because the low temperatures cause data to fade from internal chips more slowly. Researchers used this phenomenon to obtain encryption keys and unscramble the phone’s encrypted data.

The complexity of circumstances, hardware and cost required mean nothing, of course, to corporate hackers and government snoops. One way or another, you and I are picking up the tab.

A single line of HTML can reset – or wipe – Samsung smartphones

Be careful what links you click: A single line of HTML code can wipe the data on certain Samsung smartphones running Google’s Android software. The issue is specific to Samsung phones that also use the company’s TouchWiz software, says SlashGear, which actually means most of the current Samsung smartphones. Google’s Galaxy Nexus, also made by Samsung, is not affected by the exploit, which was demonstrated by Ravi Borganokar at the Ekoparty security conference…

The short line of HTML code, Borganokar says, can also be executed through an embedded QR code or NFC wireless transfer. Even worse than an unintended factory restore or data wipe, this exploit can render the phone’s SIM card useless.

Some will surely condemn Android as a whole for this issue, but since it’s specific to Samsung’s TouchWiz software — likely as a feature to quickly dial phone numbers by way of links, QR codes or NFC data — the problem is limited to Samsung devices. I’d expect that Samsung releases a patch to disable the automatic phone dialing soon.

Samsung has a patch for the S3 available via OTA update.

As a long-time Android user, however, these security — or insecurity issues, rather — are getting old in general. I mainly use Android devices because they fit my mantra of “use the best tool for the task at hand.” As someone embedded deeply in Google’s world of apps and data, Android simply works better. Even my limits are getting tested though: An open platform that can be endlessly tweaked is great until the wrong folks are tweaking it.

So says Kevin Tofel at GigaOm.

“There’s an App for that” = 500,000 jobs

It’s no secret that the rise of smartphones, tablets and social networking has fostered an entirely new market for app developers, but a freshly released study has now attempted to quantify this impact, in terms of real jobs.

According to TechNet, a bipartisan network of tech execs, the so-called “App Economy” has created an estimated 466,000 jobs since 2007, when the iPhone was first unveiled.

The report specifies that this estimate includes all jobs at Facebook-focused companies like Zynga, as well as dev gigs at Amazon, AT&T and Electronic Arts, in addition to the obvious heavyweights, Apple and Google.

As far as geography goes, California leads the way as the most app-friendly state, though New York City tops the list of metropolitan areas. It’s not an entirely bi-coastal affair, though, with some two-thirds of all app-related jobs located outside of California and New York.

TechNet acknowledges that the App Economy “is only four years old and extremely fluid,” so it’s likely that these numbers will fluctuate in the years to come, though the organization says these numbers underscore a fundamental principle: “Innovation creates jobs, and in this case, lots of them.”

You can read the full report at

And don’t get your shorts bunched figuring the numbers are going to diminish or decline. When it comes to the predominance of the mobile web – you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

Are you klutzy enough to need an air bag for your smartphone?

Diagram from the patent application

Jeff Bezos is worried about phone safety. Not your safety while you’re distracted by your phone. No, he’s worried about the gadget itself.

The Amazon boss and his colleague, Vice President Gregory M. Hart, filed a patent application to protect their idea of an air bag that inflates around your mobile device if you drop it. Broadly, the duo are seeking to patent the idea of a “system and method for protecting devices from impact damage…”

The idea is to use a device’s built-in gyroscope, camera, or other sensors to determine if the device its moving quickly toward the ground or some other object. If it determines that damaging impact is imminent, it triggers a protection system to absorb the fall…

And the patent filing isn’t just attempting to cover device air bags. Bezos and Hart also envision a “reorientation element” that would turn the device so that it hits the ground on the side of the device where the air bag has been deployed. And it doesn’t have to be an air bag. The filing also contemplates using “a propulsion element, a spring, an impact absorbing structure, and a reinforced edge,” among other protection elements.

Of course, you still could buy a humungous case or just quit dropping the bloody thing. I presume the addition of the air bag also makes it float if you drop your phone into the toilet.

Is RIM the next Palm?

Research In Motion shares fell as much as 14 percent as analysts said a reduced profit forecast hurts management’s credibility and raises pressure on the company as it heads into an annual trade show next week…

“This further damages already low credibility, making them the ‘poster boy’ for a show-me story from here,” Mike Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said in a research note…

RIM is struggling to compete against Apple and Google in the smartphone market. The company, which will host the BlackBerry World conference starting on Monday, has to update its BlackBerry lineup and provide some evidence its products can do better against Apple’s iPhone and devices that run Google’s Android operating system, said Paul Taylor, chief investment officer at BMO Harris Private Banking in Toronto.

“Management needs to deliver on the product side,” said Taylor, who manages about $14.5 billion including RIM and Apple shares. “That includes competitive next-generation smartphones and building out the app library.”

Apple offers more than 350,000 software applications, or apps, and Google’s Android Market has more than 150,000, compared with more than 25,000 in BlackBerry App World…

At least four other analysts — Jefferies & Co. Inc.’s Peter Misek, Cormark Securities Inc.’s Richard Tse, Gleacher & Co. Securities’ Stephen Patel and National Bank Financial’s Kris Thompson — reduced their ratings on the stock…

The sales on their existing devices must have fallen off a cliff,” said Matt Thornton, an Avian Securities LLC analyst in Boston who has a “neutral” rating on the stock. “They are getting hit by a combination of a stale portfolio and heated competition on devices.”

Complacency, dealing with the most dynamic marketplace in the world of commerce as if it’s the railroad business in 1890 never delivers stability and long-term confidence.

I can recall emailing folks I knew inside Palm about the potential for building their OS into a fully functional operating system – keeping it small and adding needed potential while resisting bloat. Just like RIM they said, “Hey – we’re doing just fine as we are.”

Nokia’s CEO tells staff we are “standing on a burning platform”

A memo speech, subsequently posted on Nokia’s internal blog, from Nokia’s new chief executive Stephen Elop warning the staff that it is “standing on a burning platform” has leaked from the company and indicates that the former Microsoft executive is planning radical action to revive the company’s fortunes…

The memo post likens the company’s situation to that of a man standing on an oil platform in the North Sea and facing a raging fire on multiple fronts – who has no choice but to jump into freezing water to survive…

Elop is expected to make a significant announcement this Friday about what Nokia will do to stem the loss of market share, notably in the smartphone market, where despite being the biggest player it has been unable to compete with incomers, notably Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS…

Elop points to a number of problems for the company…

• the “battle of devices has become a war of ecosystems” (such as Apple’s App Store and Google’s Marketplace) and “our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem”

• “Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.”

• “we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us” – from Apple, Android, and from Chinese competitors that can produce a device “much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, ‘the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.’ They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.”

• “we’re not fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.”

RTFA for the text of the whole speech, details of the internal criticism.

Though some rumors indicate an alliance with Microsoft to match the high end of the marketplace dominated by Apple, there is a quote separate from this speech from Elop which seems to counter that likelihood: “Two turkeys do not make an Eagle” – which is about the funniest quote I’ve heard in a long time.

Yes, you will probably see me use it, again, discussing American politics. 🙂

The real Tablet Wars will have to wait until next year

Even with the much publicized release of the Galaxy Tab this week, it looks like the real battle to upend the iPad won’t happen until next year. Lenovo’s chief executive confirmed that its LePad tablet won’t hit the market until 2011. LG also pushed back the release of its tablet until next year. Both are waiting to launch their tablets with Android Honeycomb, the upcoming release that is designed for tablets. Meanwhile, those who want RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook or a webOS-based tablet will also have to wait until early next year.

This isn’t to say that competitors aren’t lining up offerings right now. Samsung is predicting it can sell 1 million Galaxy Tab devices running Android 2.2 by the end of this year. Acer is expected to unveil new tablets running Android later this month. And Dell has released the 5-inch Streak, which runs an older version of Android.

But Google has said that, currently, Android isn’t designed for tablets. And it looks like Gingerbread, the update that is scheduled to be released any day now, won’t be optimized for tablets. So Android tablets, even if they’re released this year, probably won’t hit their stride until Google releases Honeycomb.

Right now, manufacturers are torn between moving forward and trying to get some traction like Samsung is attempting to do, or waiting until the platform matures, but risk Apple zooming ahead again with the iPad 2. That some like LG and Lenovo are sitting it out suggests they’d rather nail it the first time with the right software rather than put out something that initially disappoints…

The iPad will surely get serious competition and will undoubtedly lose its 95 percent share of the tablet market. But it looks like we’ll need to wait for next year when Android tablets, along with a BlackBerry PlayBook and a webOS tablet from HP, can make a real run at the iPad.

Many of these firms make it sound like they’re getting better at responding to Apple’s R&D opening new marketplaces. I’m not as convinced. It takes a great deal of process management to accomplishment a complete rollout for a breakthrough product like the iPad. It also helps to have an infrastructure like the App Store + apps + designers ready and willing to design for the new platform.

The only product I see stealing market share from the iPad is this. My wife’s arrives Monday.