Smart appliances make a connected home vulnerable

TechCrunch reports that smart appliances are starting to spawn spambots and make the home vulnerable to hackers.

Example A: according to a new study by security firm Proofpoint, hackers have already started crackin’ away at smart appliances in hopes of further expanding their zombie spambot armies. Between December 26th, 2013 and January 6th, 2014, Proofpoint says they detected upwards of 750,000 spam emails being sent from over 100,000 compromised routers, multimedia centers, smart TVs, and, in one case, a smart fridge.

There needs to be a way for users to secure the connected home network. Rolling out automatic updates would make keeping the softwares up to date easier.

Facebook’s trending feature

ReadWrite reports on Facebook’s announcement of its new “Trending” feature.

After hashtags and embeddable posts, trending is the latest Twitter feature that Facebook has adopted. This is a step towards Facebook’s goal of becoming more than just a place for friends and family to connect.

Twitter’s success stems from it being a way for people to talk about themselves, and a way for people to find out what is going on in the lives of others. While users have been using Facebook in a similar way, it has been hard for Facebook users to aggregate that information. Hashtag was the first step in allowing users to tag their posts. The new trending feature will help users to find trending news.

I doubt I would be using Facebook much for trending news. Do you think it would be useful for the way you use Facebook? Or will it end up being shunned by users like what happend to hashtagging?

I’m still waiting for a way to search my old Facebook entries instead of having to manually scroll through my timeline.

WeChat allows users to set up online investment fund via TenPay

Tech in Asia reports on Tencent allowing WeChat users set up an investment fund through TenPay using their smartphones.

Tencent joins Baidu and Alibaba in offering a personal finance product.

Baidu does not have any widely popular products or services that require user registration; it’s mostly still used as a search engine. Alibaba’s Taobao and Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat are both massively popular and require registration, which gives them a captive audience.

Baidu’s Baifa offers the highest interest rate while Alibaba’s Yuebao is the most popular service for now. However, Tencent boasts of a larger user base, giving its Caifubao service the potential become the leading personal finance product in China.

I use Safari to read Twitter on iOS

Yes, I use Safari on my iPhone to access Twitter most of the time.

Before using this method, I switched from the default Twitter client to TweetBot, which is awesome.

A quick word of caution:

  • Whether this method is suitable for you or not will depend on what you use Twitter for. I use it mainly for reading news articles
  • If you’re constantly posting status updates and retweeting stuff, this isn’t the ideal solution either. I still use TweetBot to tweet personal updates.

In iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, Safari gets a new Shared Links feature. This shows you a list of links that are shared by the people you follow on Twitter. The experience of Shared Links on iOS and OS X are pretty similar, but I’m going to focus on the iOS version here.

Shared Links on iOS

Opening links from an app in iOS usually opens the page within the app itself, rendered by Safari. This is useful as it keeps you within the app, but there are two important features I always use from the Safari app which aren’t available when the page is loaded within the app:

  1. Reading Mode: I can’t stress enough how much I love this feature
  2. Bookmarks: I use this to send links to Pocket when I want to read the article later

I have previously been using two methods to address this issue:

  1. After the page has been opened within the app, press the share button and open the page again in Safari, which gives me the functions I want. OR
  2. Configure TweetBot to open links directly in Safari

Both options mentioned above work, but they present me with two issues:

  1. Having to switch between apps is tedious if you do it often, and I read a lot of articles when I’m in the train
  2. I always worry that it wears out the home button on my iPhone. I’ve had to replace the home button on my iPhone 4 countless times, though so far my iPhone 5 is holding up pretty well
  1. I stay within Safari. There is no need to switch between apps
  2. If I was previously using Reading Mode and switch to another Shared Link article, Reading Mode is automatically activated for the next article
  3. I use the Pocket bookmarklet to save any article I want to read later. I could use Safari’s reading list, but my experience with that has been hit and miss.
  1. The ability to retweet an article. This is slightly surprising since Shared Links on Safari in Mavericks offers the ability to retweet, but I guess Apple will introduce the feature sometime in the near future. You can still press the share button and use the iOS Twitter share feature, but that basically just tweets the link without any context.

Retweet Shared Links on OS X

Bonus: Any alternatives?

I’ve been fiddling with TweetBot recently, and managed to adjust the settings to achieve similar results too. Here’s what I do:

  1. Enable Readability. Gives me a Reading Mode similar to what Safari offers. I feel it’s inferior, but better than not having it at all
  2. Set my Read Later settings to save to Pocket

Should you do this?

It really depends on how you use Twitter, but I feel it’s worth a shot. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Let’s get rid of App Store star ratings

Marco Arment questions the use of App Store’s star ratings.

Matt posted previously about whether we should rate apps when prompted by the app. Developers add prompts to get users to rate the app because having a higher rating would increase the chances of their apps being found and downloaded.

Eliminating the star ratings but leaving the written reviews would eliminate a lot of developer headaches and much of the motivation behind the annoying “Rate This App” epidemic that’s interrupting and annoying iOS customers and infecting, embarrassing, and devaluing almost all modern iOS apps.

Amazon’s review system is a good example of an excellent, peer-reviewed system. Yes, Amazon uses a star rating system as well, but users can also vote whether the reviews are helpful. This allows the system to show the most helpful favourable and critical reviews, providing shoppers with feedback that addresses the pros and cons of the products.

In my opinion, the App store would benefit greatly with a peer-reviewed system. However, I would suggest replacing the star ratings with a choice of whether the reviewer would recommend the app. A star rating system is too arbitrary. What is the difference between a four-star and a five-star rating?

Let’s say there is a good writing app that does not support Markdown. Reviewers A, B and C love the app. Reviewer A relies heavily on Markdown. Reviewer B uses Markdown at times, while Reviewer C has no idea what Markdown is. Reviewer C gives 5 star because the app blew him away. Reviewer B gives 4 stars because he feels the app could be improved with Markdown support. Reviewer A gives 3 stars because of the lack of Markdown support. Three different ratings, even though they agree it is a great app.

Now we look at what the results would be if the reviewers only chose “Recommend” or “Do not recommend”. While they have differing views of how good the app is, all three reviewers agree they would recommend the app. Instead of an average of four stars, the app gets three recommends. To me, three recommends is more meaningful than a score of four stars.

This along with peer-reviewing of the feedback would certainly transform the App Store reviews into something useful for shoppers.

iA drops Syntax Control patent, internet silent

Collin Donnell writes about many people failing to acknowledge iA for dropping its patent application.

Matt wrote about the controversy on BakingPixel. Long story short, iA tried to patent their idea that was using a linguistic-tagger API that has been available for years, and they threatened other develops that were developing something similar. Many people did not like that and protested vocally. In the end, iA caved under the pressure and dropped the patent application.

Donnell points out how iA does not receive any acknowledgement for backing off:

If a company does something you don’t like, you speak out, and they correct it, that means what you did worked. It means you got what you wanted. Isn’t the right thing to acknowledge them for it? If you don’t, why would anyone listen to you the next time?

Macro Arment writes in response to Donnell’s article:

Filing a patent application was an action that they undid, but thinking they deserved one in the first place and threatening other developers (prematurely, at that) are offensive to me in ways that are harder to just cancel and sweep under the rug.

I was silent about their update because it didn’t change anything for me.

That is the point that Donnell misses. It is not just about what iA did. Hence, a reversal of their action does not warrant acknowledgement. It is a matter of principle and how the company believed that they are entitled to threaten other developers even before they were awarded the patent.

The company simply tweeted about their decision and left it as that.

I have yet to come across an apology from iA regarding the whole incident. This is a sign that they caved in under pressure from the backlash but they do not believe they are at fault. The least the company could do is to post a blog entry regarding the incident to share their perspective on the issue.

Until then, I won’t be surprised if most people stayed silent on the issue.

HTC explains why its devices have not been updated to Android 4.4

HTC has published a webpage to show the Android 4.4 upgrade status of its HTC One phones.

They even have a large diagram depicting the complicated process of an Android update as an excuse for not having the latest Android version on their flagship devices. This means that the other Android makers are blindingly efficient to be able to roll out KitKat on their devices then!

About Quartz’s view that 2013 was a lost year for tech

Quartz wrote about how 2013 was a lost year for tech.

John Gruber has commented about the article:

What a sad pile of piss-on-everything cynicism.

Om Malik gave an equally scathing response:

So, next time when someone says, “2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it: Silicon Valley,” remind them to actually do research before making that statement.

Obviously, the hyperbolic headline was meant to catch the attention of readers and draw traffic. But it also reminded me of how often I have been hearing similar lines from people around me. Especially those who claim to have a keen interest in technology.

Consumers want to be wowed. Consumers want the “next big thing”. When the iPhone 5s, the new iPads and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 came out, people yawned and said these were just the same devices with minor improvements. There were not striking changes.

The iPhone 5s only got a better camera and a fingerprint sensor. It also came with iOS 7 but other iPhones got that too. The iPad Air was just slimmer and lighter. The new iPad mini got a Retina display and a better processor. The Galaxy Note 3 had upgraded internals and some slight changes. All these are no big deals.

To a consumer who is more likely to compare produces based on the specs, these changes do not matter much. Oh, that’s just a few milligrams lighter or millimetres thinner compared to the older model. When it comes to more technical aspects such as comparing the cameras, processors or even screen resolutions, they go with the bigger number, the better.

You want to impress this crowd? Go crazy with the numbers. Just ask Nokia with its 41 megapixel cameras on the Lumia 1020. I heard a lot of praises from people who have no idea what megapixels mean. Bigger is better. When I ask them about sensor size and whether the images will be grainy, they stare at me blankly.

Quartz’s article works to reinforce the layperson’s perception that 2013 was a bad year in technology. That is lazy journalism. As Gruber and Malik pointed out in their articles, there were many reasons to celebrate technology in 2013.

Quartz was in a position to educate its readers about the achievements in the past year. But it chose not to conduct an in-depth research and merely echo the voices of the average consumers.

Samsung Electronics’ market value plunges by almost $9 billion reports that Samsung Electronics’ market value drops by almost $9 billion.

I keep getting told that Samsung does not have to worry about profits because it is a conglomerate with businesses in many different industries. And that Samsung can afford to get away with low profit margins.

The reality is far from that. With its mobile devices accounting for more than half of its operating profits, Samsung needs to seriously consider how it can grow its profit in the market.

Perhaps Samsung should look at the $14 billion it spent on advertising last year.

Apple fires back at NSA iPhone spyware claims

After the Snowden leaks regarding the scope of NSA’s spying efforts, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone to hear the recent claims that the NSA is able to install spyware on the iPhone via its DROPOUTJEEP program. Reports claim that the NSA currently needs physical access to the device in order to be able to install the spyware, but a version that can be remotely deployed in currently in the works.

Apple Denies Working with NSA on iPhone Backdoor

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.

It’s pretty telling that Apple has had to resort to indirectly labeling the NSA as “malicious hackers”, though it’s not the only one calling the spying agency names as Microsoft has also begun to claim that the constant spying is basically an “advanced persistent threat”, something that shouldn’t be used lightly.

Microsoft Was Right To Worry That Government Snooping Constituted An ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’

The term “advanced persistent threat,” by the way, isn’t a casual colloquialism that Redmond invented. According to the Wall Street Journal, the phrase “carries special weight in cybersecurity circles and is often used to describe hacker teams backed by the Chinese government.” That comparison is striking.

Let’s not forget Mark Zuckerberg’s comments regarding this issue too.

Zuckerberg: US government ‘blew it’ on NSA surveillance

He said after the news broke in the Guardian and the Washington Post about Prism, the government surveillance programme that targets major internet companies: “The government response was, ‘Oh don’t worry, we’re not spying on any Americans.’ Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies.”

The disappointing thing about all of this is that despite being a democracy, we’re having to rely on large technology companies who have massive clout and money to hire expensive lawyers in order to fight this. Something definitely isn’t right here.