Mark Wilson

California brings in smartphone kill switch legislation to protect handset owners

California brings in smartphone kill switch legislation to protect handset owners

In California, a bill has been passed that will require smartphone manufacturers to include a kill switch in their handsets. The bill states that "any smartphone, as defined, that is manufactured on or after July 1, 2015, and sold in California after that date, include a technological solution at the time of sale, which may consist of software, hardware, or both software and hardware, that, once initiated and successfully communicated to the smartphone, can render inoperable the essential features, as defined, of the smartphone to an unauthorized user when the smartphone is not in the possession of an authorized user".  It's a lengthy description, but it means the kill switch that many people have been asking for for so long is becoming a reality in another state.

This is not the first time a kill switch bill has been passed -- Minnesota did something similar back in May. The SB 926, Leno Smartphones bill in California is rather more far-reaching and comes partly in response to the statistic that between 30 and 40 percent of robberies in major US cities are smartphone robberies. Once activated, the kill switch will prevent a phone from being registered on a wireless network, and cannot be bypassed even with a hard reset. In the event of theft, a user will also be able to remotely wipe their device to protect any private information they may have stored on it.

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V.BTTN is a programmable Bluetooth button that can do anything your phone can

V.BTTN is a programmable Bluetooth button that can do anything your phone can

Think about wearable tech and your mind probably jumps to watches first. V.BTTN is a little different. It's a programmable button that links smartphones, tablets and computers via Bluetooth and it can then be used to trigger all manner of events. Looking for a remote shutter trigger for your smartphone? V.BTTN can do that for you. Need a remote control to start and stop recording? Got that covered too. The device comes from VSN Mobil and is available now for $59.99. It's one of those pieces of hardware billed as having virtually limitless possibilities, but this is one instance where the claim is justified.

What the button does depends entirely on the app you decide to link it to. It's slightly more advanced than just "hit the button" -- there are short and long press options, as well as gesture support thanks to a built-in accelerometer. As standard, V.BTTN is just a button. You can stick it in your pocket or bag and carry it around with you if you like, but there are also a number of accessories.

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Software vulnerability patching is far too slow and leaves users at risk

Software vulnerability patching is far too slow and leaves users at risk

Security holes and vulnerabilities are to be expected, but not enough is being done to patch holes quickly enough. This is the conclusion of Heimdal Security who conducted analysis of software vulnerabilities. The security firm found that while security problems are on the increase, companies are failing to keep pace and issues remain unaddressed for too long. It's something that hackers are taking advantage of, and user data is being left at great risk. Heimdal Security found that between 60 and 90 percent of attacks from hackers take advantage of this fact.

A number of key culprits are singled out for particular attention -- names that will be familiar to most: Oracle Java Runtime environment, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash Player, and Apple QuickTime. The biggest offender, by quite some margin, is Java Runtime environment, blighted by 48 vulnerabilities in 2012, a staggering 180 in 2013, and 90 so far in 2014. According to CVE Details, the average severity rating for all of the vulnerabilities found in each of the four products. Using the CVSS (Computer vulnerability severity system), which rates issue severity on a 1 to 10 scale, the average rating is 7.8 for Java -- and that's the best of the bunch. Adobe's two products were rated 9.2.

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One weird trick -- Facebook to clear newsfeeds of click-bait headlines

One weird trick -- Facebook to clear newsfeeds of click-bait headlines

Click-bait articles are rife online. Countless websites ply a trade in leading headlines designed to lure readers in, giving as little away as possible as an encouragement to click through. A virtual prick-tease, if you will. Sometimes the click is worth it, but all too often the article -- particularly on tabloid-style newspapers, magazine websites and sites peddling listicles -- is pointless or misleading. A suggestive question, the promise of sex, inappropriate references to the iPhone 6, the implication of free money... the possibilities for click-bait are virtually endless. It -- understandably -- annoys a lot of people, and it has annoyed Facebook enough for the social network to take a stand.

You've no doubt noticed that your Facebook newsfeed has become clogged up with countless "one weird trick", "ten ways to give her the best orgasm ever", and "you'll never guess what!" headlines. Now Facebook is taking steps to limit the appearance of such articles so that what users see is more interesting and relevant. In a post on the Facebook blog, it has been announced that two key updates are to be made: "the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format".

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Twitter may be within its rights to block ISIS beheading content, but is it right?

Twitter may be within its rights to block ISIS beheading content, but is it right?

The subject of US journalist James Foley's recent beheading is obviously a sensitive one, but Twitter's decision to suspend the account of users sharing the video made it about censorship as well as politics. As you are no doubt aware by now, Foley was kidnapped in Syria a couple of years ago, held captive, and on Tuesday a video was released by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It shows Foley kneeling on the ground, reading from a script before a masked captor draws a knife, and executes him. It is grisly, horrific, depressing, heart-wrenching, and real. It spread like wildfire across YouTube, Twitter, and countless websites, but it wasn't long before censorship was seen.

YouTube quickly removed the video, but this did not stem the flow. Copies of the video were hosted elsewhere and then posted to Twitter, as were stills from the footage. This is when Twitter stepped in. Posts containing the images or video were removed, and accounts suspended. Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, tweeted:

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In India it is illegal to like blasphemous online content

In India it is illegal to like blasphemous online content

In the latest blow for free speech, the government of the southern Indian state of Karnataka has passed legislation that makes it illegal to upload, share, or like content "with a view to hurt religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly". Let's put aside the odd paradox of being able to have a "view" to do something, but to do it "unknowingly", and look at the history of this. Back in June, Karnataka police warned citizens about the type of things that were covered by the Information Technology Act.

Warning notices appeared in newspapers (of all places):

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Rebel NSA and GCHQ agents are actually helping make Tor more secure

Rebel NSA and GCHQ agents are actually helping make Tor more secure

For anyone looking to stay anonymous online, Tor seems like an obvious option. At the same time, it could lull users into a false sense of security -- after all, this is a network that was, at least in the past, funded by the military and US government -- and conspiracy theories abound that Tor is nothing more than a honey trap to catch the kind of people who have a need for anonymity because of their nefarious activities. The network has evolved over the years and now agencies such as the NSA in the US and GCHQ in the UK are actively seeking out vulnerabilities so they can crack the network. But the relationships are actually far more complex than that.

According to Andrew Lewman, chief of operations at Tor, the same agencies that are trying to break Tor are also posting tips anonymously about the vulnerabilities that have been found -- giving a chance for them to be patched. Talking to the BBC Lewman said:

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Opera Mini will see some Microsoft feature phones through their death throes

Opera Mini will see some Windows Phone through their death throes

Asha and Series 40 "feature" phones (read cheap, crappy phones) may be taking their last breath -- Microsoft plans to kill them off by the end of 2015 -- but it's never too late to try spicing things up by changing the default browser, eh? This is precisely what's happening with the ill-fated handsets, along with the Series 30+ range, as Opera Mini replaces the current Xpress Browser. Despite the seemingly short-lived nature of the deal, Opera Software is upbeat about the arrangement as, undoubtedly, will any poor blighter suffering with one of these handsets.

What is there to look forward to in the browser switch? Like other versions of Opera Mini, the version replacing Xpress Browser benefits from built-in compression that reduces data usage and helps to speed up web browsing. The deal will come as something of a surprise to many, and it has come rather out of the blue. Starting in October, Asha, Series 30+ and Series 40 handset owners will start to see notifications inviting them to upgrade, and newly produced handsets will come with the browser pre-installed.

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Google sets its sights on kids with child-friendly versions of YouTube and Gmail

Google sets its sights on kids with child-friendly versions of YouTube and Gmail

There are many parts of the internet that are blocked to children under the age of 13. Facebook, for instance, implements an age restriction and Google is another online firm that prevents younger web users from setting up accounts. But all this could be set to change. First reported by The Information, Google has plans to open up its service to a younger audience. This does not mean that youngsters will be free to sign up for an account and browse through the contents of YouTube without restrictions. Parents will be able to sign their children up for an account and retain control over what they are able to do online.

One of the primary concerns many people have about Google -- regardless of their age -- is privacy. Google has a proven track record in delivering tailored content and advertisements to its users, and this is something that is at odds with laws around the world when it comes to children. The news coincides with UK plans to experiment with age ratings for online videos, and privacy and child protection groups are already voicing their concerns. Of course, there is nothing to stop someone of any age from signing up for a Google account; it's easy to stretch the truth with dates of birth online. But Google specifically targeting children with its services is unchartered water.

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Twitter accepts removal requests for images of deceased, tinkers with timelines (again)

Twitter accepts removal requests for images of deceased, tinkers with timelines (again)

In the wake of the death of Robin Williams, Twitter announces that it will now accept image removal requests from relatives of deceased individuals. Williams' daughter Zelda was forced to leave Twitter having been inundated with a barrage of mocked up images of her deceased father.

In the aftermath of the actor's suicide, Twitter explained that it would improve its policies. The result is an update to the way in which death is handled on Twitter. The families of deceased people have been able to request the deactivation of an account, but now new rights have been introduced.

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Bye bye, Ballmer -- Steve bows out from the board at Microsoft

Bye bye, Ballmer -- Steve bows out from the board at Microsoft

Having left his post as CEO of Microsoft six months ago, Steve Ballmer today further cut his ties with the company. In a letter to Satya Nadella, he explains that it would be "impractical" to continue to serve on the board of directors. The decision comes after the purchase of the LA Clippers, and Ballmer's letter makes reference to "the start of the NBA season" meaning that his "departure from the board is effective immediately". But Steve is not cutting the umbilical cord entirely; he remains a shareholder and wants to keep his hand in to some extent.

The heart-warmingly friendly letter praises Nadella's drive and vision at the top of Microsoft, and it's clear that Ballmer is still deeply passionate about the company he leaves behind:

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Plans to slap age ratings on online videos are completely and utterly pointless

Plans to slap age ratings on online videos are completely and utterly pointless

Head to the stores to look for real, physical DVDs and Blu-rays, and you'll probably find that there's an age rating on them. Now plans are afoot to bring the same idea to the web. As insane an idea as this may sound, this is actually happening, and it is completely pointless and unworkable. Initially starting off with the involvement of YouTube and Vevo, the scheme is the brainchild of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and will start as a pilot program in October. It's something that is likely to appeal to concerned parents, but the practicalities are a rather different matter.

Announcing the ratings plan, Cameron said: "We shouldn't cede the internet as some sort of lawless space where the normal rules of life shouldn't apply. So, in as far as it is possible, we should try to make sure that the rules that exist offline exist online. So if you want to go and buy a music video offline there are age restrictions on it. We should try and recreate that system on the internet".

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Satellite broadband finally opens up the internet to me

Satellite broadband finally opens up the internet to me

A few weeks ago I complained bitterly about my atrocious internet connection. The impact of a deathly slow and unnervingly unstable connection is hard to overstate. Tension and frustration chez Wilson reached boiling point. Nerves were frayed and tempers short. But as I sank into the bleak, hellish broadband abyss, a hand reached out to save me. The hand was extended by the suitably named Satellite Internet who took pity on me having read of my plight. A trial of satellite broadband was duly offered, and I don’t think I could have said "yes, please" faster. It's something I've considered before, but the startup costs had put me off.

Satellite Internet's service uses Astra satellites, the same ones used to deliver satellite TV to Europe. This means that a smaller dish than you might expect is needed. Forget the monster installations you may have seen in people's gardens in years gone by, these days the dishes have shrunk to something that's just about the same size as those used for TV broadcasts. Installation was delayed due to my trip to the Isle of Skye (which, incidentally, has blisteringly fast internet considering it's a tiny island connected to the mainland with a small bridge), but this morning two installation engineers arrived at 8:00, having travelled more than two hours to reach me.

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EarlyClaim reserves usernames so you don’t end up with a crappy handle

EarlyClaim reserves usernames so you don’t end up with a crappy handle

You never know when the next Twitter is going to crop up. When a new service like Pinterest, Vine, or Skype appears, if you're not quick off the mark there's a high chance you'll miss out on your preferred username. You want MarkWilsonWords? Sorry, that went ages ago… you'll have to settle for MarkWilsonWord09868. Getting stuck with a crappy username sucks, but it's very hard to monitor all of the new services that pop up so you can bag your ideal name as early as possible. This is something that EarlyClaim can help with.

It's a free service that seeks out new startups and reserves a username on your behalf -- you just say what handle you'd like, and EarlyClaim does the hard work for you. For businesses, it is important to have a brand identity that is the same across different social networks (who is going to take notice of Coca Cola 1897 on Facebook?) but it's also something that is valuable to individuals. How many times have you signed up for a site only to find that you're unable to secure the username of your choice and had to opt for something far inferior? Every time you use that service there is a constant reminder that you weren't fast enough at signing up.

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Constantly turned on -- the bleak reality of being permanently connected

Constantly turned on -- the bleak reality of being permanently connected

We expect, and are expected, to be contactable at any given moment -- and indeed we often expect the same of others. Send a text, and you expect a response. Pen an email, and you expect to receive one in return, and fast. Hit up someone on Google chat and an all-but-instant reply is all but expected. Maybe this doesn’t sound like you, but I can guarantee that you fit on the spectrum, and also that the people you are in contact with make the same demands of you. When did this change? It used to be that you'd call a landline number and if you didn’t get a reply you might just try again a few hours later. The fact that we now carry mobiles with us virtually 24/7 means that it is weird if someone doesn't answer the call.

They can’t be busy! Try again! Still no reply? Send a text. And an email. And an IM. If it was limited to office hours, it might be understandable -- and bearable -- to some extent, but there has been a massive slip in end-times. It is acceptable to send emails to someone at any time of day. You may have woken up at 3 in the morning and thought of something relating to work, or even just something that made you laugh, and felt the need to share it immediately. The recipient, in all likelihood, will be alerted to this email on a smartphone or tablet if they don’t happen to be sitting at their computer. At 3 in the morning, it might not wake them up, but at, say, 8pm how likely is it that the email will be ignored? The recipient's working day just got extended by several hours.

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