Apple to Issue Revamped Privacy Policy Website

Fire up the new Apple News service for the first time on your iPhone, and it’ll ask for your favourite topics and news outlets. Use it over time, and you’ll find that it is behaving like your personal news recommendation engine.

Read a lot about gardening, and you’ll see more stories about hardy perennials. Click on every story about the Red Sox? Get ready for more bullpen analysis. But eventually you may start to wonder – just how much does this app know about me?

You may think you know the answer, given that we live in a world where our every click and scroll is obsessively tracked by tech companies eager to sell us personalised ads. Apple, too, has been using its targeted advertising service in apps sold on the iTunes store since at least 2010, though that business is a small one, the company says.

In a revamped privacy policy website, a copy of which was reviewed by The Washington Post, Apple on Tuesday attempted to lay out how its philosophy on data collection splits from its tech industry rivals.

In essence, the company said is telling customers it is not interested in their personal data, even as it must use more of that data to deliver personalized products.

“We knew coming in that building a personalized news product could be very sensitive – and the first thing we thought about was we really don’t want to associate news with your personal Apple account,” says Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global privacy.

Apple News, which can deliver a stream of headlines right onto one of the home screens of the iPhone, launched this month into a crowded space. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have long been using algorithms to serve piping hot headlines from the Web to consumers while tying their reading habits into the vast trove of data the companies keep on every user.

Apple’s offering is different in that its stories are also curated by a small team of journalists working at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino. And the company hopes a selling point will be its pledges that it will protect people’s privacy.

“We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers,” chief executive Tim Cook wrote in a letter introducing its privacy website. “We don’t ‘monetize’ the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud.”

The news service app, for instance, collects data on what each user is reading so it can offer personalized headlines and ads. But the service does not tie reading habits to an Apple account and uses a unique identifier – this functions only within the News app – to provide information to advertisers. When readers clear their history in the app, the information is deleted, Apple said.

Apple details how the system works in a revamped section of the company’s website dedicated to privacy and set to publish on Tuesday.

The site reads like an educational campaign for Apple’s privacy philosophy. Others such as Facebook have also tried to write data use policies in everyday language, but Apple’s attempt is notable for being clear while not shying away from the technical details. To keep from overwhelming users, it is broken down into several sections – some old, some new.

Apple, which makes most of its money from selling gadgets rather than services, has been betting hard on privacy in recent years, pitting itself against a tech industry that largely relies on monetizing personal information. Cook struck a similar tone in June when accepting an award from the Electronic Privacy Information Center via livestream.

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” he said. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong.”

The privacy pitch has also put the company at odds with police and Obama administration officials, who have publicly complained about Apple’s move to make it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads – even when the authorities have a search warrant.

But as Apple has dug in on privacy, the company has grappled with how to deliver the convenient experiences customers have come to expect from devices and Web services. And it’s not even clear how much consumers understand – or care – that their personal data is part of the fundamental economic trade-off that powers many of the “free” services available online such as e-mail and social networks, privacy experts said.

Almost everything done online can be tracked. That’s the reason the shoes you were looking at buying online suddenly seem to start popping up in ads on nearly every site you visit.

Smartphones raised the stakes in the online advertising industry because they allow companies to collect an even more information about what people are doing, such as where they are or who they call the most.

Now tech companies are asking for consumers to trust them with more and more sensitive connections, including digital payments, health information, driving data from cars and information from connected devices in your home that could be hanging on your every word.

Apple, already a dominant player in the mobile device marketplace, is now pushing into products and services that require more data. With HomeKit and CarPlay, Apple is trying to enter the market for home- and car-connected devices. Apple Music, Apple Maps and its digital assistant, Siri, are other products that rely on consumer behavior to improve.

These services may be a reason Apple is investing so much time in explaining to consumers why they should care about privacy.

“It’s important for Apple because it’s a business differentiator,” said Rich Mogull, chief executive of Securosis and an analyst who has covered Apple for nearly a decade.

“When consumers are educated they do care about privacy,” he added.

China’s Didi Kuaidi Firms Up Anti-Uber Alliance, Invests in Ola

China’s most popular ride-hailing app Didi Kuaidi said on Monday it has invested in Indian peer Ola, forging a new alliance within a network of companies challenging US rival Uber Technologies Inc.

Didi joins existing investors including SoftBank Corp, Falcon Edge, Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Tiger Global Management. A spokesman for Didi declined to specify the size of the investment.

SoftBank is the common investor backing most of the firms that are taking on Uber across Asia and in the United States. The Japanese telecoms conglomerate already had stakes in Didi, Ola and Southeast Asian firm GrabTaxi.

Didi has also invested in Uber’s US rival Lyft, which shares common investors with the other companies, including Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Ola controls 80 percent of India’s taxi-hailing business, and completes more than 750,000 rides per day, according to Monday’s statement. Last month, Uber said it plans to average more than 1 million rides a day in India over the next six to nine months as it steps up investments to take on Ola.

In August, GrabTaxi said it had also raised money from Didi, which recently conducted a $3-billion fundraising round.

Uber and its biggest rival Didi are locked in a subsidy-intensive fight for market share in China, one that is costing them each hundreds of millions of dollars.

Assam government launches disaster management app

Apart from being located in the high seismic Zone V, the state is also in a frequent flood and landslides prone area. The app can also be used in the event of other disasters like fire.<br />
GUWAHATI: And now, an app for smartphone users of Assam, which is highly prone to very high disasters, to seek not just support in the event of any emergency but enable them to send distress messages.

Apart from being located in the high seismic Zone V, the state is also in a frequent flood and landslides prone area. The app can also be used in the event of other disasters like fire.

Billed as the first of its kind mobile android application, the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) as launched this “Disaster Ready Assam” (DRA.) The app will be available for downloading in the ASDMA website and Google Play Store, officials said.

“The app has various inbuilt features which will disseminate safety information on various hazards and users will be able to seek support in case of any emergency. The app is not only a modern day IEC tool but it would also enable the users to send in-built distress messages. Using a real-time location tracking system, the users’ location can be identified and ASDMA can alert the concerned agencies for necessary action,” the official said.

Like most other popular apps, the users have to first create a profile to register their mobiles. Hologram, a Guwahati-based private IT firm engaged by ASDMA has prepared the mobile application.

Porn app takes secret pictures, then blackmails users

The &ldquo;Adult Player&rdquo; app lures users into downloading it by claiming to be a pornographic video player. But users that open it instead see a picture of themselves, and a message demanding that they pay $500 (&pound;330).&lt;br /&gt;
An Android app that has been found that claimed to offer porn and instead just took pictures of users, before threatening to make them public if they did not hand over cash.The “Adult Player” app lures users into downloading it by claiming to be a pornographic video player. But users that open it instead see a picture of themselves, and a message demanding that they pay $500 (£330).

The software locks the phone so that users can only see the note and nothing else, whatever they do. It presents itself as a message from the FBI — including a log of the IP address and an apparent case number — and tells users that they have been fined $500.

The screen will stay on screen even if users turn off the phone and turn it back on.

It also cannot be uninstalled using normal methods. Users can boot it into safe mode, remove administrator privileges for the app and then uninstall it as normal.

But the researchers that found the software, ZScaler, said that users should be careful to avoid downloading it in the first place. The app can’t be downloaded from Google Play, and the security company suggests only downloading apps from trusted sources.

Phones can be forced only to download software from such places by checking the “Unknown Sources” option in the phone’s security settings.

Xcode 7.0.1 Fixes Bugs Related to iOS 9 App Thinning

Apple announced earlier this month that it was delaying the release of an iOS 9 feature called ‘app thinning’, also known as ‘app slicing’, due to an issue affecting iCloud. The company on Monday released Xcode 7.0.1 for developers that comes with fixes for related bugs, suggesting that the release of the aforementioned feature might happen soon enough.

App thinning is a feature in iOS 9 that allows Apple to make your device download only the app assets that are relevant for it and leave behind resources that are developed for other models. The company had announced last week that an iCloud bug is preventing it from enabling this feature. “App slicing is currently unavailable for iOS 9 apps due to an issue affecting iCloud backups created from iOS 9 where some apps from the App Store would only restore to the same model of iOS device,” the company had said.

Xcode 7.0.1, the latest version of the IDE tool that allows developers to make apps for OS X and iOS operating systems, comes with fixes for “bugs related to app thinning”, and Apple does not elaborate further than that. At this point it is not known whether Apple has fixed all the concerning bugs that are stopping it from releasing the app thinning feature. The company has also not offered a definite release timeframe for the rollout of app thinning feature, but the release of Xcode version suggests that it could happen soon enough. App thinning was first introduced for developers with Xcode 7.

As of current, iOS mobile app developers create only one variant of their app – known as universal version – that works with a range of products sporting different screen sizes and hardware specifications. This version consists of assets for a number of devices. Bundling extra assets, as you can imagine, eats up more storage, which is something concerning for space-conscious users especially those who purchase 16GB variant of iPhone or iPad.

Google Now Gets Offline Voice-Command Support for Some Functions

Google earlier this month rolled out an update for its Google Search (aka Google app) bumping the version to 5.3. The company also announced some improvements to its Voice Search last week claiming that the feature would now use less computational resources, will be more accurate, faster, and robust. The company may have also enabled a new offline voice-command feature which is said to work for some functions without the need of an active Internet connection.

Some users are reporting that the latest Google app now allows them to perform certain voice-search functions without an Internet connection. A screenshot shared by a Google+ user shows the Google app offering “Offline voice tips” with a description that read, “you can still tap the mic, then say”, when trying to search without an active Internet connection.

google_offline_search_peter_isemann_google_plus.jpgThe list of suggested offline commands included Play Music, Open Gmail, Turn on Wi-Fi, Turn up the volume, Turn on the flashlight, Turn on airplane mode, Turn on Bluetooth, and Dim the screen.

Android Police points out that the Open offline command can be used for any app that is installed on the device. While the ‘Turn off’ command will work for all functions that can be accessed by ‘Turn on’ command.

Until now, the Google Search use to throw “Something went wrong” message when trying to use the voice-command feature in offline mode.

The Google app version 5.3, which started rolling out earlier this month, brought the Now on Tap feature which provided contextual information to users within apps garnered much interest. Apart from Now on Tap for Android M users, the updated Google app brought changes to the Google Now launcher as well – adding a vertical app drawer layout for apps and widgets.

Google Photos Update, Play Music Family Plan to Be Unveiled Tuesday

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Google will reportedly announce updates to its Google Photos app and Google Play Music All Access subscription service alongside the launch of two Nexus smartphones and Chromecast devices on Tuesday. The search giant would be adding Chromecast support, People Labelling and Shared Albums features for Google Photos. The Google Play Music All Access service will reportedly get a new Google Play Music Family plan.

Users might soon be able to mirror their Google Photos images on their television screens using Chromecast. They would also be able to use them as Chromecast backdrop images, says Android Police. In addition, while the service already has an automated people tagging feature, it would let users assign a name to the users being tagged. This would allow them to search images of the specific person from anywhere inside the Google Photos.

The update will reportedly let users share albums with others as well. Users will be able to dump images at a common place and keep getting updates on changes made by others. It is being speculated that this feature would resemble the Google Drive collaboration, sharing feature. However, the details for this feature are yet to be known.

 

As for Google Music Play, the service is said to soon include a Play Music Family plan, similar to Apple’s Family music plan. As per Android Police, the unannounced plan would include unlimited music streaming for up to six family members and would cost $14.99 per month. Each member would user their own Google Play Music All Access account.

It true, the plan would be competing against other popular music streaming services such as Spotifyand Apple Music. Currently, Spotify’s family plan starts with $14.99 for two members, followed by options for three, four and five ($29.99 per month) members. Apple Music’s family plan also costs $14.99 per month, and is also applicable for up to six people. Notably, Apple Music subscriptions are much cheaper in India – with the family plan at just Rs. 190 (roughly $3). Unfortunately, Google has not yet released the Google Play Music All Access subscription service in India.

As rumoured several times, the Sundar Pichai-led company would be launching the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P smartphones at the event alongside the new Chromecast device and Chromecast Audio. The handsets would come pre-installed with the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Samsung Milk Video Service to Shut Down on November 20

Samsung would be shuttering down its video discovery app – Samsung Milk Video – on November 20. The company announced the news on the app listing on Google Play store.

“Thank you for using Samsung Milk Video. While we remain committed to providing premium entertainment services, we have decided to end support for the Samsung Milk Video app as of November 20, 2015,” said the app description. The South Korean tech giant has added that Milk Video shut down would not affect other services such as Milk Music and Milk VR.

The app shutdown news comes months after Variety reported that Samsung Media Solutions Centre America laid off almost 15 percent its staff in March this year. It is worth mentioning that Media Solutions Centre America is the company’s arm responsible for Milk Music and video streaming services.

Samsung launched Milk Video exclusively for Galaxy customers in the US in November last year. The service essentially provided curated videos, pulling content from popular providers such as YouTube, Conde Nast, Red Bull, Vevo, Funny or Die, BuzzFeed, and Vice.

The company in March this year made its Milk Music streaming service available for free on the Web. However, it would still require users to create a Samsung account to utilise the Milk Music Web Player. The service last month got a new competitor – LG Hi-Fi music service. It offers high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) songs to its premium smartphone users – 24bit/192KHz.

New Ion Drive Could Power Round Trip to Mars on Single Tank of Fuel

A student from University of Sydney claims to have created a technique that has the potential to take humans to Mars and back on a single tank of fuel.

Paddy Neumann, a Ph.D. student, explained that his ion thrusters work by hurling particles backwards so that a spacecraft can be propelled forwards, Daily Mail reported.

The ion drive works by bombarding the fuel source with electric arcs, which causes ions to be discarded. These ions then move through a magnetic nozzle, resulting in forward propulsion.

The innovative part of Neumann’s drive is the type of fuel that was used.

While High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) system runs on xenon gas, Neumann’s ion drive can instead run on various metals, many of which can be found in space junk.

When it comes to acceleration, HiPEP may not be ideal to launch a spacecraft off a planet.

The current record holder for fuel efficiency of an ion drive is Nasa with its High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) system, which allows 9,600 seconds of impulse.

This is a measure of thruster efficiency and is sometimes called ‘bounce per ounce’. The new drive developed by Neumann has achieved up to 14,690, according to student newspaper Honi Soit.

Neumann said it could power a spacecraft to “Mars and back on one tank of fuel”.

Neumann has applied for a patent and will be presenting his results on the 15th Australian Space Research Conference on September 30.

Government Issues, Retracts Denial Appointing Brand Ambassador for Digital India

Is Ankit Fadia the brand ambassador for the Digital India initiative? There didn’t seem to be any official announcements on the matter, but somehow the news spread like wildfire on social media on Monday. Considering his dubious reputation as a “hacker”, it’s no surprise that there was a lot of outrage.

Then, on Tuesday morning, the government issued a denial of the statement. It stated that “there were certain news reports that there is move to appoint a brand ambassador for Digital India Programme of the government. This is to clarify that there has been no such move to appoint a brand ambassador as reported.”

That seemed to settle the issue, except that an hour later, the statement is now missing – you can still see it below in a screenshot Gadgets 360 saved, but it is no longer on the PIB website.

fadia_brand_ambassador_denial.jpgFadia certainly seems to think he’s the brand ambassador for Digital India, and appears to have proof as well – on Monday, his official Facebook page uploaded a picture of a certificate he received from the government appointing him to this role. Unless this is a particularly strange case of Photoshopping, it would appear that different departments of the government aren’t talking to each other.

So, what is going on right now? The government will apparently issue a clarification in the evening, but as of now, there’s still no official statement about a brand ambassador, apart from one digital picture posted by Fadia himself.

Twitter in particular went to town with the news that Fadia was the brand ambassador for Digital India. The number of tweets mocking the announcement is too high to count, but here are some highlights. A lot of people also linked this 2013 article from Forbes India which takes apart many of Fadia’s claims to fame.

Fadia’s own claims are therefore easy to doubt – however the fact that the government issued a denial, and then removed it, clouds the issue, and makes us wonder whether or not he really is the face of Digital India. Did Ram Sewak Sharma, the Secretary of the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), really sign that certificate which Fadia has been showing? And if so, why has the government not done its homework on a person who has been thoroughly debunked over the years?