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Posts Tagged BlackBerry

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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How to display ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact on your iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry lock screen

If you  have stored ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts in your phone, you probably noticed that your phone treats them like any other contact. This means that emergency responders won’t be able to access your contacts if your phone is locked. Also, if you’re an Android user using a custom ROM, there’s a chance an emergency responder won’t even know how to access your contacts. In an emergency, every moment is important.

You can, through a few easy steps, display emergency contact information, along with any other information you select, on your phone’s lock screen. This means that it will be available just by turning on the screen, making it quickly and easily available in the case of a real emergency. Who knows, this might actually help you get your device back in case it’s lost or stolen.

You might also be interested in reading about how to streamline your emergency contacts with an emergency email address.

So how to do it?

Select a wallpaper (dimensions)

Start by selecting what will be your new wallpaper (either an existing photo or graphic) with a resolution close to your phone’s display, to prevent the text from being stretched or scaled. Here’s the resolution of many popular smartphone displays:

  • BlackBerry: Varies by model, but the most common sizes are:
    • BlackBerry Bold: 480×320
    • BlackBerry Curve: 320×240
    • BlackBerry Pearl: 240×260
    • For other devices, or to verify the above, see BlackBerry forums for your device’s exact resolution.
  • Android: Android also supports a wide variety of screen resolutions. You will likely find your device and its resolution listed at Comparison of Android devices – Wikipedia.
  • iPhone 2G through 3GS: 320×480
  • iPhone 4 and 4S (retina display): 640×960

Edit it to add your contact information

Open your soon-to-be wallpaper in your favorite image editor, or use one of the following utilities:

You’ll want to place your text and/or information where the UI isn’t going to cover it. Here’s some pointers:

  • BlackBerry: Avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image, as well as the direct center (where the unlock/password prompt appears).
  • Android: Avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image, as well as any other UI elements (such as the unlock slider). You may have to experiment somewhat, since different Android versions have different slide-to-unlock methods.
  • iPhones: avoid the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image.
You may want to consider creating text over a solid color of text, so it stands out and it easy to read. If you’re not handy with the above programs, consider asking a friend to make the edits for you.

Save it to your phone

  • BlackBerry: Either insert your microSD card to your computer, or connect your phone and mount it as USB storage. Copy your picture to your card in any location, but remember where you put it for the next step.
  • Android: Either insert your microSD card to your computer, or connect your phone and mount it as USB storage. Copy your picture to your card in any location, but remember where you put it for the next step.
  • iPhone: The easiest way to get your picture onto your device is to email it to an account you have set up on your phone. Then, from your phone, save the attachment from your email.

Set it as your wallpaper

  • BlackBerry: open your pictures (via Media, may vary by OS version), display the image you want, hit menu > Set as Home Screen image.
  • Android: From your home screen, press menu  button > Wallpapers > Gallery > (select folder and file).
  • iPhone: Go to Settings > Wallpaper > (touch screen) > Camera Roll > (Select your picture) > Set.

There you have it. Your emergency contact information is now displayed on your phone’s display, even when it is locked, making it available to emergency personnel quickly and easily.

What do you think of this tip? Was this useful to you? Do you have any other tips or suggestions to share related to this? Please share in the comments section below! Thank you!

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Curious Samsung smartphone micro-USB charger issue

In the past I had a Samsung Moment that had an infuriating issue with charging — after a while, it would get very picky about which chargers it wanted to accept. The phone would either charge or not, or intermittently cut out from the charger.

I replaced the phone at least once that I can recall and had the issue start up about a month after getting the new phone. Frustrated, I replaced it with a Blackberry.

Now I have a Samsung Epic 4G and without a second thought I plugged it in to my USB cable and charged it right after I got it.

When I went to plug it in to the charger on my nightstand, it wouldn’t charge. I put a 120v-to-USB adapter on the USB cable and charged it like that for the time. I blamed it on chargers not outputting enough voltage, and told myself I’d look into it another day.

Today I finally got around to testing it with various chargers, and the results were interesting:

  • NONE of my Samsung-branded wall chargers worked.
  • My Samsung-branded USB cable didn’t work.
  • My Blackberry-branded USB cable worked.
  • A Belkin-branded USB cable worked.

Interesting, no? I took a closer look at the male micro-USB connectors.

Click for larger image with mark-up

The photo above — being the best I could do with my camera — shows the Samsung-branded cable on top and the Blackberry-branded cable on the bottom. Notice (if you’re able) that the Samsung-branded cable is shorter — about 0.5mm shorter, actually. The Samsung cable is about 5.5mm and the Blackberry (and the Belkin) is about 6mm.

My opinion is that the female micro-USB on the phone, when new and snug, accepts the 5.5mm plug. As the receptacle starts to wear, the shielding and insulation shift ever-so-slightly and the 5.5mm plug no longer fits correctly. The phone charges fine with a 6mm plug. I’ve heard from plenty of people with Samsung devices that have charger issues that the phone gets “picky” about which chargers it accepts. I suspect this is the reason.

What happens over time with a 6mm plug? Well, since I’m coming back to update this post I’ll tell you that with the 6mm microUSB the port eventually failed (again?). I took the phone to Sprint and they said the port failed and agreed to replace the phone. And now… the 5.5mm Samsung plugs are snug and the 6mm generics almost seem too tight. Is it that the 6mm plugs lead to premature failure of the port? I honestly don’t know… but — Samsung devices seem to be the only devices with this issue that I’m aware of.

If you have anything to share about the above, please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you!

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Google adds two-factor (2-factor) authentication for Gmail and Google Apps

Two-factor authentication finally comes for Google accounts, including Google Apps.

From Google:

Using 2-step verification will help prevent strangers from accessing your account with just a stolen password. When you sign in with 2-step verification, you’ll verify your identity using both a password and a code that you receive on your phone. Learn more

The one-time-password (OTP) that you receive on your phone can come from one of two different methods: Either a time-based password using the Google Authenticator app for your smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android), or as a text message. Google also provides you a set of codes that you can print out, in case you don’t get your code or your phone is lost. Keep them in a safe place, because if you lose your phone and your codes, getting access to your account is a royal pain — but that’s the way it’s supposed to be:

You’ll need to fill out an account recovery form to verify ownership of the account. Take time to answer each question to the best of your ability. The form was designed to ensure that no one can gain access to your account except you. Since Google doesn’t collect a lot of information about you when you sign up for an account, we will ask you questions like when you created your account, what Google services you use, and who you email frequently (if you use Gmail) to make certain you are authorized to access your account.

Two-factor needs to be turned on in your Google Account settings, and Google has an excellent walk-though on how to activate and test two-factor during the setup. Google calls their two-factor authentication simply “2-step verification.”

To access your account settings from your Gmail or Google Apps mail screen, click Settings in the top right, then click the Accounts tab, then Google Account Settings. then click the “2-step verification” link.

Google says that setting up their 2-step verification takes about 15 minutes, and it’s a good estimate. Budget longer if you’re less savvy or want to be more careful. There’s a testing step involved, so there’s little risk of locking yourself out of your account.

There are major security advantages to using two-factor authentication. One of the biggest simply being that if your password is compromised, there’s still a barrier preventing someone from logging in and having their way with your account.

Along with this, Google introduces what they call “Application specific passwords.” These are workaround passwords for applications (IMAP/POP/SMTP clients, Google Talk, etc) that can’t present the OTP passwords required for two-factor authentication. Instead, you generate a different password — one for each resource if you like — and enter that in your application instead of your normal password. Sound confusing? It’s not, really. This has the added advantage that if someone gains access to your applications configuration files (e.g. Outlook) and pulls your password out, they can’t use it to log directly into your Google account. You can also go into your Google account and revoke these generated passwords at a later date if a resource does become compromised.

After enabling 2-step authentication, you’ll receive an email with information which includes information about application specific passwords:

IMPORTANT: What to Do If Some Applications Stop Working

Some applications that access Google data do not accept verification codes. They
only accept usernames and passwords. Examples include:

-Smartphones (e.g., Android, iPhone)
-Mail clients that use IMAP/POP (e.g., Outlook Express or Thunderbird)
-Chat clients (e.g., Google Talk)
-Picasa desktop application

Now that you have signed up for 2-step verification, these applications will
temporarily stop working. You can get them working again by entering an
application-specific password into the password box, instead of your regular
password or your verification code.

That email will contain a link to generate those application-specific passwords.

Security-minded individuals will no doubt embrace these changes to Google. I for one appreciate that Google is going to such great lengths to provide easy-to-implement security tools that benefit the consumer. I believe that Google may have done something really great here — users who are really concerned about security in Internet resources may now seriously consider creating Google account. Less technical consumers may still use Google using conventional username/password combinations if they so desire.

What do you think of Google decision to add two-factor authentication to accounts? Are you, or will you be, taking advantage of it?

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iPad used more than Linux computers?

Today, Royal Pingdom posted a somewhat-surprising blog entry that shows that the iPad alone, not any other iOS device like the iPhone or iPod touch, is used more than Linux computers.

Why is this only somewhat surprising? There’s plenty of reasons:

The positive about the Apple devices:

The iPhone and iPod Touch set the stage with — and raised the bar on — user friendliness in portable devices. The iPod was the device that some would argue re-made Apple. It quickly took over the portable media player market and set the new de-facto standard for what to expect in a music player: Lots of storage, and a simple, user-friendly interface. With the iPod Classic, new features brought even higher expectations. The iPod Touch and iPhone sealed the deal for Apple (and some would argue dealt AT&T a blow to the knees).

When the iPad arrived, it ran off the same iOS that the iPod touch did, which brought a familiar look and feel to iOS users. Drawing from the same App Store ensured that users would experience Apple’s touted “There’s an app for that” experience. In addition, the iPad pioneered the tablet experience to the mass market. Behind it’s launch, Android and Blackberry have struggled to gain market share.

The comparison to Linux:

When you compare the Apple iPad to the Linux market, it’s little surprise that the iPad comes ahead. Even the more popular Linux distros like Red Hat and Ubuntu, although moving ahead in leaps and bounds, still suffer their shortcomings with user friendliness and ease-of-use. Hardware quirks and incompatibilities often get the better of inexperienced users, who turn back to Windows or Mac for that lacking bit of hardware support.

Additionally, there aren’t many computer manufacturers who will sell systems with Linux pre-installed for an out-of-the-box experience. While Dell has sold systems with Linux pre-installed, and has sold select system with no OS, there’s a distinct bias in the new-sales model towards Windows. Why? Money. Microsoft pays the OEMs a commission for new-system sales with Windows pre-installed. On top of that, there’s less work for the OEMs to make sure that hardware works as expected. System76 has started picking up the pre-installed Linux market, selling systems with Ubuntu pre-installed, but the price is arguably higher than a system from another vendor, and I can’t speak to the warranty or support.

Conclusion:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Linux user and I love it. But I’m not blind to the fact that it has it’s shortcomings — although Red Hat and Ubuntu have really worked towards making everything work as it should, and making the user experience the best possible. Linux also runs on a wider-range (and a more inexpensive range) of hardware than Apple OS. Also, you can’t ignore that this study has a big of a flaw in it: This only compared stats between iPod and mainstream Linux (desktops and laptops) — two completely different device platforms.

Apples to apples or apples to oranges? Do the numbers even mean anything at all? What are your thoughts?

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How to switch and close applications on BlackBerry

The BlackBerry OS is a natively multi-tasking OS. This means that, even if you’re not looking at an application, it may still be running on your phone — consuming battery, cpu, and memory.

To view the list of running programs and switch tasks:

Hold the menu key (the key between the green send key and the trackball/trackpad) to bring up the task switcher. (BB OS 4.7+). Alternatively, you can press the menu key and select Switch Application.

After bringing up the task switcher, scroll to a task and press the trackpad or trackball to switch to that task.

To close an app:

The BlackBerry OS does not close apps when you press the end key, or in the case of the Style, when you close the flip. Rather, it returns you to the home screen with the app still running.

To properly close an app and stop it from running, use the back key (between the trackball/trackpad and the red end key) to back out of the program. Some apps do not close via this method. Alternatively, press the menu key and select ‘close’ or ‘exit’ within the application.

Closing apps properly will ensure that your phone isn’t wasting memory, cpu cycles, or battery on programs that you don’t want running.

Note: The following apps are required for proper phone operation and therefore cannot be closed or stopped:

  • Messages
  • Home
  • Browser (Selecting ‘Close’ from the browser screen will close any open webpages — still a good thing)
  • BlackBerry Messenger
  • Phone

You can verify a program has ended by bringing up the task switcher again and verifying it’s no longer listed.

Have any other BlackBerry tips to share? Please share them in the comments below!

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How to hide and or block all that Facebook junk

Update: Due to layout updates in Facebook, this method no longer works exactly as shown. It is still possible to hide and block content. Since I’m not going to update this post every time Facebook changes their layout, please use the below only as a reference.

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve probably seen the plethora of “Status Updates” that come from Facebook Applications.

At it’s best, it’s spammy and can make finding your friend’s actual posts harder. At the worst, it can be offensive, misleading, or suggest you click something that could actually be malicious.

So, here’s a short walk-through of how to hide and/or block those applications from appearing in your feed.

The first thing to do is to find an offending post. The post must say “via” at the bottom, next to the time/date it posted.

That means it was posted via an application, and not as a status update.

A word of caution: It may be possible to block “Text Message”, “Facebook for Blackberry”, “Facebook for Android”, etc. These are actually applications that are used by mobile users to post their own updates. If you block these, you might not get all your friend’s updates, if any at all. You can block them if you choose, but I recommend against it.

That said, there’s two ways to go about it, “hiding” the app, or “blocking” the app. In most cases, hiding is sufficient. Unless you want to make sure that said app never has access to your information, and you never use it. In that case, a block is in order. (It is possible to unblock applications, though I don’t explain that in this post — I may add it at some point in the future.)

Hiding the application

Hover your mouse over the status update and find the “X” that will appear

Click on the “X” and the status update will change to the hide dialog. From here, you can hide the offending application.

Done.

Blocking the application

Hover over the image and locate the link to the application

Click it. That will take you to the application page, where you can block the application.

Click block. You will be prompted to confirm.

Done.

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The almost indestructible phone case

When I got my Sprint BlackBerry 8530, the first thing I looked for was a good case. It’s a shame to have a nice phone and tear it up from keys in the pocket, accidental drop, banging against a counter (which is how I cracked the camera lens on my HTC Touch Pro: I leaned up against the counter at Chuck-E-Cheese).

I initially had a cheap silicone case, but it quickly stretched and became a lint magnet. Not to mention the fact that it would stick to the inside of my pocket and not want to come out when my phone was ringing. Though cheap, silicone cases are junk, in my opinion.

I decided I was probably better getting some kind of hard case. The nice thing about hard cases is they feel more natural on your phone and they can take the abuse. I’m rough on my phone — it goes with me everywhere, even in the rain.

I heard some really nice things about Seidio cases, and checked them out. My friend Jeff beat me to the order, and I asked to take a look at his device with the case on it. It’s nice-looking.

So for myself, I found the Innocase Surface and the Innocase Holster. I was extremely happy with this case. Until I broke it.

Breaking this case was no easy task: I’ve dropped it on concrete, tile, wood floors, tossed in my work toolbag a few times (screwdrivers, pliers, etc), talked on it while doing a brake job (which is probably what took the finish off)… This case is tough. I’ve even demonstrated to a few people that you can take a key to it and not scratch it.

Ironically enough, I was out somewhere and dropped it on carpet. The case flew apart and the locking tabs broke. I guess it had finally had enough.

So now I’ll be ordering another, and I guess I have to be extra careful with it until the new case comes in.

Caveat: There is a small downside to [the black] case. I’ve found out through experience that the BlackBerry will stop charging the battery if it gets too hot. That’s actually a good thing, as if you try to charge a Li-ion battery thats too hot, you’ll actually degrade the battery. The case I bought — being black and having a soft finish, actually caused the phone to heat up if I left it in on the passenger seat of my car in the sun. Solution? I just put it in my center console.

Have an Innocase for your phone or considering it? Share your thoughts below…

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My rant on Blackberry

So there’s a lot of things the Blackberry does RIGHT:

  • Good-sized full-QWERTY keyboard, without having to slide/rotate the phone.
  • Easy navigation via the trackball/trackpad (depending on model)
  • Fully multitasking OS
  • Quality speakerphone / microphone without echo
  • Durable hardware and great battery life

Now here’s where my rant begins:

For one, the Blackberry has a distinctive LACK of available “fun” software. There are a fair amount of games, but not nearly the selection of other mobiles. WinMo, Palm, and the iPhone especially have a wider variety of games, and other “fun” software.

For two, the Blackberry apps are quite a bit more expensive. From $2.99 per app on the cheap side all the way up to $50 for the priciest apps.

And for my biggest gripe, the distinct LACK of good IMAP support for BIS users. While the “push” email is great and all (email delivered to the phone when it’s delivered to the mailbox; no having to “poll” the mailbox), the inablility to use IMAP folders other than Inbox is a serious setback. More so, you’re only able to get new messages on the device, rather than being able to download mail that’s already in your box.

The IMAP issue is something that WinMo, Palm, and iPhone and some other phones already do quite nicely. this puts the Blackberry at a distinct disadvantage compared to other devices.

While this issue seems generally solved for Gmail users (through the “Enhanced Gmail plugin for Blackberry”), this is only for the single provider.

In my opinion this is something that RIM needs to get on with a quickness. This lack of proper IMAP support has me looking at other phones for the future.

If I could find a phone with a good QWERTY keypad with features like the Blackberry (along with proper IMAP) I’d definately consider switching when my times comes due.

Of course, if they enabled proper IMAP support in BIS, I think I’d be pretty happy indeed.

Time will tell. Maybe I’ll just learn to live with it.

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Remove Windows Thumbs.db, desktop.ini, BBThumbs.dat, etc. in Ubuntu using find

You can quickly and easily remove Windows and BlackBerry thumbnail index files using a few simple terminal commands.

find /path/to/directory -name "Thumbs.db" -delete
find /path/to/directory -name "desktop.ini" -delete
find /path/to/directory -name "AlbumArt*" -delete
find /path/to/directory -name "BBThumbs.dat" -delete

You can expand on this to remove any file name or mask.

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