Monthly Archives: December 2015

Tech Thoughts Net News – Wednesday – December 2, 2015

Chrome’s Browser On Android Can Now Save Up To 70% Of Your Data;  5 ways to block frenemies from your Android phone;  19 Vine Video-Shooting Tricks You Must Know;  4 add-ons that make Google Docs a more powerful word processor;  The essential guide to powerline Ethernet adapters;  More hands-on with the Raspberry Pi Zero;  Google mobile search lets you pin (save) images for later;  Could Hello Barbie become the plaything of hackers?  Google’s new Santa Tracker teaches kids coding skills;  Ransomware and scammy tech support sites team up for a vicious one-two punch;  Hibernate resource-hogging Android apps with Greenify;  Hacked Toymaker VTech Admits Breach Actually Hit 6.3 Million Children;  6 nerd words everybody gets wrong.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

Chrome’s Browser On Android Can Now Save Up To 70% Of Your Data – For some time, Google has been developing technology to reduce data consumption on mobile devices. Last January, the company officially introduced an optional data compression feature into its Chrome mobile browser, allowing users to reduce their data usage by up to 50%. Now Google has improved upon this earlier release with an update to the Data Saver feature in the Chrome Android browser which can now save users up to 70% of their data usage.

Pro tip: Hibernate resource-hogging Android apps with Greenify – If you want to place certain apps on your Android phone into hibernation so they aren’t using resources, learn how to use a wonderful free app designed for that purpose.

5 ways to block frenemies from your Android phone – Luckily, your Android phone offers plenty of ways to block unwanted calls, text messages and email, as well as mute endless email threads.

19 Vine Video-Shooting Tricks You Must Know – The Vine apps have gone through many iterations since the original iOS-only version at its debut. They’re all free, as is the service.  The Vine app does more than ever—and that’s why we’re here: to show you the coolest new features and well-hidden original ones, and to make your Vine video shoots a breeze.


Quick Access Edits

4 add-ons that make Google Docs a more powerful word processor – While there’s plenty to love about Google’s lightweight word processor, there are times it leaves you scratching your head wondering how they could’ve left out this or that obvious feature. Fortunately, the power of add-ons lets you put many of your favorite functions back in. Here are four you should install today.

The essential guide to powerline Ethernet adapters – This roundup of powerline ethernet adapters is continually updated. It was originally published on January 15, 2015, and this is the third update. Since the number of products in the story was becoming unwieldy, we’ve removed the older models and kept only the latest HomePlug AV2 MIMO and ITU adapters. If you want to see the story as it was originally published in January 2015, click here. This latest iteration adds an entirely new review of the ZyXEL PLA5456KIT to our earlier reviews of the D-Link DHP-701AV, Extollo LANsocket 1500, TP-Link TL-PA8030P KIT, and the Trendnet TPL-420E2K. You’ll also find the one ITU adapter we’ve reviewed to date: the Comtrend PG-9172.

Google’s new Santa Tracker teaches kids coding skills – It’s that time of the year — Google has launched its Santa Tracker! It’s one of the more attractive Santa Tracker pages we’ve seen, and it is packed full of content to keep the kids (and adults) entertained. Those who have used Google’s past trackers will be familiar with the page — it is wintery and styled after Santa and other Christmas elements, and features interactive elements related to the holiday, as well as a timer counting down the days, hours, and minutes before Christmas. The website will be up until Christmas, and features a section for every day of December.


More hands-on with the Raspberry Pi Zero: Loading, booting and configuring – Today I share more information and first-hand experiences with the Raspberry Pi Zero, including loading, booting, configuring and using the PiHub for both USB expansion and power.


The Raspberry Pi Zero in the palm of my hand. Image: J.A. Watson

Ubuntu GNOME 15.10: The perfect Linux desktop distribution – Ubuntu GNOME 15.10 is something special. How special? Jack Wallen believes it might well be the perfect Linux desktop distribution. Read on to find out why.


Adobe distances itself from Flash, Flash Pro becomes Animate CC – Once the darling of web designers, Flash has of late become more of a liability than an asset. The Web at large and the tech giants behind it have called for its death. That puts Adobe in a very difficult position, being one of the standard bearers of good design but also the owner of Flash. But it has seen the writing on the wall and has started to embrace, even move over to, more accepted equivalent HTML5 and WebGL technologies. And nowhere is that more evident than in its latest slew of updates.


Google mobile search lets you pin (save) images for later – Google may have just started encroaching on Pinterest’s turf. Or to be more precise, further encroaching. The search giant has just announced a new feature available to those doing image searches on Android and iOS, whatever the browser in use. Simply search for an image and, if you want to reference it later, “star” it for safe keeping. For all intents and purpose, this is the same basic functionality that Pinterest offers, minus the social aspects of course. Or at least for now.


Microsoft PowerApps turns any worker into a programmer – Learning how to code, usually to make apps, has become a topic of debate among the IT, education, government sectors, with some advocating teaching it as a core skill like writing and math. Most, if not all, these thrusts, however, focus on educating kids, leaving adults to fend for themselves. After all, grownups can learn faster and better, right? As any adult will tell you, however, that isn’t always the case. That is perhaps why Microsoft has launched the PowerApps platform to let grownups in workplaces build their own apps, no coding required.

Mozilla to focus solely on Firefox, spinning off Thunderbird email client – Mozilla Foundation, the makers of the popular internet browser Firefox, have revealed that in order focus their efforts on continued development of their most used product, they are planning to spin-off the email and chat client Thunderbird. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to Mozilla followers, for while Thunderbird first debuted in 2004, shortly after Firefox, it hasn’t been directly updated since 2012. This news comes direct from Mozilla Chairperson Mitchell Baker, via company-wide memo.


Could Hello Barbie become the plaything of hackers? – Turns out toys are vulnerable, too. Barbie could listen in on your kids, and a hacker stole kids’ pictures and other personal information from Learning Lodge toys. Experts say Internet-connected toys are rife with security problems.

Ransomware and scammy tech support sites team up for a vicious one-two punch – Symantec has seen a curious fusing of two pernicious online threats, which could cause a big headache if encountered by users.

Hey Reader’s Digest: Your site has been attacking visitors for days – Reader’s Digest has been infected since last week with code originating with Angler, an off-the-shelf hack-by-numbers exploit kit that saves professional criminals the hassle of developing their own attack scripts, researchers from antivirus provider Malwarebytes told Ars. People who visit the site with outdated versions of Adobe Flash, Internet Explorer, and other browsing software are silently infected with malware that gains control over their computers. Malwarebytes researchers said they sent Reader’s Digest operators e-mails and social media alerts last week warning the site was infected but never got a response. The researchers estimate that thousands of other sites have been similarly attacked in recent weeks and that the number continues to grow.


Conficker, back from the undead, dominates malware threat landscape – Conficker was the most common malware used to attack UK and international organisations in October, accounting for 20 per cent of all attacks globally, according to security vendor Check Point. When it first appeared in November 2008, the Windows-affecting Conficker worm caused all manner of problems mainly because of its ability to spread across networks, infect windows machines and brute force passwords. Networks of the French Navy, the UK House of Commons and Greater Manchester Police were all laid low by the malware. Its recent resurgence hasn’t caused anything like the same amounts of problems but still highlights the generally poor state of corporate security.

The Boxes That Can Steal Your Social Media and Dropbox Passwords for the Cops – Just when you thought that surveillance technology couldn’t get any more invasive, along comes a device that can steal your social media passwords, grab your emails, siphon your Dropbox contents, and build a detailed profile of your digital life, if your phone is close enough to it. That’s the promise made by “InterApp” a small black-and-white box that targets smartphones, offered by Rayzone Group, a surveillance company from Israel. Rayzone Group calls the product an “Apps and Cloud Interception System.”


The InterApp box. Image: screenshot from Rayzone Group website

Hacked Toymaker VTech Admits Breach Actually Hit 6.3 Million Children – The data breach that hit the popular toymaker VTech keeps on getting worse. Less than a day after Motherboard revealed that the hacker who breached the company also obtained thousands of pictures of children and parents, as well as a year’s worth of chat logs, VTech revealed that the breach affected more than 6 million children and not just 200,000. Until now, the Hong Kong-based company, which sells toys and internet-connected gadgets for kids, had tried to downplay the incident. In its first statement last week, the company didn’t mention any number of victims, and didn’t even mention that kids’ data was involved. On Tuesday, however, VTech finally admitted the breadth of the data breach and even released a chart breaking down the number of victims by country. The majority of victims are in the United States, France, the UK, and Germany.

Dell certificates vulnerability: How to protect your Windows systems – A pair of digital certificates released by Dell produced a vulnerability that could expose Windows systems to risk. Learn the scope of the threat and how to remediate it.

Company News:

Amazon Dominated 36% of Online Black Friday Sales, Says Slice – Slice Intelligence, which gathers e-commerce data from receipts linked to its Slice package tracking app, tells TechCrunch that Amazon dominated online Black Friday sales, accounting for 35.7% in e-commerce spending on November 27. A distant second, Best Buy brought in 8.23% of total online revenue, followed by Macy’s at 3.38%, Walmart at 3.35% and Nordstrom at 3.11%. It’s hard to say whether these impressive Amazon numbers are skewing high because Slice’s users are more active online shoppers, but Amazon did post a release, touting its own success. While the e-commerce giant is mum on actual sales numbers, it said that had a record year for Amazon-branded products.

Yahoo board to discuss sale of core business: Report – Yahoo’s board will meet to discuss whether it should sell its core business instead of its Alibaba stake, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Yahoo board members will hold a marathon series of meetings from Wednesday through Friday to hash out whether it would be best to go ahead with a plan to spin off its multibillion-dollar stake in Alibaba or shift gears and sell its core business, WSJ reported. Yahoo told AFP that it would not comment on the WSJ’s report.

HP exits low-cost tablet market in product shakeup – HP is scrapping its low-end tablet lineup to focus on detachables, hybrids and business tablets.

Spotify Claims Streaming Music Throne Worldwide, But Pandora Is Still Top Service In U.S. – Spotify is the world’s top streaming music service in terms of active users, downloads and revenue, according to a new music-focused report out this morning from App Annie. However, while Spotify bested last year’s top streaming music app Pandora Radio from a global standpoint, Pandora is still strong in the U.S. where it remains the number one streaming service by active users on iPhone and Android. In other markets, niche players have been carving out their own audiences.

Games and Entertainment:

PS4 Battlefront and Uncharted bundles arrive December 6 – Sony has a couple of new PlayStation 4 bundles up its sleeve and they’ll be arriving on December 6, remaining available for a couple of weeks before disappearing shortly ahead of Christmas. First among them is the Star Wars Battlefront Standard Edition PS4 bundle, which is priced at $299.99 USD, and joining it is the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection PS4 bundle, which comes with the same price tag.


PlayStation 4 won Black Friday – One of the most important theaters of battle in the never-ending video game console war is Black Friday. This is where a significant amount of systems are sold, and potentially gives the underdog a chance to gain some ground. Unlike last year’s Black Friday, which saw Microsoft’s Xbox One emerge victorious, this year saw the current sales champion, Sony’s PlayStation 4, win the day. This is according to a marketing study done by the InfoScout group, which tracked the purchases of over 250,000 receipts captured on mobile devices during Thanksgiving night and into Black Friday proper.

Latest GTA V Mod Features Stunning 4K Visuals, More – A new mod for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V makes the already impressive-looking game even more breathtaking. It also adds a slew of gameplay tweaks and adjustments. Created by Josh Romito, the “Pinnacle of V” mod adds 4K textures to everything in the game’s world. These aren’t just simple adjustments either. Everything from lighting, weather effects, smoke, puddles, etc. have been overhauled. Even smaller things like clouds, plants, and blood have been given the 4K treatment as well. At a glance, it looks like a completely different game, if not real-life footage.


Free game alert: BioWare’s Jade Empire is the latest Origin On the House freebie – It’s not nearly as popular as Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, or Dragon Age. But for free? Great deal.


Report: DirecTV to launch live 4K service early next year – Consumers are increasingly adopting devices with 4k-resolution displays, but UHD content to match is still relatively sparse. That will change for DirecTV subscribers starting next year, with a new report claiming the company will introduce a live 4K broadcast service in early 2016. Ahead of that launch, DirecTV has been testing 4K broadcasts with Ultra HD sports offerings. The information comes from Advanced Television, which reports that DirecTV’s Senior Vice President of Video & Space Communications Phil Goswitz confirmed the plans at the TranSPORT conference in New York.

Off Topic (Sort of):

Mark Zuckerberg Is Now A Dad, Pledges To Give Away 99% Of His Shares – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today said he and his wife would give away 99 percent of their shares to “advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.” His shares are currently worth around $45 billion. His pledge was, still, essentially a footnote in a long letter addressed to his new daughter, Maxima Chan Zuckerberg (Max for short), whose birth was announced on Facebook. Zuckerberg in November said he planned to take two months of paternity leave after his daughter was born.

Extinct vegetable resurrected from 850-year-old seeds – A recent post on Reddit drew attention to the happy conclusion of what has ended up being a long and somewhat exciting story. It started back in 2008 when a clay ball containing seeds was discovered in the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. Upon review, it turned out the seeds were about 850 years old, and efforts were taken to see if they’d grow. As it turns out, they did, and the world now has a formally extinct giant squash as the result.


6 nerd words everybody gets wrong – The language of technology is a moving target. As the technology changes, so do the usage models, business models and behaviors associated with it. So do the words. There are words people often use incorrectly. You don’t have to be a linguist to do your tech talk right. Here are the most commonly used words and phrases everyone should know and how to use them.

Brazilian Activists Shame Web Trolls on Billboards – A group of Brazilian activists have turned the tables on Internet trolls who post racist messages on social media. Part of the “Racismo Virtual, Consequencias Reais” (“Virtual Racism, Real Consequences”) campaign, the NGO Criola is installing signs featuring abusive text near the offenders’ houses. The movement began after an incident in July—on Brazil’s National Day to Combat Racial Discrimination—when bigoted comments about Journal Nacional weather presenter Maria Julia Coutinho were published online. Many Facebook users combated the hateful messages with thoughts of affection and approval. But Criola took things a step further.


The 10 apps that will own the future of the enterprise – As the needs of the enterprise continue to shift, legacy software vendors are finding themselves competing with a host of potential upstarts. Changes in the way we get work done mean that more small solutions have an opportunity to fill a niche or meet a specific need. This isn’t to say that incumbent providers are going anywhere anytime soon, as many are building out their product offerings to meet the expanding needs of enterprise users. But as the cloud moves towards enterprise ubiquity and buzzwords like big data become canon, the list of top tools for getting work done is changing. Here are 10 apps that are next in line for enterprise dominance.

Nearly Half of the World’s Population Is Now Online – The world is slowly but surely getting online, according to a new study from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). There are now 3.2 billion people online, representing 43.4 percent of the global population, ITU, the United Nation’s information and communications agency announced on Monday. A whopping 95 percent of the world’s population is now covered by a cellular connection and there are nearly 7.1 billion cellular connections worldwide, the agency reported.

Something to think about:

“Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

–      Henry Kissinger – United States Secretary of State, (March 10, 1975)


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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

EFF complaint says Google broke privacy pledge by tracking students – The EFF is asking for a federal investigation into whether Google broke a pledge to honor student privacy with its educational tools. Today, the group filed a complaint with the FTC, alleging that Google for Education collects a broad range of data on students’ browsing habits and gives administrators too much power to enable that collection. “We are calling on the FTC to investigate Google’s conduct, stop the company from using student personal information for its own purposes, and order the company to destroy all information it has collected that’s not for educational purposes,” said EFF staff attorney Sophia Cope in a statement.

Google’s educational initiative encompasses versions of its various web services, as well as Chromebook laptops and approved teaching material. In early 2015, the company signed the Student Privacy Pledge, a voluntary agreement that bars companies from selling student information, using data for anything but “authorized education purposes,” and changing privacy policies without notice. President Barack Obama has promoted the pledge alongside more formal student privacy reforms, and around 200 companies currently abide by it.

But the EFF claims that Google goes beyond these limits. The complaint says that Google collects data to improve its own services, instead of for purely educational purposes. While Google stopped scanning student accounts for advertising purposes even before signing the pledge, the EFF argues that it still serves ads on non-educational services, which can be used while students are logged into school accounts.

The National Security Letter spy tool has been uncloaked, and it’s bad – The National Security Letter (NSL) is a potent surveillance tool that allows the government to acquire a wide swath of private information—all without a warrant. Federal investigators issue tens of thousands of them each year to banks, ISPs, car dealers, insurance companies, doctors, and you name it. The letters don’t need a judge’s signature and come with a gag to the recipient, forbidding the disclosure of the NSL to the public or the target.

For the first time, as part of a First Amendment lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the release of what the FBI was seeking from a small ISP as part of an NSL. Among other things, the FBI was demanding a target’s complete Web browsing history, IP addresses of everyone a person has corresponded with, and records of all online purchases, according to a court document unveiled Monday. All that’s required is an agent’s signature denoting that the information is relevant to an investigation.

Appeals court orders Chicago sheriff to stop attacks on escort business – In a sharply worded opinion (PDF), a panel of appeals judges has ordered Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart to stop his campaign seeking to “crush”’s adult advertisement section.

Ars last wrote about the dispute between Dart and Backpage in July, when US District Judge John Tharp Jr. issued a temporary restraining order stopping some of Dart’s pushier behavior, when he confronted Visa and MasterCard over their relationships with Backpage. But Tharp changed his tune the following month, denying Backpage a preliminary injunction that would have stopped Dart from trying to “coerce, threaten, or intimate repercussions” to card companies or other financial institutions. The credit card companies stayed away from Backpage.

US Circuit Judge Richard Posner, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, writes today that the district court judge was wrong, and he grants Backpage the injunction it sought. In Posner’s view, Dart was using his power as sheriff of a populous county to bully payment processors into backing away from a site that hosted ads he didn’t like, a clear violation of the First Amendment. It’s telling, Posner writes, that Dart didn’t just sue Dart had already tried that strategy against Craigslist, and lost.

Safe Harbor solution not coming any time soon, says Dutch minister – A solution to the Safe Harbor data framework will not hit its January 2016 deadline, raising the possibility of large fines levied against companies like Facebook in the New Year.

That’s according to Dutch justice minister Ard van der Steur, who has published a lengthy response to Parliamentary questions on the issue.

Van der Steur’s response goes into some depth about the history of the framework, which covers data transfer across the Atlantic, and the decision and resulting impact of the European Court of Justice’s ruling to effectively strike it down in October.

His response also goes into the EU’s efforts to come up with a new solution with the US government, at which point van der Steur warns: “It is not expected that the negotiations with the US will be completed very shortly.”

Critically, it appears that the EU has yet to even broach the issue that caused the framework to fall apart in the first place: mass surveillance of internet traffic by the NSA.

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