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Archive for December 1st, 2011

Why Carrier IQ is doomed

“Carrier IQ: How the Widespread Rootkit Can Track Everything on Your Phone, and How to Remove It” — That was the title of one of LifeHacker’s posts this Wednesday, which is just one of countless articles on the now-controversial carrier metric-gathering tool Carrier IQ that some are calling “rootkit” and “spyware.”

” … a hidden application on some mobile phones that had the ability to log anything and everything on your device—from location to web searches to the content of your text messages. The program is called Carrier IQ, and … it actually comes preinstalled by the manufacturer of your phone.” — LifeHacker.

Developer Trevor Eckhart posted his YouTube video detailing the proported workings of the Android software, which demonstrates Carrier IQ monitoring keypresses, SMS messages, and browsing, even when the phone is not connected to a carrier network, and transmitting this data to Carrier IQ’s servers. Supposedly this data is then aggregated and then transmitted to the carriers for network and user-experience improvements. Though it’s not necessarily what it is doing, it’s about what it’s capable of doing. Read Eckhart’s detailed article here for his detailed breakdown the capabilities of Carrier IQ.

So I’ll say it once more — Carrier IQ is doomed — at least in its present incarnation. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.

LifeHacker, HowToGeek, TechCrunch, BBC News, and others have all run articles on Carrier IQ, typically with one main focus: Detecting it and allowing the user to remove or disable it.The U.S. Senate has started asking questions, and it’s fairly certain that there will be lawsuits. After all, it’s not what you’re doing, it’s what you’re capable of doing:

“Senator Al Franken … has asked Carrier IQ to clarify exactly what its software can do. Franken specifically wants to know what data is recorded on devices with Carrier IQ, what data is sent, if it’s sent to Carrier IQ or carriers themselves, how long it’s stored once received, and how it’s protected once stored.” — The Verge.

If you want Eckhart’s app for checking/removing it on Android, you can get it here. Non-root users, or those having trouble with the above tool, can get a tool that detects but cannot remove Carrier IQ here.

What will be the end result?

If the lawsuits have their way, Carrier IQ is likely to have it’s functionality reduced at the very least, as well as a full disclosure to its presence. It could also mean a visible option to disable it — and that’s if handset manufacturers and carriers continue to use it. At the very most, it will be a huge, drawn-out ordeal, which is very likely. Update: The lawsuits are already underway:

“Carrier IQ, the new poster child for (alleged) smartphone privacy violations, has been hit with two class-action lawsuits from users worried about how the company’s software tracks their smartphone activity.” — ArsTechnica.

If the tech blogs are of any influence (and they are), people will start removing Carrier IQ from their handsets, or switching away from Android to handsets that don’t have Carrier IQ on them. Apple has already stated they are planning to drop Carrier IQ completely in future versions of iOS. RIM has stated that they never had Carrier IQ on BlackBerry handsets to begin with. Microsoft states Windows 7 phones don’t even support Carrier IQ.

Phones aren’t the only devices Carrier IQ may be installed on. Users have started asking questions about tablet devices such as the Nook as well, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 can be rooted to check for the presence of it.

Highly motivated consumers may even choose to switch away from AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile, who use Carrier IQ, to Verizon, who states they do not.

You can bet that, over time, the pressure from customers and negative press towards Carrier IQ will cause the carriers to reconsider the value of it, especially since they might be the ones paying for it in the first place. If you want one last laugh, be sure to read John Gruber’s “translation” of the Carrier IQ press release from November 16th.

Have any thoughts of your own to share regarding Carrier IQ, or would like to share what devices you have or have not found it on? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Thank you!

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: First impressions and compared to Twilight Princess

I had a lot of fun with Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii and decided to try Skyward Sword when it came out. The biggest change between the two is the use of the Wii MotionPlus for control of Link’s sword: The motion of the sword follows the way you swing — or even hold — the remote. This creates some new and interesting gameplay mechanics, but this wasn’t the only gameplay change between the same. I’ll elaborate on a few others:

The other major change that I notice immediately is that it doesn’t use the wiimote IR for “pointing” (I covered the sensor to be sure). It uses the accel/gyroscope in the motionplus, relative to its starting “center” position. Unfortunately the “center” can go out quite easily depending on the way you handle the controls, but fortunately re-centering is done quite easily: Every time you are able to “aim”, simply pointing your remote at the center of the screen and pressing DOWN on the Wii remotes D-pad re-centers the aim. Though it’s quick and easy, I find myself having to do it a LOT. I wish there was some sort of auto-centering, perhaps making use of the sensor bar. Though if you get into the habit of pointing “center” when you select an item or open a menu, the cursor is already there and there is less need to center as often.

There’s also an overlay which shows you the controls, which can be disabled from the ‘gear’ menu (button 1).

If you played Twilight Princess, you may recall your NPC companion. Link’s companion is in his sword this time, instead of his shadow. As before, the townsfolk are willing to help you learn the controls (which, except for sword swinging, are quite similiar to TP so that you don’t can skip the tutorials). An on-screen overlay — enabled by default but which can be disabled — reminds you of the controls and item use.

This time however, there’s an emphasis on HOW you attack enemies. Some are vulnerable to attacks only from certain directions or at certain times, and since Link’s sword follows the wiimote almost exactly, how you swing the wiimote is important. That’s a sharp contrast from the TP, where any “swinging” motion would cause Link to swing in a pre-configured pattern of strikes.

There’s also two new motion-based environmental challenges: Ropes and vines. Ropes, which Link has to walk across and keep his balance (by swinging the wiimote left and right to correct his balance); and vines which Link has to swing across. With the vines, you can swing the wiimote backwards or forwards to gain momentum, and hold the B button to slow the vines momentum. Some areas have vines which you have to stop and vine and change the direction of its swing in order to jump to the next one. Timing can be critical.

Overall Skyward Sword is a fun game, and the changes in the play control make it fun, but could have been improved slightly. This is just gameplay mechanics, and there’s some interesting story to go with, but these are a few first impressions.

What are your thoughts on Skyward Sword? Have you played Twilight Princess? If so, how do you feel about the changes? Please feel free to comment below. Thank you!

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