Posts tagged mobile phone

A ridesharing customer holds their phone inside a car, worried about how ridesharing apps' privacy policies impact her.

Ridesharing Apps and Protecting Your Privacy

A ridesharing customer holds their phone inside a car, worried about how ridesharing apps' privacy policies impact her.

Ridesharing apps are a popular way for commuters to get to their destinations, but recent events have put ridesharing companies’ privacy policies into question.


Increasingly, people are choosing ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft over traditional cab services.  This is partly because the rates are cheaper, but also because passengers can lower their fare further by carpooling with people traveling in the same area.

Anyone who has used an app like Uber knows that it uses GPS technology to show where drivers and passengers are, in real-time.  This in itself raises some questions about privacy.  But recently, ridesharing apps have given travelers even more to worry about.

Privacy Policy Precedents

Uber has granted its employees access to data on thousands of customers, including when and where each client travels.  This data even includes how long a customer stayed at a particular location. The implications of this are far-reaching.  Data breaches of this kind could leak the personal travel details of thousands of customers.  Additionally, this information could be used to spy on politicians and other high-profile figures.

Uber currently has 40 million users, claiming that these info distribution practices are in compliance with their legal responsibilities and offer sufficient protection for their users.  However, in 2014, Uber revealed a “God View” tool that displayed an aerial view for tracking customers in real time.  These examples raise suspicions about how much ridesharing apps care about customer privacy.

What Kind of Data Is at Stake?

The privacy policies of ridesharing apps bring to light how these companies store, employ and keep our personal data safe.  Most of these apps require that users connect their social media profiles to their account.  Sites like Facebook are giant databases of personally identifiable information (PII). If these details are leaked, customers’ personal, professional, and social lives may be at stake.


Using-link Facebook accounts can be an easy method for new users to sign up and log in, but linking to social media accounts means that apps are also collecting information unrelated to getting a ride.  Birthdays, friend lists, which college or university you attend, and interests are also gathered.

Credit Card Account Information

In addition to these concerns, how ridesharing apps handle our payment credentials has also come into question. These apps are usually cashless and require their users to link credit card accounts to pay for rides.  While this seems like a more convenient payment method, our account numbers are only as safe as these companies’ privacy policies.

How Your Personal Information Can Be Leaked

What does this mean for ridesharing passengers at large? Generally, a bulk of the information is collected for marketing, general usage statistics, and app functionality purposes (service improvements).  This information can also be sold to advertisers or third parties.

There are three ways in which a data breach could occur: the information could be leaked during the transmission of it to third parties, the ridesharing company itself may mishandle the information, or the data might be mismanaged by advertisers or third parties.

Two woman stand on the side of the road, having used a ridesharing app to order a ride.

It’s undeniable that ridesharing apps are convenient and combatible with busy lifestyles, so it’s important to protect your privacy while taking advantage of ridesharing apps’ features.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Privacy?

Ridesharing apps are obviously an innovative idea; in an increasingly interconnected world, the concept of using technology to facilitate carpooling is incredibly useful.  Ridesharing is both a green way to go about your daily commute and an inexpensive way to reach destinations inaccessible via public transit.

But because extremely sensitive personal data is at stake here, choosing a ridesharing app is not a trivial matter.  These companies’ privacy policies are available on their websites and should specify what individual user data is being collected.  All apps collect usage statistics and other general facts, but privacy policies tell you which companies send out user specific details (credit card numbers, birthdays, emails, etc.) to third parties.

You can also read other users’ reviews to see what they have to say about their experience.  Reviews are very telling of how a company handles their business, how much they value their customers, and how their policies affect the end-users.

The Future of Ridesharing Apps

Conventional car services like taxicabs and black cars/limos are regulated by law.  With the emergence of apps like Uber taking over the car service scene, questions have been raised concerning legality and classification. Institutions of political power, like the U.S. Senate, have come to ask companies like Uber about their privacy policies.  This industry is still fairly new, and comprehensive security standards have yet to be put in place.

Until then, it’s always a good idea to keep yourself updated on the privacy policies of the services you are using.  Today, data breaches carry the weight of bank robberies in decades past.  Because all of our information can be accessed in one place, it must be properly safeguarded.

While app developers should be obligated to make sure their software protects the data being collected, it is still the responsibility of the user to educate themselves on how their data is being handled.




An audio spectrum representing voice hacking.

Cyber Security Finds a Way to Stop Voice Hacking

An audio spectrum representing voice hacking.

Voice hacking grants others unwanted access to your devices.

There appears to be no rest for the world of cyber security. Hackers are vigilant and in order to keep the personal and private information of the public safe, cyber security experts must be as well. A popular target for hackers are smartphones and other mobile devices. As people rely more and more on this form of technology for everyday task, the more likely they become a victim of security threats. The companies who create these devices constantly update them to prevent such events. However, hackers are crafty. For example, their newest method to hack your phone involves using cutting-edge voice hacking.

Mimicking You Through Voice Hacking

While still in its infancy, sending commands to your smartphone or mobile device via voice controls is on the rise. Digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and others are becoming an essential part of the user experience. Even Apple has dedicated their time to updating Siri with a better intelligence.

What’s troublesome is that hackers can record audio samples while you are engaging with these digital assistants. They are able to mimic your voice, convincing other that they are you. This malicious technology allows hackers access to personal accounts and security mechanisms.

In an interview with Forbes, Yuval Ben-Itzhak, chief technology officer at AVG, warns against using speech recognition apps, recommending that users disable them right away. “At the moment, leaving biometric technology as it is today is like leaving a computer without a password and just allowing anyone to walk by, click and take an action,” says Ben-Itzhak.

Stopping Voice Hacking in Its Tracks

The researchers at the University at Buffalo have the same thoughts as Ben-Itzhak. That’s why they’ve developed a way to detect and prevent hackers from using obtaining your voice patterns. The engineers were able to create an app that stops voice hacking using a smartphone’s existing components.

“Technology is advancing so fast; we have to think of different ways. The strategy is using multiple lines of defense. We call that defense in depth,” says Kui Ren, Ph.D., director of the Ubiquitous Security and Privacy Research Laboratory (UbiSeC) at UB, and one of the study’s lead authors.

Ren and his team’s study focused on hackers replaying someone’s voice to access a device. Hackers will use speakers to perform such a task. The app uses the following tools:

  • A magnetometer in a phone to detect the speaker’s magnetic field.
  • The phone’s trajectory mapping algorithm to measure the distance between the speaker and the phone.

The app also uses movement to detect the difference between a person and a replayed voice, the latter’s magnetic field changes when moved.

“We cannot decide if voice authentication will be pervasive in the future. It might be. We’re already seeing the increasing trend,” Ren said. “And if that is the case, we have to defend against voice replay attacks. Otherwise, voice authentication cannot be secure.”

This research is crucial to keeping digital users safe. Some technology already exists that prevent other forms of voice hacking from occurring. Hopefully, people will soon be able to add the University at Buffalo’s app to their phone’s security.

An icon on a digital keyboard for voice control technology.

Voice Control Technology Is Evolving

An icon on a digital keyboard for voice control technology.

Voice control technology is improving.

Whether it’s Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, a lot of technology company are starting to implement voice control technology. As it continues to evolve, we will soon see it everywhere, from our televisions to our appliances. We see the seeds of this evolution from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They have developed a low-power chip for automatic speech recognition in electronic devices.

The Rise of Voice Control Technology

It’s amazing how fast voice control technology has caught on with users. According to Timothy Tuttle of MindMeld, more than 10 percent of all global searches were made with voice controls in 2015. That more than 50 billion searches a month – an astonishing number!

Within the past decade, we have seen several advancements. Siri is implemented into all iOS technology, Microsoft experiment with Cortana and the Kinect, and cars are using the technology to assist drivers. As the technology becomes better and more accurate, people are also beginning to see its value.

The New Voice Control Chip

Most voice control technology requires about 1 watt of power to work effectively. MIT has created a new chip that only requires 0.2 to 10 milliwatts of power. This saves devices 90 to 99 percent of the power these chips usually take. Now, smaller and simpler devices can use voice technology without having to worry about the power drain.

Michael Price, the lead designer of the chip and MIT graduate student, has this to say: “I don’t think that we really developed this technology for a particular application … We have tried to put the infrastructure in place to provide better trade-offs to a system designer than they would have had with previous technology, whether it was software or hardware acceleration.”

Who knows what advancements this technology can lead to. The chip makes voice controls possible for a wider range of devices. Hopefully, companies can put the extra power to good use.

An Android phone with a pattern lock on the screen.

Testing Android’s Pattern Lock: 5 Attempt Hack

An Android phone with a pattern lock on the screen.

Are you using the pattern lock to protect your phone?

Android users are already familiar with the pattern lock. For those who aren’t, the pattern lock is an alternative to a password. In order to access a phone or tablet, users draw a pattern on the screen and the device is unlocked. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s intuitive. But, is it safe? Security experts from several universities prove that anyone can crack the pattern in just five attempts.

The 5 Attempt Barrier

With a pattern lock, users draw a pattern on a grid of dots. By connecting one dot to the next, in the right order, they will unlock their device. Like most security methods for phones or computers, there are a certain number of attempts to input the code. For Android phones, it’s five attempts and then the device locks for a certain period of time.

Hacking the Pattern Lock

Security experts at the Lancaster University, Northwest University in China, and the University of Bath proved that new technology allows hackers to successfully infiltrate a user’s device in under 5 attempts. By using video and computer vision algorithm software, they were able to record and track the fingertip movements of an android user relative to their device’s position.

The algorithm was able to quickly generate several possible patterns. At least 95% of the time, the researchers were able to unlock the phone within those 5 attempts. They even note that more complicated patterns were easier for the algorithm to figure out.

Obviously, this is a problem. Around 40% of Android users use the pattern lock as their form of security. Android phone dominate the mobile market, making up 86% of smartphones owned by mobile users. If this algorithm is used by hackers, then the privacy these mobile users are at risk.

In the end, the researchers make several suggestions. For users, they suggest covering their phone when drawing their pattern. For phone manufacturers, they suggest adding extra security measures to the pattern lock system by way of more user input or blocking the phone’s screen from cameras.

How to Reduce Data on Your Phone

A photo of a smartphone with a bunch of graphics coming out of it. All of its features is why it's important to reduce data.

Do you need to reduce data used on your smartphone?

Every smartphone how important it is for them to reduce data. Not keeping tabs on how much data’s being used can lead to a big penalty. You’ll wind up having to spend a lot more on your phone bill than you previously expected.

Obviously, if you’re fortunate enough to have an unlimited data plan, this does not apply. Congratulations to you for being so lucky. But for everyone else, there’s a specific limit that mustn’t be exceeded. And it’s a struggle.

Making sure you don’t go further than your data limit is difficult. After all, you have a smartphone because you want to use all the features it has to offer. But you know how to use them wisely. Here are a few tips that could help you get through each month unscathed by overages.

Tips for How to Reduce Data

  • Connect to WiFi Networks– Staying connected to a WiFi network will limit how much data you’re using. These networks are beneficial, but you need to make sure they’re secure. And when you’re on public WiFi, only use it for casual browsing. Sometimes, a WiFi signal is weak, so some phones have a feature called WiFi Assist. While it helps strengthen the signal, Wifi Assist takes up data. Disable this if your phone has it.
  • Pay Attention to the Apps You Download – Go to the data usage page on your settings. Look at the apps most responsible for the megabytes used. If you don’t want to part ways with them, then make sure to limit how often you go on them. Only use then when connected to WiFi. Also, try using apps that can be used offline.
  • Manage Your Video Settings – Watching videos nonstop will take up all your data very quickly. This doesn’t mean you have to stop watching videos altogether. Just be smarter about how you watch them. Most of the popular social media apps have an auto-play feature for videos. You can easily disable this by going to your account settings.

Paying closer to your daily smartphone usage will reduce data. It can be inconvenient and trivial at times. But it prevents you from having to pay unnecessary fines.

Will Smartphones Have Foldable Screens in the Near Future?

An image of a smartphone. It does not have one of those foldable screens.

Are you excited for smartphones having foldable screens?

Recently, top smartphone designers have been toying with the idea of foldable screens. This is a very exciting development. Because over the past few years, enough progress has been made for it to be a possibility.

The Samsung Galaxy Round proved that a screen could be curved and flexible. And LG’s G Flex went even further with Samsung’s design plan. Its great durability impressed users. Both phones, however, were stepping stones. Not the final result.

A move towards a more flexible design is exciting for a couple of reasons. Many critics say smartphone design has plateaued. They think everything looks the same now. A spark of innovation like this will prove them wrong. Also, for the many clumsy people out there living with cracked screens, this sounds like an awesome idea.

So, how far away are we from having foldable screens? Who’s the closest to making this a reality? Will it be as life-saving and practical as everyone thinks? There aren’t any definitive answers to of those questions yet, but here’s what we’ve found.

The Future of Foldable Screens

In June, Lenovo debuted a prototype for a phone called the CPlus. It’s a very interesting looking phone. Not only is it bendable, but it can also roll up and be worn on a user’s wrist. The phone-watch combo can be a game changer. But the CPlus’ release date is still a few years away. Lenovo says it won’t be out until 2020.

Other top companies are working on their foldable designs, too. Recently, Apple has patented the idea for a flexible iPhone that can clip onto clothing. And reports have shown that they’ve had the idea for a foldable design for a while.

In order to make this a reality, Apple has partnered with LG. Designs have already been drawn up and they plan to start producing them in 2018. Samsung, Google, and Microsoft have also expressed interest in working with LG for screens of their own.

Foldable screens offer a lighter, more durable option for smartphone users. It’s a design that feels more like a futuristic dream than something only a few years away from being released. But companies like Apple, LG and Lenovo are very close to making this dream a reality.

Graphic image of a face made up of code, representing artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence — How Concerned Should You Be?

Graphic image of a face made up of code, representing artificial intelligence.

Should we be concerned about how far artificial intelligence has come? What it is capable of?

The digital world is shifting toward artificial intelligence (AI). We want voice searches and digital assistants to be more human-like—and that means artificial intelligence. While the idea that someday there will be a robot apocalypse is the work of science fiction; however, there are legitimate concerns that make AI a difficult thing to accomplish. Here are a few of those worries.

Artificial Intelligence Have a Single-Minded Focus

One of the primary things that always come up in fictional AI storylines is the concept that robots take over the world to save it from humans, or to save humans from themselves. It demonstrates an interesting point. Even a machine that is programmed with a degree of AI will still struggle to weigh decisions like a human does. For example, a cleaning robot will not have the same sentimental attitude toward your trophy collection, and may knock it to the ground to get to all of the dust on the mantle. How do you program a robot to care about your things in the same way as you do?

They Are Rewarded for Shortcuts

True artificial intelligence would require a machine to have a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing its assign tasks. The problem is: how do you stop the robot from taking on the human attitude of looking for shortcuts to get to the reward? Will a cleaning robot (bot) feel just as good if it tosses your clothes under the bed and your kid’s toys in the closet as doing the actually cleaning? What if the robot goes truly rogue and starts messing things up just to clean and complete an assignment?

Exploration Dangers

Like a human, a machine programmed with AI will want to explore possibilities and expand horizons. What if your cooking robot decides to experiment with an ingredient that in theory will taste good, but in reality, is deadly? The droid may be programmed to never intentionally poison someone, but what if it was an accident in an effort to create a new and exciting dish?

These are just a few of the concerns that developers have as they work on AI for future automated helpers. For now, about the worst things a digital assistant can do is to give you bad directions or a recommend a crummy restaurant.

How Smartphones Affect Privacy in Public

The term “dynamic visibility” is gaining momentum as studies are observing the effects of technology on the privacy of individuals. It is important to remember that digital surveillance is not 100% to blame. We also have to consider the sheer amount of free information that people divulge through technology. Consider some of the ways we willingly give up some of our privacy when it comes to our devices.

How Our Privacy Is Shared

Apps like Waze allow us to share our location at all times. Facebook and other social apps result in the sharing of tons of personal data. Even dating app profiles record information that should be considered a huge invasion of privacy—and yet people willingly give up that information in an attempt to be digitally matched up with the right person.

Research was performed using an Android app. The study focused on one particular part of Israel where smartphone use is the highest. The app included surveys taken on the phone that gathered info that was willingly shared, but it also tracked the location and phone usage of those who downloaded the app. This simulated the amount of information that people give up both voluntarily and through app allowances.

The study revealed that an astonishing 73% of responders were willing to give up their actual location while filling out a survey. It was also made clear that people were much more willing to give up both their location as well as other personal information when they were taking a survey in a public place rather than at home.

The fact that people seem more willing to give up personal info when asked questions in public is an intriguing phenomenon that encourages further study.

At the same time, this study serves as a warning to all those who are genuinely concerned about privacy. Be sure to consider what information each app on your phone gathers. Many track location and some do so even when the app is not in use. At the same time, consider what information you give away freely via social media, dating accounts, and online surveys. You never know who may be watching.

The Password of Tomorrow — A Simple Scribble?

Why struggle to remember a password that is increasingly more complicated when you can use a simple scribble to unlock your phone? That could be the direction smartphone protection will go after a recent study.

Advantages of a Scribble Password

The study established 3 primary advantages:

  1. Drawing a line with your finger is faster than typing in a password.
  2. People find remembering a scribble pattern easier than remembering a password.
  3. It is more difficult for hackers to crack than a standard password.

Phone manufacturers have experimented in the past with connecting a few dots on the screen in a certain pattern to unlock a phone. However, there are only so many patterns, and it is all too easy to see someone’s pattern when a phone is unlocked. However, the study we are referencing involved free-form drawing rather than connecting a few dots that allow only a certain number of combinations.

People struggle to remember their endless list of passwords and pins that are needed for everything from email to getting money from an ATM. Because of this, the search is on to eliminate the use of passwords every place possible. The scribble is one method being examined.

According to the study, the lines would not only be used to unlock the phone. They could also be a way to log in to various apps, much like Apple uses a fingerprint ID both for unlocking an iPhone and for certain apps that require additional security. This would be an Android alternative to developing a competing form of Touch ID.

Smartphone Protection Is a Must

Nowadays, people keep everything on their smartphones. Many apps keep a user automatically logged into an account such as email and social media. If someone can guess your unlock code, you can be in for a long-term identity battle.

Compounding the problem is that we can’t seem to keep our smartphones in our possession. Whether it is left at a restaurant or in a taxicab, lost phones open the way to loss of personal information. In fact, most stolen phones start out as lost phones that have disappeared by the time a person realizes where it had been left. For a person carrying a company phone, this can create more than just personal loss.

Is Getting Hacked Simply a Matter of Time?

According to the Director of the FBI, the answer is yes. And many experts agree that if a hacker wants into your network, it is virtually impossible to stop it from happening. The fact is, however, getting hacked is often the user’s fault, to one degree or another.

How Are People Hacked?

Consider the following stats that lead to vulnerabilities:

  • Password Re-Use – Nearly half of people reuse passwords rather than having a different password for every site they log into. While this can be a tough habit to break for the sake of convenience and memory, it only takes one phishing email to put a person’s login credentials in the hands of a hacker. If a person uses the same password for both personal email and for work, the hacker has what is needed for a breach.
  • Stolen Credentials – Millions of smartphones are stolen every year; most were left at restaurants, in taxis, at bars, and the like. Most people save passwords on their mobile devices for ease of use, which gives the thief access to login credentials that can be used or even sold.
  • Media Vulnerabilities – About 9 out of 10 employees like to have music playing while they work. But hackers can use many of the modern media players as their in to a network that does not have a proper firewall in place.

The fact is threats come from within, and not just from a disgruntled or greedy employee. Often, the vulnerability is the result of a genuine mistake on the part of an innocent employee who has either not been trained properly to detect a scam or who just isn’t being cautious enough.

Should You Bother with Security?

The short answer is yes. The fact that you may get hacked anyway shouldn’t move you to leave yourself open to attack. Think about the theft of a car. The first thing the insurance company will ask is whether the car was locked and if the alarm was set. If you say no, they may not even have to pay. Likewise, your customers will expect you to have done all you can to avoid a data breach. There may even be lawsuits or a fine from a government agency if the proper protection is not in place.

Whether getting hacked is simply a matter of time or not, companies have no excuse for lax data security measures.

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