Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – March 24, 2014

Swiss Army smartphone: 9 tools your phone can replace;  Electronic Frontier Foundation slams Microsoft for searching a blogger’s Hotmail;  Best laptops for kids: Portable power on the cheap;  Michelle Obama speaks out against censorship … in China;  The 12 pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch;  Six Clicks: Top ebook apps for iPad ;  This Android app will change the way you use your phone;  California DMV compromised, credit cards breached;  Microsoft slips WinXP holdouts $100 to buy new Windows 8 PCs.

Electronic Frontier Foundation slams Microsoft for searching a blogger’s Hotmail – The controversy over Microsoft searching through a person’s Hotmail account in September as part of a company investigation has now gotten the attention of the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. As you might expect, the EFF thinks that Microsoft’s actions violate the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

10 Things I Know to Be True About This Microsoft Hotmail Privacy Case – It’s ugly. It’s complicated. And it’s a great opportunity for any webmail provider who isn’t Microsoft

Allegations of email pilfering fly at major Internet companies – Bloggers everywhere are checking it, along with the terms of service agreements of the companies providing it. News that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MS) riffled through an inbox to catch an alleged intellectual property thief has prompted a flurry of bloggy finger-pointing and I-told-you-so’s…

Michelle Obama speaks out against censorship … in China – Michelle Obama veered away from the usual niceties of matrimonial diplomacy on Saturday by arguing in a speech at Peking University that internet freedom should be a universal right. FLOTUS is in China with her mother and daughters on a week-long tour designed to build closer ties between the world’s two superpowers and their respective leaders. But she risked embarrassing her hosts with the speech to students at the university’s Stanford Centre, when she decided to opine on the topic of free speech. (Pot meet Kettle!)

Swiss Army smartphone: 9 tools your phone can replace – Just like “when all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” (or “when your problem is a nail, every tool you’ve got looks like a hammer”), when you’ve got a smartphone, there’s a good chance there’s an smartphone app, case or accessory for whatever you want to do. Not just the easy or obvious things, like turning your smartphone into a GPS, mirror or mini-periscope, or providing damage protection. I’m talking about a wide, even seriously wacky range of tasks. Here are 9 ways to turn your smartphone into the hammer for your nail.

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Best laptops for kids: Portable power on the cheap – Laptops are tools for getting work done and managing the complicated lives we live, but sometimes kids need a portable computer too. You don’t have to hand over your pricey top-of-the-line laptop for the little ones to use and get all sticky. There are plenty of great laptop choices out there for kids of all ages to use as their very own. Let’s take a look at the best laptops to buy for kids right now.

A thin lifeline for XP users: New Malwarebytes suite will support the older OS – As Malwarebytes announces its new Anti-Malware Premium suite Monday morning, it comes with a nice present for Windows XP users: lifetime support.  Perhaps it isn’t entirely surprising given that, according to the company, 20 percent of its user base remains on Windows XP. Microsoft is actually extending malware support well beyond the XPocalypse date of April 8th, but knowing other companies have your back is a rare bright spot.

The 12 pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch – Given that Samsung is expected to create a similar standalone smartwatch device and the recent introduction of developer software from Google and Samsung, as well as smartwatches and smartwatch upgrades that connect to smartphones via Bluetooth from prominent vendors like Motorola and LG, it’s worth pondering the many pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch.

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This Android app will change the way you use your phone – The app, launched yesterday by developer Chris Lacy (the guy behind Action Launcher), really has the potential to change the way you use your phone or tablet. In short, it acts as a companion to your regular mobile browser by intelligently handling all the links you open from within other apps.

55 Apps That Can Make You More Productive – The 55 programs, mobile apps, plugins, and services in this list are among my favorites for helping anyone be more productive, from office workers to students. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope it lets you explore your options among the truly necessary productivity tools, as well as introduce you to some hidden gems that you might have missed while you were busy getting things done.

13 Amazing Apps That Will Ruin Your life – There are some “productivity” apps that will suck you in and never let you go. Day after day, you’ll return to them, enjoy them, and then wonder “Where the hell did the time go?” They’re the empty calories of the app world. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth downloading; just beware that these apps (like these 13 Websites to Avoid) don’t suck … but they will suck time.

How to avoid data overages on your Android phone – Well, that’s a shock! Your cell bill, one of those monthly statements that’s more-or-less predictable, seems unusually high. It’s no puzzle; a data overage is to blame. You can admonish the teenagers for listening to too much Pandora at Make Out Point, but it’s more productive to explore various ways and methods of curtailing your mobile data consumption. To meet that end, I present a few handy tips and suggestions.

Solo Launcher: An Android tinkerer’s dream come true – In his quest to find the perfect Android home launcher, Jack Wallen discovered an app that has the look and feel of KitKat but more options than many users will ever use.

Six Clicks: Top ebook apps for iPad – Apple’s iPad has arguably become the ultimate ebook reading platform, with several prominent reader apps that are now supported on the device. Here’s the lowdown so you can make the best choices in which ebook app software to use on your iPad.

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Security:

Android bugs leave every smartphone and tablet vulnerable to privilege escalation – Six new bugs uncovered in Google’s mobile platform shows how every Android-powered device – more than a billion devices in all – are vulnerable to malware thanks to privilege escalation issues.

In the big data breach era, the safety of your personal data is ultimately out of your hands – Identity theft is changing. Customer databases are a treasure trove of personal information and much more efficient for hackers to target than individuals. In this new landscape, the guidelines security experts—and journalists like me—espouse are really just damage-control measures that minimize the impact of a successful attack after the fact, but do absolutely nothing to protect your personal data or financial information from the attack itself.

Gmail’s new encryption doesn’t make your emails NSA-proof – Starting yesterday, Google turned on full-time HTTPS encryption for all Gmail accounts. No matter where you’re checking your Gmail inbox from, your connection back to Google’s servers is fully encrypted the whole time you’re reading or sending emails. The added security matters most for messages that you send from one Gmail user to another. Like most secure setups, the train comes off the tracks when you start communicating with someone on a different service. From what we’ve seen over the past year, if the NSA wants to see what’s going on inside your inbox, they’re going to.

California DMV compromised, credit cards breached – The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been the victim of a wide-ranging security breach which may have affected thousands of citizens, according to sources. Earlier this week, MasterCard issued an alert noting that credit cards used online in transactions with California’s DMV may have resulted in the theft of data and personal information – including credit card numbers, expiration dates, and three-digit security codes.

US saves self from Huawei spying by spying on Huawei spying – Maybe this is why the US government is so certain Huawei is bad news: Snowdenistas at The New York Times and Der Spiegel have reported another communiqué from their source-in-exile – this time to the effect that the United States National Security Agency penetrated Chinese networking equipment vendor Huawei and monitored its communications. The NSA’s attacks on Huawei are reported to have also yielded a tap on communications among senior executives.

Turkey Blocks Google DNS, YouTube Could Be Next – Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government called the ban a “preventive measure” after the service had been used by citizens to spread allegations of corruption within the government. “Twitter has been used as a means to carry out systematic character assassinations by circulating illegally acquired recordings, fake and fabricated records of wiretapping,” the government said in a statement. After Twitter users found themselves unable to access Twitter beginning Thursday, many turned to Google’s DNS service as a way to circumvent the ban. That proved only a temporary solution, however, as the government has removed access to that service as well.

Company News:

Microsoft And Nokia Now Expect Their Massive $7.2B Deal To Close In April – Nokia has informed the world this evening that it now expects its behemoth deal with Microsoft to close in April of this year, as opposed to the first calendar quarter of the annum, a timeframe that was reiterated earlier this year. The deal, worth $7.2 billion, has wound through most of the regulatory bodies of the world that an agreement of its scale must. Microsoft published a blog post on the current situation, claiming to be “nearing the final stages of our global regulatory approval process.” Close, no cigar, and so forth.

Leap Motion lays off 10 percent of workforce, motion gesture add-on misses sales targets – First announced in May 2012, the Leap motion gesture PC add-on from startup company Leap Motion got a lot of attention from the tech press before its release in July 2013, thanks to its potential for using hand and finger movements to control many desktop and Windows 8 actions. This week, it was revealed Leap Motion is making some economic cuts in face of lower-than-expected sales of the devices.

This changes everything: Microsoft slips WinXP holdouts $100 to buy new Windows 8 PCs – The money-off offer applies to PCs costing $699 or more that are bought from Redmond’s online shop. The deal – which throws in 90 days of tech support and a download of software to migrate files all for free – will run through 15 June, nine weeks after official support for Windows XP is set to expire on April 8.

Apple seeking streaming TV advantage with Comcast – Amidst growing concern over the Internet’s scalability in the face of rising online media consumption, Apple is rumored to be seeking a partnership with Comcast. If things go according to Apple’s plans, it will gain a huge advantage over other TV streaming rivals by having its content travel over a separate line along the “last mile”.

Games and Entertainment:

Ubisoft releases footage of Assassin’s Creed Unity – With the untimely release of leaked screenshots by Kotaku earlier this week, Ubisoft has now released an official trailer for its next installment of the Assassin’s Creed saga titled, Assassin’s Creed Unity. Indicated in the leaked screen shots it was suspected that the title would take place in France. The Ubisoft footage confirms this with two scenes of the city, which then pans to the main character overlooking a courtyard where a beheading is taking place.

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Microsoft says it has ‘renewed focus’ on PC gaming, details coming this summer – Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer told an audience at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco today that the company will be putting more effort into PC gaming, though he stopped short of offering any specific details. Polygon reports that Spencer made those remarks as part of an answer to an audience question concerning Valve’s Steam Machine-SteamOS plans. He praised Valve’s commitment to the PC gaming space, even admitting that Valve has focused more on that business than Microsoft.

Walmart selling ‘Titanfall’ Xbox One bundle for $450 – Microsoft recently began selling a bundled version of its Xbox One console with the first-person shooter “Titanfall” for the device’s standard $500 price, but now Walmart is taking the deal a step further and knocking off another $50.

DirectX 12 vs. Mantle: Comparing PC gaming’s software-supercharged future – What’s the difference between DirectX 12 and AMD’s Mantle? Why should you even care? Here’s the answers you need to know.

Off Topic (Sort of):

10 Google Glass Notions That Aren’t True (According to Google) – In a post on Google+, Google’s decided to debunk some of the taller tales floating around about its Google Glass headgear. You’ve probably heard at least one of these in the past year or so, whether you saw the story about the driver ticketed for wearing a pair while driving in California, or the stories about apps that let you snap pictures of people, unsuspecting, by winking.

What’s really behind Microsoft’s investigation into software leaks? – Microsoft is under fire for allegedly violating the privacy of a “French blogger” in the investigation of a 2012 leak of some of its most valuable trade secrets. Here’s the side of the story critics are missing.

Once upon a time, an Apple lover – A former Apple salesman and longtime Mac user forsakes the Apple platform for Windows. The post causes Mac fans to go nuts.

11 of the weirdest, funniest pages on Wikipedia – It’s late at night, you’re not tired, but you don’t have enough energy to do anything — even catching up on Netflix requires too much of your brain to focus. So, you end up mindlessly clicking through links you don’t care about on platforms like Reddit or 4chan. A few minutes later, that leads to an interesting page on Wikipedia, which you miraculously read in full, and in turn leads to another amusing article.

Genetic mugshot could make DNA an eye-witness – New facial reconstruction technology could help police predict a perp’s facial features from nothing more than a sample of DNA from the crime scene.

Google propels Linux to the top – Find out why Jack Wallen believes that Google has single-handedly helped Linux become one of the most popular platforms on the planet.

Every Teen’s Nightmare: Teachers Who Can Turn Off Your Phone Remotely – What do educators in the world’s most wired country do when students just can’t put down their phones in class? They develop an app that has the power to remotely control all devices when on campus.

Jimmy Carter uses snail mail to evade NSA – Former US president Jimmy Carter has said that he believes his email is monitored, and in order to avoid such surveillance, posts letters to foreign leaders instead.

Something to think about:

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

–    Martin Luther King Jr.

Today’s Free Downloads:

Sim Aquarium III – Experience the most realistic coral reef you’ll find without having to purchase an actual aquarium. Sim Aquarium lets you choose among twelve intricately detailed 3D underwater scenes. You can populate your aquarium with up to 100 fish from the selection of 30 highly detailed species of fish with complex swimming behaviors and artificial intelligence. Using your mouse pointer, you can play with your fish pets and touch them by their tails or noses. They will stop to inspect or dart away into safety. You can also feed the fish, but unlike the real fish, they wont turn upside down and float up if you don’t feed them regularly.

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VirusTotal Scanner – VirusTotal.com is a free online scan service that analyzes suspicious files using 40+ Anti-virus applications. It facilitates the quick detection of viruses, worms, trojans, all kinds of malware and provides reliable results preventing any False Positive cases. ‘VirusTotal Scanner’ is the desktop tool which helps you to quickly scan your file using VirusTotal without actually uploading the file. It performs direct Hash based scan on VirusTotal thus reducing the time taken to upload the file. It comes with attractive & user friendly interface making the VirusTotal scanning process simpler and quicker. You can simply right click on your file and start the scan. It is fully portable tool but also comes with Installer for local installation & un-installation. It works on wide range of platforms starting from Windows XP to Windows7.

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WinPatrol – WinPatrol takes snapshot of your critical system resources and alerts you to any changes that may occur without your knowledge. WinPatrol was the pioneer in using a heuristic behavioral approach to detecting attacks and violations of your computing environment. Now, using our “Cloud” technology you can benefit from the experience of other WinPatrol users. WinPatrol continues to be the most powerful system monitor for its small memory footprint. WinPatrol’s easy tabbed interface allows you to explore deep inside your computer without having to be a computer expert. A one-time investment in WinPatrol PLUS provides a unique experience you won’t find in any other software.

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Some Facts About How NSA Stories Are Reported – Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc. True to form, however, these beacons of courage refuse to malign the parties that actually made the choice to publish these revelations – namely, the reporters and editors of the New York Times – and instead use it to advance their relentless attack on Edward Snowden. To these journalists, there are few worse sins than “stealing” the secrets of the US government and leaking them to the press (just as was true in the WikiLeaks case, one must congratulate the US Government on its outstanding propaganda feat of getting its journalists to lead the war on those who bring transparency to the nation’s most powerful factions). But beyond the abject spectacle of anti-transparency journalists, these claims are often based on factually false assumptions about how these stories are reported, making it worthwhile once again to underscore some of the key facts governing this process…………….

Is Revealing Secrets Akin to Drunk Driving? Intelligence Official Says So – The intelligence community’s top lawyer on Friday defended the Obama administration’s hostility toward revelations of national security secrets — and likened the act of publishing them to drunk driving. Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, used the drunk-driving analogy to excuse his inability to cite any specific harm to individuals by news stories based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “We ban drunk driving in this country,” Litt asserted, arguing on a panel with four top news editors that not every crime has an identifiable victim. Litt made the same argument earlier this week, at an event in Washington for Sunshine Week:  ”Not every drunk driver causes a fatal accident, but we ban drunk driving because it increases the risk of accidents.  In the same way, we classify information because of the risk of harm, even if no harm actually can be shown in the end from any particular disclosure.” But Litt’s analogy did not go over well with the other members of the panel on Friday. New Yorker editor David Remnick fired back, incredulously: “Is journalism drunk driving??”

Latest Snowden Revelations: NSA Hacks Huawei – The National Security Administration hacked Chinese networking giant Huawei and apparently gained access to the company’s source code, according to documents seen by The New York Times and the German publication Spiegel Online. These latest leaked documents indicate that the NSA began an operation called “Shotgiant” against Huawei, the world’s second largest supplier of networking equipment behind U.S.-based Cisco Systems. The U.S. has long been concerned that Huawei’s products were being used as a Trojan Horse enabling the Chinese government to spy on the networking company’s customers. Now, it appears that the U.S. government simply cut out the middleman in its own efforts to monitor the goings on around Huawei. Not only did the U.S. security agency manage to intercept emails, but it also gained access to the company’s source code of specific products, according to the Spiegel report. That’s the crown jewels of any tech company — laid bare by America’s technology espionage apparatus. Luckily for concerned netizens and corporations a spokeswoman for the U.S. assured the Times that any spying was only done for national security purposes.

Was FISC judge misled by gov’t lawyers in evidence-destruction spat? – In recent weeks, there have been a flurry of motions exchanged in two courts over what kinds of “telephony metadata” records the government should be keeping, or deleting. It’s a pretty confusing mishmash related to lawsuits that a few advocacy groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have been involved in regarding government secrecy extending back to 2006. On Feb. 25, Department of Justice lawyers told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that they needed special permission to hang on to their records for longer than the five years that they normally do in order to comply with evidence-retention rules for lawsuits brought by the activist groups. The FISC judge, Reggie Walton, denied their request, noting that there was no preservation order for that metadata. In other words, delete as you usually delete. But in fact, there were such orders in place—at least in the view of activist groups like EFF and ACLU, which filed lawsuits in San Francisco federal court. Those groups jumped to attention to stop any deletion and to alert Walton about existing orders in the lawsuits. Today, Walton has a new order suggesting he’s pretty upset that DOJ lawyers didn’t tell him about the existing orders. It’s an unusual expression of displeasure with the government by a FISC judge. Walton says his order to keep up the normal record-destruction regime “was based on the belief that no preservation requests or orders applicable to the data in question existed.”

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