• Apps

    by Published on 02-12-2019 02:40 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    What, this confusing banner graphic from a random foreign-language YouTube video doesn't make things abundantly clear for you? Fine... It seems that the music streaming service Spotify updated its Terms of Service recently, and eagle-eyed tech bloggers noticed this clause:

    The following is not permitted for any reason whatsoever:

    10. Circumventing or blocking advertisements in the Spotify Service, or creating or distributing tools designed to block advertisements in the Spotify Service.
    Unfortunately the headlines that resulted—like The Verge's "Spotify bans ad blockers in updated Terms of Service"—are more than a little misleading. Over the weekend I watched as a bunch of confused redditors tried to figure this out in a thread on r/Android.

    Eventually they did, and it boils down to this: Spotify's warning is meant for users running modded APKs that filter out audio ads from the free version of their service. if you're running Spotify on a device with a system-wide ad-blocker like AdAway or Blockada, you almost certainly have nothing to worry about.

    You can Google "hacked Spotify apk" if you like to get an idea of what's out there, just don't bother downloading anything from the results—or your free account might be terminated, remember?

    As a paying subscriber I honestly have no idea if there are visual ads in the app; if there were then sure, AdAway would probably block them, thereby violating the ToS. But then again, I can't imagine Spotify being impacted by this, as someone streaming music through their phone isn't likely to be staring at the album art for any significant length of time.

    Sources: Spotify, The Verge via r/Android

    by Published on 02-08-2019 03:35 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Ditto for Abercrombie & Fitch, Hotels.com and Singapore Airlines. All of these apps—on both Android and iOS as far as I can tell—use a customer experience analytics firm called Glassbox. Here's how they themselves describe their own tech:

    Imagine if your website or mobile app could see exactly what your customers do in real time, and why they did it? This is no longer a hypothetical question, but a real possibility. This is Glassbox.
    The obvious security risk here is that each of the apps in question holds sensitive user information, not only email and physical addresses but credit card numbers as well. Glassbox gives app developers tools to mask this data (quite literally, with black boxes) but guess what? They don't always work. Check out this screencast from The App Analyst:

    Since the story broke, Air Canada reached out to TechCrunch with this official statement:

    “Air Canada uses customer provided information to ensure we can support their travel needs and to ensure we can resolve any issues that may affect their trips [...] This includes user information entered in, and collected on, the Air Canada mobile app. However, Air Canada does not—and cannot—capture phone screens outside of the Air Canada app.”
    Way to miss the point there, AC.

    Apple too, has responded to the situation, threatening immediate action for any app recording screens without explicit user consent. Nothing from Google yet...

    Sources: TechCrunch (1) (2) via The App Analyst

    by Published on 12-13-2018 04:25 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Canadians who rely on mass transit in the province of Ontario should be pleased to hear that there's finally an app for that. Metrolinx has announced a limited beta of a new PRESTO app for both Android and iOS.

    Anyone who wants to tap on or off with their phone, however, will unfortunately have to wait. From Mobile Syrup:

    The Android version of the app disappointingly doesn’t feature the ability to instantly pay by swiping the phone near a Presto machine, though Metrolinx says that functionality is coming in future versions.

    Given how tightly guarded Apple is with the iPhone’s NFC functionality, it remains unclear if the ability to validate a transit trip at a Presto kiosk will ever come to the tech giant’s smartphone.
    Aren't people doing this stuff on their wrists now...?

    Also, there's a stern warning that the Android app won't run on rooted Android devices, but not to worry—Magisk Hide will instantly fix that.

    Sources: @aczerny on Twitter via iPhone in Canada, Mobile Syrup

    by Published on 11-13-2018 04:15 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Cloudflare's public DNS has been available since April, but there's been no way to use it with your mobile carrier's data network. That is until now. Available for both Android and iOS, the app allows you to switch your DNS resolver with a single tap, as seen above. For why you might want to do this, here's a Linus Tech Tips video, posted shortly after made its debut:

    So, to summarize, you can (potentially) enjoy lower latency and increased privacy just by switching your DNS. There are other alternative DNS resolvers out there—Google being the notable example—but as of right now Cloudflare's is by far the easiest to use on your mobile device.

    Source: Cloudflare via SlashGear

    by Published on 11-09-2018 04:28 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Tips,
    3. Apps

    For us few, proud Pebblers desperately hanging on to our favourite smartwatch it seems inevitable that it's going to suffer a death by a thousand cuts. I've just learned on reddit (via this post) that version 9 of Android comes with some unknown "improvement" that breaks call display for all Pebbles connected with the official app.

    Pebbles connected via Gadgetbridge aren't affected. Then again, Gadgetbridge doesn't support Rebble.io features like weather and voice replies.

    For those of us connected via Rebble there is thankfully an Android (and companion Pebble) app that purports to fix this critical functionality. It's called Dialer for Pebble, and can be found on both F-Droid and Google Play.

    Before you go ahead and try it, though, be aware of two potential issues: First, it brings the grand total of required apps on your Android device to three—the Pebble app (obviously), Wear OS (for additional notification support) and now this Dialer app. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it may not even work. Here's a telling comment from a related r/Pebble thread:

    After a back and forth with matejdro [the developer] about how Dialer hangs on my Pixel XL with Pie, a Time Steel (two, actually—I tested with a second watch) and Rebble, I've uninstalled Dialer.

    The problem has been that Dialer hangs (for lack of a better term) and prevents any subsequent notifications from coming through until I notice and cancel Dialer. Then it works until the next hang.
    If any Pebblers have a better experience with this solution kindly let the rest of us know. I myself am going back to the Amazfit Bip for the time being; I'm sure the Chinese government has missed my daily step counts...

    Sources: r/Pebble (1) (2)
    Links: Dialer for Pebble on F-Droid / Google Play

    by Published on 10-25-2018 03:55 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Vlad Savov—yeah, that's him above—has uploaded some before and after images to The Verge, captured with and without a modded version of the Pixel 3 camera app. I'd say the results pretty much speak for themselves.

    To be clear, Google's Night Sight feature is still very much in testing, and this unofficial app merely has the cuttlefish (aka Night Sight) flag set to "on". Visit this XDA link for additional technical details, plus their own gallery of impressive comparison shots.

    If you blow up the source for the image on the right it's by no means sharp; on the other hand Google is basically turning night into day here, so I'm not going to ding them too much on image quality.

    If you really want to be amazed be sure to check out the other images on The Verge—they've got some sort of web plugin that overlays a slider onto each photo, showing the before and after on either side of it. Even in its current pre-release state Night Sight seems nothing short of magic.

    Links: The Verge, XDA

    by Published on 08-23-2018 04:00 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Tips,
    3. Apps

    Once again, it's summer vacation time for yours truly, and before I set off I thought I'd share some travel wisdom in regards to airlines and their mobile apps. After a decade of pining for paperless check-in it's now very much a thing, but after getting this notification from China Airlines' spiffy Android app I went straight to my desktop computer to check in online and print out boarding passes the old fashioned way. Here's why...

    The girlfriend and I are actually starting our journey from Toronto on Air Canada. When we check our bags for that first flight I'm going to ask if they can be also checked through on China Airlines to our final destination; if Air Canada can facilitate that request I'll then hand over our paper boarding passes from China Airlines, instead of two smartphones whose screens will timeout and will have to be unlocked every sixty seconds by a fingerprint and pattern, respectively.

    We'll then request paper boarding passes for our Air Canada flight, so that we don't have to hand over the same smartphones that contain our entire digital lives to a security official who might decide, for whatever reason, that a further inspection of our digital lives is necessary.

    It's not that we've anything to hide; when it comes to our travel plans it's really quite the opposite. My pre-travel printing spree also includes two complete sets of airline tickets and hotel reservations, which I'll leave in each of our unlocked suitcases, along with scans of our passports, in the event that they get misdirected somewhere along the way. And lest you think I'm some kind of tree-hating monster, the pages will be shredded and recycled upon our return home.

    To sum up, paper still has its place in 21st century travel, for your security and the convenience of everyone you'll interact with along the way. Thanks for indulging; I expect to be back on regular duty on Monday, September 10th.

    by Published on 08-16-2018 04:00 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    This just in: recording phone calls will no longer be possible (at least without root) on devices running Android 9 Pie. The developer of the popular ACR app (which I use) took to his own issue tracker to explain:

    Official call recording API was discontinued on Android 6 by Google on the grounds of user privacy. Luckily, few developers found a workaround and it worked up until Android 8.1. Sadly, we have learnt that Google has closed that workaround on Android 9.
    According to Android Police the issue isn't so much user privacy as it is local laws on call recording. In Germany, for example, all parties in any call must agree to be recorded, whereas current privacy laws here in Canada require only one party consent. While I generally respect other people's privacy, I'm of the strong opinion that calls to businesses are absolutely fair game for recording—especially when you consider that they almost always record you and provide no way to opt out.

    And the war on general purpose computing continues...

    Links: ACR Issue Tracker via Android Police, Cory Doctorow

    by Published on 08-14-2018 04:15 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. News,
    3. Commentary and Analysis,
    4. Apps

    By now you've probably seen some version of the AP exclusive about Google and your location history. In a nutshell, Google services continue to track your whereabouts, whether you want them to or not. And to be perfectly clear, this happens on both Android and iOS.

    Among smartphone users I can picture a spectrum of reactions, from a dismissive shrug to a tinfoil hat:

    "Who cares? I've got nothing to hide."

    I can't say that I 100% agree with this; to paraphrase Ed Snowden, dismissing privacy because you've got nothing to hide is like dismissing free speech because you've got nothing to say.

    But it does remind me of a chat I once had with a so-called security expert, who at the time insisted that his clients refrain from using any of Google's products. "Wouldn't that make you more suspicious?" I asked him, and he eventually came to agree with me that security through obscurity is a defensible strategy to protect one's privacy.

    "Granting Google access to some of my personal data in order to use their services is a fair exchange."

    This is where I currently find myself on this particular issue. Not only do I keep my location history turned on, but I share it with the girlfriend on an ongoing basis. That way both her and Google know if I stop in at Dairy Queen when I'm not supposed to.

    That said, if you do opt out of location tracking then it's a reasonable expectation that you shouldn't be tracked.

    "Of course Google is spying on you. Don't you know they're funded by the CIA? Wake up, sheeple!"

    That's certainly possible, but... I dunno.

    What mostly concerns me about surveillance in this part of the world is that it's not at all transparent. Everybody knows that WeChat shares user data with the Chinese government, yet it takes a Snowden to reveal it here. I'm not saying that China is better, only that North America seems to be about as bad.

    So that's my two cents. What do you make of this latest revelation about Google and location tracking?

    Source: Associated Press

    by Published on 08-03-2018 08:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    After their disastrous earnings call last week it's understandable that Facebook would want to squeeze some revenue out of WhatsApp, the standalone messaging platform with over a billion active users sending 65 billion messages each and every day. Thankfully, they're not planning on dumping ads into everyone's message and group feeds but will instead give businesses tools to connect with customers, and then charge them for it.

    Here's how it will work: Businesses will be able to buy ad space on Facebook (and presumably other ad networks) with an embedded click-to-chat button that will open a new message thread directly in WhatsApp. There will be no cost for this service to the user, but the business will have to pay a surcharge if they don't respond to a customer query within 24 hours. Users will have the additional option of blocking the business at any time, to prevent being spammed.

    About 90 companies have already signed up to test the service, including Singapore Airlines, Uber and Wish. If the ads aren't already live they should be soon.

    Sources: WhatsApp Blog via The Verge

    by Published on 07-16-2018 08:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    France won the title, but an unexpected MVP has been revealed at this year's World Cup. From The New York Times:

    The defining image of this World Cup is fans from all over the planet, hosts and visitors alike, holding their cellphones out to each other to conduct conversations in languages they have never learned and would never claim to speak. This has been the Google Translate World Cup.
    I can certainly appreciate how invaluable the app would be to anyone visiting Russia; I spent a week or so in Moscow in 2010, and only because I had friends living there who could shepherd me around. But even in the big city basic English was never guaranteed, and trying to decipher Cyrillic on Moscow's metro system? Забудь об этом!

    Back then Google Translate wasn't even a viable option, but it's been steadily improving in the years since. According to the Times, the app currently boasts half a billion daily users and upwards of 150 billion daily translations. The many nuances of language might still lie beyond Translate's reach, but for basic interactions it seems to do the trick. Поздравляю!

    Source: New York Times

    by Published on 07-05-2018 08:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. News,
    3. Apps

    What we're looking at here is a bunch of Android phones being tested by researchers at Northeastern University, seeking to prove or disprove the popular conspiracy theory that apps like Facebook passively spy on you through your phone's microphone to show you ads based on your conversations with others.

    The researchers analyzed Internet traffic generated from 10 Android phones and 17,260 apps, and found no unauthorized transmission of audio. They did, however, find evidence of apps recording screen activity and sending those recordings on to third parties.

    Gizmodo's reporting of this story cites the specific example of goPuff, an app that enables the delivery of junk food to college students. Researchers found that this app was surreptitiously sending screen recordings to an analytics company called Appsee, which has an entire page devoted to their screen recording technology:

    Every tap, swipe, and action of every screen is recorded, allowing you to gain instant insights of your app’s user experience [...] Even one video can illustrate an obstacle that many of your users are grappling with. That’s why you have complete control in terms of the ratio of recorded users. You can even choose to record sessions based on parameters such as which screens they visit, their demographics, or their mobile device OS.
    There's even a video demo of a recorded screen:

    According to Appsee's CEO, the offending app violated his company's terms of service, as any screen recordings must be disclosed to users. The developers of goPuff have since added a disclosure to their privacy policy. Google itself has also weighed in on the matter; in an email to Gizmodo a spokesperson said that Appsee's screen recordings may put developers at risk of violating Google's Play Store policy.

    Source: Gizmodo

    by Published on 06-22-2018 08:45 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    It wasn't so long ago that mobile video, captured in portrait mode and uploaded to YouTube, would appear on that site sideways. That issue has since been fixed, but Instagram is taking vertical video one step further with their new video sharing platform, called IGTV.

    Instagram is pitching IGTV as a mobile-first video sharing platform for "creators". Videos can be up to an hour long and uploaders can have public channel listings, just like YouTube. Besides the addressable audience of a billion Instagram users worldwide, the incentive to host videos on IGTV will be eventual monetization through the inevitable blight of inline ads.

    So what to "creators" think of IGTV? Here's Marques Brownlee on that very subject:

    The official IGTV app is already available for Android and iOS, and the service itself is rolling out right now to all parts of the world.

    Source: Instagram

    by Published on 06-20-2018 09:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Commentary and Analysis,
    3. Apps

    As of this morning Google has no less than four Android apps for music, podcasts and video, with more than a few redundancies between them. The most confounding of the lot has to be YouTube Music, but its existence is more easily understood if you know your recent Internet history. Here's a quick and dirty refresher.

    Google Play Music

    GPM was launched in late 2011, and was part of the reason behind the Android Market's re-branding as Google Play. Google's app store (now Google Play Apps) was joined by an ebook store (Google Play Books) a video store (Google Play Movies) and GPM, likely an answer to the growing popularity of Spotify.

    Like Spotify, GPM users could pay for a premium subscription to stream specific albums and tracks on-demand, or listen for free and endure the occasional ad. Unlike Spotify, GPM users could also upload tracks from their own music collection. In 2016 GPM added podcast support, presumably to lure users (and their listening habits) away from the more popular Pocket Casts app.


    Wait a minute, YouTube isn't a music player... It is, however, the key to understanding YouTube Music. Open for uploads in 2005, YouTube predates GPM by 6 years, and during that time it became a popular practice for YouTubers to upload playlists or entire albums (legal or not) as video files, with high quality audio tracks and either a static graphic or simple animation for visuals.

    In many markets and demographics YouTube is far more popular as a music platform than Google Play Music. This, along with the added pressure of rights holders angry over pirated music streams, inevitably let to the creation of—you guessed it...

    YouTube Music

    At Google, everything is supposedly driven by user data; in that context it makes perfect sense to apply their video brand to a music streaming service. But if the goal is to replace GPM (and it should be) Google's still got some work to do. Tracks uploaded to GPM are not yet available on YouTube Music. Even worse, unless you have a paid subscription the YTM stream on your phone will immediately stop the moment your screen goes dark.


    Instead of focusing their efforts on a better YTM experience Google has decided instead to release a standalone podcast app. Again, if the goal is to migrate users away from GPM (and again, it should be) this makes sense. But with the current state of YTM no one is going to stop using GPM anytime soon, so a dedicated podcast app is a bit premature.

    And that, in a nutshell, is Google's current music (and podcast) mess, and how I believe it came to be.

    by Published on 06-19-2018 08:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Google's official SMS app (not that one) now supports texting from a desktop web browser. The feature started rolling out to users yesterday, so if it's not yet available to you it should be soon. Getting set up is easy enough: While signed in to your Google account head over to the Messages desktop site, where you'll be greeted with a unique QR code that you can scan with the Messages app on your phone to connect. That's pretty much it.

    I haven't tried it myself, because (1) I use a different texting app, and (2) I think that a better solution for desktop SMS already exists. It's called Pushbullet; it not only lets you send and reply to texts from your computer, but also mirrors phone notifications on your computer as well.

    The downside to Pushbullet is that there's a cap on the number of texts you can send unless you upgrade to a paid subscription, whereas Messages for the web won't ever cost you anything. Full support for the new RCS spec might be another reason to go with Messages. If you're already using the app on your phone then you might as well give it a try; if you do, be sure to let us know what you think!

    Sources: Messages Help, Liliputing

    by Published on 06-18-2018 02:30 PM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Making good on their promise from last month, YouTube Premium is now available in Canada—and also Australia, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, plus (obviously) the United States.

    Even better, Google seems to be offering a three-month free trial of the service (one month for family plans) which also includes YouTube Music. If you're confused I don't blame you; think of it this way: YouTube Music is the equivalent to a paid subscription to Google Play Music, while YouTube Premium would be akin to YouTube Red... which also includes the upgraded Google Play Music experience... This isn't helping at all, is it?

    Why don't I let the respective signup pages do the talking instead:

    YouTube Music Premium
    "Get Music Premium to listen ad-free, offline & with your screen off"
    $9.99 CAD per month / $14.99 CAD for families (up to 6 users)

    YouTube Premium
    "YouTube and YouTube Music ad-free. Plus access to all YouTube Originals."
    $11.99 CAD per month / $17.99 CAD for families (up to 6 users)

    By the way, Google Play Music still works, is covered under the same subscriptions and also includes a decent Android podcast player. The more you know...

    Source: Android Police

    by Published on 06-15-2018 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Apps

    Rebble.io, the small outfit with the lofty goal of replacing Pebble web services with their own, are taking names—literally. In a blog post yesterday they announced that accounts can now be created using an existing sign-in from either Facebook, GitHub, Google or Twitter.

    It's important that interested users do this sooner rather than later, and take the additional step of connecting their existing Pebble account to Rebble. This will ensure that your Pebble data will be imported before the servers shut down on June 30th. Registering will also help the Rebble team gauge just how many Pebblers they'll be providing service to.

    I myself am interested in Rebble for two critical Pebble features: voice replies and weather data. Those features may or may not be ready when the Pebble servers go dark and Rebble lights up. I'm certainly willing to give them a chance; my Amazfit Bip is currently taking a break while I'm getting reacquainted with Pebble, and its music (and podcast) controls plus the critical features mentioned above make it a better smartwatch than the Bip.

    Source: Rebble Blog

    by Published on 06-13-2018 08:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Apps

    Every so often we need to be reminded that smartphones, if compromised, can be effective surveillance devices. Case in point: Spanish soccer league La Liga is being investigated for their smartphone app, which helps itself to the user's microphone and location data to check for unauthorized game broadcasts.

    According to the BBC this surveillance "feature" was added to the app in an update last week. La Liga maintains that its only wish is to protect both fans and teams from fraud; broadcasting games in bars and other public places without a license apparently costs the league €150 million annually in lost revenue. The league also told Bloomberg that users of its app must opt in to the collection of audio and location data, and that the app will periodically remind you that this data is being collected.

    The AEPD, Spain's data protection agency, has launched a preliminary investigation into the matter. EU privacy laws give it the power to levy sanctions of up to 4% of any guilty party's annual global sales. La Liga's annual revenue has been reported at €3.6 billion; if my math is right 4% of that would be €1.44 million, plus the ire of angry fans who have had their privacy breached.

    Sources: BBC, Bloomberg

    by Published on 06-06-2018 09:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. News,
    3. Apps

    Scary if true, and it's probably true... Someone on reddit alleges that Android malware was installed on both his Moto X4 and his wife's Huawei Mate 10 as they entered overland into mainland China. The redditor describes the incident as follows:

    I saw the installation process, an icon appear on the home screen, the police ran the application and then the icon hid itself. Not sure if it rooted my phone or what. I know something was running on my phone because they used a handheld device to confirm our phones were communicating with their system before letting us go.
    Because this was posted in the security subreddit the current top-voted comment is actually an offer to purchase the two compromised devices for forensic analysis. As to why this person and their spouse were targeted specifically, it might have been because they were crossing into Xinjiang, an area where the police forces are known to be using extreme forms of surveillance targeted at the local Uighur (Muslim) minority.

    Source: r/security via Cory Doctorow

    by Published on 06-05-2018 09:15 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. News,
    3. Apps

    Apple detailed the next big update to iOS at their WWDC conference yesterday. iOS 12 will be available for the following compatible devices this fall:

    iPhone X, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 5s

    12.9-inch iPad Pro 2nd generation, 12.9-inch iPad Pro 1st generation, 10.5-inch iPad Pro, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad Air 2, iPad Air, iPad 5th generation, iPad mini 4, iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2,

    iPod touch 6th generation

    In addition to performance boosts and security fixes, here are five new features coming your way:

    1. Grouped Notifications
    iOS finally catches up to Android with notifications grouped by app, greatly reducing clutter and giving you more control over dismissing them.

    2. Group FaceTime
    With iOS 12 Apple's native video chat application will support video calls with up to 32 people at once. Neat.

    3. Screen Time
    This new feature will show you how much time you're spending in individual apps and on your device overall. Increased parental controls can also limit individual app usage—though parents could probably get similar results just turning the WiFi off when it's lights out.

    4. Siri Shortcuts
    Similar to Alexa skills, shortcuts will enable Apple's digital assistant to connect to other apps on your iOS device. Just be prepared to learn some specific commands first.

    5. Memoji
    Apple copies Samsung, who copied Apple, and the virtuous cycle of tech "innovation" is complete. Apple's version of personalized, animated emoji are definitely less hideous than Samsung's, but no less gimmicky.

    Sources: MacWorld UK, The Verge

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