Randall C. Kennedy

Metro by T-Mobile: Caveat Emptor!

Those who follow my musings here on BetaNews know that I travel a lot internationally. Whether it’s bouncing around Asia, cooling my heels in Europe, or soaking up rays on my adopted home of Mauritius, I rarely go more than a month or so without a major trip somewhere. And now that my children are both attending university in the U.S., I’m shuttling back and forth to the States more than ever. Which makes the news that the city of New York is suing T-Mobile over shady business practices at its pre-paid wireless "Metro by T-Mobile" stores all the more jarring.

You see, I’m a longtime Metro customer. When I left the U.S. for good in 2006, I said goodbye to my traditional, post-paid cellular plan and waded into the murky waters of pre-paid phone providers. At first, I used a mixture of el-cheapo "feature phones" whenever I was back in the States. Tracfone, et al, no doubt appreciated my patronage during those pre-smartphone years when all I cared about was being able to make a voice call when I needed to.

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Sharknado 2019 as seen through the eyes of a Siri QA screener

We all have them. Those days when we question our life choices. The roads not taken. The career paths followed and later regretted.

For example, why did I choose to become a quality assurance screener for Apple’s Siri-equipped devices? Surely, the idea of listening to hours upon hours of random conversations, punctuated by the occasional moan/grunt or farting noise, was not at top of mind when I graduated university with a BS in CS (or was it a CS in BS)? And, of course, there’s no way I could have anticipated the events that would transpire one fateful day in September 2019 -- events that would shake this seasoned writer to his very core.

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Big brother Elon isn't watching you -- but maybe he should be!

Tesla

In an effort to reassure privacy advocates, Tesla announced that its new automobile insurance product for owners of the company’s popular electric vehicles will not use onboard sensor data from said vehicles in determining policy premiums. The fear was that the company would use the voluminous data collected by every Tesla Model 3, S or X to pre-judge the risk associated with specific drivers and penalize those who've demonstrated a propensity for speeding or other aggressive behavior.

Most news outlets are reporting this as a win for consumers, another bit of pushback against our intrusive, surveillance-state of a world. But my question is: Why? Or, rather, why not?

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Fairphone 3: Now with more HEMP!

Holding Fairphone 3

No, the Fairphone 3 is not really made from marijuana plant fibers -- but it might as well be. This misguided attempt to make a smartphone that "care[s] for people and planet" is nearly as ugly as that hemp "shirt" your Environmental Studies buddy used to wear in college. Clunky, with middling specs and a creepy, peek-a-boo-translucent backside, it's a phone that screams "virtue signal -- incoming!"

I mean, why else would anyone buy this thing? Its aesthetic is reminiscent of every generic, first-generation slab phone ever built -- like someone took an Apple iPhone 4 and a Samsung Galaxy S2, ran them through a blender, and then reassembled the debris with scotch tape and cellophane. The expletive-laden contraction "F'UGLY" doesn’t begin to describe this abomination.

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#GoogleSoWhite

New Play store

Google has a diversity problem. Whereas the company's mobile app offerings were once colorful and full of highlights, more recent iterations -- like the newly released version 16 of the Google Play Store -- have been thoroughly and deliberately "whitewashed." Gone is the inclusive rainbow of headers that delineated each app type. In its place, a monochromatic sea of pure whiteness.

The transition is jarring -- and a bit intimidating. As someone who is married to a "person of color" I find the loss of background hue to be disquieting. The notion that it is better to suppress diversity of content in the name of "consistency" or "visual clarity" strikes me as downright bigoted. By ignoring the unique contributions that categories like "Movies" and "Games" have made to the overall Google landscape, you slight those behind the content that drives them.

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Cyber-stalking from 240 miles in the sky

Astronaut

"In space, no one can hear you…stalk?" That's the phrase that comes to mind as I sift through the sensationalist coverage of astronaut and decorated combat veteran Anne McClain's brief sojourn into the world of cyber-stalking. And while the act of checking up on an estranged spouse's financial activity is relatively common in a world where roughly half of all marriages (at least in Western countries) end up in divorce, the fact that Ms McClain chose to do so while orbiting the Earth at over 17,000 mph adds a degree of novelty to an otherwise mundane story.

Indeed, the purported "scene of the crime" introduces several new wrinkles to the matter, including under which jurisdiction her apparently illegal actions should fall. According to official sources, inhabitants of the International Space Station (ISS) are subject to the laws and regulations of their home countries. So, a Japanese astronaut is subject to Japanese law, a Russian to Russian law, etc.

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Fear and loathing in Hong Kong

Hello from Hong Kong, that "Special Administrative Region" of the People’s Republic of China.

This amazing city is brimming with technology that makes visiting a joy. From fast Wi-Fi in nearly every shop and restaurant to ultra-cheap SIM cards (under $9 for 5 days of unlimited 4G LTE surfing), it’s enough to bring a tear to this jaded tech writer’s eye. Though, in retrospect, that may have just been lingering tear gas from the protests that rocked the city on the night of my arrival. Yes, there really is nothing like the smell of anti-riot munitions in the morning. It smells like…tyranny!

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The hard truth about mass shootings and the internet

"You can’t handle the truth!" That iconic line from the 90’s era Tom Cruise legal thriller, A Few Good Men, is what comes to mind as I mull over the headlines of the past few weeks. From El Paso, Texas to Dayton, Ohio, from Gilroy, California to Christchurch, New Zealand, sick and twisted individuals are committing horrendous acts of violence against innocents. And, as I struggle to understand the seemingly disparate motivations of these despicable individuals, a singular thought keeps popping into my head:

This sort of stuff didn’t happen before the internet.

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Will hackers turn the 787 Dreamliner into a flying nightmare?

Do you like airplanes? I know I do. Get me inside an airport terminal and I become glued to the glass watching them move about on the tarmac. Big ones. Small ones. I love them all.

And not just from the outside. I love traveling in planes, too. In fact, I’ve flown in nearly every type of major short or long-haul jet in service. From humongous A380’s to diminutive MD88’s, I’m a seasoned veteran of the air travel game.

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Hearing voices? Your smoke detector may be spying on you!

Ever since I installed one of those wireless "home automation kits," my house has been acting like it’s possessed. My lights dim randomly. My thermostat changes temperature settings on its own. And my digital door lock keeps "forgetting" I live here, prompting me to fumble for my keys (it always seems to be raining when this happens).

Just yesterday I came home to find my so-called "Smart TV" had somehow turned itself on and was streaming some weird foreign language content (the source it chose was "RT" -- or something like that). I changed the channel to "CNN" and went to the kitchen to make a snack. However, just as I began slicing open a fresh baguette, I heard that same foreign language stream playing. I then rushed back to the living room only to find the TV still tuned to "CNN."

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A disturbing lack of outrage about the E3 Expo leak

data leak tap

Why don’t I feel bad? I know I should. I know I ought to be alarmed by the news that the organizers of the E3 Expo accidentally leaked the personal or professional contact details for some two thousand registered journalists and members of the media.

But I’m not. In fact, I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. As an early victim of some malicious "doxxing" -- by a fellow tech journalist, no less -- I’ve become a bit jaded about the matter (having satellite images of your house posted online so freaks can target your children will do that to you).

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Gridlocked! Imagining the aftermath of an OTA cyberattack on connected vehicles

Twenty percent. A fifth. One in five. That’s how many stalled cars it would take to completely gridlock the Island of Manhattan in New York City. And according to a recent study from Georgia Tech on the impact of a large scale cyberattack against connected vehicles, that’s the more optimistic number. It could go even lower when you factor in traffic flow from side streets and the human propensity towards panic when we feel trapped or boxed in.

Basically, it would be the world’s worst traffic jam, with even emergency vehicles unable to move. And it would all start with a massive, system-wide attack against the Over the Air (OTA) software update mechanisms present in many modern, highly connected cars -- like those made by Tesla.

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Lost in the world of endless scrolling

Can you help me? I seem to be lost. I was surfing the Internet for funny cat videos and I stumbled onto this "web page." Or, at least, I thought it was a page. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve been scrolling for a while now, but I can’t seem to find a way out. Every time I think I’ve reached the end, I find myself in yet another "page." Yet I have no recollection of clicking a link or taking any direct action. It just sort of…happened.

I think I remember where I started from. There was this link to a story about kittens. Or maybe it was baby tiger cubs. I’m not too sure anymore. In fact, my memory of just where I’ve been or even how I got to this point is a little fuzzy.

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New on Netflix: Channel surfing at 80MPH

We all have one. That cheapskate friend who never seems to have any money and who is always trying to sponge off you.

My old college pal Freddy is like that, especially when it comes to technology. For years, he limped by with no smart phone. Then, when he did get one, it was the lowest-end Android model from one of those el-cheapo prepaid wireless companies.

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Now hiring: Digital voyeurs with flexible morals and a sense of adventure!

Psst! Hey you! Yeah, you! Lurking in the bushes with a camera! Sitting on the park bench with a cocked ear! Riding the subway with an eye on your fellow passengers' phone screens!

Are you tired of struggling to catch a glimpse of other people’s intimate moments? Need something to fill that gaping pit of loneliness and despair you call a "life?" Well, you’re in luck! Because we’ve got the perfect job for you!

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