You just had a flat tire along a dark country road. Luckily, you downloaded a flashlight app into your cellphone and now can put it to use.
But that flashlight, handy as it is, may be just one of many doors you unwittingly opened to let spies take up residence inside your phone.
“Most free flashlight apps are creepware,” says Gary S. Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall (www.snoopwall.com), a company that specializes in cybersecurity. Creepware is malware that spies on you and your online behavior, and could pass along information to others.
For example, Goldenshores Technologies, the company behind the popular “Brightest Flashlight Free” app for Android phones, agreed in 2013 to settle the Federal Trade Commission’s charges that the software secretly supplied cellphone locations to advertising networks and other third parties.
The problem doesn’t begin and end with flashlight apps, though. Many seemingly innocuous apps that people carry around with them on their mobile devices have the capability to eavesdrop on their activities.
“Consumers trust first and verify never,” Miliefsky says. “As a result, most of their smartphones are infected with malware that they trust in the form of some kind of useful app or game.”
Miliefsky offers these tips for ousting those spies inside the phone:
- First, assume you’ve already been compromised. It’s nice to think all is probably well, but most likely it’s not. Somewhere in the phone the spies are at work and it’s time to take the privacy behaviors and privacy policies of these apps more seriously.
- Verify the behavior and privacy risks for apps before installing them. Do some research and ask the question: “Why does this app need GPS, microphone, webcam, contacts, etc.?” Most apps don’t need these ports unless they want to invade your privacy, Miliefsky says. Find an alternative before installing risky apps.
- Do a smartphone version of spring cleaning. Delete all the apps you don’t use that often. Replace the apps that take advantage of too many of your privacy settings, such as GPS, phone and text-message logs, with similar apps that don’t.
- Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication and GPS except when you need them. That way, Miliefsky says, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one can spy using nearby (proximity) hacking attack. They also can’t track where you were and where you are going on GPS.
- Check to see if your email has put a tracer on you and your phone. “If you use a Google email account and have an Android phone, you’d be surprised that even with your GPS off, it’s tracking your every move,” Miliefsky says. You need to go into the phone’s settings to turn off that tracking feature, he says. In your Android phone, go to “settings,” then “location.” Select “Google location reporting” and set “location history” to off.
Focus will be on India when virtual reality phenomenon gets real
Once the virtual reality (VR) phenomenon explodes, India, with its huge smartphone base, will be a key market — but VR players will have to come up with low-cost options to entice the country’s “digital” consumers.
According to experts, head-mounted devices (HMDs) that create an immersive virtual world for users is the future after the successful touchscreen era.
Today, the market is flooded with VR devices: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR (co-developed with Oculus), LG 360 VR, Google Cardboard, Zeiss VR One and One GX and several other players soon going to join the VR fray.
But, with a huge smartphone base of 160 million plus users that is likely to surpass the US smartphone user base in a couple of years, what India needs are low-cost VR headsets compatible with low-cost smartphones. Only then will VR use truly explode in India.
“I feel that VR adoption is currently at a minuscule level in India. Many firms like Sony, Samsung, HTC, OnePlus have joined Facebook’s Oculus platform in the virtual reality space. But we are still far away from its widespread adoption here,” says Thomas George, senior vice president and head of CyberMedia Research(CMR), a market research and consulting firm.
“But going forward, thanks to India’s rich demographic dividend, we may witness VR finding its ‘sweet spot’ in the youth segment. The adoption of virtual reality could see traction in the edutainment arena. Applications like immersive learning and entertainment, especially games, could kick-start its adoption sooner,” George said.
According to the global research firm MarketsandMarkets, the international VR technology market is expected to reach $15.89 billion by 2020.
With VR technology, the user is isolated from the real world while being immersed in a world that is not real, so VR, in a way, works better for video games and social networking in a virtual environment.
But for Rajiv Srivatsa, COO and co-founder of Urban Ladder, a curated online furniture seller, VR can help complex purchase categories like theirs engage more effectively with consumers and helps the consumers make better, informed choices about the products they purchase.
“If the products are built right, VR has the power to revolutionise user-interaction,” he told IANS.
Although these are early days for VR, companies the world over – including in China, from where low-cost VR headsets will soon flood the markets – are now investing heavily in VR technology.
Facebook is credited with taking an early bet on virtual reality by acquiring the start-up Oculus VR for $2 billion in early 2014. It is expected to start shipping Oculus headsets — priced at $599 — in March this year and has already started taking orders.
South Korean electronics giant Samsung has also launched Gear VR — its flagship virtual reality headset — for Indian consumers in January for as low a price as Rs. 8,200.
Apple has reportedly hired experts in virtual and also augmented reality (AR) to built prototypes of headsets that can one day rival Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
Technology adoption by vendors is rapid. What is launched in the US and other advanced markets also gets due attention in India and VR is no different.
“We may not be 100 percent ready but definitely India should be seeing some activity around VR this year, especially the introduction of devices with VR features. This small step could in time serve as a ‘big leap’ and the start of more serious adoption in the country,” notes Faisal Kawoosa, lead analyst, telecoms practice, CMR.
Several smartphones were launched in 2015 with VR technology which, beyond gaming, has a potential to help young people choose their careers too.
“For example, a smartphone using VR goggles can help a student virtually get a glimpse of a surgeon’s career in medicine by showing an immersive video on a surgical procedure or helping him or her choose an alternate career video altogether,” says George.
It has implications in other sectors too. For example, VR technology can be used to determine how people perceive their bodies, to treat body image disturbances and to improve adherence to physical activity among obese individuals.
“Virtual reality offers promising new approaches to assessing and treating people with weight-related disorders and early applications are revealing valuable information about body image,” according to researchers at the University of Barcelona, Spain, who recently demonstrated how VR environments can produce responses similar to those seen in the real world.
While we discuss VR, the next big thing coming our way is augmented reality (AR) and it has better chances to thrive. Unlike with VR, AR users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with the virtual world (remember Google Glass!) and this makes experts feel that AR has a definite edge over VR. (Let us keep a discussion on AR for another day though.)
“Pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re right there’,” said Mark Zuckerberg while speaking at the just-concluded ‘Samsung Mobile World Congress 2016’ in Barcelona.
And when VR finally comes out in the open, with a massive smartphone consumer base, India is going to be a key player in the global VR ecosystem, say experts.
Facebook launches free WordPress plugin for Instant Articles
New York: The social networking giant, set to open its Instant Articles feature to all publishers next month, has launched a free WordPress plugin that will help publishers create Instant Articles with ease.
Instant Articles will be open to all publishers – of any size, anywhere in the world – at Facebook’s F8 conference in San Francisco on April 12.
“We have partnered with Automattic, parent company of WordPress.com VIP, to build a free plugin for Instant Articles, which simplifies the process of generating and publishing Instant Articles from WordPress,” said Chris Ackermann, partner engineering at Facebook in a blog post on Tuesday.
The open-source WordPress publishing platform now powers more than 25 percent of sites on the web so “we are excited to help millions of publishers all over the world bring the Instant Articles experience to their readers”, he added.
The plugin creates a special RSS feed that automatically optimises Facebook posts to appear as Instant Articles. The plugin is open-source and customisable.
“We’ve worked with a small group of publishers on WordPress to beta test the plugin as a seamless way to adapt web content for the Instant Articles format, with a built-in suite of interactive tools that help stories come to life on mobile,” Ackermann posted.
When Instant Articles opens up in April, publishers that use standard WordPress templates can activate the plugin out-of-the-box to create Instant Articles.
Publishers that want a more customised production experience can extend the plugin to support additional elements.
“We encourage all interested publishers on WordPress to review the plugin’s documentation and FAQs,” the post said.
More Live videos in your Facebook timeline soon
As more and more people are watching “Facebook Live Videos”, the social networking giant has pushed its live video feature to top of its News Feed.
The company is considering Live Videos as a new content type – different from normal videos – and learning how to rank them for people in News Feed.
“As a first step, we are making a small update to News Feed so that Facebook Live videos are more likely to appear higher in News Feed when those videos are actually live, compared to after they are no longer live,” wrote Vibhi Kant, product manager and Jie Xu, software engineer at Facebook in a blog post.
“People spend more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video on average compared to a video that’s no longer live. This is because Facebook Live videos are more interesting in the moment than after the fact,” they wrote.
“Facebook’s Live Video” feature allows users to broadcast live video from their smartphones.
News Feed is made up of posts from the friends and Pages you have connected to. These posts can be status updates, photos, videos, links and now, Facebook Live videos.
“We rolled out Facebook Live on iOS in December and last week, we began rolling it out on Android in the US. Over the last three months, Facebook Live video has become more and more popular and more and more people and Pages are creating and watching live videos,” the Facebook officials posted.
“As with any new type of content in News Feed, we are learning what signals help us show you the most relevant Facebook Live videos for you personally,” they added.
For example, a few years ago when more people began sharing and watching video on Facebook, the company listened to feedback to learn what signals helped them show people more of the videos they want to see and fewer of the videos they don’t.
“At first we updated News Feed ranking to take into account how many people watched a video and how long people watched for to help us personalise News Feed based on people’s preference for watching video,” the company said.
“Over time, we also learned that certain actions people take on a video, such as choosing to turn on sound or making the video full screen, are good signs they wanted to see that video, even if they didn’t choose to like it,” it noted.
Facebook Live is currently available for verified Pages and public figures using Mentions.
“We do not expect Pages to see significant changes as a result of this update. We will continue to learn how people are watching this new content type,” Kant and Xu added.
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