Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – February 5, 2015

What is Net neutrality? Godzilla helps explain;  This is huge: FCC chairman’s strong net neutrality proposal turns the Internet into a public utility;  Tech Companies Praise The FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan;  YouTube is testing a way to view videos from multiple angles;  What Is Bloatware and Why Is it on My Phone?  The ultimate guide to how and where to use Apple Pay;  Windows 10 updated, 18 improvements included;  People Who Use Emojis Have More Sex;  New spyware steals pictures and data from iOS devices;  How to create a Bitdefender Rescue CD;  Create free presentations without PowerPoint;  Hackers steal tens of millions of customer records from the US’ second-biggest medical insurer;  Inside the Dark Web ;  Ashampoo Droid Optimizer (free);  6 Lethal Selfies You Need to Learn From.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

This is huge: FCC chairman’s strong net neutrality proposal turns the Internet into a public utility – U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler just pulled out the big gun in the net neutrality battle: In an op-ed published on Wired, Wheeler announced a proposal to invoke the agency’s Title II authority, which would allow the FCC to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, similar to phone service. And he did so in strong, no-nonsense terms:

“Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.”

What is Net neutrality? Godzilla helps explain – Net neutrality is a boring name for an important issue that could forever change the future of the Internet. So here’s a video that teaches you about Net neutrality the easy way — with toys!

What Is Bloatware and Why Is it on My Phone? – When your phone is running out of storage, you likely check your apps folder to clear out the games and other assorted apps you never use anymore. But that’s when you discover a bunch of weird apps you not only never use, but never even downloaded. And worse yet: YOU CAN’T DELETE THEM! At first you’re like “WTF, phone?” But then you’re filled with other, more direct, questions. Such as:

Confide for business users lets you share sensitive docs that then disappear – Emails and most other digital communications have a nasty habit of lingering, as the Sony hacks recently proved, leaving little besides face-to-face conversations as an untraceable alternative. Confide, however, has created a Snapchat-style app for the enterprise world, and the technology just got a key update. The latest version of the company’s namesake app, released on Wednesday for Android and iOS, lets users share sensitive documents and photos using a patent-pending and screen shot-proof process including end-to-end encryption. Once the item has been viewed, it disappears forever. “The minute you hit send, the message gets encrypted — not even we could read it,” said Jon Brod, Confide cofounder and president.


Windows 10 updated, 18 improvements included in the latest patch – Microsoft has pushed out a new patch for Windows 10 users and this one comes packed with updates that fix everything from the Start menu not launching to better battery life.

Microsoft Releases “Universal” Touch-Friendly Office Apps For Windows 10 – Microsoft today released early builds of its Office suite designed for Windows 10, software that is designed to accept touch input and work across tablets and phones. Office 2016, the desktop edition of Office, will also ship this year. You can snag the new apps in the Store, or here, here, and here.

Pixie is a ‘Location of Things’ key-fob doohickey that helps you find all your things – A package of four Pixie Points currently sells online for $40 and should ship sometime this summer. You attach the tags to anything you want to track—your wallet, your car keys, Mr. Fluffypaws—and each item immediately joins a closed, private network based on the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol. When one of your items goes missing, you can fire up your Android or iOS app to locate the errant Pixie Point with up to 1 foot accuracy.


YouTube is testing a way to view videos from multiple angles – Concerts, sports games, and even podcasts could get more dynamic on YouTube thanks to a new feature the company is testing out. YouTube today began experimenting with a way to let viewers change cameras during a video, something that requires additional production from videomakers. So far there’s only one video you can try it out on, a live performance of artist Madilyn Bailey, though YouTube is taking requests from others that want to help test the feature.


Fieldwire Offers A Task-Management App For The Construction Industry – Even as other industries adopt technology to improve productivity and make them more efficient, there are some like construction that are still locked into old, mostly manual processes for project management. A startup called Fieldwire wants to change that, with a mobile-first collaboration platform that is targeted at construction workers. Fieldwire is made up of a website and mobile app that enables project managers and foremen to create a list of tasks and rank them based on priority. As things change, they are able to very quickly reorganize those tasks, which helps to make workers more productive.


Google has reached an agreement with Twitter to start embedding Tweets in search results – Unlike Bing, Google has largely avoided social integration in its search results. This may be changing soon, however, as Google is reportedly going to start embedding tweets in the near future.

BeeLink’s Pocket and Mini PCs take a cue from Intel – As Windows PCs shrink ever-smaller, Beelink is the latest brand to get on board. According to Liliputing, the company is preparing a couple of pocket-sized PCs, along with a diminutive desktop that looks a lot like Intel’s NUC kits. The Pocket P2 is the smallest of the bunch, and seems nearly identical to the Compute Stick that Intel showed off in January. It runs Windows 8.1 has an Intel Atom Z3735F processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. Intel’s Compute Stick has the same specs (though the chipmaker is also planning a low-powered Linux variant), so it’s unclear whether this is just the same product with Beelink branding. There’s no word on pricing or release date, but Intel has said that its Compute Stick will arrive in March, priced at $149 for the Windows version and $89 for Linux. We’d expect these devices to land around then in the $150 to $200 ballpark.


The ultimate guide to how and where to use Apple Pay – Here’s everything you need to know about Apple Pay and its ins and outs, plus an up-to-date list of Apple Pay-ready stores and apps. The latest? A whole bunch of self-serve kiosks.

Brag: For those who think Facebook and Instagram aren’t narcissistic enough – Technically Incorrect: Brag is a new social network that allows you to be who you really are: a desperately egotistical, self-centered narcissist who just wants to show off all day. And who wants to be proud of it.

Create free presentations without PowerPoint – Everybody likes to make fun of PowerPoint, but when it comes to expressing your ideas, making your pitch, and so on, the slide deck remains one of the most effective tools. Good news: There are plenty of PowerPoint alternatives, some of them free, some of them capable of adding considerably more pizzazz to your materials. In addition to the obvious PowerPoint clones — Google Docs, OpenOffice Impress, Zoho Show and so on — make sure to check out these three free outliers:

People Who Use Emojis Have More Sex –’s annual Singles in America survey — which polled 5,675 (non-Match using) singles whose demographics were representative of the national population according to the U.S. Census — found that people who have more sex, tend to use emojis more.


Hackers steal tens of millions of customer records from the US’ second-biggest medical insurer – Hackers have stolen tens of millions of customer and employee records from Anthem, the second-largest health insurer in the United States, after they were able to break into a database containing personal information for around 80 million people. Anthem says the hackers were able to obtain names, birthdays, addresses, and Social Security numbers, but it does not appear that medical information or financial details were taken.

New spyware steals pictures and data from iOS devices – The spyware, called XAgent, is delivered via a phishing attack using a technique called island hopping. In that, the phones of friends and associates of the true target are first infected and then used to pass on the spyware link. It’s based on the assumption that the target is more likely to click on links from people they know than from strangers. Once installed, XAgent will collect text messages, contact lists, pictures, geo-location data, a list of installed apps, a list of any software processes that are running and the WiFi status of the device. That information is packaged and sent to a server operated by the hackers. XAgent is also capable of switching on the phone’s microphone and recording everything it hears.

As Flash 0day exploits reach new level of meanness, what are users to do? – The breakneck pace of the exploits is creating fatigue among end users, and one presumes, among engineers inside Adobe. No sooner is one patch rolled out than an exploit targeting a new vulnerability becomes available. What’s more, Research from Cisco Systems found the recent Flash exploits were being served on more than 1,800 domains. The persistence, speed, and abundance are only some of the ingredients underscoring the viciousness of these latest campaigns. Researchers from security firm Invincea found evidence online crooks may be exploiting Flash zerodays to install crypto ransomware on vulnerable computers.

Detecting zero-day hack in one millisecond with ‘power fingerprinting’ – A company claims its tech can detect a zero-day hack in one millisecond by monitoring the ‘power fingerprint’ of a system or device; in testing with the DOE, it detected Stuxnet even before it became active. Dr. Jeffrey Reed, PFP Founder and President, said that it is “practically impossible for malware to evade his technology.” Besides testing with DOE, the company has contracts with the Army, Air Force, Department of Homeland Security and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

How to create a Bitdefender Rescue CD – Bitdefender Rescue CD is a free tool that scans and cleans your computer whenever you suspect a malware threat is affecting its operation. Bitdefender Rescue CD works without loading the operating system and can be set up either on a CD/DVD or on a USB flash drive.

Company News:

Microsoft reportedly buys Sunrise, the best calendar app for iPhone and Android – Microsoft has purchased Sunrise, the maker of one of the best — if not the very best — calendar apps for iOS and Android, according to TechCrunch. It reportedly paid at least $100 million for the company. Microsoft has recently been working to revamp its mobile apps and reach out to other platforms, and Sunrise will clearly play a big part in that. This is actually the second time now that Microsoft has scooped up one of the best iOS apps: it previously purchased Acompli and then rebranded it as Outlook. Just like that, Microsoft made Outlook one of the best email apps you can get. Sunrise has not confirmed the acquisition, and there’s no detail yet on what will happen to the app under Microsoft.

HomeLight Raises $3M More To Help Homebuyers And Sellers Find Real Estate Agents – HomeLight, a startup to help those trying to buy or sell their homes find the right real estate agent, has raised $3 million in new funding. The startup, which launched in November 2012, analyzes home sales data to determine an agent’s strengths and weaknesses. It then uses that information to deliver recommendations when you search based on things like city, neighborhood, property type and price range. Co-founder and CEO Drew Uher has said that he created the service after he and his wife tried to find a real estate agent when buying their first home. It was a painful process, because there was no good place to research agents. The service covers 38 U.S. markets, with records for over 2 million agents.


Under Armour buys two fitness apps, builds trove of health data – Under Armour is shelling out $560 million to buy two fitness apps, giving it access to a mountain of data about health enthusiasts that it hopes will help it to sell more sportswear. The maker of hoodies, running shorts and other athletic wear will pay $475 million to buy MyFitnessPal, an app that helps people lose weight by letting them record what they eat and count calories. It’s also paying $85 million for Endomondo, an app from Denmark that lets people track their activity, whether that’s running or doing gymnastics.

Micromax overtakes Samsung to become India’s largest smartphone vendor – The latest figures from industry analysts at Canalys reveal that Samsung – which had been India’s largest smartphone supplier – is now in second place in the country’s smartphone space, with 20% of the market. As in China, Samsung’s lead in India has been eroded by a domestic brand. As Reuters reports, during the last quarter of 2014, Micromax grabbed 22% of the Indian smartphone market which, as a whole, grew to a total of 21.6 million sales – an increase of 90% year-on-year. India is now the world’s third-largest market in the world for smartphone sales, and around a quarter of these devices cost less than $100.

BT strikes deal to buy UK mobile operator EE for $19B – BT said it has agreed to acquire mobile operator EE in the U.K. for £12.5 billion (US$19 billion), reflecting growing consolidation in the country’s mobile market. The British telecommunications giant said it will pay a combination of cash and new BT ordinary shares issued to both Deutsche Telekom and Orange.

Games and Entertainment:

Google acquires maker of Toontastic storytelling app – Google has acquired Launchpad Toys, maker of the popular kid-friendly storytelling app Toontastic, the startup announced on Wednesday. Launchpad Toys offers a few kid-friendly mobile apps, including augmented reality app TeleStory, but Toontastic has proven to be its most popular child-focused mobile program. Toontastic is a storytelling app that allows kids to create their own cartoons and tell a story. The app is designed for Apple’s iPad, and as the company puts it, is essentially a modern-day puppet show. Once those shows are put on, they can be recorded and shared with others. Now that Google owns Launchpad Toys, the company has made Toontastic — a previously paid app — free. In addition, all of the app’s playsets are now freely available.


Report: Apple plans iTunes streaming option at $7.99/month – We’ve been speculating on it for some time, but with good cause. Apple’s iTunes business model is dated and tired, which is evident by so many reports of digital sales giving way to streaming music. Some sort of iTunes streaming was expected — necessary, even — so the speculation was much less wishful thinking and much more giddy expectation. Details are starting to emerge about Apple’s latest streaming offering, suggesting we’re getting just about everything we want, even cross-platform streaming for Android users.


Rockstar has shipped 45 million copies of Grand Theft Auto V – As IGN reports, Rockstar Games revealed on an earnings call this week that it has now shipped 10 million copies of the game on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, less than three months since it was re-released for the new generation of consoles. That means that the company has now shipped over 45 million copies of GTA V, although it should be noted that this number relates specifically to shipments of the game to retailers, and not sales to customers. Even so, that’s a hugely impressive figure – and Rockstar can look forward to it growing even further, when it launches the delayed PC version of the game next month.


Amiibo Gold and Silver edition Mario starts new wave – Two new editions of the first wave of Nintendo Amiibo figurines have appeared: Mario Gold Edition and Mario Silver Edition. While no details have been shared by Nintendo officially, both editions were found on Nintendo’s webpage – so they’re on their way! Both editions are very likely set to function the same as their predecessors, tapping in to functionality with the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS for cross-platform play. And don’t expect the Gold and Silver re-paints to stop here, either.


Off Topic (Sort of):

Tech Companies Praise The FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan – FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced this morning that he will invoke Title II and reclassify consumer broadband access as a telecommunications service, something that is anathema to Internet providers. As you might expect, the usual rollout of commentary is currently descending in the inboxes of anyone even tangentially related to the issue. I won’t bore you with all of the mess, but a few notes for tone are worthwhile. Keep in mind that the market generally expects large Internet providers to sue over the FCC’s plan. Those firms have said as much, and do not appear to be very good at poker.

Inside the Dark Web – If our popular culture is to be believed, most people assume there’s a place online where the worst of the headlines you read about drugs, money laundering, murder for hire, and vast child pornography rings are born. It’s called many things, though “Dark Web” is the most dramatic. Although it’s true that this Dark Web exists, it’s much larger and more diverse than merely these illegal activities. What’s more, the same technology that makes it possible for such marketplaces to operate in secret is also protecting political dissidents overseas and hiding everyday Internet traffic from surveillance. It may be that this digital back alley is the path toward a more secure Internet.

Mysterious Apple van spurs self-driving cars rumors – Apple is seemingly looking to improve its Maps offering by using cars with special cameras attached to them and driving around. Either that or it’s testing a self-driving car. The news comes from the residents of Concord, CA where a mysterious black van, reportedly registered to Apple, has been roaming the streets. On top of the van there are a number of cameras, and in all likelihood a LiDAR system.


Flee from the sun at the speed of light in this humbling video – “Riding Light” traces the movement of a photon traveling away from the sun in a film that translates the speed of light into a human perspective.


New Horizons probe has a 1 kilobit per second data connection from Pluto – As the New Horizons probe nears Pluto, it’s more than 30 times farther from the sun than Earth is. That means its signal strength is very low and only the most powerful 70-meter Deep Space Network dishes can pick up the data stream. The maximum data rate one of the probe’s antennas can send to Earth is 1 kilobit per second. Its optical camera, known as the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) takes 1024 x 1024 resolution images, each of which are 2.5 megabits (0.3125 megabytes) uncompressed. To send that one image back to Earth takes 42 minutes.


License to Shrill: Nancy Grace and Getting Pretend Angry – Nancy Grace is a vigilante who does not want justice; she wants to hold the megaphone. She doesn’t want to find the boy; she wants to be seen marching through the woods. She is the opponent of Bad, only because the implication then is that she is the champion of Good. She doesn’t care; she has Liked the “Cares” page on Facebook. It is an affectation, an opportunity, a platform, a trademark. She is in business because people are simultaneously fascinated and frightened by disasters. It is the canker sore they rub their tongue over. It is the human experience writ large—the devastation, the anxiety, the moments of fleeting hope. Her show is an emotional fantasy camp, both a mildly threatening departure from comfort and a moment to feel righteous.

6 Lethal Selfies You Need to Learn From – Take a selfie or die trying? If you’re not careful, taking a selfie could be the last thing you do. It’s about situational awareness. Selfies are more dangerous than traditional photography because you’re snapping something behind you. If you’re driving, you’re not paying attention to the road or sky ahead. If you’re standing, you’re more likely to stumble or be surprised because all of our internal balance and proprioception mechanisms work poorly when we’re walking backwards. Take this story as a lesson about when you shouldn’t be taking selfies.


Something to think about:

“Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

–      Bill Gates

Today’s Free Downloads:

Ashampoo Droid Optimizer – Laggy smartphone? Battery always empty? Launching apps takes forever? Boost your smartphone performance and free memory at the click of a button.


Terminate foreground and background apps automatically

Empty the system and application cache

Clear your browsing history for better privacy

Find and delete big files fast and easily

Carry out cleaning tasks automatically

Conserve energy and enhance your battery life

Manage all installed apps

Learn about your apps’ critical permissions and expose spy apps


Wise Auto Shutdown – Wise Auto Shutdown allows you to easily schedule your computer to shut down, log off, restart, sleep, and power down at any time you want. After you start the task, Wise Auto Shutdown will run in the background and a double-click will get the main interface back from the tray to the desktop. Certainly, Wise Auto Shutdown will remind you of your choice five minutes before it carries out the automatic task.


Easy to use: Wise Auto Shutdown has only one main interface and all its features are on the main interface

Able to finish various tasks: Wise Auto Shutdown can finish various tasks such as shutdown, restart, logoff, sleep and close power

Various ways to specify time: You can specify the time in different ways to execute your task, for example, daily, at a specific time, or some time later

A warm and timely reminder: Wise Auto Shutdown will remind you five minutes before it executes your task

Silent running mode: Wise Auto Shutdown will run silently in the background. And you just need to double click the icon on the tray if you want to view its main screen


In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Congress Takes Up Email Privacy Reform. Again – Two related bills, one apiece in the upper and lower chambers of Congress, were introduced today aimed at reforming email privacy. They mark another attempt by the nation’s legislative body at reforming the requirements that the government must meet to read your digital missives.

Current protections are minimal. As TechCrunch previously reported, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the government can read your email with a mere subpoena if a letter is more than 180 days old or has been opened.

Why those two requirements? Think back decades to a time when storage was expensive.

Storage is now ubiquitous and nearly free. The old rules, which made little sense before, make zero now. So it is time to reform the ECPA. That’s to say that it has long been the time to reform the ECPA, making every day the correct time to finally get the damn job done.

The House bill has more than 220 co-sponsors, the EFF notes, a towering initial tally. The bill also has bipartisan support in both chambers. Last time we did this, however, the bills did not manage to secure a floor vote. Congress’s arcanity is strange to behold.

Western Spy Agencies Secretly Rely on Hackers for Intel and Expertise – The U.S., U.K. and Canadian governments characterize hackers as a criminal menace, warn of the threats they allegedly pose to critical infrastructure, and aggressively prosecute them, but they are also secretly exploiting their information and expertise, according to top secret documents.

In some cases, the surveillance agencies are obtaining the content of emails by monitoring hackers as they breach email accounts, often without notifying the hacking victims of these breaches. “Hackers are stealing the emails of some of our targets… by collecting the hackers’ ‘take,’ we . . .  get access to the emails themselves,” reads one top secret 2010 National Security Agency document.

These and other revelations about the intelligence agencies’ reliance on hackers are contained in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents—which come from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters agency and NSA—shed new light on the various means used by intelligence agencies to exploit hackers’ successes and learn from their skills, while also raising questions about whether governments have overstated the threat posed by some hackers.

Germany’s BND muscles in on metadata mass surveillance – Germany’s external spy agency saves tens of millions of phone records every day, according to leaked files that expose its NSA-style mass surveillance programme for the first time.

The Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, collects metadata on 220 million calls every day, with at least some of this data passed onto the NSA.

Moreover, the information hoovered up includes records of phone numbers involved in a call or text message, the time of a communication and the length of a call (but, crucially, not the content of a communication).

BND carries out surveillance of international communications sent by both satellites and internet cables that pass through one of several key locations, Die Zeit Online reports.

US anti-backdoor bill: If at first you’re shot down in flames – try, try again – Lawmakers in the US are making an effort to revive legislation that would ban government agencies from demanding backdoor access to hardware, websites and software.

Under the proposed Secure Data Act, developers cannot be forced to insert security holes into devices and code. The FBI, for one, would like to use such flaws to hijack phones and other gadgets, view their contents and snoop on their owners – hackers would like to use these vulnerabilities, too.

The bill is sponsored by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY), and was reintroduced into the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Last year’s attempt, which died at the subcommittee stage, can be found here, and sought to “prohibit federal agencies from mandating the deployment of vulnerabilities in data security technologies.”

“Congress has allowed the administration’s surveillance authorities to go unchecked by failing to enact adequate reform,” the trio said in a statement this week, announcing the reintroduction of the bill to the House.

“With threats to our homeland ever prevalent, we should not tie the hands of the intelligence community. But unwarranted, backdoor surveillance is indefensible.


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